Don’t believe the lies. Vegan protein sources are not make believe! They are real, and they are plentiful.
The vegan diet is filled with foods that are high in protein. It is not only possible, but actually pretty easy for an individual to reach their protein intake goals.
So strap in as we explore the vegan protein sources that will help you reach your fitness and dietary goals.
If you are new to vegan bodybuilding or the vegan diet we recommend checking out our Total Guide to the Vegan Diet and Vegan Bodybuilding. It will provide a good, high level understanding.
What are vegan protein sources: the common misconceptions
You may have heard the following general misconceptions about protein intake and the vegan diet:
- You can’t get enough protein on a vegan diet
- Without meat, dairy and animal products you can’t get enough protein
- All vegans eat is lettuce and grass and seeds, there is no protein in plants and seeds
- You can’t build muscle without eating meat and taking whey protein
- etc., etc.
In almost all articles about misconceptions of vegans, including this one by the Observer, the “lack of protein” misconception is raised. Ask most carnivores, both bodybuilders or not, and they will most likely hold this belief.
Those unfamiliar with the vegan diet sometimes have a misconception that all vegans eat are salads, fruits and the like. They also have a misguided belief that vegans can’t get enough protein without animal products (milk, dairy, etc.). These beliefs are simply not true.
The vegan diet has a very wide range of foods that are high in protein. It is not only possible, but it is pretty easy for an individual to reach their protein intake goals.
This means you can hit your daily protein intake needs. It also means you can gain muscle with the best of them.
Let’s look at a high level list of vegan protein sources. This list is NOT all-inclusive. These are the heavy hitter vegan protein sources.
Vegan Protein Sources: The Powerhouse List
Beans/legumes is one of my go-to vegan protein sources for a few main reasons.
First, they are very nutrient dense and provide high levels of protein and carbohydrates. This is critical for body fuel and muscle growth. Second, they are very filling because of their high fiber content. This means you will feel satisfied for longer. Lastly, they are very versatile and can be added to an endless amount of food types and recipes.
Some of the best bean/legume options are detailed below.
- Chickpeas: 1 cup cooked, 15g protein, 269 calories
- Chickpeas are my go-to legume. They can be cooked up in batches for easy meal preparation. They can be used for so many types of dishes from vegan falafel to Indian curries, etc. Palouse Brand offers a non-GMO product grown in the US in 3lb., 5lb. and 25lb. bags for ultimate savings!
- Kidney beans: 1 cup cooked, 15g protein, 225 calories
- Use these for vegan chili, soups, on salads and everything in between.
- Black bean: 1 cup cooked, 15g protein, 241 calories
- Black beans are great for ethnic food, such as Mexican inspired recipes. They are also used as the base of many veggie bean burgers.
- Traditional peanut butter: 2 tbsp, 7g protein, 180 calories
- You do need to be careful when you are buying peanut butter. Look at the ingredients. Some peanut butters are loaded with unhealthy oils and added sugar. Spread The Love makes an organic, vegan product with one ingredient, peanuts.
- Peanut butter powder: 2 tbsp, 8g protein, 70 calories
- If you want the protein and tasty benefits of peanut butter without the high calories and fat content than peanut butter is a good option. PBfit offers a vegan option with only 2g of added sugar.
2. Soybean derived products
Soy is technically a type of legume. However, because of its importance as a protein source it get its own section. These whole sources of soy are an important vegan protein source because it is one of only a few plant-based, complete proteins.
Tempeh and tofu can be used in a wide variety of recipes. It can also be cooked in a variety of ways from baking, cooked in a pan or simmered in a liquid.
- Tofu: 1/2 block, 22.8g protein, 190 calories
- Tempeh: 3 oz, 16.8g protein, 165 calories
- Edamame: 1/2 cup shelled, 9g protein, 94 calories
- Soy milk: 1 cup, 7g protein, 100 calories
Lentils are another go-to vegan protein source for those looking for a nutrient dense food with high carbs and protein. They are easier to cook vs. legumes because there is no soaking process.
These power houses are extremely versatile and can be used for so many recipes. I personally find myself throwing a cup of them into my meals, regardless of what I am making.
- 1 cup cooked, 18g of protein, 230 calories
4. Vegan Protein Powders
Vegan protein sources are a great way to quickly and conveniently add protein to your daily meal plan. Add them into smoothies, post-workout shakes and recipes.
Do note that soy protein is the only complete protein powder. If your goal is to create a complete protein and you are not using soy you will need to combine multiple powders together. An example of a combination that creates a complete protein is pea protein and rice protein.
A list of plant-based, vegan protein powders are below.
- Pea protein: 1 scoop (~30g), 25g protein, 113 calories
- Hemp seed protein: 1 scoop (~30g), 10g protein, 166 calories
- Soy protein: 1 scoop (~30g), 25g protein, 95 calories
- Watermelon seed protein: 1 scoop (28g), 8g protein, 158 calories
- Pumpkin seed protein: 1 Large Scoop (28g), 19g protein, 110 calories
- Brown Rice protein: 1 scoop (~30g), 23g protein, 102 calories
5. Plant-Based Meat Substitutes
Plant-based meat substitutes have become more and more popular over the years as the vegan processed food industry has grown. It is up to you if you chose to eat these products as compared to the whole foods and protein powders on the list.
These tend to have more additives and higher fat so please do read the nutritional info and ingredients.
A few of the most notable plant-based meat substitutes are below:
- Beyond Beef, Plant-Based Ground: 4 oz, 20g protein, 250 calories
- Lightlife Plant-Based Ground: 4 oz, 20g protein, 270 calories
Seitan is gluten. It is a good option for those who are okay with eating gluten, looking for a low-carb and low-fat protein and want a vegan protein source that resembles meat.
- 3 oz, 21g protein, 107 calories
Spirulina is a superfood algae that is also a complete protein. It is efficiently high in protein at 8g per 2 tbsp. According to this OneGreenPlanet.org article it is packed with nutrients, loaded with B12 and boosts your thyroid among other things.
- 2 tbsp, 8g protein, 40 calories
8. Ancient Grains, Seeds & Others
Ancient grains, seeds, etc. are a great way to add protein while filling your stomach.
Quinoa, amaranth, and chia seeds are complete plant based protein sources. I touch on these three in more detail below.
- Teff: 1 cup cooked, 10g protein, 255 calories
- Spelt: 1 cup cooked, 11g protein, 246 calories
- Amaranth: 1 cup cooked, 9g protein, 251 calories
- is a complete protein source and is also gluten-free. You might be able to find amaranth in the store. If not you can buy it online in larger sizes to save money.
- Quinoa: 1 cup, 8g protein, 222 calories
- Quinoa is a complete protein source and is also gluten-free. You can buy quinoa in the store or online.
- Wild rice: 1 cup, 7g protein, 166 calories
- Chia seeds: 3 tbsp, 6g protein, 174 calories
- You can buy chia seeds at the supermarket. It is possible you can save yourself some money buying them in larger size bags online.
- Oats/Oatmeal: 0.5 cup, 5.3g protein, 153 calories
Vegan Protein Sources: Conclusion
No matter what your tastes are the list above offers a wide variety of foods to get more than enough protein in your diet.
Even without soy-based products (if you have an allergy) you can build an adequately high protein diet from foods like legumes and vegan protein powders. Add in plant-based meat substitutes and you can easily get more than necessary.
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