HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO I NEED TO EAT EACH DAY ON A PLANT-BASED DIET?
At this point, you may be asking, “Steve, how much protein do these plant-based athletes have to eat? How much protein does it take to build muscle?”
Great questions. There’s some debate on this.
As we point out in our Protein 101 Guide, there are estimates that you need .8 of a gram to 1 full gram of protein for every pound (or 1.6-2g for every kg) you weigh. Another study found it might be as high as 1.4 grams of protein for every pound you weigh.
I’d say 1 gram of protein for every pound of lean body mass, is a good solid number to shoot for if you are trying to build muscle. If you don’t know how to calculate your lean body mass – just go with 0.8 grams per pound (1.6 grams per kg) and adjust up or down from there depending on your results.
Let me get to a more important point here: As with EVERY athlete pointed out above (Danielle Sidell, David Carter, Jeremy Reijnders, and Joe Venus):
They all supplement with isolated plant protein for increasing protein intake without dramatically increasing calories or carbohydrates.
Here’s why: Dr. John Berardi from Precision Nutrition points out, “You just can’t avoid carbs in a vegan plan.”
As you’ll recall, plants have less protein but more carbohydrates and more calories than animal sources:
- 100 grams of black beans: 22 grams of protein in it. 339 calories, 63 grams of carbohydrates (16 grams of which are fiber).
- 100 grams of chicken breast: 30 grams of protein. 165 calories, 0 grams of carbohydrates.
The same size serving of black beans has less protein, twice as many calories, and more carbs compared to chicken. If your goal is weight loss, you need to be aware of your calorie intake.
If you try to get the same amount of protein from black beans as you would from chicken, you’re going to end up consuming 2-3x the number of calories and a tremendous number of carbohydrates.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re an athlete or strength train! After all, carbs aren’t evil HOWEVER…you could struggle with CERTAIN body fat percentage goals if you are going plant-based.
That’s not a judgment or a challenge or anything in between – it’s just reality.
Dr. Berardi highlights the biggest challenge of strength training on a Plant-Based Diet: It’s not that you can’t bulk up. It’s that due to the inherent nature of how plant-based protein-rich foods are structured, you are potentially more likely to increase your body fat through overconsumption of calories:
“I feel it’s actually going to be pretty easy to build muscle on a vegan plan – you just have to eat a lot of food. What’s probably difficult is getting super ripped.
These foods have a high percentage of carbs compared to proteins and fats. It’s not a problem getting lean on a vegan plan. But to actually preserve muscle mass and be bodybuilder-lean, that might be a challenge.”
The solution: if you consume more carbohydrates to hit your protein goals, then you’ll need to eat less fat to keep your calorie intake in balance.
One goes up, the other goes down.
This ensures total calories don’t increase to such a point that you start to put on fat.
Is there a preferred ratio of macros? Sure…though your results may vary! Some people do better on a low-fat diet, while others do better on a high-fat diet. This is true of a Plant-Based Diet or any other diet!
Hulda B. Waage, a vegan powerlifter, suggests those trying to strength train on a Plant-Based Diet aim for fat intake at around 15-20%, with protein at 20-30% and carbs at 55-60%.
For comparison, the International Society of Sports Nutrition generally will recommend fat intake to be around 30%.
The only consistent constant of successful athletes: Whether they’re high carb or low carb, high fat or low fat, they all prioritize adequate protein consumption. This can be aided by protein supplementation – covered in our next section!
Your results may vary, because you are a unique snowflake.
Our advice would be to track your macros and track your results – see how your body adapts and changes, and then adjust along the way!
Before we wrap up this section though, it should go without saying that not only will you have to eat right to build muscle, you’ll also have to actually work out and train.
We have a whole Strength Training 101 series on Nerd Fitness that can walk you through EVERY step of that process.
Want to take it with you? Download our free guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know, which will give you an exact plan to follow to build muscle and gain strength.
Grab the guide free when you sign up in the box below and join the Rebellion!