Full disclosure, the main reason I’ve never attempted to eat a fully vegan diet is because I assumed it would be too difficult with my exercise goals. Having enough protein in my diet is vital for me to build the muscle I want, and I, just like many people, have been routinely taught to believe that meat is the best source of protein. Veganism however has always toed a strange line, where some assume it’s the ultimate healthy diet while others claiming its nutritionally void.
Contrary to popular belief, veganism doesn’t automatically equal health, but it also doesn’t equal dwindling muscles. I proved this to myself this week, when I attempted to go vegan while tracking my macro-nutrients (fats, carbs and protein) to see just how easy it was. And if my protein-rich diet can be maintained as a vegan, then those not attempting to gain muscle can definitely keep it up.
So, what’s it like to live a day in the life of a vegan protein-obsessed gym fanatic? Which vegan foods are high in protein? Do I need vegan protein powder to keep it up? We’ve answered all the questions you could have about keeping your protein intake high while living your most ethical life...
Can you get enough protein when you're vegan?
Yes! Spinach wasn't Popeye's favourite food for nothing. There are plenty of protein-rich, meat-free options out there. The idea that vegan or vegetarian diets don't contain enough protein all comes down to bad nutritional education. While meat is an easy protein source, that doesn't mean it's the ONLY source. So, it's just about finding other options, for which there are plenty. They may not be as high in protein as meat is, but that just means you can eat more of them to get your intake up! If all else fails, and you're really struggling to meet your needs (pun-intended), there are also plenty of vegan supplements you can take (B12 is a must).
Which vegan foods are high in protein?
This is where my experiment comes in. I use a macros calculator to calculate how much protein I need to gain muscle based on my weight, for me that means for every pound I weigh, I should have a gram of protein (around 140g). You can work out your own macros for your personal goals here.
I start off my morning with a pre-breakfast smoothie before work, combining MyProtein vegan chocolate protein powder with a banana, frozen spinach and soya milk. We're off to a 26.4g start, which considering this is barely a meal I'm pretty happy with. Next comes actual breakfast once I'm in work, which is rolled oats, soya milk and half a scoop WelleCo's (vegan) super elixir nourishing protein powder (chocolate flavour of course)- if you can't tell yet I have the diet of a health-conscious toddler. This adds another 16.4g of protein onto the day, so I'll have Tammy Hembrow's biceps in no time.
So far, all I've changed about my diet is the milk I use and the protein powder, faff level remains at 0. My vegan lunch is another meal I'd typically have even as a meat-eater, made at home the night before because food is the only element of my life I'm remotely organised in. I combined cous cous with Linda McCartney's vegan sausages (my favourite kind in general thanks to the heavenly texture), half a tin of chopped tomatoes plus spinach and aubergines. Coming to 27g, this is marginally lower than if my lunch contained chicken, but so far I'm impressed by how much protein I'm getting with minimal change to my diet. Already we're at 69.8g and we've not even had dinner yet.
After work, I have a banana with peanut butter as a pre-gym snack, giving me an extra 8g of protein and some much-needed energy pre-leg day. Post-gym is also the perfect time for a protein shake to maximise muscle growth, so I have a vegan one with MyProtein vegan protein powder and soya milk, giving me another 24g. Honestly, I've barely changed a thing about my regular diet so far.
Dinner is where I would normally gorge on meat, so I'm using that as an excuse to make a ridiculously large portion of food. Piling on the soya mince, I add chopped tomatoes, mushrooms and kidney beans on top of brown rice. All in all it came it a massive 50.4g, similar to what I would normally get with beef mince.
Adding up everything, I realise I've massively overcompensated and amassed 152.2G OF PROTEIN. Clearly, it's well over my recommendation and I haven't even had dessert yet, which is usually a protein brownie or mug cake. I treat myself to a vegan protein cookie anyway, adding another 13.9g and making my total 174.2g of protein for the day. I'm honestly baffled at how minimally my diet had to change for this amount of protein.
Even without all of the protein shakes, which made up 52g of my protein intake, my total would have been 122.2g, which would be a healthy intake for me if I just wanted to maintain my regular weight.
What are some high protein vegetables?
Now I know I can do it, it's time to spice up my diet with other sources of protein outside of processed fake meats or vegan protein powder. When most people think of plant-based protein sources, they immediately think of tofu, chickpeas and peanuts. However, I learned that there's plenty of protein-rich vegetables that can make a great addition to your plate.
Of course, we all know spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense veggies a person can eat, but asparagus is another great option to have in your fridge at all times. Best of all, you can grill, boil, steam, or pan-fry it - meaning there's loads of options to mix it up at dinner time. Add it into your salads or have it as a side dish.
Broccoli is also protein-dense (with 88g of chopped broccoli containing 2.5g of protein). Steamed, roasted, baked or sautéed, this works great in soups or with sauces on top.
Chinese cabbage, or bok choy, is another great option - 70 grams of shredded Chinese cabbage contains 1.1g of protein. Present in many Asian dishes, you can use it in stir-fries, kimchi, soups, or spring rolls.
And Watercress is a high-protein vegetable that's easy to eat raw. Add it into salads, stuffed into sandwiches, or blended into your smoothies for lunchtime. Check out even more suggestions in the gallery below!
What are some high protein snacks?
Of course, it's hard to make sure you're getting enough protein when you're busy working and on the go. Add vegan into the mix, and it isn't always so easy to pop into a corner shop and find a high-protein snack. But there's loads of easy snacks you can pick up to make sure you're fed on the go - and a lot of them don't take much prep at all!
Making your own chia pudding is a super easy way to make sure you have a good protein snack. Let the chia seeds steep in a plant-based milk of your choice overnight, and by the morning you'll have a grab-and-go situation. With cocoa powder, it makes a great chocolate pudding, and adding in some fruit can make it a whole lot sweeter.
If you're after a salty snack, roasted chickpeas make a protein-rich alternative to crisps. Roasting them at home takes about 45 minutes in the oven, so it's best to do this during an evening to create a stash for during the week.
Hummus and bean dips are another great way to bring protein into your lunchbox - and more than easy enough to find on shop shelves!
And for when you're out and about, looking for peanuts and other roasted nuts on shop shelves is an easy to way to pack yourself some protein.
Of course, this is only a snapshot of a vegan diet, and there are plenty of other high-protein options than my generally fuss-free diet. Check out our protein-rich vegan foods below...
Vegan Protein Sources Slider - Grazia
1/2 a cup of chickpeas will give you 6-8 grams of protein depending on the brand!
Delicious AND nutritious, peanut butter is a body builders secret weapon. Two tablespoons give you eight grams of protein!
Also a great source of vitamin B, asparagus contains 4 grams of protein per cup.
It's not all vitamin C, calcium and fibre, broccoli also contains four grams of protein per cup.
Almonds are not only a healthy and morish snack for your afternoon slump, they also contain seven grams of protein per cup.
A known favourite of #bodygoals icon Pop Eye, spinach contains 5 grams of protein per cup!
With 8.5 grams of protein per half cup, edamame beans are a great addition to dish for an extra kick.
These are a protein powerhouse with 13 grams in just three tablespoons! Add them into a smoothie or your oatmeal and you'll be meeting your macros for days.
It might not be the prettiest vegetable, but with four grams of protein per half cup it's a great additional to your evening meal.
A household favourite, green peas contain eight grams of protein per cup, making that fish, chips and peas combo sound a little more nutritious. ..
With three times the protein of brown rice plus less starch and more fiber, oatmeal is the perfect way to start your day.
A known superfood, chia seeds contain five grams of protein per two tablespoons. You can put them in a smoothie or your breakfast for that extra kick of goodness.
This gluten-free grain gives you eight grams of protein per cup, plus its a delicious addition to any rice dish.
This tasty meat substitute provides 10 grams of protein per cup PLUS it can be used as anything from dessert to entrees.
One of the healthiest of all beans, black beans provide 8 grams of protein per half cup!
With 9 grams of protein per half cup and 15 grams of fibre, you're in for a nutritional treat with any lentil dish.
Organic soy milk contains eight grams of protein per cup, and serves as a substitute to cows milk.
Vegan Protein Powders
Don't fancy any of the natural options? Not to worry. As evidenced above, supplementing your diet with protein powder is an easy way to make up the extra grams. The struggle with vegan protein powder comes in finding one that actually tastes good and doesn't have a vile chalky texture. Luckily for you, we've tried and tested some of the best brands.
Is whey protein vegan?
Unfortunately, one of the most popular protein powder options on the market isn't suitable for vegans. Whey protein is made from milk, and so you'll have to get a specialist product if you're looking to supplement your intake...
What are the best vegan protein powders?
Vegan Protein Powders - Grazia
Awesome Vegan Protein
Priding itself on a non-grainy texture, Awesome vegan protein powder comes in one flavour, but it's the best flavour: chocolate salted caramel. The macros are amazing, with 22g of protein, only 1.7g of fat and 1.6g of carbs, plus at £26 for 1kg, it's a great price for how long it lasts.
Nutree Life specialises in all natural vegan protein, from powder to bars to burger mix. Not only are they amazingly priced at £6.99 for 510g, it contains 25.8g of protein per serving.
Possibly one of the least chalky textures out there, Neat Nutrition vegan protein powder is £34 for 28 servings, and comes highly rated. With flavours like chocolate, vanilla and berry, it has a range we can get on board with.
The Protein Works
With a variety of flavours (for once) from cookies 'n' cream to millionaires, this protein powder is only £19.99 for 1kg and has a 94% rating.
Highly recommended in the vegan body building community, Sun Warrior vegan protein powder means paying for the quality, at £27.95 for 500g. However, the product promises a silky smooth texture, which is key to finding the right vegan protein.
Sometimes, a shake just wont cut it and you really want to dig into some brownies without compromising your macros. That's where Protein POW comes in, coming unflavoured alongside a recipe booklet for all your favourite healthy treats. At £14.99 for 450g, it's worth the purchase when you can indulge in your favourite cake while still making gains.
Elle Macpherson's plant-based elixir company certainly delivers on the vegan protein powder. It's the most expensive of the group, at £48 for 500g, but the powder mixes well with oats.
One of our personal favourites for flavour and texture, MissFit's is a new protein brand specialising in making protein palatable for all women, not just the body builders amongst us. It's £24.99 for 500g, but the price is worth knowing you have a quality product.
One of the best value products on this list, MyProtein's vegan blend is £18.99 for 1kg, but the website often hosts amazing offers across their products. Coming in two flavours, Chocolate Smooth is the best-seller, a sweet treat to satisfy chocolate cravings.
So, there you have it, the healthiest natural and supplementary ways to make sure your getting enough protein as a vegan. You never have to have another argument over Christmas dinner about your 'nutritionally devoid' diet, just direct your miseducated family members here...
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.