What are the best plant-based protein sources for vegetarians & vegans?

If you’re trying to eat enough protein to help you build muscle or to help you get leaner, that’s already fairly challenging for many people. Trying to hit your optimal protein goals while eating a plant-based diet will bring another level of difficulty.

The reason why is:

  1. The top high-protein foods are all animal-based and plant-based foods naturally have less protein in them.
  2. Plant-based proteins suffer from having a low “protein quality” score. This is a term researchers use to see how much protein our bodies can actually extract from the foods.

Plant-based Protein Quality Scores & Why It Matters

Protein Quality Score, Best Proteins

As you see in the chart, cooked oatmeal, chickpeas and pea protein powder are the easiest types of plant-based protein for your body to digest.

When it comes to protein per gram of total weight, the winner would be pea protein powder.

Just keep in mind that when trying to reach your daily protein goals, you may need to have even more plant-based protein to match animal or dairy-based protein because of the lower quality score.

For example, 30g of whey, let’s say has a score of 1. You might need to have around 38g of pea protein for your body to get the same amount of usable protein.

What about non-powdered foods?

In this article, we have our top 100 high-protein foods guide as determined by the Government of Canada Nutrient list.

The top foods that are plant-based are:

  1. Roasted soy beans
  2. Roasted pumpkin, squash seeds, and peanuts
  3. Butternuts
  4. Black beans
  5. Roasted almonds and almond butter
  6. Sunflower seeds
  7. Tofu
  8. Quaker Puffed Wheat

Eating a wide variety of protein sources is critical

The reason why is because plant-based proteins don’t have a complete protein amino acid profile. So it’s important to eat many types of plant-based foods to even out your amino acids. And if you’re using plant-based protein powder, it’s best to get a blend.

MyProtein is one of the top scoring protein brands on Labdoor, and their vegan blend has a pea/fava bean blend:

Myprotein Plant Based Protein Powder

Eating exclusively plant-based? Be sure to consider other missing nutrients—not just protein

Getting enough protein is just one important part of eating well. Those eating a plant-based diet will need to do lots of research to find other solutions for getting enough creatine, carnitine, DHA/EPA, taurine, vitamin b12, and other important nutrients necessary for health and strength.

The Outlive take:

It’s more challenging to get enough protein from a plant-based diet. Not only are all the highest protein foods animal-based, but plant-based proteins suffer from a lower protein quality score, so you’ll need to eat a lot more of them.

As for next steps, the first thing is to thing to focus on is getting enough daily protein. A good way to work on that is to fix up your lowest protein meal first. For most people, that’s usually breakfast. So making a smoothie with a plant-based protein powder could be an easy way of starting the day off well.

Next, you should try and spread your protein throughout the day for optimum muscle protein synthesis. In this study, researchers compared eating protein spaced out throughout the day to mainly eating protein at dinner. So the first group would have 30g for breakfast, 30g for lunch, and 30g for dinner. The second group had 10g for breakfast, 15g for lunch, and 65g of protein for dinner. The group that split up protein throughout the day had 25% better muscle protein synthesis! When trying to build muscle and stay lean, every little bit helps. The study authors say having even more protein could be better, thinking 40g at breakfast, lunch, and dinner could be even better for muscle protein synthesis.

What do you think? What are your favourite sources of plant-based protein?

2 thoughts on “What are the best plant-based protein sources for vegetarians & vegans?”

  1. Thanks Jared for this post. My wife and I are experimenting with a whole food plant based diet at present, and getting enough protein in my diet has been a question I have been wrestling with. I believe it can be done with careful planning and some creativity. I liked your tip about breakfast, what do you eat in the morning?

    I learnt about this guy yesterday called Robbie Balenger who ran across America in 75 days, eating vegan!! Impressive!
    https://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/a27656146/robbie-balenger-vegan-cross-country-run/

    Thanks again

    Ben

    1. Hey Ben,

      I think approaching it with carefulness is very wise, there are many nutrients to try and include that might be missing from the traditional diet. So if you make some

      Right now, I do an intermittent fast until 12:00 pm. Then I eat my first meal as lunch. But a vegan smoothie would probably be my first choice if I were eating a vegan breakfast. I know that rice protein doesn’t score as well as the other types, but I did quite enjoy making smoothies with SunWarriors rice blend (it had a decent, earthy taste that worked well in smoothies.)

      I personally eat animal-based products, but the reason I wrote this article is because I have a two friends and one person in my family who are vegan. While I don’t subscribe to the diet myself, I can understand and respect their line of thinking. And I’ve helped to coach people build muscle who eat everything from plant-based, pescatarian, and ovo-lacto diets, etc., and they can all get great results with a bit of planning 🙂

      Crazy to read that story about Robbie! What an accomplishment! Kind of crazy that he was having four Soylent drinks every day, haha.

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