I’ve been vegan for nearly two decades and “where do you get your protein” is the most common question I get asked (for other questions I get asked, check out this IFOD: Mostly Dumb Questions Vegans Get Asked). It’s an understandable question because a common misconception is that meat is the main or sole source of protein in a diet. But that’s not the case. Plants have protein too. For example, broccoli contains more protein per calorie than steak.
If plants containing protein seems weird, stop and think about all the animals that are vegetarian and have massive amounts of muscle: horses, cows, elephants, rhinoceros, bison, deer, etc. In fact, pretty much all the meat that is consumed in the U.S. is from animals that are vegetarian.
When I’ve pointed out that plants contain protein in response to the question about where I get protein, a common retort is that plant-based protein can’t possibly be the same quality as animal protein. A recent study tackled this question and concluded that plant-based protein builds as much muscle as animal protein. Here’s a summary of the study from PCRM:
Plant-based diets support muscle mass gain among young adults, according to a study published in Sports Medicine. Researchers compared protein intake and leg muscle mass in young men who followed either a vegan diet or an omnivorous diet as part of a twice-weekly resistance training program. Vegan participants took soy protein isolate supplements while nonvegan participants supplemented protein intake with whey (dairy) protein supplements. All participants increased muscle mass with no differences between the diet groups. These results suggest protein source does not affect muscle gain among young men with adequate protein intake.
So don’t let concerns about protein quality keep you from shifting away from meat and towards plant-based foods. If you want to read a bit more about which plants contain lots of protein, check this article out. Finally, a picture is worth a thousand words — here’s Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Harris who is vegan: