How do vegetarians consume protein?

If you’re a vegetarian, you’ve probably been asked this question. Plant-based protein is a hot topic for vegetarians, with a lot of controversy and confusion surrounding how to get enough protein and how to choose the best protein sources. However, this answer cannot be answered in one sentence, because there are many types of vegetarians, such as strict vegetarians, flexitarians, fish vegetarians, etc.

Additionally, consuming “enough” protein is relative, as a person’s ideal protein intake depends on their goals and preferences.
In the following content, I will cover all the issues related to vegetarianism and protein intake.

Many people believe that vegetarians tend not to consume enough protein, and this is true to a certain extent. But why do we need to eat enough protein? Because in order to grow, maintain, and repair our tissues, hormones, and immune system, we need a consistent intake of protein from our diet.

Depending on preferences and goals, some people may want to consume more or less protein, but we need to consume at least a certain amount of protein every day to prevent muscle loss, skin, hair and nail problems, experiencing mood swings, etc. And unless you have a specific medical problem that necessitates limiting protein intake, most people will benefit from eating more protein.

Specific benefits of a high-protein diet include:
Appetite Control: Studies have found that eating protein-rich foods appears to improve feelings of satiety.
Weight and body composition management: Higher protein intake may help you eat less when losing weight, improve the thermic effect of food, and maintain muscle.
Muscle growth or maintenance: Keeping your protein intake high, combined with strength training, can help build muscle, especially as you age.
Improved cardiometabolic health: A high-protein diet can help lower blood pressure, improve blood sugar regulation and lower cholesterol, among other things.
Improve immune function: Proteins are components of antibodies and play a variety of roles in the immune system. People with protein deficiencies are more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections.

All proteins are made up of amino acids, which are kind of like different colors of Lego that can be put together in different ways to serve different purposes in the body. In total, our bodies use 20 different amino acids. Seven of them are optional because we can produce them ourselves. There are also 4 conditionally essential amino acids, which we can sometimes synthesize ourselves and sometimes cannot. For example, when you’re sick or after a really hard workout, your body may have trouble producing enough of these amino acids.
The other 9 amino acids are essential amino acids. The body cannot synthesize them by itself and needs to be obtained from food.
Overall, as long as you’re not surviving on just a few foods (like if you only eat corn and bananas), then you probably don’t need to pay too much attention to complete and incomplete proteins. If you are 100% plant-based, then I recommend eating at least one serving of legumes a day, such as chickpeas or edamame. Beans are rich in lysine, an amino acid that is only lacking when eating plant foods.

In fact, the standard recommendation for protein intake is that at least 10% of the protein should come from animal protein. So if you are 100% vegetarian, you will need to eat more protein than an omnivore with the same goals and body characteristics.

The following foods can be considered your main sources of protein in a meal. Below I will provide different plans based on different types of vegetarian food for your reference.

1. Vegan

Soy protein: Tofu, edamame, tempeh, etc. are rich in protein and are found in many dishes from different cultures.

There is much debate about soy products, but current evidence shows that in reasonable doses, it is very safe and does not affect testosterone levels in men or increase the risk of breast cancer in women.

Plant protein powder: There are many kinds of plant protein powder on the market, such as soy protein powder, pea protein powder, rice protein powder, etc. Each type has its own pros and cons, so choose based on your preferences and needs.

2. Lactotene

Eggs and Egg Whites: Eggs are considered one of the most versatile foods in the world and one of the best vegetarian sources of protein. One egg contains about 6.5g of protein, as well as minerals such as iron and folic acid, and vitamins A, E, D and B12.

3. Fish Vegetarian

If you are a vegetarian who does not eat meat but can eat fish, then there are still many choices.

Many people think that vegetarians are less effective at building muscle and losing fat than omnivores, but this is not actually the case. With a reasonable mix, vegetarians can definitely consume enough protein, just a little more. By combining the specific foods I gave above, I believe even a vegan can get enough protein. However, vegetarians need to pay more attention to meeting other nutrients.

In terms of fat loss, it mainly relies on creating a caloric gap, which has little to do with whether or not you eat a vegetarian diet.

In general, as long as you do strength training regularly, ensure adequate protein intake, and are not lacking in micronutrients, vegetarian fitness can also achieve good results.