How much protein do I need? Does plant protein compare to animal-based?

Ever since I started working out and lifting weights, I’ve been totally paranoid about how much protein I need to eat. I worried that my muscle would cease to grow or waste away if I did not eat a lot of quality animal protein to mend my muscles. This is the type of propaganda my fellow personal trainers support and that I would pass on to my clients. At every gym across the nation, the trainers push animal-based protein on people and recommend whey protein for building muscle.

Needless to say, the idea of going vegetarian or vegan was completely out of the question. Until this year. One of my goals in life has been to be honest with myself and others. I feel confident that for the most part I have been, but the realization that the steak on my plate was once a living animal was causing me distress. I love animals, and I don’t want to kill one for food unless I absolutely have too. So I finally made the internal switch, and with the help of some vegan friends, I made the commitment to give up all animal foods. I’ve been meeting vegan athletes with awesome, lean muscularity and am now very excited that I might be able to lift weights and run with the same freaky intensity without disintegrating into a skeleton.

plant-based protein

So what is protein and why do we need it in our diets? Protein, in my opinion, is the platinum of nature. It is made up of the amino acids that compose every living being and is responsible for almost all of our connective structure (muscles, tendons, ligaments, and skin) and all organs of the body as well as hormone building blocks for proper brain function and neuromuscular function. So protein is REALLY important!

How much protein do I need as a vegan bodybuilder? Will I need the same amount as before? Will my body hold on to the muscle I already have with the same amount of effort? These are questions that go through my mind, and I will figure out along the way and share with you.

So, what about the average athletic person? How much protein do they need? This is a question that comes up frequently with new personal training clients. According to the ADA, DOC, NASM, RDA and the food and nutrition board of medicine, you need between .5 -.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This is, however, for sedentary individuals. For athletes, the requirements go up. From my experience and further research 1.2-1.8 grams per kilogram is necessary to either combat protein breakdown (ultra-running) or produce more lean muscle mass (bodybuilding). Some body builders have tried 2.2 grams per kilogram (1 gr per lbs.), but studies have shown that there is no regenerative or performance gain over the 1.8 gram-per-kilogram diet.

Austin at the gym

(I personally take in about 150-180 grams of protein a day. I am currently 185 lbs., so 185 divided by 2.2 then multiplied by 1.8 makes a grand total of 151. Ok, so maybe I need to back off the protein powder a bit :0).

These figures are for adults only. Children do not need as much, probably because they produce far higher amounts of growth hormone, which uses protein more efficiently. I believe we should consider where the source of the protein comes from as well. Bioavailability is the body’s ability to get the necessary ratios of amino acids into the body for repair. Animal protein has been considered a more balanced source over plant protein. When comparing the protein that uses a combination of hemp, rice and pea, we find it has a very similar amino acid profile to whey (a standard source used by bodybuilders).

Plant-based protein powders

Many believed that vegans or vegetarians could not get complete protein in their diets without a combination of plant foods in the same meal, like having a bean with a grain. Evidence now shows that you do not need to eat those foods in a single meal, but rather eating a variety of plant foods throughout the day will give you the complete protein you need. This is evident in the many cultures that have thrived on vegetarian diets and the many powerful vegan athletes/ultra-marathoners. Here are some examples:

* Scott Jurek is an ultra-marathoner. He has won the Western States 100 mile race 7 years in a row. This race is the “Boston Marathon” of ultras and brings the best competition the world has to offer. Scott only started winning this race when he switched to a plant-based diet.

* Carl Lewis won 9 Olympic gold and 10 world championship metals on a vegan diet.

* Brendan Brazier is a very competitive professional triathlete.

* Daniel Negreanu, Mike Zigomanis and Georges Laraque are all  professional hockey players for Canada.

* Mac Danzig is an internationally recognized MMA fighter winning the “King of the cage” in 2005 and defended it 4 times.

* Patrik Boumian is a strong man and former bodybuilder.

* Champion powerlifter Willie Austin is plant based too.

* Billy Simmons is the 2009 Mr. Universe Natural bodybuilding champion.

So, as far as I’m concerned, the facts speak for themselves.

Thanks for reading. Up next, I’ll talk about weight loss and how the scale may not be giving you an accurate view of your fat loss.