How to Get Enough Vegetarian Protein for a Healthy and Active Lifestyle

There's a big misconception that it's hard to get enough protein on a vegetarian diet. The good news is, there are some great vegetarian protein sources, and with just a little planning you'll get all the protein you need.

Why Vegetarian Protein Is So Important

Proteins are made up of different combinations of amino acids. Your body uses these special combinations to . .

  • Repair and rebuild lean tissue, including muscles and bones
  • Help maintain a healthy metabolism, and
  • Stimulate your body to burn extra calories, reduce hunger,¹ and help stabilize blood sugar.

More Muscle Mass and Less Body Fat

You also need protein for optimal HGH (Human Growth Hormone) production and secretion. The pituitary gland makes HGH at the base of the brain. It's essential for normal growth and development, but when you age your body produces less.

The result? Loss of muscle mass and an increase in body fat. Studies show that getting enough protein optimizes HGH levels.3

According to some scientists, another way to enhance HGH secretion is to consume 15 to 25 grams of protein after a workout.

The time of day that you eat protein can make a difference. A recent study shows that protein in the morning can help you eat less during the rest of the day.²

How Much Vegetarian Protein Is Enough

The USDA recommends you get the following amount of protein each day:

Adults and children over the age of four 50 grams
Children under four 16 grams
Infant 14 grams
Pregnant women 60 grams
Lactating women 65 grams

From an 8-ounce cut of lean beef you'll get about 64 grams of protein. Can you get that much from plant sources? You sure can.

"Protein is especially important for the elderly to support a healthy immune system, prevent muscle wasting, and optimize bone mass."

From Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, by Sharon Rady Rolfes, Kathryn Pinna, and Ellie Whitney

Do Vegetarian Athletes Need More Protein

There isn't a separate protein RDA for athletes, but whether or not athletes and active people need more protein is up for debate.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Dietetic Association (ADA), and Dietitians of Canada have suggested that vegetarian strength athletes need 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight, while endurance athletes need 0.6 to 0.7 grams per pound.

How do you know if you're getting enough vegetarian protein? If you're a runner, for example, and you're consuming high–protein foods and not losing weight, then you're getting enough protein.

Strength Training Tip

To build more muscle, eat a high–protein food right after working out.

If you're into strength training and want to build more muscle, you'll need to add more protein to your diet. This is where protein powders can help. Once you achieve your goals, you can cut back on the additional protein.

Because everyone is different, your best bet is to experiment to see how much protein your body needs.

Best Vegetarian Sources of Protein

You can easily get the RDA from vegetarian protein. Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and dairy, all have protein. As far as quantity and quality go, the best vegetarian protein comes from soy (especially Tempeh), Seitan, eggs, and beans.

Tempeh and Seitan are two of the best sources of vegetarian protein. They're super healthy, loaded with protein, and are great meat substitutes in recipes.


Tempeh is made by fermenting cooked soybeans. Just four ounces of cooked tempeh gives you 22.23 grams of protein. That's 41.3% of the Daily Value (DV). Plus, it has more nutritional benefits than tofu.

Tempeh is easy to digest, and it doesn't have the high amounts of phytic acid that unfermented soybeans have. Phytic acid interferes with the absorption of zinc and other essential minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and copper.

Tofu. Tofu is another, healthy soy option. If you don't mind the texture and taste, you can get 6.63 grams of protein from 81 grams (1/4 block) of firm tofu.


Seitan is seasoned wheat gluten. Wheat gluten is the protein component of wheat that gives bread the elasticity and structure that allows it to rise. Every four ounce serving of Seitan has 15 grams of protein.


Beans have loads of protein. With just one cup of cooked, black beans you get 15.25 grams.

Whole Grains and Nuts

Whole grains and nuts are delicious, high protein sources. Quinoa has the highest amount. One cup of cream colored quinoa has 18 grams of protein. It's also considered a superfood because of its nutritional profile.

And who doesn't love spaghetti? If you eat just one cup of whole wheat spaghetti, you get 7.46 grams of protein.

In the nut category, almonds have the most protein. One ounce (24 nuts) has 6.02 grams. Dry roasted pistachio nuts come in second with 5.94 ounces of protein from one ounce (47 nuts). And let's not forget the walnut. They're high in omega-3 ALA, and one ounce (14 halves) provides you with 4.3 grams of protein.

Antibiotic and Cage–Free Eggs

vegetarian protein, eggs Eggs are one of the best vegetarian protein sources

Cage–free eggs that are also free of antibiotics are an incredibly healthy food, especially for vegetarians. One large boiled egg has 6.29 grams of protein.

Plus, they're loaded with nutrients, have all the essential amino acids, and egg yolks are one of the few food sources of natural vitamin D.

It's important, and easy, to get enough protein from a vegetarian diet. The trick is to plan ahead and use a high protein source in at least one meal a day.


1 Carol S. Johnston, Sherrie L. Tjonn and Pamela D. Swan, High- Protein, Low-Fat Diets Are Effective for Weight Loss and Favorably Alter Biomarkers in Healthy Adults, JN the Journal of Nutrition, 134:586-591, March 2004

2 Sarah Hills, "High protein breakfast could aid weight loss," Sept. 3, 2008, Food Navigator USA

3 Robert K. Cooper, Leslie L. Cooper, Flip the switch: proven strategies to fuel your metabolism and burn fat

Other Sources

Food and Nutrition Board, "Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Protein and Amino Acids (Macronutrients)," National Academy of Sciences 2002.

Young VR, Pellett PL. "Plant proteins in relation to human protein and amino acid nutrition," Am J Clin Nutr. 1994;Vol 59, 1203S-1212S

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 23

N.R. Rodriguez, N. M. DiMarco, and S. Langley, "Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109, no. 3 (2009), 509-27)

Jack Norris, R.D., Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, Vegan for Life

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