As a Vegan or Vegetarian, it’s likely you’re tired of answering the question “But, where do you get your protein from?!” As one of San Diego’s Best Vegetarian and Vegan Meal Prep companies, we’re happy to answer that one for you!
Feel free to bookmark this one and pass it on the next time you’re not in the mood to answer that question. You an also use this post to help with your own vegetarian and vegan meal prep needs when considering protein content. We’ll start by addressing some basic nutrition principles to lay the foundation. By the end, everybody will understand how some plants are not only equivalent to, but can actually be superior sources of protein.
What is Protein
We’re going to keep this really simple. Protein is an essential macronutrient that must be consumed through food. When they say “you are what you eat,” that’s actually a very literal statement. Your body breaks down the protein you consume through digestion into individual amino acids. Then, through a series of a billion-ish different metabolic transactions, it builds new tissue to support and sustain all aspects of your body’s basic and mechanical functions.
Does Eating Protein Help You Build Muscle?
There are many who believe that you must consume massive amounts of protein to build muscle. This is not entirely true. Some also believe that if you eat protein, you’ll inherently grow larger muscles. That is not at all true. In fact, protein utilization is not even about how much protein you consume, it’s about how much your body will absorb. Absorption is contingent on your activity level and lifestyle.
If you’re consuming more protein than your body is asking for, it will be broken down and discarded. This is a terribly wasteful thing to have happen. Protein is the universe’s most expensive macronutrient (in terms of cost and also sustainability).
How Much Protein Does Your Body Need?
This is a very HOT topic! Current guidelines indicate you should consume .8g/kg of body weight. You can push that closer to one gram or 1.25 grams if your an athlete and extremely active. If you’re trying to lose weight, slightly increasing your protein consumption can also help preserve lean mass, which is often eroded through dieting.
This means the average woman weighing 166 pounds should shoot for 60 to 90 grams of protein per day. The average man, weighing 191 pounds should shoot for 70 to 110 grams per day. It works out to about 15-20% of total calories consumed.
Comparing Protein Sources
Comparing protein sources can be like comparing apples and oranges. You can’t necessarily look at the total grams of protein on a nutrition label and deem one source a better source than another simply because it has more grams of protein. You need to also consider which other macronutrients come with that protein and the total calorie package it delivers.
Animal products will certainly carry a higher concentration of protein, but they can also contain more fat and no fiber compared to plants. This can make them inferior sources from a total nutrition perspective. This is also true when comparing plant sources of protein. For example, one might think peanuts are a better source of protein than kale. When you’re finished with this post, you’ll understand why they aren’t.
How Do You Know Which Protein Sources Are “The Best”
As a vegetarian and vegan meal prep company striving to hit certain nutrient profiles, we needed to level the playing field to know which sources of protein would be best for our meals.
To do this …
- We started with a list of nearly 100 foods, mostly plants and 5 of the most common sources of lean animal protein: tuna, beef, chicken, turkey and 2% cows milk.
- We established a serving size then recorded total calories, fat, protein, fiber and sugar.
- Then with a simple calculation, we figured out how many total grams of protein were delivered per 100 calories.
- Then we ranked them highest to lowest and kept only the 41 densest plant based sources.
Clever right? We’re still patting ourselves on the back for this one.
The 41 Best Sources of Protein for Vegan Meal Prep
With our focus being vegetarian and vegan meal prep, we strive to include about 15-22 grams of protein in each of our regular sized entrees. We also like to make sure that our meals are consistent in portion deliver about 400 calories and 8-12 grams of fiber with less than 20 grams of fat and sugar. Our smoothies contain at least 20g plant based protein with about 300 calories. These 41 plants were selected because they are the ones that deliver 3.7 grams or more of protein per 100 calories. That would be enough to allow us to hit our vegan meal prep minimum protein requirement.
Chart: Best Sources of Protein for Vegan Meal Prep
5 Fun Facts about Sources of Plant Protein
- Chlorella (Algae) is actually a better source of protein than 80% of the animal sources we used as benchmarks!
- Kale does have more protein than peanuts (and also cows milk!)
- Mushrooms have more protein than turkey and beef.
- There are 8 plants that are better sources of protein than beef (top sirloin, trimmed to 1/8″ fat).
- Asparagus is the most protein dense vegetable, delivering nearly 11g protein per 100 calories (more than beef — lol).
Getting Started with Vegan Meal Prep
Now that you know the best sources of protein for vegan meal prep, it’s time to get started! You can create your own recipes with this list and get cooking and plating your own veggie heavy culinary creations! Or, you can check out our Complete Menu and let us do all the planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, plating and cleaning for you! Remember, while we are a predominantly vegetarian and vegan meal prep company, we do also use high quality animal protein responsibly.
Note: All nutrition data was pulled from the Fat Secretes USDA Nutrition Database.