The Vegan Diet: Debunking Myths About Protein Sources

Words: Crush

“Where do you get your protein from?” – this is probably the most common question asked by non-plant based eaters to vegans. Newsflash! Not all protein has to be animal-based. There are lots of great sources of protein for vegans that are plant-based and just as (if not more) nutritious as animal-based ones. Let’s debunk some myths about protein for vegans.

Vegetarian Versus Vegan

Firstly, let’s just clarify the difference between following a vegetarian lifestyle and a vegan one. Vegetarians will not eat animal products (i.e. meat), but may still include animal byproducts such as milk and eggs in their diets.

Vegans, on the other hand, eat a purely plant-based diet and abstain from eating anything to do with animals, be it the product or a byproduct thereof.

Being vegan not only encompass omitted animal products from the diet but often extends to the avoidance of using any and all products derived from animals. This can include – but is not limited to – things such as honey, gelatine, wool or leather, as well as products that have known ties to animal testing or the destruction of habitats (for example palm oil).

protein for vegans


I Want to be a Supreme Athlete!

So, back to protein… there are a lot of myths surrounding the need for animal protein, not only to survive, but to build healthy muscles; and while it’s true that animal protein does these things, the truth is that you can get the same amount of complex proteins from plant-based sources.

If you’re thinking of using this as an excuse as to why you can’t aspire to live the life of a supreme athlete, think again. There are a number of well-known athletes at the very top of their game that promote living a vegan lifestyle – Nate Davis (UFC World Champ), Serena and Venus Williams, Novak Djokovic, Lewis Hamilton, and Tia Blanco, to just name a few. Let’s bust some common myths about protein for vegans.

Protein for Vegans

photo courtesy of eurosport.com

Debunking Myths: Protein & Veganism

Myth 1: The vegan diet is protein-deficient & ‘incomplete’

Many top-tier vegan athletes would disagree with this statement. While most sources of protein in the vegan diet do not have all amino acids in a single source, other sources make up for that discrepancy.

The human body is extremely smart; it will store amino acids in a type of reserve if it has no need for it at a certain time. So, if you don’t get all the essential amino acids in your first meal, the next meal will make up for the amino acids not consumed in the first sitting.

Try these vegan protein sources


Myth 2: Vegetables contain more protein per calorie than meat

This well-known comparison has been seen often: beef 6.4 g of protein per 100 calories vs broccoli 11.1g of protein per 100 calories. To an extent this is true, however, you need to check both the portion size and the protein quality of your portion. The broccoli portion would almost be three times larger than the beef and would not hold all the essential amino acids within it.

Whereas, yes, the beef would hold all the essential amino acids, the saying is true – too much of a good thing is bad. Too much red meat protein in your diet can lead you to be more susceptible to certain diseases, and that’s besides the negative effects that commercial farming practices have and the cruelty involved.

The fact is you need to be clued up to get the right amount of complete protein from the right sources and it is totally possible. Refer to myth 1 for great plant-based proteins.


Myth 3: You must consume dairy to get calcium, protein & other essential nutrients

Food intolerance

There are plenty of alternative milk sources available these days (sometimes referred to as ‘mylks’) such as soy (check on the sustainability before you buy), coconut milk, almond milk, rice milk and various milk alternatives. They contain protein and nutrients and are often lower in calories than dairy milk.


Myth 4: Vegan Diets Make You Weak

Again, top athletes and fit vegans will disagree. Vegan Body Builder and Mr Universe competitor, Barny du Plessis, is proof of that.

As Barny says, “Some of the strongest animals in the world eat a plant-based diet – think gorillas, elephants and buffalos!”

Many of those who have switched to a vegan diet say they feel stronger and have more endurance. A lack of strength in a vegan diet is a complete myth – as long as you ensure you are getting the protein, vitamins and minerals you need for your body type and weight.


So, Should I Become a Vegan?

There are many benefits to the vegan diet, both environmentally and health-wise. Being vegan takes dedication and thorough research – it is a lifestyle choice that needs to be considered and followed properly to maintain optimum nutrition.

It’s easier than you think though, and with so many options readily available, it’s getting easier and easier to ‘convert’.

Read our interview with Garth Tavares, AKA Cape Town Vegan on his lifestyle change. As an easy reference, see our guide on vegan substitutes.

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