Plant-based Protein Q&A, part I

Nutrition Stripped


Sources of plant-based protein is one of the most common areas many of my vegan/vegetarian clients ask about; whether it’s consuming enough or what types. Today, I’m here to tackle some of the most common questions asked related to protein in a plant-based diet. I also want to leave this an open ended blog post for you all to ask your own “Q’s” that you want to hear my “A” to! Here’s part 1 of my Q&A series, with more to come.

What is a plant-based lifestyle?

A plant-based lifestyle can encompass a wide variety of diets and foods eaten, but have one thing in common amongst all of these diets. The foundation of the diet/lifestyle is rooted in whole, fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, and other foods than come from plants. Being plant-based doesn’t confine you to titles of vegan, vegetarian, raw, etc.; they can be a template from which you build your own diet from- breaking it down, it means a diet based in plants. You all know I’m not a fan of labeling eating style and creating an entire identity around being “vegan”, “raw”, “paleo”, etc.; it creates a dogma a too strict of guidelines to fit into. I truly believe all of us can take what we like from certain diets and leave behind what doesn’t nourish our individual bodies, to create our own perfect template of what works for us!

Here are a couple of the most common plant-based lifestyles. Note all of these diets will have similarities such as eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains/gluten free grains, healthy fats, plenty of water, etc.

  1. lacto-ovo vegetarianism = eggs + dairy products
  2.  lacto-vegetarianism = dairy products – no eggs
  3. ovo-vegeterianism = egg products – no dairy
  4. pesca-vegetarianism = fish – no other animal flesh ( may include dairy/eggs)
  5. vegan (abstains from all animal flesh foods and products including animal based products, i.e. honey, dairy, eggs, fish. This can also be extended into lifestyle such as avoiding leather, shoes, or other materials made from animals)


Is it really true that vegetarians and vegans don’t consume enough protein?


No…and yes. First let’s start off with the first part of this answer, no. Vegetarian diets and even vegan diets which are a bit more restrictive, can contain more than enough protein for your body to thrive and overall maintain a healthy lifestyle when thought out and planned properly. One of the biggest problems I encounter with my clients who practice plant-based diets is the lack of overall protein in their diet including plant-based sources. Getting adequate amounts of protein is extremely important as protein is the building block of our cells, muscles, tissues, and so much more. Protein plays many roles in the human body, which are responsible for a myriad of functions some of them include, roles in transporting/storage, as a structural component (collagen, muscle tissues, etc.), messengers (hormones, etc.), enzymes, and antibodies.

Protein should be high priority in all diets, but especially in plant-based diets. Making sure you have enough protein throughout the day is key to long-term success. My tip is to consciously include a vegetarian protein source at every meal- this will help round out your overall intake of amino acids throughout the day (which again are the building blocks of protein). Check out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position paper on vegetarian diets to help give you more insight on the benefits, but also nutrients of concern (that often get overlooked).


How much protein do I need to eat daily?


Great question, with a many answers. This greatly depends on the individuals’ lifestyle, goals, digestion, diet practiced, etc. In general (very general terms), 0.8g of protein per kg of your bodyweight is a RDA/guideline recommended by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. I would actually go a bit higher as vegetarian and vegan proteins are digested a bit differently and are not as bioavailable as animal proteins. For example, a 140lb woman would need: 140lbs / 2.2 (conversion from lbs. to kg) = 64kg. 64kg x 0.8g protein = 51g of protein per day. Let’s say this female was eating 2000 calories/day, protein would make up roughly 10% of her intake- this is fairly low in my opinion. Again I highly recommend meeting with a qualified practitioner or (me) to figure out what your ideal protein intake is for your goals.


What are the best sources of protein for vegetarians?


There are plenty of great sources of plant-based proteins for vegans and vegetarians. First, remember the different types of vegetarianism? Well, the proteins consumed will be dictated by which “lifestyle” someone is practicing. Also note, in plant-based lifestyles many proteins also contain carbohydrates or healthy fats, for this reason I call these either (protein + carbohydrate) or (protein + healthy fat). This should be accounted for when you’re thinking about your overall intake of carbohydrates and healthy fats throughout the day. Also, it makes for an easy balanced meal!

Plant-based protein sources

Starchy proteins (protein + carbohydrate)

Fatty proteins (protein + healthy fats)

Mostly protein

  • Spirulina
  • Nutritional yeast (contains little carbohydrate)
  • Quality protein powder supplements: brown rice, pea, sprouted rice, hemp protein, some of my favorites include Vega and Sunwarrior.
  • Vegetarian food products (including vegetarian burgers, soy hot dogs, “cheese” etc.).
    • These should be used in limited quantities, as they’re highly processed and typically very high in sodium. Focus on whole food sources as much as possible.
  • Eggs & yogurts, etc.
    • Addition of eggs for ovo- and lacto-ovo, addition of dairy products for those practicing lacto- or lacto-ovo, and addition of fish and shellfish for those practicing pesca-.

Also note, many vegetables, carbohydrates, and some fruits naturally contain trace amounts of protein as well (2-5g per serving depending on the vegetable)- these shouldn’t be “reliable” sources of protein unless you’re eating incredibly large amounts of these, which I also wouldn’t recommend due to the extremely high fiber content overtime.


What about combining proteins to make it complete, is this still true?


No. Combining vegetarian proteins to make a “complete protein” or “complementary protein” is a theory of the past. We now know that our bodies store amounts of amino acids (i.e. the building blocks of protein) in our body and can be utilized to “make up” for any limiting amino acid in a vegetarian food. It is important however to have a wide variety of vegetarian proteins and foods rich in nutrients throughout the entire day. On the other hand, some foods such as vitamin C rich foods do help your body absorb the plant-based iron sources (non-heme iron)- for example, think of eating red bell peppers with beans or an orange with nuts/seeds.


Do I have to eat protein powder all day long?


Possibly. If you’re an athlete, active, or engaging in fitness training it may be a smart idea to “supplement” your diet with good quality vegetarian based proteins to make up for your demanding needs. Notice the word supplement– this is not meant to be the bulk of your protein intake in your diet, protein powders are used to supplement (i.e. make up the deficit) the diet overall.

Even if you’re not very active, protein powder still may be a great option to incorporate into your diet to make sure you’re meeting your needs. There are great quality brands out there that can easily be mixed in with water, almond milk, coconut milk, smoothies, etc. Vega, Sunwarrior, Garden of Life Raw Protein, Plant Fusion, Perfect Fit, are some of my current favorites I enjoy using.

Protein-rich Nutrition Stripped recipes to try! 

  • Cinnamon Tahini Protein Smoothie
  • Pumped up Plant-protein Power Smoothie
  • Spirulina Energy Globes
  • Baked Eggs with Garlic Kale and Sun-dried Tomatoes
  • Nourish Bowl
  • Nourishing Muesli
  • Simply and Savory Oat Pancakes
  • Kale Hemp Tabbouleh
  • Maple Tempeh with Herbed Quinoa
  • Peanut Tempeh Stir-fry


I hope that answers some of your initial questions about plant-based protein. Let me know how you like these Q&A’s, I’d love to do more to answer your questions. Also, what other “nutrition” related topics would you like me to start covering on Nutrition Stripped? I want to hear from you, comment below! Also, if you’re wondering how much protein you should be eating especially as a new plant-based dieter, check out my services and we’ll chat about it!

xx McKel

p.s. stay tuned later this week for a plant-based protein rich snack AND a protein powder review of my favorites!

Share your thoughts

  • Vanessa

    Hi McKel,
    Great, comprehensive article, thank you! I’d love to hear more about ‘complete’ proteins vs ‘incomplete’ and how to get complete proteins from a vegetarian/vegan diet. And how important it is to consume complete proteins/which ones are the most important etc. Sorry if that’s a long-winded question requiring a long-winded answer!
    Thanks for your advice and help.

  • Shawn

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the new “high fat, low carb” and Paleo diet crazes. It’s really confusing with all the conflicting nutrition advice out there. On one side grains/legumes/carbs are demonized and on the other they’re healthy and important foods in our diets. Are we truly not evolved to eat certain types of foods? Is heavy reliance on animal products not dangerous as well?

    The other topic would be soy. Is it healthy or not? So confusing ….

    Thanks so much! Look forward to your answers 🙂

    • Hi Shawn,
      Great questions- I’ll try to incorporate these into another blog post/topic! If you personally have questions about how those foods fit with your lifestyle or any specifics I’d be more than happy to chat with you one-on-one from my services page.

      • I have the exact same question as Shawn! I am currently trying to research how/what to eat, food combining, HFLC/paleo, etc. I am very confused on what to eat all of the sudden by conflicting arguments and am left confused. Can you help!?

        • Hi Jane,
          I will answer some of these questions in a part 2! Also, have you thought about having a quick Q&A session with me? I would also love to speak with you to answer some of your more individualized questions. Simply email me or make a reservation and let’s get started – mh

  • Timmy

    Loved VEGA before they switched to VEGA one.

    • They still have Vega sport, which is my favorite! I’ll be posting Friday a protein review you might enjoy!

  • Misty

    Thank you for this post! I think protein is so important. I didn’t think I needed it until pregnancy and nursing. My body was begging me for protein! I ditched dairy a few years ago and will never go back! I love that you don’t label diets! Everyone is so different! Hoping to meet with you soon! My husband says maybe for my Birthday! 😉 thank you!!!

  • So great to have this laid out like this. Next time someone asks me where I get my protein from, I’ll send them here instead of bursting out into laughter like I did! I thought it was a bit of an old wives tale that people asked that…. 🙂

  • Betsy

    First of all truly amazing site!!
    It’s quite different to get information on plant-based nutrition from someone with actual medical education rather than just food blogs however good they may be.
    Now about the article: Could you please elaborate on the subject of complete/complementary protein? As I understand trying to form complete protein in one meal has been a common principle among vegetarians for decades. Is that only recently proven to be false? Should this newest development be trusted? You know how medical researches say one thing one day only to say the opposite the next (saturated fat hello?)
    On the other hand I often read that protein unlike carbs or fat CANNOT be stored in the body, that’s why you have to distribute protein intake throughout the day; doesn’t that contradict what you are saying that “We now know that our bodies store amino acids”? If however they can be stored what time span are we talking about? 24 hours? Maybe you could present a model plan of one day (but if you do please do not include protein powders, the hard way).
    By the way a suggestion for future article: What are your thoughts on food pairing for max absorption of nutrients. For example protein should not be eaten with starches: then nuts is a no no with grains?
    Thanks a lot and sorry for the long post

    • Hi Betsy,
      Thank you so much for your kind words and support of my blog- I truly appreciate that! I’ll elaborate much more on this in part 2- but yes, you do not need to eat “complete proteins” at each meal (it can be trusted). These are all great topics to discuss in future posts!

  • Great post! So many people are protein obsessed and seem to eat, sleep, and breathe protein when they eat. As a vegetarian working in health and fitness I am constantly asked about my diet and protein. So many people are so surprised by the number of plant based protein options (both natural whole foods and powders). Love your site!

  • As a non-vegetarian, this was a really interesting post for me. I never actually knew that people used to assume you could combine proteins to ‘make it complete’. Really interesting read, thanks for writing this, McKel!

  • Hannah Hudson

    First off, I just want to thank you for all of your blog posts! They are so informative and helpful! One thing im confused on though is how to consider fatty proteins and starchy proteins in my breakdown of fats, carbs, and protein servings in a day. If you were to eat 2 tbsp of a nut butter would you count that towards a protein serving for your day or a fat serving? Or both?

    Thank you so much!

    • McKel Hill

      Great question! I count a nut butter as both fat and protein- it’s not fully protein and not fully fat 😉


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