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How To Get Enough Protein On A Plant-Based Diet

We learn in eighth-grade health class how crucial protein is to our health, as well as how it builds muscle and repairs our damaged tissues. To achieve optimum wellness and maintain peak performance, our bodies depend heavily on it.

Amino acids are the components that make up protein. They are the building blocks for our muscle fibers and facilitate nearly every chemical process in the body. They’re also responsible for the chemical processes in our body. Of the twenty amino acids that exist, nine of them are considered essential for our bodily functions.

Human bodies can’t manufacture essential amino acids (EAAs); that’s why proper diet is so important for us to thrive and flourish. When we talk about getting sufficient protein, we’re actually referring to EAAs.

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What’s Considered A Complete Protein?

Every nutrition source is comprised of amino acids in different combinations. They are characterized by the levels of EAA each one delivers. Every food source that contains acceptable levels of EAAs are counted as complete proteins. A number of plant foods are complete proteins. Animal sources are nearly all complete proteins.

A food source that lacks one or more EAAs are counted as incomplete proteins. Most plant-based sources fall into this category. This means we must combine them with other proteins to meet dietary requirements.

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The Issue With Plant-Source Proteins 

Turning plant-based food sources into a meal of complete proteins requires some strategizing. First, you must learn which plant sources have complete EAA profiles, and know that the others need to be completed with alternate sources.

To further complicate the matter, our bodies aren’t even able to absorb all proteins that we ingest. Plant-based EAAs are normally not absorbed and used by the body as effectively as animal sources; simply because the package label declares protein doesn’t mean that our bodies can utilize it all. It’s important to keep this in mind while mapping out a dietary strategy.

But before we begin, we need to first determine our personal daily requirements.

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Determining Our Personal Requirement 

USDA.gov’s recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight each day, or 0.8 grams per kilogram. Active people may require more for optimum training and recovery periods, but not substantially more. Studies suggest that 0.55 grams per pound of body weight daily (or 1.2 grams per kilogram), is the maximum level that even an athlete’s body can fully use.

To calculate your daily needs, simply multiply your bodyweight (in pounds) by 0.55. That’s roughly 82 grams daily for a 150-pound individual – much less than most people think they need.

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And once you know what your daily needs are, you can use a combination of these three simple methods to meet them.

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Ways To Round The Diet

The most straightforward way to get protein on a plant-based diet is to choose plant sources with complete EAA profiles. The most popular and readily available sources are tofu (20 gr/cup), quinoa (8 gr/cup), hemp seeds (6 gr/cup) and buckwheat (also 6 gr/cup).

Another common way to complete our protein intake is to include two or more incomplete sources with complementary EAA profiles. The best part about this is, we don’t have to consume them at the same meal. Eating both throughout the day is also effective.

Easy combinations include beans and rice (depending on the bean variety, this can yield 7-15 gr/cup), whole grain bread spread with nut butter (roughly 10 gr/slice) and soups/stews that contain both grains and beans (again, 7-15 gr/cup).

Because plant-source proteins don’t digest as easily as animal sources, our bodies can only absorb a small portion of the EAAs plant sources deliver. This complicates things for plant-based dieters hoping to improve their intake. Grains, nuts, and seeds can be soaked and sprouted for additional nutrition. However, that process requires blocks of time, and doesn’t fit well into a busy lifestyle.

Plant-base sources contain proteins that can be isolated and extruded. They’re used in protein powders, which are good for 15-30 grams of easily-digested protein per serving. While this overcomes the absorption problem, if the isolate was taken from a plant like hemp or soy, it remains an incomplete protein. Whenever you’re about to invest in protein powders derived from plant sources, this bears remembering.

Isolates are suitable for mixing with complementary food, like fortifying oatmeal with chia protein, or whirring some nut butter into a pea-protein shake. Rice and pea protein isolates are a symbiotic example of complementary EAA profiles.

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