Is Going Vegan Realistic? Calculate Your Protein Requirement

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Veganism has surged in popularity in recent years, with many touting the benefits of such a diet to improved health and positive environmental impacts. You may be considering a transition to a vegan diet. However, you may have some hesitations on whether such a diet that eliminates all animal-based products can truly provide you with the adequate protein necessary for your body without having to take additional supplements. Here’s how to know if going vegan is realistic for you.

Calculate the Protein Your Body Needs Before Going Vegan

The question “But, where do you get your protein?” is a common occurrence when you consider going vegan. It is an important question for many individuals considering veganism, especially athletes. Before going vegan, they need to ensure their bodies are capable of getting the nutrients and protein it needs to continue to perform optimally while changing their eating habits to wholly plant-based. In order to answer this question first for yourself and then to help others understand their bodies’ needs, you must calculate how much protein your body needs in accordance with your lifestyle.

Step One – Measure Your Percentage of Body Fat

The first step before going vegan is to consider your percentage of body fat. There is not just one way to measure body fat. There are actually several popular methods used to calculate your body fat. Some of these measurement methods are quite advanced and may require expensive medical equipment to perform but a few require some inexpensive and easy to find tools allowing you to perform the measurement yourself.

Body Fat Measurement Methods:

  • Tape measure
  • Calipers
  • Body Fat Scale
  • Hydrostatic weight
  • Air displacement plethysmography
  • MRI or CT Scans

Step Two – Calculate Your LBM & Body’s Protein Needs

Dr. Christiane Northrup explains the manner in which to estimate your body’s protein needs with the following formula. She uses a woman marathoner weighing 138 pounds with a body fat percentage of 25% as the example in her calculations:

  1. First, multiply your weight by your body fat percentage as a decimal (In this example that would be 138 x .25 which equals 34 pounds)
  2. Now you will calculate your lean body mass by subtracting your body fat weight from your total weight ( In this example it would be 138 minus 34 which equals 104 pounds of Lean Body Mass-LBM)
  3. Now that you have calculated your lean body mass you must select a cofactor (grams of protein per pound of lean body mass ) that best describes your lifestyle in terms of activity:
  • Sedentary – You do no physical exercise; you would use the cofactor of .5
  • Moderately Active – You do 20 to 30 minutes of exercise two to three times per week; you would use the cofactor of .6
  • Active- You perform in organized physical activity for more than 30 minutes 3 times per week; you would use the cofactor of .8
  • Athlete- you perform heavy workouts twice daily; you would use the cofactor of .94.

And finally…

Once you have selected the cofactor that applies to your activity level, you will multiply that number by your lean body mass to figure out your daily protein needs. (In this case, the female marathoner used as an example would be considered an athlete and you would multiply .9 times 104 her LBM; which would equal 93 grams of protein needed per day) (720-721). By following these steps, you will be able to decide if going vegan is something you are willing to try.

How Do You Meet Your Protein Needs

So how do you actually meet your protein needs when deciding that you are going vegan? Based on the example provided, the athlete will need 93 grams of daily protein in her diet to meet her needs. Now, your protein needs will differ based on a number of factors from your body weight and activity levels. An individual who is an athlete, as used in the example, would have a much higher need for protein than the average person; and if athletes can be successful on a vegan diet and find sufficient sources of protein to fuel their bodies, the same can be said for the average person.

Sources of Protein

Here are some examples of amazing sources of protein that can be incorporated into a vegan diet:

  • Seitan – a wheat gluten meat substitute provides approx. 25 grams of protein per serving (can be allergenic)
  • Soybean products such as Tofu & Tempeh – Soybean and its products have 10 – 19 grams of protein per serving (can be allergenic)
  • Lentils & Other Legumes – Lentils boast 19 grams of protein per cooked cup while beans and other legumes have 15 grams of protein per cooked cup
  • Nut Butters – just 2 tbs of a variety of different nut butter such as almond, cashew, and peanut provides 8g of protein
  • Nutritional Yeast – a popular topping for many vegan dishes provides 14 grams of protein per ounce serving

Spelt & Teff – considered ancient grains and a great alternative to rice provides approx 10 grams of protein per cooked cup

Good Food sources of plant based protein.

These are examples of the highest plant-based protein sources available to individuals considering going vegan. It is easy to see that a complete and balanced vegan diet that incorporates a variety of protein sources such as those mentioned above will meet the protein needs of the average person as well as elite athletes.

Keep in mind that an athlete, regardless of diet, will require significantly more food intake and have to work especially hard to focus on nutrient-rich foods to meet their specific needs. The average person will need significantly less protein per day than an athlete. In our prior example, if the individual was an average moderately active person, their protein needs would only be 62 grams per day. This is 1/3 less than that needed by the marathoner. Going vegan and following a vegan diet can meet your body’s needs while also providing a number of benefits. 

Benefits of Going Vegan

  • Help the Environment by Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
  • Lose Excess Weight & Maintain a Healthy Weight
  • Lowers Blood Sugars
  • Boosts Your Immunity System & Defenses to Certain Cancers
  • Reduces Pain & Inflammation in the Body
  • Lower Incidents of Heart Disease

If you are looking to transition into a more holistic lifestyle, and a healthier nutritional diet, It may be a good idea to talk to a naturopathic doctor. Dr. Threlkel offers numerous holistic health services. Contact Karen Threlkel, ND Today in Washington DC! 

About The Author:

Picture of Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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