Plant-based diets have grown massively in popularity over the past number of years. There may be many reasons why someone would transition over to a plant-based diet including ethical, environmental and personal reasons.
There are a number of key nutrients of interest when planning a healthy and balanced plant-based diet, such as B12, iron, iodine and zinc. However, the first nutrient that springs to mind when someone switches to a plant-based diet is protein. Many people find they can be somewhat bombarded with comments such as “How are you going to hit your protein goal?” and “Are you going to lose all of your muscle?”.
Contrary to popular belief, you can eat a high protein diet and be plant-based - it just takes a bit more thought and planning! And with the hashtag #vegangains having over 724,000 posts on Instagram, we can safely say that muscle building is possible on a plant-based diet.
Include a wide range of foods and protein sources. This will not only add variety to your meals and ensure you’re getting in lots of different vitamin and minerals, but it will also ensure you’re getting in all of the essential amino acids your body needs. This is because unlike animal proteins, plant-based proteins are what’s known as incomplete proteins. This is because they don’t contain all of the essential amino acids (EAAs) our body needs.
However, it is possible to increase the protein quality of plant based proteins through combining different sources to increase the EAAs in that meal. This is called protein complementation or protein combining and involves combining two plant based proteins, one which is low in a particular EAA and another which is high in that lacking amino acid. This will help you get all the EAAs needed by our bodies.
For example, beans are low in an amino acid methionine, so eating them with wholegrains such as brown rice can help make up for this, making the meal more complete. Nuts and seeds are low in lysine, so eating them with legumes such as peas, chickpeas, lentils is beneficial. The combining does not necessarily have to happen in the same meal but a combination of good protein sources should be included at each meal to optimise muscle protein synthesis.
The exception to this are soya protein and quorn protein which are of a higher protein quantity/gram and quality than other plant based proteins.