The hackles rise on many a vegan’s back when they hear, “Where do you get your protein?” I know I have the same reaction when I get that question, though it is an important one to consider. I once had to increase my protein intake significantly when I received a couple of second degree burns while cooking.*
How Much Protein Do You Need?
The protein recommendation from the World Health Organization (WHO) for adult men and women is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight.1 You can figure out how many kilograms you weigh by taking your weight in pounds and dividing by 2.2. So a person weighing 150 pounds weighs 68.2 kg and would need at least 55 grams of protein a day. Most Americans can attain that amount easily; there are few cases of Kwashiorkor, a protein deficiency illness (and the cause of the swollen bellies you see in those heart-breaking photos of starving children) in the United States.
When Do You Need to Increase Your Protein Intake?
Because protein’s job is to build and maintain tissue, you need to increase your intake when you incur a burn or wound so the tissue will heal quicker. At the same time, you need to eat a sufficient amount of carbohydrates and fats in order to spare the protein to allow it to do its job.2 While we all know body builders increase their protein intake, burns and wounds can require anywhere from 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight.3 If that same 150 pound person has a burn or a wound, he would need to increase his protein intake to 102 – 136 grams per day. Keep in mind when protein intake increases so does water intake.
What Should You Eat to Increase Your Protein Intake?
During my recovery, my protein intake ranged close to 100 grams per day. To meet those higher requirements I added protein bars and shakes to my already protein sufficient diet. I also added meat analogues that were tasty, high in protein and low-calorie— a win-win-win in my book.
Here is a sample of what I ate:
Breakfast: 22 grams protein
20 gram protein bar
8 oz almond milk, or any plant milk (1 gram protein)
1 cup berries (1 gram protein)
20 – 30 gram protein shake with almond milk and berries
Lunch: 38 grams protein
1 – 2 cups greens (collard greens, dandelions, plantains, kale) (~ 5 grams protein)
1 serving of vegan meat analog (20 grams protein)
1 veggie burger (13 grams protein) or 1 cup beans (14 grams protein)
Dinner: 39 grams protein
1 serving of vegan meat analogue (20 grams protein)
1 cup mixed veggies (5 grams protein)
1 cup beans (14 grams protein)
Eating plant-based proteins versus eating animal sources is a more compassionate choice that also contains a higher fiber content and more antioxidants. These qualities also help your overall immune system and aid healing. Vegan diets can easily meet protein needs on a daily basis, though there may be times in your life when that need requires an increase. It is reassuring to know vegans can easily reach those higher levels as well.
*If you suspect you have a second or third degree burn please seek medical attention as quickly as possible.
1: World Health Organization. Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition: Report of a Joint WHO/FAO/UNU Expert Consultation. 2007.
2: Whitney & Rolfes. Understanding Nutrition. 12 Ed. 2011.
3: Charney & Malone. ADA Pocket Guide to Nutrition Assessment. 2 Ed. 2009.