Journey to Vegetarianism Part 3 – On Protein

I'm a vegetarian now. I've been eating this way for maybe 4-6 months now (actually, 9 months for this specific piece!). So I'm fairly confident it has stuck. While it's kind of a strange transition, it's being going on so long that it also has been pretty gradual and uneventful largely.

I was going to write this as a single post originally, but I prefer shorter reads. So I’ll break this up into several parts:

  1. Motivation

  2. Getting There, Practically Speaking

  3. On Protein (this post)

  4. Challenges & Considerations

On Protein

This was going to be a small section, but then grew longer than I had initially thought. So it gets its own post in the series! Let’s open up with this classic vegetarian/vegan question:

“Where do you get your protein?!”

This question is a little painful. I’m sorry if I asked it to others before (I don’t think I have, but I’m not absolutely certain). Part of it is because it could be interpreted as a gotcha-style question which kind of assumes the least amount of effort by the person changing their diet. Another part of it is that meat and protein are so hand-in-hand in the USA that people sort of assume there’s zero hope if you aren’t eating meat.

That being said, the question has merit. So let’s answer the question assuming good intent. There are many good options that are readily available, at least in the USA where I live, that people probably eat commonly. Here’s a few options:

This excludes a variety of less common but readily available options (seitan, tempeh) and also if you’re willing to have some animal products (eggs, milk). Of course, the “quality” (the ratio of amino acids) of each source varies a bit, but you can be very effective with these options.

How much protein tho?

I think a more interesting question, and one that gets at the intent better, is “how much protein do you plan on having each day?” That’s really worthwhile for anyone to think about.

The starting point is the recommended daily allowance (RDA). This number is basically somebody sitting around existing and not doing much of anything at all. I see a few reference points for the actual amount:

So for example, if somebody weighs about 250lbs and isn’t active at all, they’re looking at about 90g of protein per day. As a reference, a block of tofu could net somebody 60g of protein. Mix in a few other examples from the list above and you’ve reached the goal.

In other words, the RDA is a pretty low bar to reach.

What if I do move around tho?

The games changes when you consider more active levels. Are you lifting weights? The answer is probably vastly different for you than the RDA. The same seems to be true for running as well though perhaps to a slightly lesser extent.

I’ve read many answers on what the amount should be, varying between the RDA up to 1.5g/lbs of weight “just to be sure” (which is a huge amount). I suspect it varies on many factors, including how active you are on a particular day, your goals, specifics about you and your body, and frankly how much you feel like dealing with the extra food intake. It’s worth looking around at some suggestions, trying it out yourself to see how well it works, and adjusting until you’re content.

What do you do tho?

For myself, I aim for something like 1.2g/kg on inactive days, and more like 1.7g/kg on active weight lifting days. So for me at about 114kg weight, that’s 137 – 194g a day. I suspect this isn’t absolutely optimal, optimal possibly being 175 – 250g depending. But, I also am just not worried about it. I won’t get maximal muscle growth, but I can also eat semi-normally. It’s not worth the extra jump for me to get that extra amount, and I’ve been feeling fine on this setup.