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But where do you get your protein?

I have to laugh when people ask me that question. It’s just so ironic that, 90% of the time, the same people who are asking me where I get my protein have absolutely no idea where they get any of their nutrients.  If they’re asking out of genuine curiosity, I’m happy to list vegan sources of protein. However, if they’re just asking to sound annoying/combative/superior, my answer goes something like this:

Where do you get your 5 servings of fruits and veggies per day?

Where do you get your serving of leafy greens per day?

Where do you get your recommended amount of fiber?

Your Vitamin A? Vitamin C?

Or I just point out that gorillas and elephants are vegans.  They certainly don’t seem to have a problem getting enough protein!

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(Christmas trees have protein? Who knew???)

In actuality, it’s not true that vegetarians have a difficult time getting enough protein in their diets.

The meat industry has perpetuated the myth that people need animal protein, especially if they’re athletic.  In reality, Americans get too much protein, which leaches calcium from the bones.  That’s the main reason why we have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world even though we also have one of the highest rates of dairy consumption.  It’s not just calcium intake that’s important, it’s calcium balance.

Also, it’s easy for vegetarians to meet the RDA for protein; it exists in places you wouldn’t expect.  For example, 1/3cup of oatmeal has 6 grams!  Pasta too.  And–surprise—even broccoli has quite a bit of protein! There’s a vegan body-building movement, too, with a website and everything.  I have two good friends who are vegan body builders.

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Anyone want to tell my friend, Robert Cheeke (above), that vegans don’t get enough protein?  Watch your back, Jay Robb!! (Robert’s going to be a guest on the blog in the near future.)

Plus, there are the crazy-energetic marathoners like Brendan Brazier, ultramarathoners like Scott Jurek, and even some NFL, NHL, and MLB-playing vegans (such as Georges Laraque of the Montreal Canadians, who is known as “Big Georges”) . No shortage of muscle there!

Published on April 22, 2010

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66 Comments

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  1. jcd says

    Wait, Goeorges Laraque is vegan? That just made my day. Go Georges!

    I agree with you; I wish there were more opportunities for layfolk to get dressed up in formalwear. My husband and I like cruise holidays because we can get dressed up every night if we want to. Yay.

  2. Jessica @ How Sweet says

    I’ve checked out the vegan bodybuilding site when I was competing and have some friends that have competed while being vegan, too. I eat meat, but I have never thought getting protein is an issue without it!

  3. Chocolate-Covered Katie says

    JCD,
    I know!! As the biggest hockey fan ever (ok, one of them), I SCREAMED at the tv when they started talking about it on ESPN. But before I wrote this post, I made sure to check and see if it was true or just a “phase” like Tony Gonzales of the Kansas City Chiefs (who went back to eating meat). I found an actual quote from Laraque saying he became a vegan because he didn’t agree with the animal-suffering aspect!

  4. Kate says

    @ Keri,
    I prefer rosebushes. Have you ever tried apple trees, though? They have a nice flavor, especially the wood 😉

  5. Jess says

    Hey girl! I was wondering the same thing–out of genuine curiosity, not to be snooty, of course!! But you knew that 🙂 Thanks for the intel! I definitely agree that Americans eat TOO MUCH protein! Meat isn’t meant to be eaten with every meal!!

    <3 jess
    xoxo

  6. Sarahishealthy says

    I never thought about the fact that elephants and gorillas are vegans and so they must get enough protein. I love that idea though, to show people that you can get enough protein on a vegetarian diet by pointing to them.

  7. Hela says

    hi katie!
    im SO glad u came up wid dis topic! i hate it when ppl askin me bout whether i get enough protein. its ridiculous! back in school we had nutrition n its proven dat u can get enough protein wid just a slice of cheese, wholegrain bread and milk wid ur coffee. tho its nothin 4 vegans- der r sooo many ways 2 get protein on vegan diets!
    thx 🙂
    love,
    hela

  8. *Andrea* says

    gah i always get that comment!!! i’m not vegan or strict vegetarian but i RARELY eat meat and my friends always ask where i get protein and when i say beans, spinach, whole grains they laugh lol.

    one of my friends also said at dinner last night ‘i had a friend that went vegetarian and she got so fat so i would never do that. all she did was eat carbs and cheese.’ ahhh- makes me mad because being vegetarian/eating a certain way for health or ethics shouldn’t relate to body image and also protein doesn’t mean you need to eat animals to get it! but it’s ok if you do, of course.

  9. Erin says

    This is one of my LEAST favorite comments from people and no matter how much you try to explain that there are plenty of non-meat, totally natural protein sources, they fall back on, “Yea, but it would be easier/faster/better to just eat meat.”

    Gah!

  10. Chocolate-Covered Katie says

    Katie and Jess,
    I actually don’t know! A few years ago, I would log my eats into fitday.com every once in a while, and I always met everything (all the RDAs). So I don’t even worry about it anymore. As long as I feel healthy and all my blood results an stuff are good, I think I’m good to go :).

    Katie,
    I can’t tell you how much protein a person needs. There are RDAs if you google it, but depending on your calorie needs, you might need more or less.
    A good rule of thumb: If you’re getting enough calories, you’re probably getting enough protein.

    Oh, and Jess, I LOVE answering diet-related questions if the person is genuinely interested, not just trying to start a fight 🙂

  11. Chocolate-Covered Katie says

    Wendy,
    LOL I actually am not really “wearing” that crown! I photoshopped it in. I did a google search for crowns and found that one. Th strawberry isn’t really on it either. I photoshopped that too. I have too much fun with photoshop 😉

  12. Kelsey says

    oh girl, i hate that saying. im so sick of anyone who asks veggies where they get there protein.. isnt it tiring!!!??

    although i eat meat i always defend my veg friends and am the first to tell people “THEY GET ENOUGH! MORE THAN YOU IM SURE!!” hehe

    have a great day love 🙂

  13. leangreendeane says

    I think my main source of protein is probably all of the quinoa, brown rice, and broccoli i eat! I love the fact that the first question that pops out of a skeptics mind is always where i get my protein and what supplements am i taking? Your responses are perfect, and i love doing the exact same in that situation!

  14. Mama Pea says

    I think protein is such a touchy subject in the vegan community, but it really is a personal preference/individual determination. I think that based on each of our own workouts, lifestyles, preferred muscular build (or not), as well as things like blood and metabolic types, different people need different amounts of protein. While I might be thriving supplementing with rice and pea protein powders, someone else might get more than enough in their broccoli and oats.

    Different strokes for different folks, but the beauty of the veggie lifestyle is that it can all be done with kindness and compassion…and on days like today, that’s something to celebrate!

  15. Nicky says

    Forget the picture of the elephant and all the rest of it! Er….HELLO Mr Cheeke!!! *fans self*

    this is my first comment on your blog but there’s no way I could lurk after seeing that!

    When is his guest post…? 😉

  16. Katie says

    Haha, I LOVED that elephant picture. So fantastic. Thanks for all the great ideas! I don’t eat as much protein as many people would suggest, but I do just fine. 🙂 I am going to store your responses in my head for next time I get quizzed about it!

  17. Katherine: What About Summer? says

    1. I am the first comment- somehow I feel victorious over this.
    2. What did you search for inorder to find a picture of an elephant eating a christmas tree?
    3. HAPPY EARTH DAY
    Katherine

  18. Effie says

    My opinion, as a dietician, is that vegan or not we have to be careful of what we eat and be sure that we get enough nutrients. I have seen vegans and also carnivores eat in a healhty way or the opposite.

  19. MsAlex says

    Do the people who ask these questions not know anyone vegan or have they lived on Mars for the last decade? My Vegan friend is the one who I asked to help me get more protein in my diet (after gym sessions etc), she’s protein-fuelled monster.

    Does Santa know that elephants do this?!

  20. Chocolate-Covered Katie says

    Melissa,
    Sorry! As I wrote in an above answer to other commnters (Katie and Jess), I have no idea how much I get. I know it’s enough, though, because I feel healthy, I’m eating enough calories, and my bloodwork is all healthy.
    As long as you’re eating enough calories for your body, you ought to be fine :).

  21. Heather Eats Almond Butter says

    Since I don’t eat much dairy, I always get asked how I get enough calcium, and it’s really difficult for me not to roll my eyes. Many people have no idea that other foods besides dairy products contain calcium, and I have never had problems not getting enough.

    Beautiful hair on prom night by the way. 🙂

  22. Lily @ Lily's Health Pad says

    Ugh. I try to explain this to people all the time. I’m pretty sure they find me to be misinformed and crazy!

    Obviously, I get enough protein! I have tons of energy and I feel great!! (Note: I do eat meat…sometimes. I guess that makes me a flexitarian.)

    PS-thanks for the comment shout out!

  23. Devyn says

    Thanks for this article! My own doctor does not understand veganism and told me that I COULD NOT GO VEGAN, i would not get enough nutrients! HA. I AM vegan, I am healthy, and I definatelly eat more nutricous foods than previoussly as a carnivore 🙂

  24. Chocolate-Covered Katie says

    Devyn,
    LOL you will probably completely confuse your doctor when he/she sees that you are, indeed, healthier than his/her other patients! 😉

    It’s so ridiculous that doctors (at least up until a few years ago, anyway) don’t have to take a single course in nutrition!

  25. Kiersten says

    I loved your tree-eating elephant picture

    Whenever I’m asked where I get my protein I usually get annoyed. I am not annoyed at the person for asking, but I’m annoyed at the fact that everyone is led to believe that we NEED animal protein. I get annoyed too that people don’t really know what’s in the food they eat…I don’t tell them any of this, of course. I just politely answer them.

  26. melissa @ the delicateplace says

    this is a great post because i do agree as a nation we get waaaaay to much protein! to be honest, i’m not sure myself how much i should be eating! i’ve seen anywhere from 52g for a woman up to 1lb/lb of body weight! any idea of a number for protein daily for yourself? out of curiosity i tracked myself and came in around 35g. i feel fine! bet people would tell me it’s not enough lol

  27. Simply T says

    Elephant picture = awesome, not creepy.

    And Milwaukee Brewer heavy hitter, Prince Fielder, is vegetarian (not vegan, but you never know, he could turn any day)… and that man is NOT lacking for body mass!

    Good stuff, I’m actually really glad you’ve been posting this stuff because last week I was thinking about getting some vegan protein powder from Whole Foods. Now I am just that much more informed 🙂

  28. Danielle says

    I get the protein question all the time! Can I just point out that since I started training for a marathon (running = very catabolic to muscle), I’ve actually GAINED muscle SANS protein powders. I think I just contradicted 3 stereotypes 😉

    Elephants are vegan?! hah cool 😀

  29. Catherine says

    I love this post!! After my experiment with going vegetarian over Lent I have continued on not eating meat (and have only had sushi about 3 times since!), dairy or eggs, etc. and have never felt better. In fact – I just ran the Boston Marathon and took almost no time to recover. There were actually a group of girls holding a sign that said “Vegans Run Faster”… loved it! I immediately ran over and gave them all high-fives. 🙂

  30. Christina says

    Whenever my family made comments about being “worried” that I wasn’t getting adequate nutrition, I turned the tables and said, “I bet you’re not getting all the nutrients YOU need – stop thinking I don’t just because I don’t eat animal products.”

  31. Lauren @ Eat, Drink, and Be Hopeful says

    This is so true. What a great well written post. I really think Americans need to be more educated on this topic. I have recently cut way back on my meat consumption, but still focus on getting well balanced meals. It is so surprising how many things we don’t realize actually have protein in them!

  32. Eco-Vegan Gal says

    I’m so sick of hearing the “where do you get your protein” question after almost 7 years of being vegetarian & vegan! Luckily, Robert has a great section in his Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness book about that, which around 10 different answers you can use to respond to that question. He’s a pretty incredible and inspiring guy! : )

  33. Amy says

    Vegan athletes consistently excel in their chosen sport, people definitely do put too much emphasis on protein…and not enough on other nutrients. My husband and I have been strictly vegan for 3 + years, and he is an avid cyclist who competes at least 6 times a year….and places in the top 5 almost 100% of the time. I bet he’s the only vegan there.. 😉

  34. Bekah says

    Aaahhh I love love love this post, mainly because you incorporated Edward and Bella. 🙂

    But seriously, I mean I do get most of my protein from eggs and fish and grass-fed meats, BUT, I also eat a butt load of veggies and fruit, so I totally get where you’re coming from to those people that always criticize vegans and vegetarians. they’re probably eating white pasta and bread for the most part. sadly.

    But I never doubt that the vegans in the blog world are getting the nutrients they need! And obviously, you adore being vegan. So kudos Katie! 🙂

  35. malpaz says

    I am not questioning you eating but pointing out your false facts… this statement is NOT true, and if you believe it is then please provide me with back up and reviewed or published material NOT funded by a vegan society :
    “Americans get too much protein, which leaches calcium from the bones. That’s the main reason why we have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world even though we also have one of the highest rates of dairy consumption”

  36. Jasmine Sarryeh says

    Although not a vegetarian or a vegan (i did try it though!), my primary concern has never been protein when it comes to wondering about veganism. It’s been more about Iron: specifically, heme iron. Tons of veggies have iron, like spinach, but its a form of iron (non-heme) that is not easily absorbed by the body, while the iron in animal liver is easily absorbed. Also, you need to eat massive amounts of those veggies, compared to mere 2 oz serving of meat.

    I’m anemic, and have a genetic factor that sometimes causes damage to my red blood cells, so i make it a point to make sure i get plenty of both sources of iron, both plant and animal based. After reading a lot on the subject, it seems like most Americans suffer from iron-deficency anemia without realizing it, symptoms of which may include sluggishness and fatigue. It affects omnivores, but more particularly hits vegan and vegetarians quite hard. I wonder if you had a perspective on this essential mineral, and thanks for the awesome blog.

    -Jasmine

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