The Rise of the Plant-Based Diet

Written by

Dr Emily Jevons

10 Min

Plant based diets and veganism has become more popular in recent years, with individuals choosing to follow a vegan or partially plant-based diet for numerous reasons such as religious practises, concerns for environmental or animal welfare, or simply for health benefits. In this regard, plant-based diets are renowned for the variety of health benefits such as aiding the prevention and management of chronic diseases and even reducing the reliance on medications to treat some health conditions.

In addition to health benefits, plant-based diets may provide performance benefits for athletic individuals due to the generally higher carbohydrate content of these diets alongside high levels of antioxidants and phytochemicals. However, some plant-based foods also lack certain nutrients and amongst the athletic population, how to consume enough protein from a plant-based diet is a common area of discussion, particularly when looking to recover optimally for exercise or gain muscle mass.

We’re going to look at if plant-based diets can provide enough protein for athletic individuals, if plant protein is as good for building and maintaining muscle mass as animal protein, the difference between soya and pea protein and then look at both your PHD nutrition plant based protein options and which plant-based foods are high in protein.

The importance of protein in meeting your training goals

Every cell in our body contains protein. You need protein in your diet as it’s essential for repairing and rebuilding our bodies especially, muscle post-exercise, making it a fundamental nutrient to consider in more depth if you’re an active individual.

Protein classifies as a macronutrient, with ‘macro’ meaning large quantities. To enable muscle growth alongside resistance training, we need to provide our bodies with sufficient protein!

General recommendations for protein consumption are 0.8g per kg of body weight which typically equates to around 55g per day for males and 45g per day for females but for most exercising individuals, the recommendations vary between 1.4-2.0g per kg of body weight, which is quite a large range and specific need will depend on exercise type, i.e. endurance, strength or mixed.

Further to this, there is some evidence to suggest that >3.0g of protein per kg body weight may elicit positive effects on body composition in resistance-trained individuals, but more evidence is needed to support this further.

Can a plant-based diet provide enough protein for athletic individuals?

Plant based diets and veganism has become more popular in recent years and how to consume enough protein from a plant-based diet is a common area of discussion, particularly if you’re looking to recover optimally for exercise or gain muscle mass.

Overall, most plant-based diets are lower in protein than omnivorous diets, though in general those individuals following a vegan diet, are still able to meet or exceed the recommended intake of protein when energy needs are also met.

However, as mentioned above, the protein recommendations for athletes, is much greater than in the general population (1.4-2.0g per kg of body weight vs 0.8g per kg of body weight, respectively). So the question is can enough protein be consumed to support optimal performance and recovery?

Most research shows that as long as a variety of plant-based protein is consumed and energy requirements are met, most athletes are able to meet these additional demands.

Further to this, it is commonly thought you need to consume multiple protein plant-based protein sources in one meal to achieve an adequate amino acid profile. However, we now understand that our bodies have an amino acid pool that it draws upon as required. This means that as long as you consume a variety of plant-based protein options throughout the day you will be adding to this pool.

Are plant proteins as good as animal proteins for building and maintaining muscle mass?

Some research has shown plant proteins to produce a smaller muscle protein synthesis response post-exercise than animal proteins, but this does not necessarily mean muscle mass and strength gains are less. An analysis of multiple long-term studies found plant-based diets to be as effective as omnivore diets for increasing muscle mass and size provided they are consumed in sufficient amounts.

Overall, the lower anabolic effect of plant-based diets can be overcome by:

  1. Consuming large amounts of protein
  2. Eating a variety of different plant proteins
  3. Including plant proteins rich in leucine such as tofu, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds.

Do plant-based athletes need protein supplements and what are the plant-based options at PHD?

As naturally a plant-based diet can be lower in protein than an omnivorous diet, plant-based protein supplements can be a great way of conveniently increasing protein consumption. Soya protein supplementation specifically is a great option as it contains a balanced profile of amino acids with relatively high amounts of leucine compared to other plant proteins.

At PHD nutrition, we have a few vegan protein options available. Firstly, we have our Smart plant powder, which is designed to be deliciously versatile and can be used in many formats. If you want to increase your protein intake through porridge or pancakes with added protein, this is the powder for you.

Secondly, we have the Diet plant powder which is specifically designed to combine protein to build and maintain your lean muscle mass, with fat burning ingredients such as L-Carnitine, CLA and green tea extract to support fat loss.

Finally, we have our 100% plant powder, which is designed to be very high protein and low in carbohydrate and fats making it a popular choice amongst PhD users! It provides the perfect hit of high-quality, plant-based protein designed to contribute to the maintenance and growth of muscle mass. 

PHD plant-based protein powder comparison table

Macronutrient values per 100g*
RangePowderProtein sourcesCarbohydrate (g)Protein (g)Fat (g)
SmartProtein PlantPea Isolate, Soya Isolate7793.7
DietPlantPea, Soya9723.7
100%PlantPea Isolate, Soya Isolate4863

*Exact macronutrient value will vary slightly depending on flavour of powder

What exactly is Pea and Soya protein?

Pea protein or pea protein isolate is made by isolating the protein from found peas to form a powder and offer a variety of nutritional benefits. It contains a range of amino acids including leucine and is one of the more easily-digested plant-based protein options just behind soya protein. Research has also shown pea protein to be as effective as whey or casein protein in promoting feeling full.

Soya protein is the primary protein found in soy products such as soy milk and tofu. Soy protein isolate essentially is soy stripped of anything that’s not protein. Soybeans are processed into flakes that are dehydrated or powdered. Soya protein is a great source of amino acids!

Which plant-based foods are high in protein?

For an optimal vegan diet it’s important to consume a variety of different plant proteins, so as well as supplementation its important to look at your food options too. Good sources of plant proteins include Soya products, legumes, grains and pseudo-grains. For an insight into how much protein is in common vegan sources of protein, have a look through the table below.

FoodPortionAmount of protein (g)
Soya products
Soya milk200ml7
Soya yogurt200g8
Chickpeas½ 400g tin9
Red kidney beans½ 400g tin9
Green or brown lentils½ 400g tin8
Edamame beans125g15
Oats75g uncooked9
Pasta75g uncooked9
Basmati rice75g uncooked6
Wholemeal bread80g (2 slices)8
Wholewheat noodles75g uncooked9
Seitan (wheat protein)100g18
Pseudo grains  
Quinoa75g uncooked10
Buckwheat75g uncooked6
Nuts & Seeds  
Peanuts2 tbsp9
Almonds2 tbsp6
Sunflower seeds2 tbsp7
Pumpkin seeds2 tbsp9
Chia seeds2 tbsp6

Take home messages:

  1. Regular training means your protein requirements are greater than the general recommendation. Achieving this through a plant-based diet is possible as long as you are consuming adequate amounts and meeting your energy requirements.
  2. Although plant-based diets often have a lower anabolic effect than following an omnivorous diet, this can be overcome consuming large amounts of protein, eating a wide variety of different plant proteins and including plant proteins rich in leucine such as tofu, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds.
  3. At PHD Nutrition we offer a variety of plant-based protein supplement options (the focus of this article was our plant-based protein powders but be sure to check out our other plant-based products too!), these are often a convenient way of you meeting your protein requirements to optimise your training. 
Written by
Dr Emily Jevons
Dr Emily Jevons
After completing her PhD, Emily joined the PhD team, and currently provides nutritional advice for endurance athletes. Emily not only understands the science behind PhD’ innovative performance nutrition solutions, but also understands the physiological and psychological demands of sport after competing competitively in swimming and triathlon for a number of years.

Copy link