I remember when I first told my mom I wanted to be a vegetarian, she, being her mom self, had her concerns and questions regarding my interest in dietary change. She asked all the mom questions wondering why I wanted to make such a dietary change and then she asked the infamous question:
“So how are you going to get your protein?”
This was definitely my most common question among family members when I expressed my desire to no longer eat meat. I was 17 when I was seriously considering a vegetarian lifestyle, but more on that story later. And as a 17 year old, I had no knowledge on nutrition. I could care less about protein or why I needed it.
I have been on my fitness journey for well over 2 year now, and I often cringe at my 17 year old self’s lack in desire to be a healthy vegetarian. I was anything but healthy and it was ultimately this lifestyle change that actually made me gain weight. But the beauty in growing older is also growing wiser! And here is what I have learned since starting my weight loss journey in regards to protein.
It is funny because the more into fitness I become, the more of the “bad” side I see. First it seems carbs were “bad” and then fat was “bad” and lately I have even seen too much protein is “bad” and I can’t help but eye roll because anything, ANYTHING, in excess can have negative consequences. But the right amount of carbs, fats, and protein is actually really beneficial. I won’t get into macro specifics on this post and purely focus on protein, but protein is your most vital macronutrient. They all are important, but protein is the most important because:
Protein preserves muscle mass when dieting, and it builds muscles when “bulking” or trying to grow.
Protein has the highest thermic effect of the three macronutrients. Meaning, 20-30% of the calories are burned off in digestion process and higher protein intake is much more satisfying (AKA keeps you full longer).
So how much protein do I need? Well, this varies and is based on personal preference, but generally 1 gram per pound of body weight is recommended. However, you can go as low as .7 grams per pound or as high as 1.3 grams per pound as well. I do not eat 1 gram per pound, because when I first started tracking my macros, I was weighing in at 177 pounds. Now, being in a deficit, 1 gram per pound wasn’t necessary, but even so, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get that much protein as a vegetarian. Now that I have been tracking for awhile now, I can easily hit 140 grams with ease and am confident I could get even more if I ever needed to! (*these protein facts are found in my favorite macro resource, Nick Cheadle’s IIFYM Bible)
Protein is most valuable during a deficit (meaning you should eat more during a cut than during maintenance or bulking) because protein helps minimize the breakdown of muscle. When you reduce your calories during a deficit, your body is going to look for energy wherever it can including taking it from your muscles (meaning you lose weight from both fat and muscles during a cut which is why protein is essential to maximize loss from fat and not muscle. You will inevitably lose weight from both fat and muscle, this is a given). At maintenance or bulking, energy is not in short supply so your body doesn’t need the same amount of protein in your diet. A “muscle sparing” effect come from carbs meaning the more carbs you eat, the less likely you use energy from protein for energy which is why you can eat more carbs during maintenance and surplus 😉 (*Info from my friend, Emma (@em_wizzfit) also my macro coach)
So how do I get my protein?
Mostly through dairy and eggs (I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian). I know dairy is often a source of conflict for many people. I will include a few dairy free, high protein options I often use but keep in mind that many diary free, plant based protein sources are not low in carbs. Low fat/ fat free dairy, whey protein, and egg whites are low very low in carbs and fat yet high in protein.
Do I use supplements?
Sometimes. But I really try to avoid using too much protein powder and bars and prefer getting my protein in other ways. I use (mostly) whey protein powder as needed because it is a supplementation to help hit my daily goals if I am off on my tracking and don’t have many carbs and fats left for the day but am in need of lots of protein. Getting in protein from wholesome food is always better because it is typically more filling. Have you ever had a protein bar and then shortly after think to yourself “Hmm, I am still hungry??” Well, a protein bar is generally anywhere from 40-80 grams where as a giant yogurt bowl filled with berries and peanut butter is 480 grams. And guess what? Same macros! Same amount of protein, but the yogurt will keep you fuller longer because there is more volume! See image below for visual reference.
As you can see, a protein bar vs a yogurt bowl (filled with other micro nutrients) has relatively the same macros and similar calories. However, the yogurt bowl will keep you fuller longer, not because it has 5 grams more protein, but because is 400 more grams in weight = VOLUME!
Do I need supplements?
Absolutely not! According to Eric Helm’s Pyramid of Nutrition Priorities (google it!), supplementations are at the top of the pyramid and are the least important factor in your fitness goals. Essentially, supplements can be beneficial to a good nutrition plan, but they cannot make up for a poor nutrition plan.
Below is a breakdown a typical day with and without protein supplementation…
Here are two entries from random days from My Fitness Pal.
The left is an example of a day without supplements and the right is an example of a day with supplements.
Ok, now for the good stuff. Finally my Top 50 Vegetarian Protein Sources!
Below is my comprehensive list and personal review of my favorite protein sources. I have broken it down into dairy based protein bars and powders, vegetarian protein sources, specialty vegetarian protein sources, plant based protein bars and powders, plant based food, and plant based specialty protein. I have linked all the products to either Amazon or to the website of the product so click the title or image to be directed to where you can find these items. Many of these items are cheaper in bulk or on Amazon than in stores, so Amazon is a great way to try these products out!
Dairy Based Protein Bars and Powders
Pescience- This was one of my very first protein powders I went to! Snickerdoodle is my absolute FAV! I love it for protein oats (and if I am feeling a bit extra, I add in some white chocolate chips and it gets all melty like icing *insert heart eye emoji here haha). They also have a wide variety of flavors. I really like their coffee line and they have a white chocolate mint at Christmas time which is AMAZING! It also is a great brand to bake with. 24 grams protein for snickerdoodle
Quest- Personally, I am not a huge fan of quest bars, but I do like their protein powder! Peanut butter is probably my fav, but they have so many great flavors like salted caramel and cookies and cream! Another great brand to bake with! 23 grams protein
A great way to sample out different protein is with sample packets! You can find some online or in local wellness stores like Vitamin Shoppe!
Orgain- Orgain’s whey protein has a little more carbs than the previous whey proteins; however, it is organic and has less processed foods in it so it probably is a “cleaner” source of protein. 21 grams protein
Orgain Protein Drink- These are great on-the-go protein drinks for a snack, post workout, or if you’re in a pinch. The chocolate is my favorite although vanilla is pretty great too! 26 grams protein
Starbucks Protein Drink- Ok, so in terms of balanced macros, these are not the best, but 20 grams protein in a delicious coffee drink will always have my heart <3 20 grams protein
Nugo Stronger Bars- These bars are really good. There are not many protein bars I actually enjoy, but these are one I really enjoy! 25 grams protein
Vegetarian Protein Sources
Fage Greek Yogurt- I always use plain 0% fat because I like to use my fat on things like peanut butter or treats lol. But the 2% and 4% have high protein, just keep in mind they are higher in fat. The macros change for the flavored varieties so remember that if you grab a different flavor! A serving is 227 grams and 23 grams of protein
Chobani Greek Yogurt– Again, I use 0% fat plain yogurt. I love all the flavors Chobani has, but the macros are best for plain yogurt. I always dress it up by adding fresh fruit and peanut butter and the sour taste goes away. 300 grams of Chobani is 30 grams of protein
Siggis Yogurt- This is a great yogurt option if you are not quite ready for plain yogurt. The plain has the best macros with 15 grams of protein and 5 grams carbs. The flavored varieties vary from 13 – 15 grams of protein but also have 12 -14 grams of carbs due to the fruit additives. Anywhere from 13 to 15 grams protein for a single container
Dannon Oikos Triple Zero Yogurt- This is another great flavored option that is single serving as well. The banana creme and coconut are my favorite! Macros are similar to Siggis. 15 grams protein per container
Dannon Light and Fit Greek Yogurt- Again, very similar to the Siggis and Oikios. These all have different flavors and textures. Siggis tends to be a bit thick whereas this brand is not nearly as thick. The vanilla coconut in Bob’s Red Mill Tropical Muesli is da bomb.com! Macros are similar with a little less protein and carbs. 12 grams protein per container
Good Culture Cottage Cheese- Ok, this is HANDS DOWN THE BEST cottage cheese ever!!! Seriously so creamy and has a great texture. Some cottage cheese can be off putting and a little watery, but not this brand! It is seriously so good. The plain variety has 19 grams protein and the flavored ones have 16-17 grams of protein but are in higher in carbs because of the fruit. Even if you don’t have Good Culture available, any brand of low fat or fat free cottage cheese has great macros (for an example, Publix brand of Fat Free Cottage Cheese for 8 oz has 26 grams protein)!
B’More Organic- These are amazing skyr smoothies!! They are not overly sweet and really thick, but are a great, organic, less processed protein option! The vanilla has the best macros with 40 grams protein per bottle (2 serving in each bottle, but I usually have the 2 servings). The other flavors have more carbs but are all 0 grams fat (except the coconut) and average about 30 grams of protein per bottle so if you want flavor, they are great options too, but just keep in mind the carb increase (I mention this with the understanding that everyone’s carbs vary!).
Any fat free and low fat cheese- I typically use Kraft because that is what my store has. But Kraft FF mozzarella and cheddar have 9 grams protein, 0 grams fat, and only 1 carb. So it is an easy additive to top things with if you need a little extra protein. Ill be honest though, fat free cheese is not amazing taste wise, so I try to save enough fat to use a low fat cheese variety. I have found Trader Joe’s light mozzarella is super creamy and delicious with only 3 grams fat but only 5 grams protein.
Egg whites- A bit boring, but a great option! You can sneak these in protein oatmeal or pancakes for an extra protein boost. An 8 oz egg white omelet (minus the additives) has 25 grams of protein
Specialty Vegetarian Protein Sources
HALOTOP- I eat a pint everyday because it is the best hahaha! Every flavor has different macros, but for the most part, each pint has about 20-25 grams of protein and Oatmeal Cookie is by far my absolute fav!!!
Enlightened Ice Cream- I have a hard time finding these, but I have been able to taste a few pints. These are pretty similar to Halo Top and another great, high protein treat! Depending on the flavor, they have 24-28 grams of protein
Enlightened Rice Krispie Treat- Ok, so this is definitely a treat lol. Although it has 15 grams of protein, it also is very high in carbs, so the protein to carb ratio makes it less of a protein source and more of a treat for me. They are really tasty though!
Nuts and More Salted Caramel- AKA the BEST nut butter ever! This is seriously my favorite peanut butter hands down. I have tried Toffee Nut and Cookie Butter but something about Salted Caramel just wins me over! This is a nut butter, but with less fat and more protein! 12 grams of protein per serving
Kodiak Cake Power Mix- It is no secret that I love pancakes haha! And I pretty much only use Kodiak mix because it has such a great protein content. Have you ever had like Bisquick pancakes and it just never fills you up? Well that is simple carbs and little protein for ya! Kodiak power cakes has 14 grams of protein per serving but if you add in the egg white suggestion it bumps it up to 21 grams of protein. I will be including my favorite protein pancakes in my recipe e-book 🙂
Bob’s Red Mill Low Carb Baking Mix- This is a great baking alternative with 11 grams of protein per serving and only 13 grams carbs! I also will be including my favorite recipes using this mix in my recipe e-book!
Bob’s Red Mill Protein Pancake and Waffle Mix- I honestly haven’t tried this yet, but I have a bag waiting to be used! 15 grams protein per serving
Quest Chips- So if you want a chip like taste that is macro friendly, these are really pretty good! They definitely are not the full fat, greasy, delicious, amazingly crunchy comparison to real chips, but for 20 grams of protein, they will do!
YouFreshNaturals Brownie Batter Protein Oats- These are amazing and a really easy grab and go breakfast! There is also a cake batter flavor but I did not enjoy it nearly as much as the Brownie one! 20 grams of protein per container
Plant Based Protein Bars and Powders
Vega Sport- I only like Vega’s Sport line. The other products are too chalky for me, but the sport powder blends pretty well. The mocha is my fav with a whopping 30 grams protein! And this product is less carb dense with 4 grams carbs so it really is a great option for plant based protein!
Vega Chocolate Coconut Sports Bar- These are SOO good!! They are not the best macros, but if you need a quick plant based option, these are a great option. 15 grams protein
Orgain Plant Based Protein- I really like Orgain’s plant based powder! It blends well and the flavor is not too strong. 21 grams of protein per serving. *Much cheaper on Amazon than in Vitamin Shoppe!!
Orgain Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Bars- Um, so these are kind of my current jam. SO. FREAKING. GOOD! However, with only 10 grams of protein, they definitely are more of a snack or pre workout.
Orgain Plant Based Protein Shake (not to be confused with the vegan all in one protein shake)- Because I get a lot of my protein from dairy sources, I have been keeping these around lately just to have more plant based protein options. Again, the flavor is pretty good and not chalky! Chocolate is my fav! 21 grams of protein
Orgain Vegan all in one protein shake- These are a little different than the previous item because they only have 16 grams of protein and far more carbs. Honestly, I am not sure what the difference is, and I honestly have not tried these yet, but it is another plant based option and I do love Orgain products so I am sure it is great!
Nugo Bars– Before I started counting macros, I ate these like candy bars (like no joke sometimes 2 or 3 in one sitting lol). They are AMAZINGGGG OMG! My favorite flavors are the coconut, chocolate chocolate chip, and dark chocolate pretzel! Now that is a variety pack I would get lol! They do not have the best macros and are only at 10 grams of protein, but they are seriously tasty and like a candy bar (but better for you than a candy bar) so if you want something sweet, these are a great option!
These slim options are great too and have 17 grams of protein
Square Bars- I consider these more of a snack bar than a protein bar, much like Nugo, but they are so freaking delish and a great on the go snack to have around. 12 grams of protein per bar
Pro Bar Base- These are a great higher protein, plant based bar option! I have tried all the flavors and the Coffee Crunch, Mint, and Peanut Butter were my favs. 20 grams protein per bar
Shanti Recovery Turmeric Bar- So I tried this on a whim once because I am obsessed with turmeric. Not so much the flavor, but I definitely have a placebo effect of wanting its anti-inflamatory and anti-bacterial properties. But holy moly this bar is amazing!!! And it is raw and filled with natural and great ingredients. 17 grams of protein
Plant Based Food
Edamame- I love edamame! It is probably my favorite plant based protein source. 8 oz is 16 grams of protein
Tofu- So I am not a huge fan of tofu. I eat it on rare occasions, or if I am eating out and tofu is a veggie friendly option. It is anywhere from 9-15 grams of protein
Seitan- I don’t even know where to begin with this haha. I personally am not a fan, but it has amazing plant based protein. A serving varies based on the product but it tends to have 20 grams of protein and is lower in carbs!
Plant Based Specialty Protein
Edamame Pasta- This is a great alternative to regular pasta! It is still pretty high in carbs, but has 22 grams of protein per serving which is much better than traditional pasta. *I have not seen nor tried the Azuki Bean pasta but it has 21 grams of protein too!
Black Bean Pasta- Again another great alternative to regular pasta and is a little lower in carbs than the edamame pasta and has 25 grams of protein per serving which is awesome! *I have not seen nor tried the Azuki Bean pasta but it has 21 grams of protein too!
Banza Pasta- This chickpea pasta is another awesome alternative. A 2 oz serving has 14 grams of protein and a 3.5 oz serving has 25 grams of protein. This one is higher in carbs though.
I have not tried the mac and cheese, but for 18 grams of protein, it is definitely worth a try! These are NOT vegan though.
Gardein Meatless Crumbles- I really am not a fan of fake meat simply because it resembles meat too much! But this is a great product with awesome macros (low carb and fat with high protein!) and its easy to add to an omelet or make a plant based taco or taco salad. 18 grams of protein per serving
Morning Star Grillers Prime- These are one of my favorite veggie patty! They definitely are best grilled like an actual burger instead of microwaved. 17 grams of protein
Morning Star Veggie Links- These are a great addition to breakfast! 9 grams of protein
Morning Star Hot and Spicy Sausage Patties– I LOVE these on a breakfast sandwich! I will have a few of my fav combos in my recipe e-book! 9 grams of protein
Whole Foods 354 Meatless Patties- These are so good and I love them as a side with eggs or pancakes for breakfast! 1 patty has 6 grams of protein and I typically have 2
Enlightened Roasted Broad Bean Crips- These are a great snack! I love the Sea Salt, Garlic and Onion, Sriracha, Mesquite BBQ, and Sweet Cinnamon! A 3oz bag has 21 grams of protein, or a single serving is 7 grams of protein, but is not low carb.
Edamame Beans- These also make a great on the go snack or a salad topper! A serving has 13 grams of protein. These snack packs are great, pre portion, grab and go snacks to have on hand for travels or at work!
Eda Zen Toasted Edamame Black Edamame in Sweet Barbeque- I bought these at Whole Foods when I was in California and I am SO BUMMED I cannot find them near me! Thankfully Amazon has them online and I definitely will be ordering some because these are sooooo good! You can eat the whole bag for 42 grams of protein
Eda Zen Cruncha-mame Jalapeno- These come in convenient snack packs so they are the perfect grab and go or pre portioned topping. Not to mention that I am a sucker for anything jalapeño! They don’t have the most protein but 8 grams of protein is decent for a small snack or topping!
Lentil Chips- These are another great snack option. I have tried both the zesty nacho and lime and both are great! You can make healthy nachos using these!
Lenny and Larrys- These technically have 2 servings per cookie which is why I always try to get the smaller, single serving ones! If you have both servings from a large cookie, it is 16 grams of protein but pretty high carb. However, definitely a yummy treat and a good option if you’re craving a cookie!
The Amazon links are affiliated links through the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program where sites earn small fees by advertising and linking to www.amazon.com. I am not sponsored to promote any of these products; however these are all products I use on a regular or daily basis and really enjoy!