How Much Protein Do We Really Need?


This article is not intended to try and convert you to a vegetarian diet, it is simply to debunk the protein myth.  If you decide of your own accord to decrease the amount of animal products you consume per week, great, it will only improve your health and reduce your ecological footprint.

I recently had a familiar conversation with a friend regarding her endurance athlete sons and the amount of calories (6,000 according to her) and protein they need.  She described their size and the amount of energy they use in their sport, and stated that they often eat two steaks or three pork chops.  Of course I was shocked by this!  How can the vegetarian athletes possibly perform at a high level without meat?

I asked her if the boys ate a lot of vegetables and fruits, she said some and continued with ‘there is no way they could get all of the calories and energy they need from vegetables’.  Not having time to get into a big discussion about vegetarian versus carnivorous diets I smiled, said something pleasant and moved on.

I have heard this story so many times from so many people and every time I am left feeling defeated, I wish I could shout from the rooftops (or the TV screen) and help them understand the truth about protein.  I know this thinking is not their fault, it comes from the constant drilling of mainstream media and brainwashing from factory farmers, it’s hard to argue with “It does a body good”.

So I ask you, how do Gracie Gold, Hannah Teter and Bode Miller do it?  All three are medal winning Olympic athletes competing on the highest platform in their sport and all vegetarian athletes.  Bode Miller was raised vegetarian and is one of the greatest American alpine skiers of all time.

“Hannah Teter became a vegetarian about five years ago and credits her meat-free diet for giving her the renewed strength she needed to become an Olympic medal-winning athlete” (Eat Like An Olympian).  Gracie Gold skated almost flawlessly for a bronze medal after a chickpea, beat and quinoa burger pre-race meal!  These athletes train for 8-10 hours a day, that’s their job.

Hannah Teter 2

“It’s a myth that muscles, strength and endurance require the consumption of large quantities of animal-based foods. This myth began before anyone even talked about protein.  Your body is your temple. If you nourish it properly, it will be good to you and you will increase its longevity” Carl Lewis, vegan athlete with 10 Olympic medals 9 of which were gold.

carl lewis

My point is not to convert you to vegetarianism (although moving to a more plant based diet is highly recommended for a healthier, longer life), but more to kill the “where do you get your protein” argument and to tell the truth about how much you need.

Here is an amazing article by Dr. Alan Emmerson I want you to read and share with your friends.  It’s extremely helpful in understanding protein.  PLEASE READ!

How much protein do we need

The US RDA for protein is upwards of 50 grams per day, however most studies have shown that for the average person half of that is sufficient.  And if you are eating a balanced, healthy diet full of a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and beans there will never be a need to count protein grams or calories.

Another great resource is Matt Frazier, the No Meat Athlete (  Matt is a marathon runner and Boston Qualifier and is a complete vegan athlete.  Here is a link to his take on how vegetarians get their protein and he even includes a simple equation to calculate the needs for athletes (Where Vegetarians Get Protein).  I love how he says all you have to do is include a little bit of a protein source in every meal and you will get plenty.

Here are a few sources of plant based protein listed in (Plant Based Protein).  Check out the link for even more.

1 avocado – 10 grams
1 cup broccoli – 5 grams
1 cup spinach – 5 grams
2 cups cooked kale – 5 grams
1 cup boiled peas – 9 grams
1 cup cooked sweet potato – 5 grams

1 cup soybeans – 28 grams

1 cup lentils – 18 grams
1 cup refried beans – 15.5 grams
1 cup garbanzo beans (and hummus) – 14.5 grams
1 cup pinto, kidney, black beans – 13-15 grams
1 oz peanuts – 6.5 grams

Protein is important to our health, but it is not a superhero food.  When we are eating a whole foods diet full of nutrient rich foods we never have to worry about the amount of protein we ingest.  And if we are extremely active athletes, its more calories we need not protein.  This is awesome because it means we can eat more food!

Additional Resources:

If you are interested in learning even more about protein or plant based living here are a few quick and fun things you can read and watch.

Food, Inc. – A documentary about the state of food in our nation, a great entertaining education on the reality of what we are eating.  I highly recommend everyone watch it, you will learn a lot.  This movie is currently available on Netflix and probably many other streaming options.

www.Food – A highly informational website you can click around and learn a ton.  There are also several documentaries.  The Food Matters documentary is on Netflix. – This is one of my favorite sites right now.  It is not a vegetarian site at all but focused on eating a whole foods diet with little to no processed foods.  There are a ton of recipes and resources for you to use and some awesome ideas for school lunches.