Monday, January 18, 2016

Where Do You Get Your Protein?

As a plant eater I’ve been asked this more times than I can count. I’ve never really had a good answer. Typically my answers have been “I think protein is overrated”, or “Plants have all the protein you need”, or “The same place gorillas, elephants, horses, rhinos, and buffalo get theirs; plants”. 

Patrik Baboumian holder of three Guinness Strength World Records, arguably the strongest human being on the planet, and a vegan, answers with the following:

"The strongest animals are plant eaters; Gorillas, Buffalo, Elephants, and Me."
This subject came up on a ride this weekend, particularly if one should use protein supplements in smoothies. I typically don’t, even after a particularly hard or long ride/run.

So when I got home I checked the protein content of one my typical post ride smoothies.  Below is the list of ingredients and protein content of my smoothie that day.

1 cup Orange Juice                                                                   0.6 gram protein
1 serving Kale                                                                           2.9 grams protein
Handful of Baby Carrots                                                             1 gram protein
2 Tbls Chia Seed                                                                       6 grams protein
3 Tbls Hemp Seeds                                                                   10 grams protein
1/3 cup oatmeal                                                                        6 grams protein
Frozen mixed fruit (blueberries, strawberries, peaches)       1.5 grams protein
2 Bananas                                                                                2.6 grams protein
Total                                                                                       30.6 grams protein

That’s pretty amazing when you think about it. That smoothie has all the carbs, vitamins, protein and fat one needs to make a perfect recovery drink. There is really no need to add extra protein in powder form. 

Sometimes I put spinach in place of Kale or a combination of both. It turns out that per calorie, kale and spinach have as much or more protein than beef.

Looking at it from a calorie perspective, 100 calories of ground beef has 10 grams of protein while 100 calories of fresh baby spinach has 12 grams. Per calorie, spinach has more protein than ground beef. Percentage-wise, spinach is 30% protein while ground beef is 40% protein (and 60% fat). Ground beef has none of the antioxidants, vitamins, carbs, and fiber of spinach. I think Popeye was on to something.

Kale could be considered a superfood. Kale has about the same amount of protein per calorie as meat. It also has more iron than meat and more calcium than milk. Additionally, like spinach, it has a ton of immune-boosting antioxidants & vitamins, is ant-inflammatory, and is a rich source of fiber and essential omega fatty acids (vs saturated fat in meats). 

This is the first time I actually did a protein analysis of my smoothies. I always assumed I got my protein from the typical plant protein list: lentils, beans, tempeh, tofu, nuts, nut-butters, quinoa, seeds, etc.

I also get it that it would take a lot of spinach or kale to come up with 100 calories, so a side to side comparison with beef is a little deceiving. But as you can see from what I found above, protein is not an issue for plant eaters. So where does that question come from?


Organic Authority. (2011). 7 Reasons Kale is the New Beef. Retrieved from

Institute for Optimum Nutrition. (1992). Protein Myths.  Retrieved from