All Things Protein

For the last 6 months, I’ve been interested in hearing the animal side of the plant vs. animal foods debate. Usually, this debate revolves around fat.

But about a month ago, Peter Attia’s The Drive podcast had a great episode on protein! Dietary protein: amount needed, ideal timing, quality, and more with Don Layman, PhD.

And, as usual it didn’t disappoint! Since switching to only eating plant foods in 2020, I haven’t though much about protein. I eat a lot of beans/legumes, tofu, and other higher protein plant foods.

But, this discussion has me wanting to look back at the plant-side of the story.

Dr. Layman discussed a lot about protein quality, which he argues is the reason why animal fats are necessary for adequate protein intake.

Specifically, he recommends 1.6g / kg body mass.

He does concede that higher consumption of plant protein (ex. 150g+ per day) can lead to overwhelm any deficiency in a particular amino acid.

But he says that this level of protein is very difficult for vegans to get.

But, I wanted to see for myself. And, I found the protein content of an assortment of common higher protein plant foods.

Food Protein / 100 Cal
Pea Protein Powder 22.12g
Seitan 19.63g
TVP 15.38g
Spinach 12.93g
Tofu 11.97g
Tempeh 10.18g
Lentils 7.83g
Soy Milk 7.00g
Black Beans 6.61g
Chickpeas 5.58g
Spelt 4.47g
Peanuts 4.07g
Quinoa 3.69g
Almonds 3.51g
Oats 3.46g
Corn 3.39g
Cashews 3.00g

The amounts above are protein in a 100 calorie serving. And the data is from

With this target of 1.6g / kg of body mass, he is right that this is challenging to get without animal foods. But, it’s definitely not impossible.

In a 150lb / 68.03kg person, this works out to 108.84g of protein. To get this amount from a diet consisting of an average of 30% protein, you need to eat foods with an average of 7.5g of protein per 100 calories (ie. (2500cal / 100cal) * 0.30 [percent protein]).

If you’re eating a diet of whole foods, this is tough. You’d have to eat a huge meal of spinach for one meal and lentils for another.

To get above that mark, you really need to include some processed plant foods like tofu, seitan, tempeh. Starting the day off with a protein shake is another easy way to sneak some extra nuts and pea protein powder in there.

However, I’ve read elsewhere that lower amounts are acceptable if you are not an athlete. Dr. Layman directly addresses this, saying the guidelines are built to address parts of the world where protein deficiency is a concern.

So, I think I’ll need to read some more from the vegan/plant-based perspective on either: how to get 1.6g protein per kg body mass or why this recommendation is too high.

Finally, Dr. Layman mentioned one other interesting thing. Feeding older people higher protein diets can overcome their declining efficiency and promote a more anabolic state.

Protein Timing

There were a couple of interesting random facts about when to eat protein:

First, eating a enough protein (ie. 30g+) at breakfast is critical to get enough leucine to break your body out of a catobolic state.

Second, the age-old trainer-wisdom about protein is true: your muscles can only use around 30g of protein per meal.

Dr. Layman adds the caveat that it’s really a range of 20-60g based on the person. And, the liver does not have this limit, so the 30g advice is only applicable to muscle mass.

Third according to Dr. Layman, it isn’t hugely important whether you eat your meal before or after exercise.

And finally, Dr. Attia briefly mentioned that among people practicing intermittent fasting, lean body mass inevitably goes down along with total body mass.

That’s particularly interesting given the claims about fasting and metabolic health.

Fat, Cholesterol, and Heart Disease

On fat/cholesterol/heart disease, Dr. Layman mentions a study of institutionalized individuals given saturated vs polyunsaturated fats.

There was no difference in coronary events over the 5 year study period. However, there was a big difference in their total cholesterol (only total was measured, not LDL/HDL/ApoB).

This is interesting in comparison to the other studies showing a big difference in heart disease between people consuming more saturated fat versus monounsaturated fat.

Similarly, Dr. Attia had Bill Harris PhD on episode #83 to discuss Omega-3’s. And they discussed diets very high in polyunsaturated fat, which showed no correlation with heart disease in Dr. Harris’ research.

So, I’m not sure really what to make of this data point on saturated fat vs polyunsaturated fat.

Generally, Dr. Layman’s study advances the keto/carnivore claim that total cholesterol (and possibly even LDL cholesterol) basically don’t matter for heart disease.

But, that’s hard to square with other research showing animal fat (and to a lesser extent saturated fat from plants) are highly associated with heart disease.


Of the research I’ve read focusing on animal foods, it was refreshing to hear about something other than the debate over fat, cholesterol, and heart disease.

On protein levels and quality, I’m going to have to re-read what plant-based advocates have to say. But in the meantime, this is an interesting reminder to think about protein a bit more.

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