by Jack Norris, RD | Last updated: January 2016


The most important thing to be aware of regarding protein in vegan diets is that you need to get enough of the amino acid lysine. Make sure you read the section on lysine below and check out the high-lysine foods. Beyond that, there is evidence that erring on the side of more protein (1.0 to 1.1 grams of protein per kg of healthy body weight per day for adults) is a good idea, and especially for people 60 years and older.



Protein is important for maintaining muscle and bone mass, for keeping the immune system strong, and to prevent fatigue.

People not familiar with vegan nutrition often assume it is terribly hard to get enough protein on a vegan diet, and that's if they even think there is any protein in plant foods at all (how they think vegans survive is an interesting question, though many of them probably don't think we do). On the other hand, once "educated", most vegans have the diametrically opposite view, considering it impossible for someone not to get enough protein on a vegan diet.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. It is easy to get enough protein on a vegan diet if you eat multiple servings of high-lysine foods (legumes, seitan, amaranth, quinoa, pistachios, and pumpkin seeds) each day. But there are many vegans who are probably not eating enough high-lysine foods.

Legumes include soybeans and their products (tempeh, tofu, soy milk, soy meats, etc.), beans (garbanzo, kidney, pinto, etc.) and their products (falafel, hummus, refried, etc.), peas (green, split, black-eyed, etc.), lentils, and peanuts.

Vegans who do not eat enough calories to maintain their weight also need to pay special attention to making sure they are getting enough protein.

High Quality or Complete Proteins

Proteins are made out of chains of amino acids. Some amino acids can be made by the body (generally from other amino acids), but some cannot. The ones that cannot are known as "essential" or "indispensable."

Twenty amino acids are used to build protein, but they are not the only amino acids. Carnitine and taurine are amino acids which are not building blocks of protein, but the discussion here is limited to the protein amino acids.

Because some amino acids are essential, the RDA for amino acids should be as important as the RDA for protein. But because the RDA for protein takes into account the RDA for amino acids, the amino acid RDA is rarely mentioned. The essential amino acids are found in fairly consistent amounts in average Western diets and the RDA for protein is calculated with typical diets in mind.

Proteins in the human body tend to have a consistent percentage of the essential amino acids. The percentages of essential amino acids in both animal and soy products closely mimic those found in human proteins, and they are, therefore, considered complete or high-quality protein. Non-soy plant proteins have a lower percentage of at least one amino acid, although all legume products are pretty close to soy.

Some people are under the false impression that all non-soy plant foods are completely devoid of at least one essential amino acid. The truth is that all plant proteins have some of every essential amino acid (see Table 3). As a general rule, legumes are lower in the amino acid methionine while most other plants foods are lower in lysine.

In an effort to make sure vegetarians were getting enough of all the amino acids, in the early 1970s in her book Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappe popularized the idea of combining plant proteins at each meal in order to get a "complete" protein. By mixing beans and grains, you can make sure that you are getting both methionine and lysine at each meal.

It is now well known that our livers store the various essential amino acids and so it's not critical to combine different protein sources at each meal. The 2009 American Dietetic Association's Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets says:

"Plant protein can meet requirements when a variety of plant foods is consumed and energy needs are met. Research indicates that an assortment of plant foods eaten over the course of a day can provide all essential amino acids and ensure adequate nitrogen retention and use in healthy adults, thus complementary proteins do not need to be consumed at the same meal."

For more information on which foods have "complete" proteins, see JackNorrisRd.com blog post, Complete Proteins.

Lysine: The Limiting Amino Acid in Vegan Diets

Before getting into a somewhat technical discussion about the protein needs of vegans, let's just cut to the chase - the RDA for lysine is more important than for protein. If you meet lysine requirements on a vegan diet, you will most likely meet protein requirements.

Per serving, legumes and seitan are the foods highest in the amino acid lysine. Tofu, tempeh, soy meats, lentils, and seitan are the highest, followed by other legume foods. Quinoa, amaranth, pistachios, and pumpkin seeds are also decent sources of lysine.

It is very hard to design a vegan diet that meets lysine requirements for a person who does not exercise daily without including legumes, seitan, quinoa, amaranth, pistachios, or pumpkin seeds without having too many calories. It is much easier to do for regular exercisers whose calorie requirements are higher - the low lysine foods will add up to provide enough. While many vegan, raw foodist athletes appear to thrive on the diet many raw foodist non-athletes struggle with raw diets; it might be the case that part of this is due to the athletes eating more calories and thus meeting lysine needs with low lysine foods.

Table 1. US RDA & Vegan Recommendations
Age Protein RDA
Lysine RDA
0 - 6 mos 1.5 71
7 - 12 mos 1.5 71
1 - 3 yrs 1.1 52
4 - 13 yrs 0.95 45
14 - 18 yrs 0.85 40
18 - 59 0.8 38
≥ 60 .80 - 1.3b 38 - 62c
pregnancyd 1.1 52
lactation 1.1 52
A. per kg of healthy body weight.
B. RDA for older people is the lower number, but many experts recommend up to higher number.
C. Lysine range to correspond to higher protein recommendation explained in footnote B.
D. Based on pre-pregnancy weight.

Table 3 below allows you to put in your ideal body weight (IBW), an explanation of which is in the table footer, click the submit button, and the table will give you the RDA for lysine (for an adult). You can then see how much lysine is in typical vegan foods and what it takes for you to get enough. Table 1 (left) lists the lysine RDA for all age groups.

Protein Needs for People Over 60

Many recent papers have suggested that people over 60 years old are better off with 1.0 to 1.3 g/kg of protein per day (8, 9, 10, and many more). Most of this research is supported by or connected to people who have done work supported by animal agriculture trade organizations (8, 9, and many more).

Their argument, based on some research, is that older people are less efficient at maintaining muscle and bone and therefore need more protein. These arguments are convincing enough that, despite their support from animal agriculture, it is probably a good idea for older people to get more protein. Because of this, Table 1 gives a range of recommendations for higher lysine and protein needs for those 60 and older.

Protein Recommendations for Vegans

Aside from lysine, how much total protein do vegans need?

Until recently, we thought this was a pretty straightforward answer: vegans either need to meet the RDA or possibly 10% higher due to plant proteins being harder to digest.

The RDA for protein is supposed to cover the needs of 97 to 98% of the population. It is currently set at .80 grams per kilogram of healthy body weight per day. In addition to the RDA, there is also an Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for protein, and it is .66 g/kg for adults 19 to 50 years old (1). The EAR is supposed to be how much protein the average person requires.

The RDA for the normal population is based on nitrogen balance studies, especially a 2003 meta-analysis of them (3). Nitrogen balance studies are used because nitrogen is a component of protein that fat, carbohydrate, and alcohol do not have. The studies are done by measuring how much nitrogen someone eats and then subtracting how much they lose through urine, feces, hair, sweat, etc. If they lose more than they eat, then they are in negative nitrogen balance and need more protein. If they lose as much as they eat, they are considered in nitrogen balance and that is determined to be the ideal protein amount to eat.

With all the commotion regarding vegans and protein for the past 40 years, one would think we would have a plethora of nitrogen balance studies performed on actual vegans. Guess how many we have? None.

The Food and Nutrition Board, who sets the RDAs, says, "[A]vailable evidence does not support recommending a separate requirement for vegetarians who consume complementary mixtures of plant proteins[.]" But what is that available evidence?

There have been two studies looking at nitrogen balance using a vegan diet (on people who are typically not vegan).

A 1965 study had two parts (11). In the first part, eight young men were fed a vegan diet of .50 g/kg of protein per day, with the amino acid profile matching that of milk. With some small exceptions, they did not stay in nitrogen balance. No surprises there. In the second part of the study, they increased the protein to .75 g/kg using .25 g/kg of soy protein per day and the subjects were, for the most part, in nitrogen balance. This indicates that .75 g/kg might be enough protein for vegans, especially young men, but it might require .25 g/kg of that protein to be soy (or at least legumes).

A 1967 study found that protein for people eating a vegan diet (for a 3-week period) was 2.6% less digested than the protein in a non-vegetarian diet (4). The diets in this study averaged .91 g/kg of protein per day (my calculations based on weights and heights given), of which .55 g/day were legume protein. On the vegan diet, 9 out of 12 of the participants were in nitrogen balance.

A 1986 study fed young adult males a near-vegan diet (except for 41 g of dried, skim milk) for 90 days, using 1 g/kg of body weight per day (1). Some of the protein was from beans, but it is not clear how much. Only one out of the eight subjects showed a negative nitrogen balance.

Table 2. Plant Protein Studies
Study Legume Protein
1965, Doyle amino acids matched milk 0.50 Subjects not in nitrogen balance
1965, Doyle amino acids matched milk 0.75 100% in nitrogen balance
1967, Register 0.55 0.91 75% in nitrogen balance
1986, Yanez small amount 1.00 7 out of 8 in nitrogen balance
2000, Caso not clear 1.09 12% lower albumin synthesis than controls
2000, Caso at least .25 1.34 normal albumin synthesis
1999, Haddad 0.36 1.04 normal albumin levels
2011, Andrich lysine intake 79% RDA 1.0 muscle mass similar to omnivores
aper kg of healthy body weight

In addition to nitrogen balance, protein needs can be measured by the rate of albumin synthesis. Albumin is a protein in the blood that responds to different amounts of dietary protein.

A 2000 study of healthy men showed a 12% reduced rate of albumin synthesis when eating a diet of 63% plant protein compared to 26% plant protein (each for 10 days and equal amounts of total protein) (6). When 18 g/day of soy protein was added (increasing the plant protein percentage to 78 and total protein from 78 g/day to 96 g/day), albumin synthesis returned to normal. I have estimated the grams of protein per kg of healthy body weight per day in this study and they were eating about 1.09 g/kg without the soy, and 1.34 with the soy an increase of 23% (7). We do not know if that much protein was required to return albumin synthesis to normal, and it is possible that 10 days was not long enough to see if someone's albumin synthesis would become more efficient on a primarily plant-based diet.

The synthesis of two other proteins, prealbumin and transferrin, were also reduced on 63% plant protein. The fact that transferrin, an iron transport protein, decreased is interesting. Lysine supplements have been found to increase iron absorption so it's likely these subjects were not getting enough lysine.

On the other hand, a 1999 cross-sectional study on vegans found them to have significantly higher serum albumin levels than non-vegetarians (12). The vegans were eating 1.04 grams of protein per kg of body weight (based on a BMI of 22). They were eating approximately .36 g/kg of legume protein. The authors stated, "Although serum albumin may not be a sensitive indicator of protein nutriture, the higher concentrations suggest that the diets of the vegan participants were adequate in protein."

A study out of Boston published in 2011 but performed using data collected during the 1980s, found that vegan and non-vegan, middle-aged women had similar levels of muscle mass despite differences in protein intake of 1.0 g/kg/day for vegans and 1.3 g/kg/day for omnivores (14). However, the muscle mass was not measured directly - rather it was estimated using formulas based on creatinine clearance (a byproduct of muscle metabolism). The researchers believed the formulas to be accurate, but since they have not been validated on vegans it should be viewed with some uncertainty. At 30 mg/kg/day, the vegan women did not meet the RDA for lysine which is 38 mg/kg/day. However, the study showed the vegan women to be consuming only 1511 kcal/day vs. 1866 kcal/day for the omnivores, yet their body mass indexes were very similar at 20.0 and 20.7 respectively. This could indicate that food intake for the vegans was underestimated, possibly due to a lack of data on vegan foods.

So where does all this research leave us? The results are compiled in Table 2. It is not obvious what they indicate for the protein needs of vegans, but an estimate is that vegans might benefit from 1.0 to 1.1 g/kg of protein. What is really needed is nitrogen balance studies on actual vegans.

Protein Needs of Athletes

The Institute of Medicine, who sets the RDAs, does not recommend higher protein intakes for athletes. However, in a 2009 joint position paper on nutrition and athletic performance, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Dietetic Association (ADA), and Dietitians of Canada recommend higher protein intakes for athletes. They say:

Nitrogen Balance Methods Critiqued

In 2010, a group of researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto wrote a paper suggesting that the methods for determining the DRIs for protein (which includes the RDA) were underestimating protein needs (5). One of the authors, Dr Paul B. Pencharz, was a member of the Panel on DRIs for macronutrients and a member of the Joint WHO/FAO/United Nations University (UNU) Expert Consultation on Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition. They write:

The current recommendations for protein intakes in adults are primarily based on the reanalysis of existing nitrogen balance studies [1,12]. The nitrogen balance technique has inherent methodological limitations, which lead to an underestimation of the requirement estimate. Furthermore, the application of a single linear regression analysis to identify zero nitrogen balance is not appropriate because the nitrogen intake response relationship is not linear. On the basis of these concerns, we reanalyzed published nitrogen balance studies using two-phase linear regression analysis. We also applied the IAAO method to determine total protein requirements in adults. The mean and population-safe intakes based on the reanalysis were determined to be 0.91 and 1.0 g protein/kg/day and 0.93 and 1.2 g/kg/day, respectively, based on the IAAO method. These new values are approximately 40% higher than the current recommendations, and therefore, there is an urgent need to reassess recommendations for protein intake in adult humans.

They say that the inherent methodological errors in nitrogen balance studies are that nitrogen intakes are overestimated and nitrogen loss is underestimated, leading to false nitrogen balance at lower protein levels.

The IAAO method referenced above is described in this excerpt:

[The IAAO method is] based on the concept that when one indispensable amino acid (IDAA) is deficient in the diet, then all other amino acids, including the indicator amino acid (another IDAA, usually L-[1-13C]phenylalanine), will be oxidized [5]. With increasing intake of the limiting amino acid (or total protein), oxidation of the indicator amino acid will continue to decrease, reflecting increasing incorporation into protein. Once the requirement is met for the limiting amino acid, there will be no further change in the oxidation of the indicator amino acid.

In other words, this group of researchers considers the average protein requirement to be .91 - .93 g/kg/day and the amount to cover 97% to 98% of the population (equivalent to the RDA) to be 1.0 - 1.2 g/kg/day.

Erring on the side of more protein is probably a good idea for vegans.

Intakes and Plasma Amino Acid Levels in Vegans

A 2015 report from EPIC-Oxford analyzed the dietary intakes and blood levels of amino acids in various diet groups in adult men (15). The study included 98 men for each diet group (vegan, lacto-ovo, pesco, and meat-eater). The authors say, "[T]his is the largest study to date of amino acids in the circulation or in the diet by habitual diet group, and on average participants had followed their diet for several years."


The study didn't compare the intakes of the various diet groups to the US RDA for amino acids, but I have done so in Table 4 below.

The paper didn't include the weight of the participants, but it gave an average Body Mass Index of 22.1 kg/m2 for vegans. If we assume an average height of 175.3 cm for a British male (17), the average weight of the vegans was 67.9 kg, and we can thus calculate an average RDA based on a weight of 67.9 kg.

Table 4. Percentage of RDA of Essential Amino Acid Intakes in Adult Vegan Men
Amino Acid Intake
Percentage of RDA
Isoleucine 2.47 1.29 191
Leucine 4.33 2.85 152
Valine 2.95 1.63 181
Histidine 1.52 0.95 160
Lysine 2.82 2.58 109
Methionine+Cysteine 1.72 1.29 133
Phenylalanine+Tyrosine 4.79 2.24 214
Theronine 2.19 1.36 161
Tryptophan 0.77 0.34 226

Vegan men met the RDA for all essential amino acids.

This study bolstered the idea that lysine is the limiting amino acid in vegan diets, with vegan men surpassing the RDA by the lowest amount–9%. Methionine, the amino acid of second most concern, surpassed the RDA at the next lowest level of 33%.

The 95% confidence interval for lysine was 2.69-2.95 g/day; with the lower margin coming in at 104% of the RDA. The people on the lower end might have been the people who weighed less (and thus had a lower RDA than the average vegan).

The RDA for protein and amino acids is the same for women as it is for men (based on a percentage of their body weight). Male vegans in EPIC-Oxford were found to eat 10.7% more protein than female vegans (62 vs. 56 g per day; link). If you assume female vegans don't eat the same percentage of high-lysine foods as men, their average lysine intakes would be only 98.7% of the RDA.

Given that women have a lower percentage of lean body mass on average, it might seem curious that they have the same RDA for protein (and amino acids). In determining the RDAs, the Institute of Medicine says (Ref 2, p. 644):

Although the data indicate that women have a lower nitrogen requirement than men per kilogram of body weight, this was only statistically significant when all studies were included, but not when the analysis was restricted to the primary data sets. This difference may be due to differences in body composition between men and women, with women and men having on average 28 and 15 percent fat mass, respectively. When controlled for lean body mass, no gender differences in the protein requirements were found. However, in view of the uncertain significance of the difference between the genders, the same protein EAR [i.e., Estimated Average Requirement, a foundation for the RDA] on a body weight basis for both men and women is chosen.

Another consideration is that the vegans in the UK may eat lower amounts of protein than those in the U.S. Adventist Health Study-2 found an average protein intake of 71 g/day for men and women combined, considerably more than in EPIC-OXford (link). It seems safe to assume that Seventh Day Adventist woman are likely getting plenty of lysine and other amino acids.

Finally, according to the authors, "[T]he validation of the [food frequency questionnaire] showed that protein intake was particularly difficult to estimate."

Blood Levels

In comparing blood levels of amino acids between diet groups, vegans had lower levels of lysine, methionine, tryptophan, and tyrosine, and higher levels of alanine and glycine.

Interestingly, arginine, a dietary concern for vegans with herpes virus, was actually lower in the blood of vegans, but not significantly. It was also lower in the diet (3.92 g/day for vegans vs. 4.13 g/day for meat-eaters; lacto-ovo vegetarians had the lowest intake at 3.36 g/day).

The authors didn't seem alarmed by any of the differences found between diet groups. I decided to take things a bit further and compare the plasma levels found in this study to the reference ranges given by the U.S. National Library of Medicine in Table 5 below.

Table 5. Plasma Amino Acid Levels in Adult Vegan Men
Amino Acid Plasma 
µmol/l (95% CI)
Reference Range
Alanine 621 (595, 648) 230-510
Arginine 44 (39, 48) 13-64
Asparagine 98 (95, 102) 45-130
Aspartate 69 (66, 72) 0-6
Citrulline 40 (38, 42) 16-55
Glutamate 262 (248, 277) 18-98
Glutamine 547 (529, 566) 390-650
Glycine 452 (434, 470) 170-330
Histidine 117 (113, 120) 26-120
Isoleucine 96 (92, 100) 42-100
Leucine 191 (184, 199) 66-170
Lysine 210 (201, 219) 150-220
Methionine 27 (26, 28) 16-30
Ornithine 205 (197, 215) 27-80
Phenylalanine 97 (93, 101) 41-68
Proline 244 (233, 256) 110-360
Serine 197 (190, 205) 56-140
Theronine 165 (159, 171) 92-240
Tryptophan 65 (63, 68) N/A
Tyrosine 73 (70, 76) 45-74
Valine 217 (209, 225) 150-310

In comparing the vegan's blood levels to the reference range:

It is not clear what any of this means and the U.S. Library of Science notes that these numbers are dependent on the specific laboratory methods used.


The above research is not a great substitute for a nitrogen or protein synthesis study on vegans, but for now it's what we have. The takeaway message is that vegans, and particularly vegan women, should continue to make sure they eat plenty of lysine-rich foods. There is no reason to think that the vegans in this study were aware of lysine or trying to increase their lysine intakes, so any vegan who does so should be well covered.

Table 3: Protein & Amino Acids in Common Foods

In the box below, you can enter your healthy or ideal body weight (IBW) and click the button. Table 3 will show you how much of any given food you need to meet the RDA for protein and amino acids. This is not to suggest you get all your amino acids from one food, but it can give an idea of what sort of combinations might be required.

If you do not know what your IBW is, put your height in either inches or centimeters (and choose the appropriate selection from the drop down box). See the table footer for an explanation.

Table 3. Protein & Amino Acid Content of Plant Foods
RDA for a 140 lb Person
USA Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)
protein in g   |   amino acids in mg
RDA - per kg of healthy body weight0.814194238193320524
RDA for 140 lb. person518911209267324181209210012733181527
Serving: 0.50 cup (78 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Soy Milk
Serving: 1.00 cup (245 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Serving: 0.50 cup (83 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Tofu - firm
Serving: 0.50 cup (126 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Black Beans - cooked
Serving: 0.50 cup (86 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Garbanzos (Chick Peas) - cooked
Serving: 0.50 cup (82 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Kidney Beans - cooked
Serving: 0.50 cup (89 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Lentils - cooked
Serving: 0.50 cup (99 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Peanut Butter
Serving: 2.00 T (32 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Peanuts - dry roasted
Serving: 0.33 cup (48 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Pinto Beans - refried
Serving: 0.50 cup (121 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Nuts & Seeds
Serving: 0.25 cup (36 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Serving: 0.25 cup (34 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Serving: 0.25 cup (25 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Serving: 0.25 cup (31 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Pumpkin seeds - roasted
Serving: 0.25 cup (30 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Sunflower Seeds
Serving: 0.25 cup (32 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Walnuts - chopped
Serving: 0.25 cup (29 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Serving: 1.00 cup (69 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Bread - white
Serving: 2.00 slice (50 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Bread - whole wheat
Serving: 2.00 slice (56 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Buckwheat - groats roasted
Serving: 1.00 cup (168 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Corn - kernels boiled
Serving: 1.00 cup (165 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Flour Tortilla
Serving: 1.00 med (46 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Oatmeal - boiled
Serving: 1.00 cup (234 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Quinoa - cooked
Serving: 1.00 cup (185 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Rice - brown, med grain
Serving: 1.00 cup (195 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Rice - white, med grain
Serving: 1.00 cup (186 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Serving: 3.00 oz (85 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Spaghetti - white
Serving: 1.00 cup (140 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Spaghetti - whole wheat
Serving: 1.00 cup (140 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Baked Potato
Serving: 1.00 med (173 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Broccoli - cooked, chopped
Serving: 1.00 cup (156 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Carrot - 5 12 inches long
Serving: 1.00 small (50 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Kale - cooked, shredded
Serving: 1.00 cup (130 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Romaine Lettuce - shredded
Serving: 1.00 cup (56 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Serving: 1.00 med (123 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Serving: 1.00 med (138 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Serving: 1.00 med (118 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Serving: 1.00 med (131 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Strawberries - whole
Serving: 1.00 cup (144 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Spirulina - dried
Serving: 1.00 tbsp (7 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Protein Powders
Naturade Soy Protein
Serving: 0.33 cup (28 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Naturade Soy-Free Protein
Serving: 0.33 cup (28 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Beef - ground, 15% fat, pan-broiled
Serving: 3.00 oz (85 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Chicken - roasted
Serving: 1.00 leg (52 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Egg - hard boiled
Serving: 1.00 large (50 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Milk - 2% fat
Serving: 1.00 cup (244 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA
Serving: 3.00 oz (85 g)
Number of servings to meet RDA

Protein is measured in grams   |   Amino acids are measured in mg

PRO = Protein |   HIS = Histidine |   VAL = Valine |   MET CYS = Methionine + Cysteine
ISO = Isoleucine |   THR = Threonine |   LEU = Leucine |   PHE TYR = Phenylalanine + Tyrosine
TRP = Tryptophan |   LYS = Lysine |   IBW = Ideal Body Weight

The RDA's are given in grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Fat mass does not require much protein for maintenance, so "body weight" is generally interpreted to mean "ideal" or "healthy" body weight even though the RDA's do not specify that. The formula here for calculating IBW by way of height uses a body mass index of 22 (20 - 25 is considered healthy). Muscular people without much excess body fat should probably use their current body weight rather than height.

The essential amino acid methionine is paired with the non-essential cysteine, and the essential amino acid phenylalanine is paired with the non-essential tyrosine. That is because the RDA is calculated for these pairs of amino acids together, assuming there are similar ratios in most foods. In plant foods, there are about equal amounts of methionine and cysteine, and usually more phenylalanine than tyrosine.


  • RDAs were taken from Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients) (2002) by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the Institute of Medicine, p. 680. Link
  • The protein and amino acid content of foods was taken from the USDA National Nutrient Database and Naturade protein powder labels.
  • Amino acid content for pumpkin seeds was taken from the USDA database entry for Food #12016, Seeds, pumpkin and squash seed kernels, roasted, without salt. According to correspondence with Robin G. Thomas, MS, RD of the USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory, the entries for 12014, 12016 and 12516 are for pumpkin seeds only (i.e., not squash seeds also) (January 2013).
  • The USDA does not list the amino acid profile of cooked amaranth grains, but it does list the profile for uncooked amaranth. Cooked amaranth has 9.348 g protein per cup, while uncooked amaranth has the same amount of protein in .36 cups. Thus, the amino acid profile in the table is taken from the USDA database for .36 cups of uncooked amaranth.
  • Seitan information is extrapolated from White Wave seitan label. The label lists wheat gluten, garbanzo flour, and soy flour as the main sources of protein. For this table, it was assume that 5% of the protein was from garbanzo protein and 5% from soy flour. Wheat gluten amino acid composition was taken from: Rombouts I, Lamberts L, Celus I, Lagrain B, Brijs K, Delcour JA. Wheat gluten amino acid composition analysis by high-performance anion-exchange chromatography with integrated pulsed amperometric detection. J Chromatogr A. 2009 Jul 17;1216(29):5557-62. Epub 2009 Jun 3. (link), and Molecular weight for amino acids was taken from ExPASy The amount of tryptophan in wheat gluten is negligible, and thus no amount is listed for seitan. However, the soy and garbanzo protein alone will provide 38 mg of tryptophan per serving (which is not included in the table since it is not clear how much soy and garbanzo protein is actually in seitan).



1. Yáñez E, Uauy R, Zacarías I, Barrera G. Long-term validation of 1 g of protein per kilogram body weight from a predominantly vegetable mixed diet to meet the requirements of young adult males. J Nutr. 1986 May;116(5):865-72. (Link)

2. Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients. National Academy of Sciences. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. DRI table for carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids and protein. | PDF

3. Rand WM, Pellett PL, Young VR. Meta-analysis of nitrogen balance studies for estimating protein requirements in healthy adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Jan;77(1):109-27. (Link)

4. Register UD, Inano M, Thurston CE, Vyhmeister IB, Dysinger PW, Blankenship JW, Horning MC. Nitrogen-balance studies in human subjects on various diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 1967 Jul;20(7):753-9. (Link)

5. Elango R, Humayun MA, Ball RO, Pencharz PB. Evidence that protein requirements have been significantly underestimated. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2010 Jan;13(1):52-7. (Link)

6. Caso G, Scalfi L, Marra M, Covino A, Muscaritoli M, McNurlan MA, Garlick PJ, Contaldo F. Albumin synthesis is diminished in men consuming a predominantly vegetarian diet. J Nutr. 2000 Mar;130(3):528-33. (Link)

7. Calculations:
Average healthy body weight of the men based on a BMI of 22 and average height of 1.74 m = 66.6 kg
78 g protein per 66.6 kg = 1.17 g/kg
96 g protein per 66.6 kg = 1.44 g/kg
Actual average body weight of the men was 77 kg
78 g protein per 77 kg = 1.01 g/kg
96 g protein per 77 kg = 1.25 g/kg
Averageing the healthy body weight with the actual body weight gives 1.09 and 1.34 g/kg

8. Gaffney-Stomberg E, Insogna KL, Rodriguez NR, Kerstetter JE. Increasing dietary protein requirements in elderly people for optimal muscle and bone health. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2009 Jun;57(6):1073-9. (Link)

9. Paddon-Jones D, Short KR, Campbell WW, Volpi E, Wolfe RR. Role of dietary protein in the sarcopenia of aging. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1562S-1566S. (Link)

10. Morais JA, Chevalier S, Gougeon R. Protein turnover and requirements in the healthy and frail elderly. J Nutr Health Aging. 2006 Jul-Aug;10(4):272-83. (Link)

11. Doyle MD, Morse LM, Gowan JS, Parsons MR. Observations on nitrogen and energy balance in young men consuming vegetarian diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 1965 Dec;17(6):367-76. (Link)

12. Haddad EH, Berk LS, Kettering JD, Hubbard RW, Peters WR. Dietary intake and biochemical, hematologic, and immune status of vegans compared with nonvegetarians. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Sep;70(3 Suppl):586S-593S. (Link)

13. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109:509-527. Link.

14. Andrich DE, Filion ME, Woods M, Dwyer JT, Gorbach SL, Goldin BR, Adlercreutz H, Aubertin-Leheudre M. Relationship between essential amino acids and muscle mass, independent of habitual diets, in pre- and post-menopausal US women. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2011 Nov;62(7):719-24. Epub 2011 May 16. (Link)

15. Schmidt JA, Rinaldi S, Scalbert A, Ferrari P, Achaintre D, Gunter MJ, Appleby PN, Key TJ, Travis RC. Plasma concentrations and intakes of amino acids in male meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans: a cross-sectional analysis in the EPIC-Oxford cohort. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015 Sep 23. | link

16. Plasma amino acids. Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Accessed January 30, 2016. | link

17. Statistics reveal Britain's 'Mr and Mrs Average'. BBC News. 2010 Oct 13. | link

Also Reviewed

Evans WJ. Protein nutrition, exercise and aging. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Dec;23(6 Suppl):601S-609S. (Link)