This is all you need to know about vegan protein powders
Whether it’s a full-time lifestyle choice or a way of reducing animal products in your diet, vegan protein powders pack a plant-based nutritional punch which will enhance your training, help you recover faster and meet your goals, no matter if it’s gaining muscle, losing weight or both. Made from hemp, soy, pea or brown rice (or a mix of pea and brown rice together), vegan protein powders are versatile, tasty and the perfect ingredient to easily increase your protein intake.
Harness the power of plants and reap rewards from your workouts
Now the vegan diet has gone from a niche community to a mainstream, viable lifestyle, the quality and availability of vegan-friendly high-performance nutritional supplements has increased to meet demand.
However, it’s not just vegans and vegetarians who are choosing plant-based protein solutions. Vegan protein powders are great solutions for people who are particularly sensitive to lactose (as trace amounts of lactose can be found in even the more highly-refined Whey Protein Isolate) and people who have other allergies, as pea protein in particular is noted for being hypoallergenic.
How much protein do vegans need?
No matter the motivation, everyone could benefit from adding more whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables to their diet and enuring their meals are well balanced. But vegans in particular should ensure they’re eating a proportional diet with plenty of vegetables, grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
Canadian dietician Leslie Beck told the Globe and Mail newspaper vegans need slightly more protein than meat eaters “to account for the different amino acid mixes in plant foods” and because some plant proteins are more inefficiently digested.
“If you aren't physically active, you need about 0.9 grams of protein for every kilogram you weigh. If you exercise regularly, you need between 1.3 and 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. (If you do heavy strength training opt for the upper end of the protein range.),” she said.
“Let's say you weigh 68 kilograms (150 pounds) and you're active. That means your diet should provide somewhere between 88 to 122 grams of protein.”
This means extra sources of plant-based proteins will need to be added to your diet, like legumes or soy, at lunch or dinner. Other great tips for hitting your daily protein intake on a plant-based diet is including whole grains at every meal, and choosing higher-protein snacks like nuts, nut butters and, of course, vegan protein powder.
In fact, adding vegan protein powder is a must if your milk of choice is lower in protein than soy, she adds, or if you’re not hitting your macronutrients.
“If you prefer almond or rice milk in smoothies and shakes, keep in mind it's much lower in protein than soy milk. I typically advise my clients to add half a scoop of vegan protein powder,” Ms Beck says.
And remember your daily calories do count. She says if your intake is too low, you’ll be burning protein for energy, rather than making other proteins in your body. If you’re trying to lose weight, or struggling to consume enough calories, focus on adding protein-rich foods or simply add a scoop of vegan protein powder to a smoothie.
Do vegans need protein powder?
Vegans can get all of their protein needs from a plant-based diet – however, the caveat to this is the diet needs to be extremely well planned. Consumer advocacy group Choice looked into different protein powders for key groups and found vegans, in particular, could benefit from protein powder supplements for their guaranteed protein content and convenience for busy people and for athletes.
“Vegans find protein supplements an easy and convenient way to get a decent protein hit containing all the essential amino acids. They may be particularly useful for athletes needing larger than usual amounts of protein, people just starting out on their vegan adventure who haven't got the 'well-planned' aspect of diet down pat, and people on the go who don't get a lot of choice about what they're eating throughout the day,” Choice reported.
How does vegan protein powder stack up against animal protein?
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) or the more refined Whey Protein Isolate (WPI), made from dairy whey, are some of the most popular protein powders on the market. Both are a complete source of all the amino acids the human body requires and for more people they’re easily digested. Dollar-wise, they can be some of the best-value protein powders around.
However, plant-based protein powder, which is suitable for vegans, offers a lot of extra benefits, too.
Pea Protein – a small yet mighty vegetable
Studies have shown pea protein performs just as well as whey protein when it comes to muscle growth, athletic performance and workout recovery.
A 2019 study published by the Swiss journal Sports found pea protein produced similar results to whey when it came to measurements in body composition, muscle thickness, force production, Workout of the Day (WOD) performance and strength. This study followed people who were new to exercise and who undertook an eight-week High Intensity Functional Training (HIFT) program (HIFT is commonly used in boot camp-style training).
While it’s just the second study of its time, and the subjects who consumed pea protein didn’t adhere to a vegan diet, it's clear pea protein worked as well as whey when it came to the physical results. “Our data suggest that whey and pea proteins promote similar strength, performance, body composition, and muscular adaptations following 8-weeks of HIFT,” the author wrote.
Meanwhile, a 2015 study from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found pea protein produced results in line with whey protein – and far outstripped the placebo supplement – to increase muscle size (specifically of the biceps) and strength.
“In addition to an appropriate training, the supplementation with pea protein promoted a greater increase of muscle thickness as compared to Placebo and especially for people starting or returning to a muscular strengthening. Since no difference was obtained between the two protein groups, vegetable pea proteins could be used as an alternative to Whey-based dietary products,” the study authors reported.
Their study found pea protein helped their subjects make gains in bicep muscle size and this was especially true for people who were new to training or returning after a break. Pea protein performed comparably with whey protein and was superior to the placebo given.
It makes pea protein a viable alternative for athletes from beginner to elite, they say, adding “such proteins should also be of interest in other populations such as elderly to slow down the aging process and maintain muscle mass”.
Shape Magazine says pea protein can act as a general health tonic as part of a plant-based diet. Registered dietician Lauren Manaker said diets with less animal product consumption could also result in lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar levels and better ability to control glucose.
Plus, pea protein could help reduce blood pressure and prevent cardiovascular disease because of that lowered cholesterol level, according to a study conducted by the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center.
Finally, Healthline reports that pea protein has a tonne of benefits – from meeting many of your amino-acid requirements, being a source of iron and branched-chain amino acids, to helping reduce your calorie intake by 12 per cent if taken 30 minutes BEFORE eating pizza – for real.
Pea protein contains all nine amino acids your body can’t create and, therefore, must obtain from a food source. However, it’s low in methionine, which you can source by eating poultry, pork, fish or beef, or, if vegetarian, eggs, or, if vegan, brown rice. Mixing pea protein with brown rice protein powder is another option to up methionine and the combination of pea protein and rice protein powder offers a pleasant texture. Or choose Earth Protein – the perfect blend of brown rice and pea protein.
Let’s dot point some of the benefits of pea protein:
- Contains branched-chain amino acids which help promote blood flow and a healthy heart and can lower blood pressure. Pea protein is one of the more easily-digestible proteins and doesn’t contain any of the top eight allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish, dairy, wheat and soy.
- Rich in iron – most pea proteins contain 5mg to 7.5mg of protein per serving. This is between 28 per cent to 42 per cent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) for women and between 62 per cent and 94 per cent of the RDI for post-menopausal women and men. Remember iron from plant sources isn’t as easily absorbed as iron from animal products – boost your iron absorption by eating it with foods containing Vitamin C.
- Promotes a feeling of satisfaction and satiety – pea protein is found to be as good as dairy-based protein casein and whey in promoting fullness, and, as mentioned previously:
- “One study found that 20 grams of pea protein powder taken 30 minutes before eating pizza reduced the average number of calories consumed by roughly 12 per cent,” Healthline reported.
Soy Protein – it’s soy good
Soy protein is another popular choice and for good reason – It’s high in protein and offers many complementary health benefits as well.
A 2003 study published in the Journal of Perinatal Education found soy protein is particularly good for women.
Soy protein can:
- Reduce cholesterol
- Help with weight loss, control or prevent diabetes and prevent obesity
- Prevent cancer – most of the research had been done on breast cancer prevention but emerging research was looking at soy protein’s effect on preventing prostate cancer.
- For menopausal women: prevent bone loss and increase heart health – especially for women who were not using Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
“Soy protein products offer benefits to women in various life stages. Benefits include improved diet and cardiovascular status, prevention of certain types of cancer, improved health following menopause, obesity prevention/control, and more options for food variety,” the author wrote.
Hemp Protein does some heavy lifting
Hemp is one of the newer plant-based proteins on the market and it offers lots of health benefits.
Hemp tends to be less processed than other protein powders like soy and rice protein, meaning it retains a lot more of its natural fibre. Fibre is great for your general health, your gut health and, combined with hemp’s protein, can help you to feel more satisfied.
Hemp is also a complete protein – like whey protein, it contains all nine amino acids your body requires. However, the exact amounts of those amino acids are inconclusive.
Hemp is one of the more easily-digested plant proteins, with between 91 per cent and 98 per cent of its protein digestible. It means when you’re adding hemp protein powder to your post-workout shake, you know you’re consuming and processing almost all of its protein.
Hemp protein is also rich in omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids, vital for heart health. As an added bonus, the hemp itself also contains the perfect ratio of 3:1 omega 6 to omega 3. An imbalance in this ratio may increase inflammation in the body. No other vegan protein powder offers these healthy fats.
Rice is nice
A 2013 study published in Nutrition Journal found rice protein gave the same results as whey protein in terms of muscle gain and recovery from post-workout soreness.
The study found no significant difference between short term recovery and training-induced adaptions of subject who used rice protein or whey protein. In fact, when it came to body composition and performance after “periodised resistance training” (alternating high loads of training with decreased loads to avoid overtraining and improve muscular fitness) high doses of rice protein performed just as well as whey.
“Rice protein isolate consumption post resistance exercise decreases fat-mass and increases lean body mass, skeletal muscle hypertrophy, power and strength comparable to whey protein isolate.”
Nutritionists have said brown rice protein powder contains antioxidants, B vitamins and fibre – B vitamins are particularly good for vegans who would not be receiving them from animal products. And brown rice protein may help the functioning of the heart, liver and kidneys as well as regulating cholesterol.
More than just a shake-mix
Of course, vegan protein powder mixes well with chilled water for a nutritious and satisfying shake. But vegan protein powder is a hero ingredient to boost the protein in any recipe.Find our 10 favourite vegan recipes from Bulk Nutrients here.
Otherwise, for three quick and easy ways to use your vegan protein powder:
- Vegan protein powder + frozen banana + splash of water and blend = vegan protein ice cream.
- Vegan protein powder + medjool dates (deseeded) + chopped nuts of your choice, food-processed to a dough-like consistency, then roll into a log, refrigerate then slice into rounds OR roll into balls and chill = vegan fudge.
- Vegan protein powder + frozen berries + rolled oats + handful of spinach + water & blend = superfood protein shake
What are your vegan protein powder options?
Bulk Nutrients offers a huge range of vegan friendly protein powders and supplements to help you with your health and nutritional goals. With our high-quality, nutritionally-balanced proteins, you can be sure you’ll be taking the right steps towards meeting your body’s nutritional needs.
Order your free sample today.
Make a plant-based changed today
Whether you’re adhering to a strict vegan diet or you just want to take advantage of the added vitamins, fibre and health benefits of a plant-based protein, add a Bulk Nutrients vegan protein powder to your mix today.
As the studies show, pea protein and soy protein perform just as well as whey in conjunction with resistance training. Meanwhile, brown rice protein and hemp protein offer high amounts of protein as well as other beneficial nutrients like fibre and, for hemp protein, omega 3 and omega 6.
Harness the power of plant protein for a positive change for your body.