As people are becoming more aware of the animal rights violations in the dairy industry and the implications of dairy on your health, more and more people are turning to plant-based alternatives.
Whether you are a bodybuilder or just enjoy a smoothie, there is a plant-based protein powder out there for you. They are no longer bitter, gritty powders. They are in fact now absolutely delicious, a delicious treat some may say but without the guilt of animal suffering or saturated fat. Let’s look more into why you should choose a plant-based protein, types and some brands that are leading the way
Plant vs whey?
Since bodybuilding and fitness exploded in the 1980s, protein has been a huge topic. In fact, one of the first questions plant-based people get is where they get their protein?
This all developed from quite a clever marketing strategy born out of waste. Waste? When cheese is made there is a liquid leftover over that is known to us as whey. Whey was originally fed to pigs as feed but after realizing the protein content and the opportunity for added profit, whey was quickly added to the market as a must-have protein supplement.
It was so cleverly marketed that to this day people still flock to get their post-workout protein fix. While there is a definite added benefit to protein post-workout, higher quantities in one serving are not always best and whey as the source of that protein is not necessarily the best either.
In comes plant-based protein powders. The commonly held belief that is now becoming shattered with bodybuilders like Nimai Delgado is that plants don’t offer the same quality of protein. While it is true that animal-based products are convenient sources of protein, it does not mean its the best quality.
Protein, as many people understand these days is a blend of 9 essential amino acids that our body uses to build muscle, bones, ligaments, cells, hair and nails amongst other things. However, the misunderstanding (or clever marketing strategy) that only animal-based products could offer quality protein to build muscles. We told that you have to eat all the 9 essential amino acids in one go to build muscle. But we are wiser and it is proven that you don’t have to get all the amino acids in one meal. Not even the same day. As long as you eat high protein foods throughout the week that contain different complementary amino acids, your body, as amazing and smart as it is, will pool these amino acids for whatever function they are needed. How amazing!
Research has found that as long as people eat enough total protein (plant or animal), the source of protein doesn’t matter.The Sports Edit
In saying this, there are in fact complete proteins in nature and as we discover further down, there are quite a few of them and they have a lot more to offer than just protein!
Whey is nutrient-dense only for the amount of protein it contains in a serving however let’s take nutrient density further to include other micronutrients that are essential to overall wellbeing. While protein is great for building muscles, you also need other nutrients to maintain health, especially when pushing your body like many do when building muscle and endurance. It’s not just about protein.
What kind of nutrients are we talking about? Well, consider pea protein for example. Not only is pea protein a complete protein, but it is also full of added b-vitamins, trace minerals and phytonutrients, all of which are necessary to maintain overall well being.
Another added benefit of choosing plant-based proteins over whey is the amount of processing involved. Processing food reduces the nutritive qualities as we as add more stabilisers and preservatives. When it comes to plant-based protein, in most cases, its a matter of freeze-drying and powdering the product.
Plant-based proteins and…
Let’s look at some other aspects of protein powder.
There is a strong argument against plant-based proteins around amino acids however it is simply just not viable. Plant protein such as pea, hemp, and soy are complete and off all the amino acids you need. Another thing to consider is that all foods except fruit contain amino acids. Eating a whole-foods varied diet ensures you are getting all the amino acids you need. Your body, the incredible biological machine it is, will then collect and pool amino acids for function.
Plant-based proteins definitely beat whey in this department. With the exception of soy, plant-based proteins are easily digested and are highly unlikely to cause any reactions. They also require little processing or added preservatives or additives and therefore are even easier on the digestive system.
Up to 65% of the world’s population have some sort of lactose intolerance making whey a less than ideal option. Symptoms of intolerance can range from stomach upset, acne, rosacea, insomnia, indigestion, headaches, nausea and sinus issues. Be wary of the effects of whey on your body. Try plant-based protein!
Taste and Texture
This is probably the one and only factor that may deter people. A few years ago I had tried a plain pea protein isolate and honestly, it was gross. I resigned to never trying it again until my partner decided he was going to get buff. He started trying various powders. To my happy surprise, the texture and taste of plant-based proteins have come quite a long way. Amazing quality is around because of new public interest and more financial backing into research and development. From amazing vanilla cinnamon, superfoods and of course, chocolate.
This is one of the main points of opting for plant-based protein powders. If anyone can take at least 10 minutes of honest research into the dairy industry, they will immediately be dissuaded from whey and support plant-based options.
Another “strong” argument against plant-based protein is that soy is devastating the forests across the world. Yes, soy is devastating forests across the world. But people only consume 1-2% of soy. In fact, most of the soy grown is fed to animals to eat. PLant based options are a clear winner for the environement.
Types of plant-based proteins
There are many types of plant protein powders out there and they are all good in their own ways. As peoples body compositions are different, some may feel they respond better to others.
Of the top contenders are definitely soy and pea. Soy is a complete protein and when in isolate form can offer a great amount of protein per serving. Pea is next in line and taking over. It’s cheap to grow, a complete protein, environmentally sound and hypoallergenic.
Next contenders are hemp, quinoa, buckwheat and rice. Rice will inevitably have to be combined to form a complete protein however if you are eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of peas, beans, lentils and legumes then you should be just fine.
There are also blends of all the above to make sure there is enough of everything. Blends are also able to offer a good amount of protein per serving for those that are really trying to bulk up.
Do all vegans need to take protein powder?
The short answer is no. If you are eating a balanced diet full of beans, nuts, seeds legumes, beans, peas and lentils then you probably don’t need to consume protein powder every day.
Some doctors and weightlifters even suggest that unless you are doing serious weight lifting you still don’t need to smash protein powders. In personal experience, having a protein powder around for busy weeks when I have limited time to eat well or when I am working out a lot, I may have a protein shake or two, just to support my body, however, it’s not a must every day. Protein from your diet is the best first option unless training every day at the level of an athlete. There are dangers to consuming too much protein. Just because it is in plant-based form does not negate possible toxic effects when over consumed.
Top brands in the UK
There are many brands of plant-based protein and the ones of this list may not even be your favourite go-to’s. But for newbies, it’s a starting point. This is not an exhausted list of all varieties but the most popular out now to check out. If you don’t like these, look on Google, Twitter or Reddit for other recommendations from people to find the one that is perfect for you.
The brands below are as clean as possible. GMO-free, dairy and gluten-free, preservative-free and sugar-free. I list soy-free products because of the allergen risk however if soy is your thing then, by all means, enjoy it.
I love this brand. A lot. Why? because they are simple yet focused on quality. I must say I don’t love the price tag but unfortunately its the price tag of quality
They focus on 3 products, Performance Protein, Superblend Protein and Pureblend Protein to cater for whatever your needs may be. They are super clean
Vega is a firm favourite amongst vegans for quality and taste. A few pounds cheaper than a form with a few more servings it’s easier on the pocket.
They also offer a nutrition shake as part of their range which is a nice addition.
What’s cool is that they advertise it not only as a shake but can be used in baking too. SO for all those who like to make vegan goodies and treats, here is a way to make some high protein brownies! Yum!
Initially, I did not want to list a product from a company that also sells no vegan products however there are two reasons why I did.
Firstly Its a good product directed at athletes. The ingredients are great offering Pea Protein Isolate, Brown Rice Protein, Pumpkin Protein, Flaxseed Powder and Quinoa Flour. A quality mix.
Secondly, although many vegans want to boycott non-vegan companies, there is a good reason to support the vegan products they do sell to make it more mainstream.
There it is.
As I mentioned before, not everyone needs to take protein powders and if you do, this list is a simple one to showcase what is out there. Opt for clean products with no added sugars and preservatives.
In terms of protein, whey does not offer all that much more but in terms of health, plant-based protein has a lot to offer. Support plant-based alternatives to end the cruelty of dairy farms and the suffering of the animals and their offspring.
At the end of the day, it is a matter of ethics and are your muscles worth the lifetime of suffering that those animals endure? Or could you simply switch over to a better option? A better option for you, animals and the planet.
Photo Credit for Main Banner image: Gesina Kunkel