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There are a wide range of myths surrounding the vegan diet, particularly where proteins are concerned, and especially when talking about quantity and quality of nutrients available. While there is no debate that vegan protein is not as complete as animal proteins, there are certainly notable exceptions, including things like quinoa and amaranth. But does every vegan person truly need a protein supplement?
Vitamin B12 is really the only supplement that people on vegan diet shouldn’t avoid. But there’s one problem: the modern pace of life can be so hectic that our diet has the tendency of becoming very monotonous. The lack of variety often means that we are exposed to protein deficiency. This is when vegan protein supplements become crucial for us to maintain a good health and muscle mass.
- 1 Key Facts
- 2 Ranking: The best vegan protein supplements on the U.S. market
- 3 Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about vegan proteins
- 3.1 What are vegan protein supplements exactly?
- 3.2 How are proteins used by the human body?
- 3.3 What is the nutritional composition of vegan protein supplements?
- 3.4 When are vegan protein supplements useful?
- 3.5 What is a good amino acid profile?
- 3.6 How can I choose a quality vegan protein?
- 3.7 Do protein supplements guarantee an increase in muscle mass?
- 3.8 Why are BCAAs (branched amino acids) so important for athletes?
- 3.9 Are vegan protein supplements only for vegans?
- 3.10 What are the differences between vegan protein and whey protein?
- 3.11 What are the differences between vegan protein bars and vegan protein powder?
- 3.12 Can vegan protein powder help me lose weight?
- 3.13 How should vegan protein powder be consumed?
- 3.14 What is the best time of day to eat vegan protein?
- 3.15 Can a vegan protein shake replace a main meal?
- 3.16 Are there any contraindications or side effects linked to vegan protein?
- 3.17 What type of vegan protein supplements are there, and which one is right for me?
- 4 Shopping Criteria
- 5 Summary
- Vegan protein supplements are recommended for vegan athletes who train at high intensity and for long durations. They are also useful as supplements in unbalanced or monotonous vegan diets.
- Plant proteins have an inferior biological importance than animal proteins, since they generally lack one or more essential amino acids. We call these absent amino acids “limiting”. Each plant group (cereals, pulses, nuts) has different limiting amino acids.
- Vegan protein supplements are usually manufactured from pea, soy or rice protein. Pea protein is often used because it is rich in BCAAs (branched amino acids), which promote muscle mass increase.
Ranking: The best vegan protein supplements on the U.S. market
You might be fully aware of just how challenging it can be to find a vegan protein supplement that is of high nutritional value and great tasting. Sometimes the nutritional value is lacking. In other cases, it can be phenomenal, but tastes so terrible that it is difficult to consume on a regular basis. In the next section, we’re ranked the very best vegan proteins on the U.S. market to help you find the right product for you:
No. 1: Now Sports – Pea Protein Power (2 lbs)
Now Sports pure unflavored pea protein power provides athletes and sports enthusiasts with 24 grams of easy-to-digest, pure plant-based protein per serving. Each scoop of this powder contains over 4,200 mg of branched chain amino acids and more than 2,000 mg of arginine. Now Sports has been providing sports men and women only the highest quality protein supplements for years. It is a family-owned company based in the United States that has made a commitment to second to none quality.
This product contains no artificial sweetener or colors, is GMO-free, as well as kosher, soy, dairy, and steroid free. If you are looking for an entirely green, entirely organic protein supplement that will help you take your workouts and fitness to the next level, it is hard to beat Now Sports’ pure pea protein powder.
No. 2: Smart 138 – Pea Protein (2.2 lbs)
Smart 138’s pea protein powder combines pure yellow pea protein with a hint of vanilla flavoring. Pure pea protein has a strong flavor, so the hint of vanilla makes mixing this powder into foods and beverages much more enjoyable. It is made in the USA and Canada, using raw yellow peas that are processed in Canada and then shipped to the U.S. for packaging. Each serving contains 27g of protein. What’s more, there is no added sugar, sweeteners, or coloring.
This is a 100 percent vegan product, and contains no soy, gluten, dairy, or GMOs. There are a number of lightly-flavored options available, as well as unflavored for that pure, unadulterated pea protein taste. A great alternative to animal protein and a fantastic mix for pre and post workout drinks, as well as before and after sporting events.
No. 3: Garden of Life – Raw Organic Meal (2.6 lbs)
Garden of Life’s Raw Organic Meal Replacement is designed to be exactly that: a vegan alternative to a meal for people on the go. Each serving comes complete with 20 grams of clean, totally organic plant protein, as well 44 different super foods. A great vegan option for post-workout recovery that helps build lean muscle and provide your body with all the essential nutrients.
Additionally, this vegan supplement also comes complete with 1.5 billion CFU probiotics and enzymes, helping to promote healthy and easy digestion. This pleasant-tasting powder can be readily mixed into shakes and smoothies for people who want something vegan, filling, and nutritious on the go. Garden of Life’s Raw Organic Meal is produced at low temperatures, better conserving the amino acids in the proteins.
No. 4: Vegan Smart – All-in-One Nutritional Shake (22.75 Oz)
Every serving of Vegan Smart’s All-in-One Nutritional Shake comes complete with 20g of GMO-free protein and is completely vegan certified. There is no dairy, soy, gluten, or cholesterol in this product, making it an ideal meal replacement. The all-in-one shake is low in calories, high in protein, contains important probiotics and dietary fiber, as well as omega 3s.
Nine different fruits and vegetables make up this supplement, containing high amounts of polyphenols, antioxidants, and flavonoids. This is an ideal mix for breakfast or post-workout shakes, and easy to keep in your bag or in your car to take on the go. There are no artificial colors, flavorings, or sweeteners in this product, just pure, healthy vegetables and green goodness.
No. 5: Vega Essentials – Chocolate Shake Vegan Protein Powder (21.6 Oz)
Vega Essentials Chocolate Shake Vegan Protein Powder has been rated by vegan supplement users as the number one plant-based protein brand on the market. Each serving gives you 20 grams of vegan protein from peas, hemp, and flaxseed. It also gives you 25 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamins and minerals, so you are well on your way to satisfying a number of important nutritional requirements with each scoop.
It includes greens like broccoli, kale, and spirulina, and is sweetened with stevia, so you don’t have to worry about extra calories. Vega Essentials vegan protein powder comes in great-tasting chocolate, vanilla, and mocha flavors, making it easy to blend into your favorite smoothie or shake, and and enjoyable alternative to animal proteins.
Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about vegan proteins
Many vegan protein supplements come with a remarkable amino acid profile. While many of these products were originally made with vegan athletes in mind, non vegan and vegetarian athletes can get just as much out of taking these supplements. The following section will provide you with some of the different vegan proteins out there, and help you make an informed decision about which ones are best for you and your needs.
What are vegan protein supplements exactly?
They are products made from the best vegetable protein sources. Soy, hemp, amaranth, peas and rice are the most frequently used ingredients. The raw produce is generally pressed to extract the oils, while the remaining paste is dried and crushed into powder.
A single protein source (soybeans, hemp, rice, peas, pumpkin seed) or a combination of several types of vegetable protein (a mixture of peas, hemp and rice, for instance) can make up vegan protein supplements. Their ingredients are generally organic, with natural added colors and flavorings.
How are proteins used by the human body?
The structural function is the better known one of these nutrients. This means that they provide provide support, resistance and elasticity to our body tissues – such as tendons, skin and muscles. Proteins are also found in our digestive enzymes, antibodies and hormones.
What is the nutritional composition of vegan protein supplements?
The types of ingredients found in a supplement determine how much protein is available per serving. This is why there is such a range of protein content depending on which manufacturer you are looking at (indicated on the nutritional information label found on the product). With that in mind, below are some of the most important elements of a high quality vegan protein supplement:
- 50-86% protein, essential amino acid sources
- 1-10% carbohydrates
- 1-11% fat
- 4-13% dietary fiber
- Regarding energy, the recommended portion of vegan protein powder (between 20 and 30 grams) will provide you with between 100 and 130 calories.
As we had mentioned earlier, the nutritional composition of vegan protein supplements can very much vary. This is why you should always read the nutrition label. It would also be ideal to consult a nutritionist before starting supplementing with this kind of product. A higher protein content doesn’t necessarily rhyme with better quality.
When are vegan protein supplements useful?
Vegan protein supplements are formulated to improve the protein intake (quantity and quality) of vegan athletes and promote the development of their muscle mass. While traditional plant foods can still provide all the necessary protein for our body, supplements are easy to take and our organism can assimilate it better.
Non-vegan athletes can be intolerant to milk protein supplements and experience bloating, flatulence, or diarrhea after consuming it. This is when vegan protein becomes particularly useful for them. Older adults can also use these supplements to reach the right protein intake.
What is a good amino acid profile?
There is a standard protein – called the FAO protein – whose amino acid profile is considered optimal to meet our needs. A vegan protein supplement will basically be worth taking if its profile is similar to that of the FAO protein. You’ll find the essential amino acid content of this standard protein in the table below:
|Essential amino acid||Milligram per gram of standard protein|
|Methionine + cysteine||2.5|
|Phenylalanine + tyrosine||6.3|
How can I choose a quality vegan protein?
You should aim for a product that contains a minimum of 50% protein. However, as we mentioned earlier, more protein doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting a higher quality supplement. The amino acid profile is truly the key: essential amino acids are the basic units of proteins, those that our organism cannot produce on its own.
A protein containing all the amino acids (both essential and non-essential) is called complete or whole, and it is considered to be of high biological value. Three main essential amino acids – called branched (BCAA) – play a key role in the development of muscle mass: leucine, valine and isoleucine.
Here’s a more concrete example: a pure pea protein supplement may contain over 80% protein, but it will lack an essential amino acid, methionine. On the other hand, the right blend of pea protein, rice and hemp with 65% protein can provide ALL amino acids, including BCAAs and methionine.
Do protein supplements guarantee an increase in muscle mass?
In short, no. These supplements will ensure that your body has enough of all amino acids required to create muscle proteins during synthesis. However, you won’t be able to increase your muscle mass (hypertrophy) without physical exercise that generates a load force on your muscle fibers.
On the other hand your existing muscle mass can be reduced if you train your physical strength – like weightlifting – without consuming enough protein. Keep in mind that carbohydrates are also essential to maintain adequate levels of glycogen, which is the fuel of your muscle cells.
Why are BCAAs (branched amino acids) so important for athletes?
All amino acids are actually essential to create new proteins, but it is true that branched ones (leucine, isoleucine and valine) are particularly important in sport. BCAAs facilitate recovery after intense trainings and can hinder the destruction of muscle protein.
These amino acids also promote muscle mass gain by stimulating the release of growth hormone and insulin, both of which are related to anabolism – protein creation through amino acids, in this case. Either way, it is important to consume these supplements responsibly and according to manufacturer instructions, as they can impact your cardiovascular health.
Are vegan protein supplements only for vegans?
No. Many athletes who follow an omnivorous diet have difficulties tolerating whey protein, as it can lead to digestive discomfort. This is why they decide to add vegetable proteins as supplements to their diet. Lactose-intolerant individuals naturally cannot consumer cow’s milk protein, and they often find that soy protein is an excellent source of essential amino acids.
Supplements are commonly used to counter a deficient protein intake in elderly people. Unfortunately, they may have diarrhea and flatulence when taking whey protein due to lactase deficiency (lactase being an enzyme that digests lactose.
What are the differences between vegan protein and whey protein?
Their origin is naturally the very first major different. Whey protein is obtained from cow’s milk whey, while vegan protein comes from seeds, cereals or pulses. Whey protein also presents a higher content in branched amino acids (BCAAs), dissolves more easily and has a more pleasant texture than plant-based protein supplements.
One great advantage of vegan protein is that it usually contains 100% organic ingredients, including colorants and flavorings. On the contrary, you can find many artificial additives in whey protein. Unlike their counterpart, vegan supplements are completely suitable for lactose intolerant and milk protein allergic individuals.
|Whey protein||Vegan protein|
|Origin||Animal (cow’s milk)||Vegetable (pulses, seeds, cereals)|
|Flavor||Available unflavored, or in different pleasant flavors (strawberry, vanilla, chocolate)||Available in natural flavor or with vanilla, banana or chocolate flavor, for example. Note that the natural flavor is not well liked, especially that of pea protein.|
|Texture||Foamy, creamy (when diluted in water)||It tends to form lumps or take on a sandy texture in water. Soy protein has a very pleasant texture.|
|Amino acid profile||Complete||Complete in the case of the mixture of various vegetable proteins, hemp or soybeans. Pure vegan protein from peas or rice is incomplete.|
|BCAA content||Superior||Provides branched amino acids, but in lower quantities than whey protein.|
|Assimilation||Excellent. More than 90% of the protein is assimilated.||The percentage will vary. It is lower than that of whey protein because vegan protein contains fiber, which interferes with bioavailability.|
|Digestive tolerance||It can generate laxative effect or flatulence when consumed in excess. Lactose generates digestive discomfort for intolerant individuals.||It is generally very well tolerated.|
|Allergens||Cow’s milk protein||Soy protein|
What are the differences between vegan protein bars and vegan protein powder?
Vegan protein bars can more easily satiate you. Vegan protein powder is diluted in water (or another drink); as you might know, liquids remain in the stomach for less time than solid foods. One great advantage of protein bars is that you can eat them anywhere you go.
Regarding digestibility, there is virtually no digestion with vegan protein powder, which is quickly absorbed. On the other hand, the composition of a protein bar will determine how long it takes to be digested, but this tends to fall between 2 and 3 hours. Here’s a table to help you compare the two types of vegan protein supplements:
|Vegan protein bar||Vegan protein powder|
|Flavor||Delicious, widely accepted by consumers.||Some have a pleasant taste, while others have a peculiar natural taste.|
|Form of consumption||Ready to consume||Must be mixed with another liquid or solid preparation before consumption.|
|Digestibility||Requires greater digestion.||Digestion is very simple and the product is rapidly absorbed.|
Can vegan protein powder help me lose weight?
No. Unlike what is often claimed in the advertising of these products, vegan protein powder does not promote the use of fats as an energy source. The one advantage of this supplement is that it can contribute to slightly increasing your diet’s satiety value. The protein and fiber therefore make you have less appetite, but this is truly a small effect.
How should vegan protein powder be consumed?
Neutral or natural-flavored vegan protein is best added to shakes, soups, waffles or pancakes. Products that feature added flavors should simply be blended with water. The proportions are generally 30 grams of powder diluted in 8.4-10 Oz of liquid. It is recommended to pour the liquid in the glass first, then add the powder and stir well.
What is the best time of day to eat vegan protein?
The best time to take a vegan protein supplement (or any protein supplement for that matter), is one hour before any physical activity, and/or 30 minutes prior to finishing. It is best not to wait too long after a workout to take a supplement because there is a metabolic window when your body is most capable of assimilating the greatest proportion of a supplement’s nutrients.
Can a vegan protein shake replace a main meal?
No, protein shakes should only be used as snacks before or after training. Your main meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – should include other foods that provide your body with carbohydrates, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals, as well as protein.
You are generally safe from side effects if you follow the recommended dosage of 20-40 grams per day. However, you may expose yourself to long-term liver and kidney problems if you consume too much protein, as these organs respectively metabolize proteins and their wastes. Moderation is always the key when it comes to supplements.
Excessive intake of branched amino acids has been linked to cardiovascular disease, and too much protein can also provoke headaches and dizziness. Individuals suffering from allergy to soy protein should naturally stay clear of supplements containing this legume.
What type of vegan protein supplements are there, and which one is right for me?
Vegan protein supplements can be divided into two major groups: protein blend and pure protein. This influences their composition, as well as their texture and taste. We have already mentioned their differences in this guide, but here are some more details regarding their amino acid profile:
- Protein blend: the most common combination is peas, rice and hemp, and are available in very tasty flavors. Their offer excellent quality: while peas lack methionine and rice lacks lysine, they compensate their limiting amino acids when mixed together. Hemp seed, on the other hand, is a whole protein.
- Pure protein: The most commonly used protein sources in supplements are peas, soybeans, rice and hemp. Pure pea, rice and hemp proteins generally have a natural flavor, while soy protein comes in different flavors (chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and banana).
Soy and hemp both contain all the amino acids (essential and non-essential), while peas lack methionine and rice lysine. Soya supplements are easily dissolved in water and have a soft, pleasant texture. Hemp has a nutty taste.
Smoothies made with naturally flavored pure pea protein aren’t well liked when blended with water only, but they mix very well with vegetable drinks (oat or almond), cocoa and cinnamon. Pure rice protein presents a neutral taste.
As you now know, vegan protein products can greatly vary in terms of solubility, amino acid content and taste. In the following section, we’ll go over the most important factors that you need to take into account in order to find the most suitable supplement for your needs. These aspects are the following:
- Dissolution capacity and texture
- Protein content and BCAA
Vegan protein supplements with added flavor are particularly useful, as all you need to do is dissolve them in water and they’re ready to be consumed. Unflavored or natural tasting protein can be added to juices, milkshakes, soups and pancake dough. Pea protein have a very peculiar natural flavor, but you can also find them in neutral flavor on the market.
Dissolution capacity and texture
As we mentioned earlier, vegan soy protein powder easily dissolves in water and produces smooth, foamy shakes. Certain proteins, on the other hand, may give a thick, granular or sandy consistency to your protein shake if you don’t mix it thoroughly. To avoid this, we recommend using a blender or an electric mixer.
Vegan proteins in powder are generally free of allergens, lactose and gluten. That being said, individuals suffering from food allergies – including gluten intolerance – must absolutely verify that the product they are buying is certified free of dangerous ingredients. People allergic to soy protein should naturally avoid them altogether.
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Protein and BCAA content
Quality vegan protein supplements provide at least 50% protein, and up to 86%. The content in branched amino acids is another key factors to consider. As you now know, they promote the development of muscle mass and recovery after intense training. Here are approximate BCAA values:
- Leucine: 2.43 grams per portion of 30 grams
- Isoleucine: 1.56 gram per portion of 30 grams
- Valine: 1.6 gram per portion of 30 grams
You might not have thought so, but vegan protein supplements can truly have an amino acid profile as complete as whey protein. The market offers a wide variety of flavors, brands, and combinations. The most commonly used ingredients are soybeans, peas, hemp and rice, which are marketed as pure protein or as part of a protein blend.
The objective when taking vegan supplements is to get all of your essential amino acids, both in terms of quantity and quality, in order to build muscle mass. After having read the above article, you should have everything you need to go out and choose the vegan protein that makes the most sense for you.
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