If you’re a vegan looking for a vegan protein powder supplement or just someone looking for an alternative to dairy, you have more options to choose from than you may think. The question though is what are the best vegan protein sources
The industry’s go-to protein of choice has always been whey protein - a protein derived from the process of making cheese which is the liquid portion of the milk that separates from the curds. Arguably one of the best proteins due to its amino acid profile and ease of absorption once consumed, its origin (dairy) eliminates it as an option for vegans, vegetarians or even non-vegans with a sensitivity to dairy. This has been a source of frustration for vegans looking to increase their daily protein consumption with a powder.
What are the Choices?
So what choices are left that meet the criteria set out by the vegans? Essentially the product must not have any animal or animal byproducts associated with it. A vegan’s diet consists solely of vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts and seeds and restricts meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, gelatin and even honey. Keeping this in mind, more companies are beginning to offer their conscious consumers protein powders derived from different vegan sources such as pea, rice, hemp, quinoa, cranberry seed and sacha inchi, a seed native to Peru. These powders often have other beneficial ingredients like special green blends, added fibre and omega 3 fatty acids.
The label of a prospective vegan protein powder should identify that a blend is being used to offer you the quality protein you’re looking for. If you’re in the market for the best vegan protein sources to support muscle building and recovery, then a blend of pea and rice protein will ensure that you are getting some very important amino acids that contribute to this. Rice protein is a complete protein, meaning it contains all essential amino acids, however, pea protein is deficient in some, making it incomplete. Therefore, blending both pea and rice proteins offers a complimentary amino acid profile that is complete, highly bio-available, tolerated well by those with food sensitivities and provides a unique taste and texture. Here’s why:
As a grain derived protein, rice protein is high in the amino acids cysteine and methionine, which are well known for their complimentary attributes for promoting muscle growth and repair. Cysteine, built directly from methionine, is known for its antioxidant attributes and its ability to metabolize fats and also supports the synthesis of glutathione, an amino acid that inhibits inflammation. Rice protein taste is fine, though the texture can be a bit rough if not blended with another protein. .
This source of protein is high in the essential amino acids lysine and arginine, making it highly suitable for athletes and active lifestyles. While L-Lysine assists in the formation of muscle tissue, it also increases the effectiveness of L-arginine’s ability to produce Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH is desired for its influence on muscle repair and fat loss. Extracted directly from the legume, pea protein is a common ingredient in many vegan protein powders. This is probably the smoothest vegan protein out there with a somewhat neutral taste.
Other Mainstream Proteins
Hemp protein is high in fiber and known for its ease of digestibility, which makes it a great option for vegans and those with food sensitivities. It’s low content of the amino acids lysine and leucine make it incomplete. However, its relatively high in arginine and tyrosine and when paired with other protein sources in a blend can offer the consumer a different taste and texture. It should be noted that hemp protein powder alone, does not offer the most desirable taste.
The sacha inchi plant is native to Peru and is known for its almond shaped seeds. These seeds produce oil through cold pressing, while leaving a protein dense powder that is rich in all essential amino acids. This protein is easily digested and high in omega 3’s. This tends to taste a little bit fishy at time
We haven’t covered all the vegan protein available, but these four are are some of the most popular you’ll find and in our opinion the best vegan protein sources are pea and rice. The one thing to consider when comparing vegan proteins, is the purity of the source. In addition, make sure you don’t purchase a product that tries to offset and cover up tastes with loads of sugar. A nice clean, non-GMO product with no sugar and nothing artificial should be your target.
By Bryan Marhsall, NHL Strength Coach
Want to know the right way to recover from a hard workout? Check out our article on recovery protein by clicking here.