Protein is one of the single most important macronutrients. Whether you're a gym junkie, yoga enthusiast, wellness fanatic or just like living a healthy and active lifestyle - supplying your body with enough protein is an essential part of your diet.
But what's also just as important is supplying your body with the best, high-quality sources of protein at the right times.
But while plant protein is becoming more widely used amongst health enthusiasts, many people remain hesitant to switch over due to either misinformation or simply not knowing enough.
If this sounds like you, don't worry, we've got you covered. In this article, we'll explore everything you need to know from A-Z on plant-based vegan protein!
Like all protein powders, plant-based protein powder quite simply is a nutritional supplement. There are many different types of plant-based protein powders but most commonly they consist of powdered protein isolate or concentrate from rice, pea, soy or hemp seed.
Some plant protein powders contain other added ingredients for nutritional benefit such as superfoods and ancient grains like maca root, quinoa, chia seeds, flaxseed and buckwheat.
Many plant protein powders will also contain some sort of natural sweetener such as stevia as well as other natural flavourings to help improve the taste.
Other protein powders include a whole host of highly processed ingredients including additives such as thickeners, vegetable gums, sweeteners, flavours and fat burning extracts.
Yes, plant protein powders are usually vegan products and suitable for people on a vegan diet. Be aware however, that some products may claim to be "vegan" or "vegan friendly", but may contain other ingredients that are not strictly plant-derived or are very highly processed.
Be careful and always check the ingredient listing on the label for anything that's not plant-based. If you're unsure about an ingredient, it's most likely either artificial or highly processed.
There are many different types of plant-based protein powders with most of them being either a concentrate or an isolate. In either case, most plant protein powders are made from:
Pea Protein Powder
Pea protein is derived from sprouted yellow peas and is one of the most popular plant-based protein powders due to its high protein and amino acid content. Pea protein is a "complete" protein and contains all 9 essential amino acids.
Rice Protein Powder
Rice protein usually comes from either sprouted brown or purple rice grains that have been bio-fermented and is approximately 80% protein by dry weight. Because of this, rice protein requires less energy to be broken down and absorbed by the body. It's also an excellent source of all important Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), containing more than whey protein! Rice protein powder has a mild, "toasty" flavour which is relatively neutral in taste.
Hemp Seed Protein Powder
Considered a "complete protein" hemp seed protein contains all 9 Essential Amino Acids and is especially high in lysine and arginine, which are particularly beneficial for those leading active lifestyles. Like a lot of vegan proteins, it is bio-fermented which makes it particularly easy to digest and non-bloating.
Soy Protein Powder
Soy protein is an excellent alternative to whey or casein for people who do not consume dairy. It also contains all the essential amino acids. However, soy is not a particularly popular choice of plant-protein due to its low fibre content and phytates content, which decrease mineral absorption.
Sacha Inchi Protein Powder
Sacha Inchi is a small shrub-like plant native to the Amazon Rainforests in Peru. Cultivated and consumed for centuries by the Inca tribes, the Sacha Inchi plant bears a small star shaped fruit containing nutrient-dense seeds which are ground into protein powder. Along with a being a complete protein, Sacha Inchi is one of few protein powders to be high in essential fatty acids, particularly Omega-3. It's also highly digestible, easy on the stomach and has a delicious "nutty" taste.
Yes, most plant-based protein powders are high in protein, ranging anywhere from 60%-90% depending on the plant-source and quality of the powder. The table below shows the macronutrient profile of popular plant-based protein powders (per 100g):
|Per 100g||Soy Protein||Pea Protein||Rice Protein||Hemp Seed Protein||Sacha Inchi Protein|
|Fat - Total (g)||0.1||7.4||5.8||14.2||6.2|
|- Saturated (g)||0.0||1.8||2.3||1.6||2|
|Carbohydrates - Total (g)||1.4||3.2||1.0||15.2||21.8|
|- Sugars (g)||0.0||0.0||0.0||4.2||3.8|
The chart below shows the carbohydrate and protein contents of popular plant protein powders:
The best type of vegan plant protein depends on your what your health and fitness goals are. However, in terms of pure protein content soy protein has the highest protein content with approximately 93g per 100g of powder.
However, soy protein is low in fibre and some people are allergic to soy. Pea and rice protein are excellent alternatives with high protein values as well as amino acids.
Soy protein powder usually contains the most protein content compared to other plant proteins, containing approximately 93g of protein per 100g of powder.
However, because many people are allergic to soy it is not a popular choice for many vegans and vegetarians. Other plant-based proteins such as pea protein and rice protein powder contain less protein per 100g but are hypoallergenic (relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction).
Plant-based protein powders provide a host of health benefits. The overall health benefits of choosing a plant-based protein powder will depend on your health goals and dietary requirements. However most plant-based protein powders provide the following health benefits
Digestibility And Fibre
Plant-based protein powders are the only protein powder that are naturally high in fibre. This not only helps keep your digestive system healthy, but also helps you feel fuller for longer periods of time which aids appetite control.
Naturally Occurring Amino Acids
Most popular plant protein powders are considered "complete proteins", meaning they contain all of the 9 essential amino acids that cannot be produced internally by the body and must come from the diet. Rice Protein powder in particular contains more Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) than whey protein for example.
Plant-based proteins contain a number of "special" phenolic compounds that are highly effective antioxidants. These plant-based phenols have been shown to reduce the risk of many lifestyle diseases, such as heart diseases, cognitive disorders and diabetes.
Unlike other non-vegan proteins such as whey or casein, many plant-based protein powders are high in healthy fats such as omega-3. Sacha Inchi and hemp seed protein are both particularly high in unsaturated fats while also being high in protein.
Environmentally And Ethically Sourced
Unfortunately, whey and casein protein often come from livestock that are specifically bred purely for milk production and are often consumed as meat afterwards. Additionally, the dairy and livestock industries are significant contributors to methane pollution.
The table below provides an overview of the key benefits of plant-based protein powders:
|Soy Protein||Pea Protein||Rice Protein||Hemp Seed Protein||Sacha Inchi Protein|
|High Protein (> 70%)||✓||✓||✓||✗||✗|
|High Healthy Fats||✗||✓||✗||✓||✓|
For more details on the health benefits of plant protein powder, see 5 Real Reasons Plant Protein Powder Is Superior To Whey
The chart below shows a summary of the key nutritional values of plant protein powders:
Fibre is probably the single most important part of plant protein's superiority. Only plant-based foods contain fibre, which is what helps keep your digestive system running.
Most popular plant-based protein powders (with the exception of soy) are high in both naturally occurring digestible and indigestible fibre making them an excellent choice for people who want to improve digestion or are lactose intolerant.
Choosing the right plant-based protein powder will depend on your dietary requirements, fitness and health goals, as well as any allergic reactions you may have to some foods.
Most plant-based proteins (with the exception of soy) are hypoallergenic, meaning they're unlikely to cause an allergic reaction.
Soy, rice and hemp seed protein are all high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fats, making them an ideal choice for people who live in active lifestyle and want to increase their dietary protein intake.
Hemp seed and sacha inchi protein powders are both lower in protein, but higher in fibre and healthy fats. Sacha inchi protein in particular, is the highest in fibre of all the plant-based protein powders containing approximately 18g of fibre per 100g.
Due to the vast differences in macronutrient profiles of plant-based protein sources, many people often choose a plant-based protein blend, which provides high protein content as well as moderate amounts of both fibre and healthy fats.
Plant based protein powders are often considered healthier options compared to other diary-based protein such as whey or casein due to their improved digestibility, higher fibre profile, antioxidant content and healthy fat content. Additionally, most plant-based proteins are hypoallergenic, meaning they're relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction.
Additionally, research has proven that plant-based proteins are not only just as beneficial as a protein source, but exceed animal-based proteins in all other facets.
There’s no comparison between animal foods and plant foods when it comes to providing immune-boosting and cancer-fighting nutrients. Animal foods are either exceedingly low or devoid of antioxidants and tend to offer concentrated amounts of individual nutrients, like protein or calcium, while being deficient in many others. By contrast, plant foods are rich in antioxidants and provide a wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting nutrients.
- Plant Protein Shown to be Better than Animal Protein for Building Muscle
While plant-protein powders may be lower in protein content compared to their dairy alternatives, the host of health benefits that they provide are excellent compensation for a slightly lower protein content.
There are are many factors that differentiate plant-based proteins and whey protein powder. The fundamental difference is the food source they are derived from - plants or milk.
Plant protein powders, as the name suggests come from plants such as soy beans, sprouted rice, peas and seeds such as sacha inchi.
Whey protein comes from milk, by separating the whey from milk or formed as a by-product of cheese making.
Nutritionally speaking, whey protein is higher in protein and amino acids than plant protein but contains less fibre, antioxidants, healthy fats and other micronutrients.
Whey protein is popular due to its high protein and amino acid content, while plant-based proteins are favoured due to their digestibility, nutritional benefits and antioxidant content.
Yes, almost all plant-based protein powders contain all the 9 essential amino acids. Both pea and rice protein powders have been shown to contain the highest amounts of amino acids compared to other plant-based proteins.
Rice protein powder contains approximately 36% essential amino acids and 18% branched-chain amino acids.
Pea protein powder contains approximately 30% essential amino acids and 6% branched-chain amino acids
The table below shows the essential amino acid profile of popular plant-based protein powders (per 100g):
|Amino Acid||Hemp Protein||Soy Protein||Rice Protein||Pea Protein||Sacha Inchi Protein|
The chart below shows the essential amino acid profile of popular plant protein powders and their BCAA content:
Yes, most popular plant-based protein powders are "complete" proteins meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids. The following plant-based proteins are complete proteins:
It's important to understand that there is difference between essential amino acids and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). While all the above plant-based proteins are high in BCAAs, rice protein is particularly high in isoleucine and valine exceeding the amounts found in whey. For leucine, whey is higher but only by less than one-half of a percentage point.
The table below shows the BCAA profile of popular plant-based protein powders (per 100g):
|BCAA||Hemp Protein||Soy Protein||Rice Protein||Pea Protein||Sacha Inchi Protein|
Yes, plant-based proteins naturally have a different taste and texture compared to dairy proteins. They are often described as being slightly "nutty", "earthy" and less "creamy" in taste.
If you've never tried a vegan protein powder before expect it to be slightly different. Your tastebuds may take some time to adjust, but in most cases people come to like the taste.
Yes, plant-based proteins are suitable for vegetarians, vegans and non-vegans! So no matter if you're a gym junkie, yoga enthusiast, wellness fanatic or just enjoy living a healthy and active lifestyle - plant proteins can help supply your body with an excellent source of high-quality digestible protein, amino acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Yes, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study that shows that plant-based protein sources are just as beneficial as a protein source compared to animal-based foods. There are multiple studies that also reach the same conclusion.
Protein helps repair and build muscle — it helps your body recover from tissue damage after physical exercise such as weight training, running, cycling, swimming or even yoga.
Additionally, it has been proven that plant-based protein sources are a healthier dietary supplement due to their antioxidant content, dietary fibre and digestibility.
Yes, plant protein sources are an excellent option for weight loss due to their high fibre content. Plant-based proteins are the only protein powders that are naturally high in fibre. This not only helps keep your digestive system healthy, but also helps you feel fuller for longer periods of time, which aids appetite control.
The best time to consume plant protein (or any protein for that matter) is immediately after intensive exercise such as weight training, running, cycling, swimming or even yoga.
Immediately after exercise (30-minutes give or take, depending on the individual), your body has the potential to change its metabolism from breaking down nutrients (using energy), to building nutrients (repairing muscle). This is often referred to as The Metabolic Window. Specifically, it is during this period that the intake of protein and carbohydrates can help trigger the change in metabolism.
Plant protein powders are most commonly used as dietary supplements to help increase both protein and fibre intake. Most people enjoy a post-workout protein-shake or smoothie due to convenience and simplicity.
However there are other ways to use plant protein powder such as in smoothie bowls, yogurts, cereals, desserts and even "nice-cream" (dairy/sugar free homemade ice cream). Check out the recipe section of our blog for some great ideas and inspiration!
Whether you need a quick breakfast, post-workout snack or nutritional boost - Our ULTIMATE Protein Shake Smoothie Guide delivers.
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