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Qualities of a Good Vegan Protein Powder

With a lot of companies getting into the business of producing vegan protein powders, it can be difficult to sort the good from the bad. Here are a few things to think about the next time you’re out shopping for a vegan protein powder.

Protein Amount

It’s important that you’re getting your money’s worth here. Some companies will try to trick you and claim that while the label says there’s 20 grams of protein per serving, one serving is two scoops as opposed to only one scoop. Therefore, the amount of servings you thought you had immediately decreases by half.

Don’t let cheap tricks like this happen to you. Make sure that the product you plan on buying has somewhere between 15-21 grams of protein per serving as a good rule of thumb. Even if the serving is two scoops, at least make sure you’re aware of the cost you’re paying per serving of protein. Compare this with other similar products and see what gives you the best value for your money.

Protein Source

Make sure that the source of protein you’re getting is from a single, isolated source. These include sources like soy, pea, or hemp isolate. Although this doesn’t necessarily fall into the guidelines of proper complementary protein pairing, it will make it easier to pair complementary proteins at other meals. They don’t all need to happen at one meal. Rather, they can be spread out throughout the day.

Natural Sweeteners

Do your best to stick with all-natural sweeteners, like stevia or monk fruit. Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and sugar alcohols like xylitol are notorious for causing symptoms of gastrointestinal distress such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea [1][2].

Fiber Source

Be on the lookout for cheap fibers such as chicory root and guar gum. These, along with artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, can cause gastrointestinal upset [3]. Instead, look for higher quality sources of fiber such as flax seed and prebiotics.

Types of Vegan Protein Powders (blend, pea, etc)

Differences between the different types of plant proteins

While the term “vegan” protein means that the protein is free from animal-based sources of protein and that it is plant-based, that’s really all the name tells us. But there are various sources of proteins that can constitute a vegan protein powder. Some products even blend particular plant-based sources of protein together so that you have an optimal complementary pairing of proteins; similar to the amino acid diversity you’d see in an animal-based protein such as whey.

The primary difference between vegan and animal sources of protein lies in the amounts and types of amino acids that they contain. While each amino acid plays important roles in the body, there are nine that are considered “essential”, meaning that the body can’t produce them on its own. It must obtain them through diet or supplementation. These amino acids are:

  1. Phenylalanine
  2. Valine
  3. Threonine
  4. Tryptophan
  5. Methionine
  6. Leucine
  7. Isoleucine
  8. Lysine
  9. Histidine

Each plant-based protein source contains differing amounts of these amino acids, but they rarely contain all of them. For instance, you’ll commonly see soy protein in vegan protein powders since it has a very high amount of leucine compared to other plant-based sources of protein. Leucine is the most potent activator of a process called muscle protein synthesis, which is vital for muscle growth and recovery.

Another example of this is shown with oats, which are a good source of tryptophan. This amino acid is vital for humans, as it acts as a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is well-known for its effects on mood and emotion [4].

This is why it’s important to pair complementary proteins together! It’s essentially (no pun intended) taking the best qualities from each different source of protein. This is also why vegan protein powder blends are also becoming widely more popular, as it does the work for you in a sense, already pairing the proteins for you. Pretty cool, I’d say.

Plant Protein vs Other Types of Protein

The primary difference between plant proteins and other sources of protein are that plant proteins often don’t contain all nine essential amino acids, while sources of animal-based proteins do contain all of the essential amino acids. Because of this, it’s necessary for vegans and those following a plant-based diet to pair complementary proteins together so that they receive not only a similar amount of amino acid diversity, but also enough of the nine essential amino acids. This is vital for both achieving one’s body composition and fitness goals, as well as optimal health and wellness.

For example, phenylalanine is responsible for manufacturing tyrosine, which in turn, leads to a cascade that results in the production of dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. Hindering the production of these neurotransmitters could produce serious consequences. In this instance, the reduction of these neurotransmitters (these three are known collectively as catecholamines) such as motor impairment and major depressive mood disorder [5].

Vegan Protein Powder FAQ

These are some of the most commonly asked questions about vegan protein powders.

What are vegan protein powders?

What are vegan protein powders?

Vegan protein powders are a type of protein powder that contains its sources of protein from non-animal sources. These sources include, but are not limited to: brown rice, pea, buckwheat, nuts, and soy. They exclude sources such as anything milk-based like whey and casein, as well as bone broth and egg proteins, just to name a few.

Consuming sufficient protein during the day as a vegan can be very difficult, as there are a lot less protein-rich sources at your disposal as opposed to a traditional omnivore. So vegan protein powders are a fantastic and practical solution for vegans who find that they can’t consume enough protein in their day-to-day lives.

How do I know if a vegan protein powder is actually vegan?

How do I know if a vegan protein powder is actually vegan?

To make sure that the supplement you’re looking at is actually vegan, just look at the ingredients list. Make sure that the protein sources it contains are from non-animal sources. You’ll commonly see brown rice, pea, and soy, just to name a few. Ones you’ll want to avoid are whey, casein, egg, beef, and milk proteins.

It’s usually pretty obvious, but there are some instances where it can get a bit confusing. Sometimes variations of particular words will be used (e.g. “caseinate” instead of “casein”) or there might simply be a source of protein that you may not have heard of before. If you have any doubts about a particular ingredient, it can be as simple as conducting a Google search to find out if the ingredient is an animal-based source of protein or not.

What are the benefits of vegan protein powder?

What are the benefits of vegan protein powder?

The benefits of a vegan protein powder are similar to other protein powders out there. It can help you to reach your protein requirements for the day, as well as provide a convenient, delicious source of protein to your daily routine.

Vegan protein powders’ benefits are particularly evident in those who strictly adhere to a plant-based, no animal-food diet. It can be quite difficult for those who adhere to this kind of diet to consume all of the protein that they need every day in order to reach their health and fitness goals. So vegan protein powders can really come in handy.

Why should I take a vegan protein powder?

Why should I take a vegan protein powder?

Vegan protein powders can be a great way for those wanting to avoid animal-based foods but still want to get in the protein necessary for them to reach their health, wellness, and fitness goals. Even those who aren’t necessarily vegans can benefit from using a vegan protein powder if they want to broaden their scope as to what’s available on the sports supplement market, as well as becoming a more educated consumer and fitness enthusiast.

Who should take a vegan protein powder?

Who should take a vegan protein powder?

Anybody who adheres to a vegan/plant-based diet who feels that they are unable to reach their protein requirements should seriously consider investing in a vegan protein powder.

Is vegan protein powder as good as whey?

Is vegan protein powder as good as whey?

In terms of its effects on body composition, it has been shown that animal protein is more optimal for building muscle in comparison to vegan proteins [6]. This is because of its more diverse amino acid profile in comparison to vegan protein powder.

However, this doesn’t mean that vegan protein powder is “bad” in any sense. Not at all. In fact, the only thing a person using vegan protein powder would have to do in order to compensate is to consume slightly more protein and make sure they are consuming a wide array of amino acids; particularly the essential amino acids.

Is vegan protein powder healthier than whey?

Is vegan protein powder healthier than whey?

That depends on what you mean by “healthier”. Both are safe to consume by most individuals. But it may be the case that more people will have issues consuming whey protein as opposed to vegan protein because of the lactose that it contains. Lactose intolerance is actually quite common. While it is significantly more common in Asian and African countries, even in the United States, ~25% of Caucasians are lactose intolerant. Even more astounding is that in the U.S., it is estimated that 75-90% of African American, Native American, and Asian American populations are lactose intolerant [7]. Because of this, these populations would most likely benefit from vegan protein powder instead of whey.

So the short answer to a loaded question is “it depends”. It really depends on the context of the individual, but both are great sources of protein that contain a wide array of amino acids (although animal protein often contains more) and also are good sources of micronutrients such as magnesium, zinc, among other vitamins and minerals.

Both proteins vary slightly in their pros and cons, but at the end of the day, both could be considered to be “healthy”. However, since these are protein supplements, neither types of protein supplementation should comprise the bulk of your diet. The majority of your proteins should come from whole foods whenever possible.

Is vegan protein powder easy to digest?

Is vegan protein powder easy to digest?

If we’re comparing it to whey, I would say no. Most vegan protein powders are higher in fiber in contrast to animal-based proteins. Add this along with the fact that vegan proteins can contain vegetables that are high in FODMAPS (fermentable, oligosaccharide, disaccharide, monosaccharide, and polyols), which are types of vegetables that commonly cause symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, such as gas and bloating.

Can vegan protein powders fix a poor diet?

Can vegan protein powders fix a poor diet?

No, there is absolutely no supplement that has the ability to outwork a poor diet. Get your diet in check first before you consider supplementation.

Are vegan protein powders a waste of money?

Are vegan protein powders a waste of money?

No I wouldn’t say so. Vegan protein powders have helped to address a huge dilemma that used to plague vegans but still had body composition and strength-oriented fitness goals just like their omnivore counterparts. But just like with manufacturers who produce animal-based protein products, you have to take the manufacturers reputation and credentials into consideration. It’s no different with vegan protein powders. You have companies who make superior products and you have other ones that make inferior products. But no need to worry, that’s what we’re here to help you do!

Is it good to drink a vegan protein shake every day?

Is it good to drink a vegan protein shake every day?

If you feel that it helps you reach your protein goals, then yes, absolutely. But if you have no trouble hitting your protein goals by consuming just whole foods alone, then I don’t find it necessary to drink a vegan protein shake every day. If you simply just enjoy having one every day, then there’s no problem with that either.

What are the realistic expectations of a vegan protein powder?

What are the realistic expectations of a vegan protein powder?

In terms of “expectations”, I’m going to assume you’re talking about the health and body composition results you’d see as a result from using it. Because if we’re talking about more superficial aspects such as taste, product quality, texture, etc., I’m not going to be able to answer that question for you. This is due to the fact that each brand differs in how they go about making their vegan protein powders.

The results you’d expect from vegan protein powders wouldn’t really be much different then with any other kind of protein powder. Although animal-sources of protein are more optimal for building muscle, as long as you compensate by consuming more overall plant protein from diverse amino acid sources, the resulting differences in body composition and health will be negligible [6].

Do doctors recommend vegan protein powders?

Do doctors recommend vegan protein powders?

I’m sure that some may recommend them to you, but each doctor vastly differs in their knowledge regarding nutrition and supplementation. If you’re curious, don’t hesitate to ask your own doctor what he/she thinks about vegan protein powders.

Should I take vegan protein powders if I don’t work out?

Should I take vegan protein powders if I don’t work out?

You don’t necessarily have to work out to benefit from an increased protein intake. However, you won’t be providing your body that stimulus it requires to repair tissue and build quality muscle. So you won’t benefit nearly as much as somebody who does work out simply because you don’t require nearly as much protein to begin with.

Should I take vegan protein powders if I don’t diet properly?

Should I take vegan protein powders if I don’t diet properly?

No matter what supplement you take, there’s nothing on this Earth that can make up for a poor diet. If diet is an issue for you, I wouldn’t even consider buying a supplement until I got my diet in check.

Can I and should I replace a meal with a vegan protein shake?

Can I and should I replace a meal with a vegan protein shake?

If it is more convenient for you to do this, then by all means, do it! But I don’t recommend doing it just for the sake of it. It’s generally more expensive and less optimal for health and performance over the long haul if the majority of your diet consists primarily of protein shakes. But as long as doing so helps you to reach your protein goals and it helps you stay on track despite a busy schedule, then there’s no issue in doing so.

What can make vegan protein powders less effective?

What can make vegan protein powders less effective?

To this writer’s knowledge, unless you’re taking a prescription medication or other agent that has the ability to significantly hinder digestion, then this isn’t really something you’ll have to worry about. If you do happen to be taking a medication and you don’t know how it may interact with a vegan protein powder you’re considering purchasing, ask your doctor.

Can I take vegan protein powders on an empty stomach?

Can I take vegan protein powders on an empty stomach?

You certainly can. However, you might find that you stomach the protein powder better on either an empty stomach or a moderately filled stomach. The only way to find out is to try taking the supplement under both scenarios and seeing if it affects you differently. But usually it’s not a concern for most people.

When is the best time to take a vegan protein powder?

When is the best time to take a vegan protein powder?

There’s really no “best” time. This is solely dependent on the person’s fitness goals, lifestyle, schedule, etc. Some people prefer to take it in the morning since they don’t like to eat breakfast, others will only take it post-workout because they view it as a tasty treat as a reward for a job well done. No matter the case, as long as it helps you hit your protein goal for the day, then take it at whatever time(s) work best for you.

Should I take vegan protein powders on days I don’t work out?

Should I take vegan protein powders on days I don’t work out?

You need protein to recover, so this is an absolute no-brainer! You should be consuming adequate amounts of protein on both your training and rest days so that you can reach your health and fitness goals faster and more efficiently. And if taking a vegan protein powder helps you to reach your protein intake goal, then by all means use it to your advantage!

Is it okay to take vegan protein powders before bed?

Is it okay to take vegan protein powders before bed?

Yes! In fact, it can be a very convenient way to reach your protein goal at the end of the day!

For how long should I take vegan protein powders?

For how long should I take vegan protein powders?

There’s not really a set time frame to take a vegan protein powder. It’s part of your diet essentially, so you can theoretically take it indefinitely. Of course, stop taking it if it’s causing you digestive issues or any other sort of physiological discomfort or harm. If you have any concerns, please consult your physician.

Should I take a break from vegan protein powders?

Should I take a break from vegan protein powders?

As long as you’re using the product as intended, as a supplement, then there’s no need to take a break from it. But if it’s starting to cause digestive problems, or if you feel like it’s taking away from other aspects of your diet as a whole, then it may be wise to take a brief hiatus from it in order to address potential issues in your diet.

Can you take too much of a vegan protein powder?

Can you take too much of a vegan protein powder?

Taking too much of a vegan protein powder would be similar to overeating any other high-protein food source. You would most likely suffer from symptoms of gastrointestinal distress such as gas and bloating.

Also, if you make vegan protein powder a preference in your diet rather than as a supplement, it may begin to take away from the nutritional diversity of your diet. In other words, you may start to consume lower amounts of essential micronutrients that are present in whole foods in favor of the vegan protein powder. Because at the end of the day, while vegan protein powders are a helpful and convenient supplement, they are still more heavily processed than whole fruits and vegetables.

Are vegan protein powders safe to take?

Are vegan protein powders safe to take?

Vegan protein powders are considered to be a food product, so they are safe to eat for the general public. However, if you do happen to have concerns regarding whether a particular vegan protein powder is safe for you personally, it would be wise to consult your physician.

Are there any side effects of vegan protein powders?

Are there any side effects of vegan protein powders?

Since vegan protein powders are considered food technically, they don’t really have any “side effects” per se. However, some people may experience gastrointestinal discomfort among other minor nuisances. This is no different than the variations you see regarding how people react differently to various foods.

Do vegan protein powders cause damage to the kidneys and liver or any other organ?

Do vegan protein powders cause damage to the kidneys and liver or any other organ?

As of this writing, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that vegan protein powders cause any sort of kidney or liver damage.

Why does vegan protein powder make me gassy?

Why does vegan protein powder make me gassy?

Some vegan protein powders contain sources of protein and fiber from high-FODMAP vegetables. FODMAP, which stands for fermentable, oligosaccharide, disaccharide, monosaccharide, and polyols, are types of vegetables that commonly cause symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, such as gas and bloating. These sources include wheat, some fruits, and legumes.

Does vegan protein powder cause bloating?

Does vegan protein powder cause bloating?

That’s dependent on several factors. First, it depends on what ingredients are in the supplement itself. Are there artificial sweeteners in there? Because artificial sweeteners such as sucralose (commonly known as Splenda®) are notorious for causing bloating and abdominal distension [8]. What sources of protein are included in there? Starchy sources such as peas have been known to cause gas and bloating [9].

Also, one has to take into consideration one’s one individual reactions to certain to particular foods. One person may be able to get away with eating peas and fibrous vegetables such as broccoli with no issues, while the next person may not be able to even look at foods like that without getting a distended belly. Gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome can complicate this scenario even further, so it’s wise to take these factors into consideration before choosing a vegan protein powder supplement.

Can I take a vegan protein powder with other supplements?

Can I take a vegan protein powder with other supplements?

Yes, of course. Vegan protein powder is food when you think about it. Therefore, it doesn’t have any dangerous interactions with any other supplements. If you’re still concerned, however, consult your physician regarding this matter.

What are some other supplements I should take alongside a vegan protein powder?

What are some other supplements I should take alongside a vegan protein powder?

In general, supplementing with a vegan protein powder isn’t much different than supplementing with any other protein. Therefore, it’s not really necessary to add any additional supplements compared to somebody who takes an animal-based source of protein.

However, if we’re talking about ways in which to simply max out the benefit of the vegan protein powder itself, then taking a multivitamin and omega 3 fish oil supplement will work wonders. If you want to be really nit-picky about it, you could even supplement with additional amino acids that you might be lacking in comparison to somebody who is taking an animal-sourced protein powder. These could include L-Arginine, L-Citrulline, and the three branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s); leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The latter most always comes in a powder form with all three BCAA’s in it, so there’s no need to buy all the BCAA’s separately.

Do vegan protein powders boost the immune system?

Do vegan protein powders boost the immune system?

They certainly can! Ingredients such as peas contain high amounts of vitamin c, which is well-known to reduce the time one suffers from the common cold [10]. Peas also contain high amounts of iron, which play a role in fighting inflammation, one of the most significant roles of the immune system [11].

There are countless examples similar to the ones above regarding the various protein sources included in vegan protein powders. Vegan sources of protein are generally denser in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in contrast to their animal-protein counterparts. Therefore, you’ll see many instances of immune-boosting characteristics of vegan protein powders compared to animal sources such as whey and casein.

Do vegan protein powders increase testosterone?

Do vegan protein powders increase testosterone?

No, there’s nothing in vegan protein powders that would increase testosterone necessarily.

Can you build muscle with vegan protein powder?

Can you build muscle with vegan protein powder?

You can build muscle with vegan protein powder just like you would with any other kind of protein. However, there is a slight catch here. Since vegan proteins have a less diverse amino acid profile than their popular animal counterpart whey, vegan protein is not as optimal for building muscle as animal sources of protein are [6]. However, this isn’t to say that it’s not possible at all, the key emphasis here is on the word optimal. Vegan protein is still very effective at building and maintaining muscle mass.

Do vegan protein powders give you more endurance?

Do vegan protein powders give you more endurance?

Usually not. However, if the specific product that you’re looking into contains added ingredients that have been shown to increase what’s called nitric oxide in the body, then you’re in luck! This is because nitric oxide acts as a vasodilator in the body, meaning that it widens blood vessels, increasing and enhancing the delivery of nutrients vital to your body’s health and recovery. In turn, this has the potential to increase endurance and athletic performance [12].

The ingredients that can be added to vegan protein powders in order to increase nitric oxide can include, but are not limited to L-Arginine, L-Citrulline [13], beetroot [14], and curcumin [15].

Do vegan protein powders give you energy?

Do vegan protein powders give you energy?

Well this is going to mainly depend on the ingredients listed in the vegan protein powder supplement that you have. Products with sources of protein considered to be either low or moderate on the glycemic index, such as peas and brown rice, respectively, provide the body with sustainable, gradual, long-lasting energy. This is opposed to high glycemic index carbohydrates such as various types of sugars, which will cause a great spike in energy followed by a sudden crash.

Do vegan protein powders help burn fat?

Do vegan protein powders help burn fat?

No, unfortunately they don’t have any special fat-burning properties, just like any other kind of protein. However, eating higher amounts of protein in general has been shown to be superior compared to diets lower in protein for purposes of fat loss [16].

Is vegan protein powder good for weight loss?

Is vegan protein powder good for weight loss?

There’s nothing special about vegan protein specifically that makes it good for weight loss. However, protein in general is very good for weight loss. In fact, protein is actually very helpful for those looking to lose weight, as it has been shown to improve weight loss ranging from obese populations to athletic populations [17][18].

Can vegan protein powders make you stronger?

Can vegan protein powders make you stronger?

If using a vegan protein powder supplement helps you to hit your allotted protein target each day, then indirectly, I suppose they can make you stronger by helping you to recover more effectively compared to when you were consuming less protein. However, vegan protein powders have no special muscle-building  or strength-gaining abilities of their own. It’s simply just a way of getting more protein into your diet in a more convenient way.


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