When you mention protein powder you are automatically met with the assumption it’s about Whey and the many types that make up that space. Whilst always a popular option, today however we look at plant based protein sources.
With the vegan diet going from being a niche community to a more mainstream lifestyle for a lot of people, the quality and availability of vegan, plant based supplements have drastically increased and improved. You’ll find more and more people turning to plant based protein sources as their go to choice. Not everyone who chooses a plant based protein will do so because they follow a vegan lifestyle.
Plant based proteins are often made from hemp, soy, pea or brown rice. Can be single source or have multiple sources in one protein powder. This allows people with lactose intolerances to still hit their daily protein intake easily as trace amounts can still be found in even highly refined Whey Protein Isolate. Any with many different sources available to cater to different food allergies well, with pea protein is noted for being quite hypoallergenic. They also have many other health benefits that we’ll take a further look at below.
Studies have shown that pea protein can keep up with it’s whey counterpart for muscle growth, athletic performance and recovery. Pea protein is one of the more easily-digestible proteins and doesn’t contain any of the top eight allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish, dairy, wheat and soy. It also has rich iron sources and provides quite a good feeling of satisfaction and satiety. It is found to be as good as dairy-based protein casein and whey in promoting fullness
A 2019 study published by the Swiss journal Sports found pea protein produced similar results to whey when it came to measurements in body composition, muscle thickness, force production, Workout of the Day (WOD) performance and strength. This study followed people who were new to exercise and who undertook an eight-week High Intensity Functional Training (HIFT) program (HIFT is commonly used in boot camp-style training).
While it’s just the second study of its time, and the subjects who consumed pea protein didn’t adhere to a vegan diet, it's clear pea protein worked as well as whey when it came to the physical results. “Our data suggest that whey and pea proteins promote similar strength, performance, body composition, and muscular adaptations following 8-weeks of HIFT,” the author wrote.
Brown rice protein powder contains antioxidants, B vitamins and fibre and brown rice protein may help the functioning of the heart, liver and kidneys as well as regulating cholesterol. Rice protein provides a good amount of assistance muscle gain and recovery.
A 2013 study published in Nutrition Journal found rice protein gave the same results as whey protein in terms of muscle gain and recovery from post-workout soreness.
The study found no significant difference between short term recovery and training-induced adaptations of subjects who used rice protein or whey protein. In fact, when it came to body composition and performance after “periodised resistance training” (alternating high loads of training with decreased loads to avoid overtraining and improve muscular fitness) high doses of rice protein performed just as well as whey.
“Rice protein isolate consumption post resistance exercise decreases fat-mass and increases lean body mass, skeletal muscle hypertrophy, power and strength comparable to whey protein isolate.”
Soy protein is another popular choice and for good reason – It’s high in protein and offers many complementary health benefits as well.
A 2003 study published in the Journal of Perinatal Education found soy protein is particularly good for women. It’s been found that soy protein can help with reducing cholesterol, help with weight loss, control or prevent diabetes and prevent obesity, prevent cancer – most of the research had been done on breast cancer prevention but emerging research was looking at soy protein’s effect on preventing prostate cancer. For menopausal women: prevent bone loss and increase heart health – especially for women who were not using Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
“Soy protein products offer benefits to women in various life stages. Benefits include improved diet and cardiovascular status, prevention of certain types of cancer, improved health following menopause, obesity prevention/control, and more options for food variety,” the author wrote.
Despite being one of the newer sources to hit the market hemp protein packs a punch and offers a lot of health benefits. It is a less processed source of protein so it retains a lot more of its natural fibre which aids in not only your general health but your gut health. A higher fibre content combined with hemp’s protein can also assist in helping you feel more satisfied.
Hemp is a complete protein source like whey protein, it contains all nine amino acids your body requires. However, the exact amounts of those amino acids are inconclusive. It is one of the most easily digestible proteins though with between 91 percent and 98 percent of its protein digestible. So when using it as a post-workout option you are processing almost all of it’s protein.
Hemp protein is also rich in omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids, vital for heart health. As an added bonus, the hemp itself also contains the perfect ratio of 3:1 omega 6 to omega 3. An imbalance in this ratio may increase inflammation in the body. No other vegan protein powder offers these healthy fats.
You’ll find there a lot of great options in regards to protein sources if you require something other than Whey. It is important to consider your goals, caloric intake and timing of when you are consuming your protein in regards to which plant based option best suits your needs.