Vegan protein supplements: A new fashion statement

With veganism on the rise due to increased awareness on animal rights and climate change, there is an increase in vegan protein powders available in the market.

Fast&Up Plant Protein Isolate.

Sir, do I need more protein? Please give me a protein supplement. Which supplement should I buy? How many grams of protein should I take in one serving? When should I take my protein shake — before or after workout?

These are everyday questions from athletes on a sports nutrition plan. Protein is the building block of the human body. The muscles require protein to rebuild and recover quickly between training sessions. My advice is to consume 1-1.5gm per kg of your body weight in four-six meals through the day. So, a 70kg athlete needs about 100gm of protein a day. This can be as high as 2gm per kg body weight in the case of a bodybuilder, who will eat 140-160gm of protein per day.

Ideally, for every gram of protein you consume it, you should consume 4gm of carbohydrates. Most athletes make the mistake of consuming proteins with very low carbohydrates. They normally achieve this by using a protein supplement, which are designed to fulfil the needs of a fitness diet that hinges on the high protein-low carb concept.

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Protein is an essential macronutrient required by the body to carry out series of functions and maintain structural integrity. Food sources rich in protein include pulses, legumes, dairy, meat and fish, among many others. In order to meet the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) requirement of protein, one needs to eat a substantial amount of protein food sources, which may not always be feasible. Protein powders make it easier, with better absorption and digestion.

Protein supplements can be divided into dairy protein and plant-based protein. Conventionally, protein powders are made from whey and casein with added sweeteners, artificial flavours, vitamins, minerals and probiotics. With veganism on the rise due to increased awareness on animal rights and climate change, there is an increase in vegan protein powders available in the market.

The recent trend in 2020 has led to a greater consumption of plant-based foods as dairy has been shown to increase inflammation in the human blood. A recent documentary, The Game Changers, on plant-based diets showed greater recovery and power gains. Many elite athletes in the last two years have opted for non-whey protein supplements to get leaner gains and recover faster.

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As a nutritionist, traditionally I have recommended whey protein abundantly in the last two decades. Whey has a very high biological value and protein efficiency ratio. Hence, it is always the preferred protein supplement. However, with the advent of blood testing and food-sensitivity testing, I am finding a greater number of athletes having lower recovery due to dairy or milk proteins due to inherent higher inflammations.

Protein is significant for muscle growth. Though plant sources lack the essential amino acids, several combinations of plant-based foods contain enough protein to fulfil the required intake. Vegan protein has many health benefits like lower risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of diabetes mellitus, protection against weight gain, et cetera. Vegan proteins are rich in micronutrients and easily absorbed. Some rich sources of vegan protein are peas, soy, hemp, pumpkin seed, brown rice, sunflower seed, quinoa, beans, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds. Most plant foods in their natural form have less than 10 percent protein. When these foods are concentrated into flours and their carbohydrate and fat content is removed, they become better concentrated protein powders. A carefully made combination will ensure no missing amino acids when making the powder blends.

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A word of caution for some user. Usually, vegan protein powders have a high fibre content and can have tolerability and digestive issues leading to side effects like gas and bloating. I discourage protein supplements to clients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, constipation, piles or any other digestive issues. Those with sound health and digestive systems should add a vegan protein powder to bump up their protein post training. For a lot of my celebrity weight-loss programmes, I prefer using plant-based proteins over dairy or soy protein powders in fat loss and muscle gain.

Here are three of my reviews on plant-based protein products:

Fast&Up Plant Protein Isolate

Rating: 4/5

This plant-based protein is a sound protein combination based on peas and brown rice proteins. Brown rice protein has good BCAA (branched-chain amino acid) content, which is ideally suited for muscle protein synthesis. It has no added sugar and a natural stevia sweetener, which I really like due to not using chemical sweeteners. The chocolate flavour is derived from natural cocoa powder, while many brands use chemical flavouring. When mixed with water, the coconut milk powder in the protein allows for a thicker shake, though you need to have some good biceps to shake up your protein shake. When blended with ice directly, the shake profile improves hundredfold.

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Consuming a vegan shake may come as a cultural to the taste buds of a veteran of milk-based whey shakes. Fast&Up have done their work correctly in the flavour department, making this one of the best-tasting vegan proteins in India. The addition of medium-chain triglycerides helps athletes have sustained energy and glycogen replenishment. Their plant protein could have used some added fibre to prevent constipation. This is easily handled if you mix a banana or fruit into your shake. At 34gm of protein per 45gm scoop, this is a heavyweight protein contender!

Oziva Organic Plant Protein.

 

Oziva Organic Plant Protein

Rating: 3/5

A frontrunner in the combination of pea, brown rice and quinoa protein, this organic choice also gets the thumbs up from me. It also has dietary fibre added. This plant-based supplement should have got a 5/5 rating but lost out severely in the taste department. With no flavour and no natural sweetener, it does not appeal to the gym-goer or athlete looking to shake up the protein in the post-workout shaker. Truly tasteless, I recommend this protein is best added to your chapati or soup or dal to bump up the protein in your diet. At 30gm protein per 36gm scoop, this wins hands down on being the most concentrated.

Sunwarrior Clean Greens & Protein.

 

Sunwarrior Clean Greens & Protein

Rating: 4/5

For close to a decade, I have used plant-based proteins, and this has been my preferred choice till recently. Not cheap due to high import costs, it wins hands down in the taste department. It has green pea protein with goji berry protein extract. The veggie blend contains broccoli sprouts, onion extract, tomato, broccoli, carrot, spinach, kale and Brussels sprouts, providing you with a portion of your necessary veggie servings. At 18gm protein per 25gm scoop, this protein supplement loses out in the race for concentration of protein. It wins, however, with the added vegetable extracts that help in greater green matter and recovery antioxidants.

Those with delicate digestive systems may want to add a probiotic supplement to their vegan protein powders.

The author is chief sports nutritionist at Qua Nutrition Clinics. For guidance on a vegan diet and the use of plant-based protein supplements and recipes, write to him at www.ryanfernando.

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