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Why You Should Choose Vegan Protein Powders Over Other Protein Powder Supplements

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Protein powder choices between animal and plant sources.

Are you considering adding a protein powder to your diet for building muscle and losing weight? Here is some useful information to help you decide whether vegan protein powders are right for you, as well as a warning about the possible risks some carry.

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Protein Powder Uses

You’ve seen this in the gym: both men and women mixing a protein shake just before and after a workout. What may seem like an affectation is actually a sound nutritional practice. Scientific studies support adding supplemental protein to your diet when engaging in a resistance training regimen or other intensive physical activity such as High Intensity Interval Training.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Is Not Just For Athletes, But Inactive Adults Too!

Extra protein in your diet is needed to help repair damaged muscle and rebuild new muscle following strenuous exercise. However, there are other reasons why some people benefit from consuming a powdered protein supplement: such as an elderly person who is having difficulty eating, or someone who is undergoing cancer treatment and is suffering from an impaired appetite.

So what exactly is a protein powder supplement?

Protein powders are essentially powdered forms of protein that are sourced from either animal or plants. With animals, protein powder is typically derived from eggs; or more commonly, casein and whey—the byproducts of cheese made from milk. Plant-based powdered protein can come from single sources (or blends) of proteins from soybeans, peas, rice, potatoes, and even hemp.

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Which is Better for You—Animal or Plant Protein?

You will find a lot of arguments and opinions about what types of powdered proteins are really the best choice. However, just on performance alone, studies have shown that there is little difference in which protein type you choose for muscle building and weight loss.

A study published in the journal Sports, reports that researchers compared the effects of whey (animal protein) versus protein from pea plants. The study focused on the physical adaptations of both male and female participants who followed an 8-week-long High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT) regimen while consuming 24 grams of either whey or pea protein before and after exercise on training days, and in-between meals on non-training days.

What they found was that the ingestion of either whey or pea protein produced similar outcomes in measurements of body composition, muscle thickness, force production, performance and strength following the 8-weeks of HIFT.

While protein is protein regardless of whether it comes from animal or plant and appears to be a moot point from a performance standpoint, there are other considerations for choosing one protein source over the other.

A preference for protein from animals is that it is guaranteed to have all the essential amino acids and other nutrients a body needs. However, when it comes to plants, not all single sources of plant protein can match meat’s nutrient content. For example, some vegan protein powders may contain only one protein source such as that from peas, which although healthy, has significantly fewer nutrients that what is found in whey or casein.

Despite this, the pros of choosing a plant-based powder protein far exceeds the aforementioned one that is pro animal source.


Reasons to Choose Plant-based Over Animal-based Protein Powders

• From an ethical standpoint, going vegan based on animal rights and environmental sustainability concerns is a valid and growing view shared by many when it comes to deciding what to put into our bodies and how we should go about it.

• Going vegan with your food choices has been shown repeatedly by science that a plant-based vegan diet is beneficial and superior to a more carnivorous diet when it comes to improving nutrient intake, decreasing mortality, and decreasing the risks of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and coronary heart disease—especially when going nearly-vegan with a Mediterranean-style diet.

A Pesco-Mediterranean Diet With Intermittent Fasting Might Be The Ideal Heart Healthy Weight Loss Diet

• Animal-based protein powders can result in acne.

Is Your Protein Powder Causing Your Acne?

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• Plant-based protein powders are more easily digested and do not result in the gas and bloating issues associated with some animal-based protein powdered supplement drinks.

• Plant-based vegan protein powders contain phytochemicals produced by plants that can boost your health. Animal-based protein powders, however, may contain added hormones and antibiotics that you will want to avoid.

Are There Risks to Protein Powders?

There are some risks to both animal-based and plant-based protein powders that you should be aware of, such as:

• Like most supplements, protein powders are not typically tested for safety or regulated by the FDA before going to market.

• Some protein powders contain added sugars and artificial sweeteners that are not good for you, and can actually cause you to gain weight.

• Some have cheap fiber fillers, such as guar gum, chicory root, and other food components that can make digestion a real problem and provide very little nutritional value.

• Some come with caffeine. Sure, caffeine gives you an energy buzz, but is that what you are really looking for in a protein powder?

• Some have ingredients that are from gene modified organisms (GMOs) that you may want to avoid.

• Potential Toxins—a new study reported this year in the April edition of the Harvard Health Letter warns that not only are the above risks a concern when consuming some protein powder supplements, but that you also have to be wary of ones that might contain heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury; bisphenol-A (BPA), which is used to make plastic; and protein powders sourced from environments where pesticides or other contaminants linked to cancer and other health conditions are used.

What To Look For in Your Protein Powder

The take-home message here is that you have to be a careful consumer. Do your research: Ask the company where their protein comes from and what testing is done to ensure that it is safe. With that in mind, you should look for:

• Vegan protein powders so as to avoid antibiotics, hormones and digestive issues.

• Protein powders that are organic certified such as those from Tropeaka protein products that are organic, allergen-friendly, and guaranteed to be non-GMO.

• Protein powders that have no fillers, artificial sweeteners or other unhealthy ingredients.

• Protein powders that are a blend of at least two different plant sources to ensure that you are getting all the essential nutrients and vitamins your body needs.

If you are not convinced that adopting a vegan lifestyle is doable for you, here are some excellent recipes from Tropeaka that show how you can introduce healthy vegan protein powders into your diet.

For an informative article about how that supplementing your health with a beverage can improve your performance, here’s a recent study that showed how an energy drink lowered the heart rate and increased intelligence in U.S. Air Force airmen.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Derick McKinney on Unsplash

References:

The Effects of Whey vs. Pea Protein on Physical Adaptations Following 8-Weeks of High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT): A Pilot Study" Amy Banaszek et al. Sports (Basel). Jan. 2019; 7(1): 12.

The hidden dangers of protein powdersHarvard Health Letter updated: April 10, 2020.

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