Vegan Protein: As Good as Whey?

There are several reasons why you may want to make the switch from a dairy based to vegan protein powder. Perhaps you have digestive issues with the product you currently use. Or maybe you are moving towards a more plant based diet. You may even have recently transitioned to veganism completely- or already be vegan! If so, congratulations.

One of the arguments that is often made against veganism is that it can be more difficult to hit protein targets and a full amino acid profile, especially when trying to build muscle. Although I would argue that it is absolutely possible to meet your protein needs while following a vegan diet, it can take a little more planning and awareness, especially early on. Protein powders can take a lot of the pressure off as they generally supply around 20g protein per serving. They can be added to oats, smoothies or non-dairy yogurts to enhance and flavour meals. Powders also make a great convenience option, to save time preparing tofu or meat alternatives.

Blend with oats, fruits, nut butters and more for a healthy meal.

There are almost endless sources of vegan proteins found in powders, including soy, pea and hemp. While they are slightly less available to the body than whey (not digested and utilised as quickly), some blends can supply a full spectrum of amino acids, just as whey does. We would advise against using a single source vegan protein powder unless you have an advanced understanding of meal planning to fill in the gaps. As a vegan, you should always be looking to get protein from a variety of sources, to ensure that you are getting all 9 amino acids in the correct ratios, including muscle building leucine.

As far as overall protein intake goes, bodybuilding has largely overemphasised how much we need. Around 1.8-2g/kg for resistance trained individuals is a good rule of thumb to go by. Slightly over-consuming protein shouldn't cause any issues, aside from perhaps some digestive distress, but massively under-consuming protein can cause muscle wastage and extreme fatigue.


Strengths and Weaknesses of Vegan Proteins

Pea Protein

-high in protein (around 21g per serving)
-rich in BCAAs
-low in methionine

Hemp Protein

-moderate protein (around 12g per serving)
-source of fiber, iron, zinc, magnesium and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
-low in lysine

Pumpkin Seed Protein

-moderate to high protein (around 18g per serving)
-high in magnesium, zinc, iron and other minerals
-low in threonine and lysine

Brown Rice Protein

-high protein (22g protein per serving)
-rich in BCAAs
-low in lysine

Soy Protein

-complete Protein
-high in BCAAs
-concerns about health issues with high soy consumption (controversial)





In conclusion, other than soy or quinoa based products, a powder from a plant based source is unlikely to provide all amino acids. Choose a high quality blend with minimal fillers and a high protein content per serving. Many products will also have added vitamins such as B12 which vegans have increased need for to benefit overall health and wellbeing.

Recommended Product: Nutrisport 90+ Protein Vegan for a full spectrum of amino acids.

About the Author

Savannah Westerby, BSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition. IG:@savannahwesterby
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