Vegan protein powder provides a convenient, supplemental protein source which is free of animal products. Adequate protein intake for muscle gain and general health (1, 2) is something that plant based dieters can struggle with which has contributed to the rise in popularity of vegan protein powders.
Vegan protein is often compared to the more established and thoroughly studied whey protein. The rise in popularity of plant based diets over the past few years has led to a growing body of research on the efficacy of vegan protein powders.
The potential benefits and side effects of each source of vegan protein powder as well vegan protein sources as a whole have been listed below.
Rice protein powder has been shown to improve body composition and exercise performance just as well as whey protein powder (3). Whey protein has often been lauded as an essential supplement for those looking to improve body composition and overall fitness.
This was the first double-blind study ever done on plant proteins versus animal proteins and the results ran contrary to the findings of numerous previous studies that found animal based protein sources to be superior to plant based protein sources.
The findings of this study showed that rice protein can be just as effective at reducing fat mass and increasing hypertrophy, strength, power and lean body mass when administered post workout.
Rice protein powder can help combat atherosclerosis (4). A 2010 study on mice showed that consumption of rice protein powder, in comparison to casein protein powder, led to reduced the atheroscleric lesions.
It is often said that one of the mechanisms behind rice protein, and other plant proteins, reducing the risk of heart related diseases is due to an inhibition of cholesterol absorption.
In this study they cholesterol levels of the rice fed group and the casein fed group were the same which may suggest that other mechanisms are responsible. Controlled human studies are still required to further confirm the efficacy of rice protein being able to combat atherosclerosis.
Rice protein can combat oxidative liver stress (5). Oxidative liver stress can be a precursor to chronic liver disease and occurs when there is an imbalance between oxidant and antioxidant agents. The inclusion of rice protein in your diet can help combat these effects by regulating glutathione metabolism and oxidative damage to proteins. (6) (7) (8)
Pea protein can promote muscle thickness gains when taken in conjunction with a resistance training program (9). The study also showed that similar gains were made in terms of muscle thickness and strength in the whey group and the pea group. It was the general consensus for years that plant based proteins could not match up to animal based proteins when it came to performance enhancement. This study was one of the first to buck the trend and pave the way for new research into the performance enhancement benefits of plant based protein powder. (10).
Pea protein can help with hunger cravings. A 2016 study that compared the digestion rate and satiety properties of pea, whey and casein protein found that pea protein was effective at triggering satiety signals (11). The results of this study are part of the reason why pea protein has been promoted as a useful supplement in the treatment of obesity, with its ability to suppress hunger and complete amino acid profile making it a viable option for a high protein diet which have been shown to be effective at combating obesity (12) (13).
The suppression of hunger, more specifically the hormone ghrelin, has been shown to play a key role in the success of weight loss diets (14). This would suggest that pea protein is a viable option for those seeking general weight loss and not just obese populations.
Pea protein has been shown to reduce high blood pressure. Pea protein has high quantities of arginine which aids in keeping blood pressure low (15). The enzymes used in the purification of pea protein may be the main reason for its ability to reduce blood pressure as they are thought to release bioactive peptides which play a role in reducing blood pressure. (16) (17).
High blood pressure has strong links to a poor diet. The introduction of plant based foods and even a switch to a plant based diet has been shown to reduce the effects of high blood pressure (18).
Soy protein can reduce high cholesterol and risk of heart disease (19). The mechanisms by which soy protein reduces cholesterol are not entirely settled amongst the scientific community. It may be a result of the ingestion of soy inhibiting the absorption of cholesterol or the effect of nonprotein components, such as fiber and isoflavones, affecting cholesterol metabolism. (20).
Soy protein has been shown to help reduce the risk of prostate cancer (21). There are still some gaps in the research regarding the effect of isoflavones on prostate cancer but the body of research in this area is growing rapidly. One study showed that 6 months of soy protein consumption led to a reduction in prostate cancer, the results of a meta-analysis also concluded than consumption of soy protein is directly associated with a reduction in the risk of prostate cancer among men. (22) (23)
Soy protein helps reduce postmenopausal symptoms. Soy contains high levels of isoflavones, a substance that mimics estrogen. Postmenopausal women can suffer from a reduction in estrogen levels which leaves them susceptible to various side effects (24) (25). Soy protein has been shown to combat high blood pressure, heart disease, endothelial function and atherosclerosis. (26) (27).
Hemp protein can aid in the treatment of heart disease. Hemp is a rich source Linoleic acid (LA) which has been shown to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease and high blood pressure in some cases (28). More research is required on LA and it’s efficacy when it comes in the form of hemp but the initial research is encouraging. (29).
Vegan protein powder is high in fiber. Vegan protein powder has the added benefit of containing high amounts of fiber which helps promote a healthy bowel, lower cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy body weight (30).
Dietary fiber intake has been shown to play a role in weight management (31). Data has also shown that dietary fiber intake is below the recommended amount, the American Heart Association recommends 25-30g per day and the data shows the average intake to be just 15g per day. The filling nature of fiber and its main sources may be the reason why intake is so low which makes a strong argument for the inclusion of vegan protein powders in diets low in fiber intake. (32)
Vegan protein powder is easily digested and leads to less gastric distress than animal based sources. Vegan protein powder does not contain any lactose and since lactose intolerance is an ever increasing problem in many populations vegan protein can be a remedy to this issue. (33) (34)
Vegan protein powder has low levels of toxicity. A recent consumer report found that many animal based proteins contain high amounts of metals including arsenic which has been causally linked to various cancers (35) (36). Because vegan protein is not derived from animal sources it benefits from much less exposure to toxic materials that can have adverse effects on health.
Vitamins and minerals aid in hundreds of bodily functions from healing wounds to bolstering your immune system.
Although whole foods should always be the primary source of micronutrients having a supplement that provides high doses of vitamins and minerals is a convenient option to have.
Vitamins and minerals become even more important if you lead an active lifestyle or, more specifically, compete in a sport that requires weight cutting such as martial arts or bodybuilding (39).
Pea protein powder is high in purines. Purines break down into uric acid and can badly affect gout, kidney stones and various digestive disorders. (40)
Pea protein powder can be high in sodium. The sodium content will vary depending on manufacturer – this is an important point for people who suffer from heart related issues such as high blood pressure (43) (44).
Soy protein contains phytoestrogens. In a 2008 clinical case three women were admitted to hospital with severe menstrual cramps and uterine bleeding, all of the symptoms regressed when soy was removed from their diet. Phytoestrogens have also been shown to possibly affect estrogen production in infants and various forms of behavior, ranging from sexual to social, in test subject rats. (45).
Soy protein has been linked to allergies. Allergies to soy are fairly common and can result in vomiting, skin irritation and abdominal cramps – people who suffer from hayfever are at a greater risk of an allergic reaction to soy husks. (46) (47).
Soy protein can increase the risk of contracting bladder cancer. An epidemiological report
Looked at 61 cases of bladder cancer and found cause for concern regarding soy intake and the increased risk of bladder cancer. (48)
Hemp protein may cause issues with drug testing. THC metabolites can be detected in urine although the amount is low. Over consumption of hemp based protein products could potentially lead to a higher amount and cause issues with drug testing. (49) (50).
Pea protein is low in methionine. Methionine is one of the nine essential amino acids and plays a key role in cartilage production and protein synthesis (51). This can be an issue if your diet does not have various sources of proteins to make up for the low methionine content in pea protein.
When deciding on your daily dosage of vegan protein powder there are a few things to take into consideration.
The first thing to consider is your own daily protein requirements.
If you are unsure of your daily protein requirement then multiply your bodyweight by 0.8 and you will have your intake in grams. The national institute of health recommends a minimum intake of 036g per pound however this will not be enough for those of you who exercise and lead even a fairly active lifestyle. (54) (55).
The next consideration is how much protein you are going to get from food. I think it’s worth noting here that just because you use vegan protein powder does not necessarily mean you follow a plant based diet.
Vegan protein powders are used by people with lactose intolerance, gut issues as well as those who struggle to get enough micronutrients and fiber in their diet.
Animal based protein powders are low in micronutrients which is why it is recommended that they are not the primary source of protein and that the majority of protein intake comes from food.
Vegan protein powders are much higher in micronutrients and fiber which means that it could be argued that a higher daily amount of vegan protein powder, in comparison to animal based protein powder, could be recommended.
Despite this argument I would still recommend getting the majority of your daily protein intake from whole foods.
Taking into consideration all of the above I would recommend a range of 25-50g of vegan protein powder per day. This typically amounts to 1-2 scoops depending on the manufacturer.
Protein powder can be taken at any time of day and does not have to be consumed solely post workout.
Q: Can you build muscle with plant based protein powder?
A: People of all types, can build incredible muscle strength and bulk with plant-based proteins.
Q: Is vegan powder as good as whey?
A: Whey contains all nine of the amino acids, and is therefore considered a complete protein. Plants, however, are not complete proteins because they tend to either miss one or more or be low in some of the essential amino acids. This can be remedied by using a combination of brown rice and pea protein which then make them similar in efficacy.
Q: Is vegan protein powder safe during pregnancy?
A: Plant-based proteins tend to have higher heavy metal counts than animal-based proteins. Some of these metals are required by the human body, but it is best to keep consumption to a minimum. They are only needed in trace amounts. Therefore, be sure to look into the safety, quality, and purity standards of any product, before you make a purchase.
Q: Is vegan protein powder easy to digest?
A: Vegan proteins are similar to proteins found in the human body, which makes them easy to digest and assimilate quickly, so they’re a great alternative to whey and soy proteins, which are often heavily processed.
Q:Does vegan protein powder cause acne?
A: Vegan protein powder is less likely to cause acne because it’s all natural. Unnatural ingredients contribute to the imbalances in your body, which inevitably leads to more acne.
Q: Does vegan protein powder cause gas?
A: It is less likely to then whey, but it is still a possibility. It really comes down to how well your intestines can deal with the product. Taking a probiotic can help alleviate any potential symptoms.
Vegan protein powders have many health and performance related benefits.
The four sources of vegan protein have unique benefits as well as sharing similar benefits such as helping to reduce blood pressure and providing high levels of micronutrients.
Vegan protein powder got a reputation for being inferior to animal based sources and it’s still trying to shake off some of that unwarranted criticism.
Research in recent years has shown that vegan protein powder can be highly beneficial to any diet and is just as effective as whey protein when it comes to performance enhancement.
Protein powder of any kind should never be relied upon and whole foods should always be prioritized in your diet.