When it comes to protein supplementation for athletic recovery and building muscle, many believe that vegan protein powders are inferior to animal-based protein powder.
Science actually supports the validity of this belief because most plant proteins are not "complete" in that they do not have all 9 essential amino acids. These include:
The right combinations of plant proteins can overcome this concern. As long as the protein combination contains all nine essential amino acids, it's "complete."
Further, the combination of Isoleucine, Leucine, and Valine make up Branch Chain Amino Acids or "BCAAs." So in addition to consuming "complete" proteins, it's also advantageous to use vegan protein powders with BCAAs, especially for building lean muscle mass and optimizing recovery after exertion.
Benefits of Vegan Protein Powder
There's a reason why the world's top athletes across many disciplines are consuming a more plant-based diet. Here are three primary reasons why supplementing with right vegan protein powders are highly beneficial.
Certain types of animal-based protein products have been shown to cause swelling and inflammation in muscles and joints. This is particularly the case in individuals who consume high volumes of whey and dairy-based proteins.
Many vegan protein powders offer anti-inflammatory properties, which can help improve joint mobility and has even been shown to help minimize arthritic symptoms. For instance, you can find plant-based protein powders with turmeric, tart cherry, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and other recovery-boosting properties.
Most plant proteins provide a higher rate of nutrient absorption compared to animal proteins. This is especially evident in protein concentrates (versus highly-processed protein isolates,) These more natural and digestible forms of plant-protein can drastically accelerate the rate of recovery after exertion.
Further, because plant-based diets tend to be lower in saturated fats and cholesterol, cardiovascular and heart health can be improved. In addition to being advantageous for an individual's endurance, a healthier cardiovascular systems leaders to faster recovery times.
Most plant proteins enhance digestion naturally because they contain higher levels of healthy fibers. This is even more pronounced with certain legume and seed-based proteins, such as hemp, pea, and pea.
Some animal-based proteins like whey have reputation for causing bloating and digestive discomfort. Conversely, vegan protein powders typically digest easier and promote regularity. Because optimal digestion is ideal for any athlete seeking to train better, plant-based options are a win. Not only can experiencing poor digestion also can lead to weakened immune functioning, but it’s difficult to maximize training while feeling heavy or bloated.
By using the right combination of plant proteins, you can have all the same benefits as animal proteins, and more.
Best Vegan Protein Powders
There are a number of variables that help define "the best" vegan protein powders that offer the optimal ingredients for athletic recovery and building lean muscle mass. While it's best to review specific products to see what works for you, these a few key considerations.
Soy-free Vegan Protein Powders
Fermented organic soy like miso, tempeh, and certain soy sauces are quality proteins with rich amino acid profiles. However, certain forms of unfermented soy should be avoided, such as whole, green, or fresh soybeans, soy sprouts, tofu, soy flour, soy nuts, and soy milk. This includes avoiding the soy protein found in most protein powders.
Based on scientific research about soy, Dr. Joseph Mercola makes the following recommendations surrounding soy protein
"Avoid consuming ultra-processed soy protein isolates. This unfermented soy product is a dried, powdered protein that’s isolated, or separated, from the soybean. Unfortunately, it's most often the soy of choice in soy protein powders, protein bars, soy foods, baked goods, and even infant formulas."
Instead, look for vegan protein powders and supplements that offer a complete protein and a high concentration of amino acids. Some of the best types of plant-based protein to look for include:
Other great plant protein sources include Artichoke, Amaranth, Brown Rice, Cranberry, Garbanzo, Pumpkin Seed, and countless other sprouted seeds and legumes.
Vegan Protein Powders with BCAAs
For both individuals optimize recovery and build maintain (or prevent loss of) muscle mass, it's vital to consume a vegan protein with BCAAs. These are essential in aiding recovery after exertion as well as building or maintaining lean muscle.
In addition, some protein powders include L-Glutamine, which studies have shown improves protein metabolism and mitigates the breakdown of muscle. When it comes to performance, opting for vegan protein powders with BCAAs (and if available, L-Glutamine) is an important component.
Highly Concentrated Protein Powders
Unlike concentrates (which remain in their most natural form,) protein isolates are processed and stripped away from their nutritional cofactors. Depending on the extent of the processing, this can manipulate the amino acid and nutritional profile of the protein.
It’s best to try and consume products with highly-concentrated proteins. This is because
- Most protein isolates are exposed to acid-based processing.
- Over-processed proteins can have severely altered nutritional cofactors and amino acids.
- The body is unable to assimilate proteins in an isolated form.
With all this information in mind, you’ll have no problem finding the best vegan protein powder that’s best aligned with your lifestyle and body composition goals. Take the time to review the ingredients and nutritional profiles of the product you're interested in, and try to stick with organic sources whenever possible.