Yes, everybody needs plenty of protein. This macronutrient does, after all, contain the amino acids that basically run every function in our body. And, of course, protein makes up muscle. And muscle is important for oh so many reasons.
For vegan athletes, however, getting adequate levels of protein to support your goals and training can be a real challenge. Not only do you have greater protein requirements because of your increased activity level but you also have to meet these requirements within the confines of a restricted diet.
Things only get more difficult when you're actively trying to build muscle mass. Fortunately, there are many vegan-friendly protein powders on the market.
The question then becomes “what is the best protein powder for vegan athletes?”
What to Avoid
In weighing your options, there are a few things you need to know. For starters, be cautious when it comes to soy. Although the bean has been the go-to plant protein for many years, it comes bundled with some fairly serious concerns.
First, soy carries with it the risk of allergies. More famously, though, soy contains phytoestrogens – chemicals that act like the hormone estrogen in the human body. Although research surrounding the possible negative effects of these compounds has been controversial, many people still chose to avoid soy as much as possible.
Another relatively popular vegan protein is hemp, taken from the seeds of the cannabis plant. Nutritionally speaking, hemp is pretty low quality – containing a low concentration of protein, coupled with high levels of fat and carbohydrates.
But, because of its association with marijuana, production and cultivation of hemp is highly restricted in several countries – making it fairly expensive. At the end of it all, hemp is a low-quality, over-priced protein source.
The Best Protein Powders
Okay, now that the bad news is out of the way, what are the best protein powders for vegan athletes?
Interestingly, the two most promising options come from pretty unexpected places. The first is the lowly split pea, the type you refused to eat when you were a kid. As it turns out, this vegetable is extremely high in quality protein that actually contains less fat and carbohydrates then even the king of protein, whey.
Pea protein powder also has a pretty unique savory flavor, making it a great addition to many recipes, allowing you to sneak protein into some surprising foods. Some recipes even include it in salad dressings.
Then we have rice. Derived specifically from brown rice, this plant-based protein powder has an excellent amino acid profile when compared with other products.
Interestingly, rice protein powder also perfectly complements pea protein powder, making the two an ideal combination for the vegan athlete. Rice protein powder has the added benefit of having virtually no flavor, meaning that it can be added to just about any recipe.
It should be noted, however, that some rice protein powders contain some... undesirable additives. Namely, poorly processed powders have a risk of carrying various harmful heavy metals.
When selecting your rice protein powder, then, look for one that is free of these substances.