The fact that protein is the building block of every cell in the body underscores just how important it is. The body requires adequate protein to replace the millions of cells that it loses every second, and uses this essential nutrient to build muscles and repair damaged tissues.
If you are an athlete, your protein requirement almost doubles. Whether you are trying to lose weight, build lean muscle or just get a healthy, well-trimmed body; you need enough protein to make it happen.
There’s another challenge: not all proteins are the same. Depending on the compositions of essential amino acids present in them, various proteins will have different properties and benefits in the body.
One of the most increasingly popular type of protein among athletes today is vegan protein.
Unlike animal proteins that are generally complete with all nine essential amino acids though, some plant based proteins are lower in certain amino acids, hence considered incomplete.
For instance, nuts, lentils and beans are regarded as being incomplete proteins because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids that the body requires (1)
Vegans therefore typically need to consume a variety of plant proteins to meet their daily protein requirements. While this might seem like a challenge, it actually helps maximize their intake of essential minerals, vitamins, plus other nutrients the body requires.
Even better, vegan protein powders are further simplifying things for these athletes. The powders are providing them with a convenient source of all nine essential amino acids in their required amounts.
Benefits of vegan proteins
Plant-based proteins such as pea, soy, hemp, rice, and peanut tend to be lower in calories and fat compared to animal proteins. Meanwhile they contain more generous amounts of fiber and essential nutrients.
Greater micronutrient profile
What this means is that when you swap plant proteins for animal varieties, you can significantly improve your daily nutrient profile while reducing your caloric intake.
There are plenty of nutrients that you cannot get from animal foods. Sticking to a vegan protein diet means that you are getting more of these nutrients on a daily basis. And the best vegan protein powders generally contain higher amounts of these essential micronutrients.
You could stick to whole foods for the same vitamins and other essential minerals. However, the protein powders serve as a more convenient source, as they tend to contain the micronutrients in high doses per serving.
Notice that minerals and vitamins are extremely essential to a healthy body. They aid in numerous bodily functions. They are the substances responsible for a stable immune system which cuts across healing of wounds and more.
If you are an athlete, your need for immunity boost doubles. You’ll need a quickly recovering body to stay at the top of your craft. On the whole, vitamins and minerals are generally more important for persons who compete in sports or lead an active life that thrives on lean body mass (2).
Improved digestion and metabolism
We have noted that vegans obtain greater amounts of healthy fibers from the legumes, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains in their diet. These can naturally improve digestion and food absorption in the gut. This eventually reduces symptoms of gas and bloating.
There is also increased motility due to the enhanced metabolism. The body generally takes a while to digest vegan proteins due to the combination of protein and fiber. As a result, the body becomes better at converting food to energy to run cellular processes.
With a healthier bowel, one’s ability to maintain a healthy body weight is increased (3). Such a body tends to have enhanced ability to burn extra fat in its deposits.
Reduced hunger and cravings
Cravings are one of the major problems that people struggle with when trying to observe a healthy diet. It is always problematic to cut carbs in one’s diet, yet this is an important step especially if you are trying to cut weight or build lean muscles and stay fit.
Vegan protein, particularly one comprised of peas has been found to help with hunger cravings. In a study, researchers found that pea protein triggered satiety signals more effectively compared to a variety of animal proteins (4).
As such, the protein is not only just one of the plant proteins with all essential amino acids, but also effective in suppressing hunger. This means it can be a great part of your diet if you are on a weight loss journey or trying to fight obesity.
Being a complete protein also means it is perfect for athletes who need a high protein diet with zero animal products.
Still on the topic of complete proteins, the other viable plant sources of all essential amino acids are soy, tempeh, golden peas, and edamame beans.
It is okay to combine vegan foods as a way to ensure you are getting all the amino acids you need in a single meal. There are many ways to do this. Still, if whole foods won’t cut it for you, the easier alternative is to simply buy a protein powder instead.
Improved cardiovascular health
Vegan proteins tend to be lower in saturated fats and cholesterol, which often pose danger to the health of one’s heart when in high levels.
Soy protein in particular can reduce high cholesterol in the body, thus reducing the risk of heart disease. This has been attributed to the effect of non-protein components such as isoflavones and fiber that are found in soy.
The other known mechanisms by which soy, rice and other plant proteins help reduce the levels of cholesterol in the body is by inhibition of cholesterol absorption. As a result, these proteins help reduce the risk of heart related diseases associated with cholesterol.
Hemp, a rich source of linoleic acid, can aid in the treatment of cardiovascular disease.Linoleic acid, commonly abbreviated as LA is known to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, neurodegenerative diseases, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease.
Vegan protein made with peas is equally great for reducing high blood pressure. This is because the protein is high in L-arginine, a substance that is converted into a chemical called nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide causes vasodilation, or the widening of blood vessels to allow for easy, improved blood flow.
These plant-based foods are generally high in healthy plant sterols that have been shown to help improve cardiovascular health and overall well-being. Sticking to a vegan protein diet canlower your cholesterol levels and help you maintain a healthy body weight – which is essential for a healthy heart (5).
Some sources indicate that a lot of people are taking less fiber on a daily basis than what the American Heart Association recommends. For this reason, vegan protein powders present a great way to conveniently increase that daily dietary fiber intake and improve overall heart health (6).
Atherosclerosis is a condition characterized by the buildup of plaque (comprised of cholesterol, fat, calcium, and other substances) inside the arteries. The plaque hardens over time, causing the arteries to narrow. This can significantly limit the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart and other essential organs and parts of the body that need it.
Heart attack, stroke and even death are common results of atherosclerosis. On the brighter side, some vegan proteins such as powder made with rice have been found to be effective in combating atherosclerosis(7).
Reducing the risk of liver disease
A large body of evidence links the consumption of vegan proteins – especially comprised of rice – to reduced risk of oxidative liver stress(8). The liver is responsible filtering blood from the digestive tract before passing it on to the rest of the body. In the process, it removes toxins from the blood so that it does not affect the rest of the body thus ensures pure blood and good health.
To perform this critical function, liver cells need to work properly. Oxidative liver stress however inhibits the working of the liver cells and can lead to a more severe condition; chronic liver disease.
A diet rich in brown rice, though, can counteract these effects and help promote a healthy, well-functioning liver (9).
A perfect alternative for lactose intolerant persons
Lactose intolerance is a common and constantly increasing digestive problem among different populations of people. The condition is characterized with the inability of the body to digest lactose, the main type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products.
Notice that regular whey concentrate is about 79–80 percent protein, with a small but significant amount of lactose (10). Consuming whey concentrate can therefore trigger symptoms including flatulence and even diarrhea among lactose intolerant persons.
Vegan protein contains no lactose, other than being much easily digested by the body. This way it will lead to little of no gastric distress, and complete freedom from the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Clearly then, vegan proteins and protein powders have numerous health benefits. For athletes, these foods have a significant number of performance-related benefits to consider. Protein powders in particular are a convenient way to meet your daily protein and overall dietary requirements.
Still, whole vegan foods remain the more important way to get your dietary requirements and should be an integral part of your diet, not to be entirely substituted with protein powders. The best way is to have a balanced mix of protein powders and whole foods in your daily vegan diet.