Selecting the right supplements to compliment your diet and training is one of the biggest challenges that face people serious about fitness and developing their body.
Figuring out what works for you will help to improve not only your performance in workouts but also the results you can achieve from them.
This can be a challenging task, as there are countless supplements that all claim to be capable of producing miracles.
It is even harder still for vegans, as you then have to factor in whether or not you can even use a supplement in the first place, based on its ingredients.
This goes for everything from the most popular supplements, like protein shakes, to the more obscure products on the market.
Today I want to try and help clear up one of the first questions people in this situation will face, is whey protein vegan?
Whey Protein & A Vegan Lifestyle
Whey protein is a substance obtained from the milk of mammals, such as sheep and cows.
With a vegan lifestyle meaning the avoidance of using any products derived from animals, it means whey protein isn’t a product vegans will be able to use without breaching their code of ethics.
However, with protein shakes being so popular and the vegan movement continually growing, companies are constantly developing new alternatives to whey which are suitable for vegans.
That means, while whey protein and a vegan lifestyle aren’t compatible, you will still have plenty of options when it comes to quick and easy sources of protein.
Most Popular Protein Powder Types
We will now take a look at some of the most popular types of protein powder on the market. I’ll explain where each comes from and what effects it will have.
This should hopefully help you settle on the product that best balances your ethics and your fitness needs.
Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein powder is undoubtedly the most popular type of fitness supplement on the market.
As a fast-acting source of protein, it can be used immediately after a workout to quickly get the muscles the nutrients they require to recover and grow.
A derivative of milk and often obtained as a by-product during the production of dairy products like cheese, whey is one of the purest forms of protein naturally available.
It consists of the smaller proteins’ alpha-lactalbumin, beta-lactoglobulin, and serum albumin, as well as immunoglobulins.
Casein Protein Powder
Another of the most popular types of protein powder, casein protein is also derived from milk.
Making up roughly 80% of the protein found in cows’ milk, it is a major component in cottage cheese and is a rich source of nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, sodium, amino acids, and even carbohydrates.
It is commonly used as a night-time supplement, taken just an hour or two before bed.
This is because it is absorbed at a slower rate, with amino acid levels remaining elevated up to 5 hours after consumption, as opposed to just 90 minutes when using whey.
Its slow release of nutrients allows it to feed the muscles throughout the night, stopping them from entering a catabolic state, and allowing you to grow and get a good night’s sleep.
Egg Protein Powder
Egg protein powder is made from the albumin, or white, of an egg.
It contains a complete amino acid profile, meaning it features all 9 essential amino acids, while having very few calories and being made almost completely of pure protein.
In many ways, egg protein powder can actually out-perform whey protein, as it doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar levels, has fewer calories, and is dairy free.
The main drawbacks and the reason egg protein isn’t as popular is because it is both more expensive and also slightly slower acting than whey protein.
Collagen Protein Powder
Collagen is a type of protein that is found throughout the body, in tissues like hair, nails, and skin. As a result, supplementing with collagen protein powder will allow you to strengthen more than just your muscles.
Collagen protein powder is also often flavourless and completely dissolves, so can be mixed in with any drink, making it a viable option for even the fussiest of eaters.
Unfortunately, collagen protein powder is normally sources from meats like beef and fish, so definitely isn’t suitable for vegans.
Plant Based Protein Powder
Plant based protein powders are one of the fastest emerging markets in the supplement world.
These powders are made almost entirely from plant-based materials, with nearly all options being suitable for vegetarians, while the vast majority are vegan friendly as well.
Plant based protein powders can obtain their protein content from either a single ingredient or from a blend of different sources. As a result, the speed, potency, price, and suitability for vegans can vary from product to product.
Types Of Vegan Protein Powder
As we have now established that plant based protein powders are the only options suitable for vegans, let’s take a look at some of the most popular ingredients these shakes source their protein from.
This should help you determine which one is right for you.
Pea Protein Powder
Pea protein powder is made from yellow peas and is an incredible source of both protein and iron.
It is gluten-free, lactose free, and is known for a smooth texture than can be mixed well with anything.
It also takes on the flavour of whatever it is mixed with, so is a great option to use in baking, despite a naturally earthy taste.
When compared to whey protein, pea protein powders feature a similar number of calories, though have around 20% less protein and feature higher levels of salts, fats and carbohydrates.
They also offer one of the most complete amino acid profiles of the plant-based protein powders available.
Pea Protein Powder Is Recommended For:
- Mixing with other drinks
- Obtaining a full amino acid profile
Soy protein contains a nutritional profile that is quite similar to whey protein in terms of fats and carbohydrates but features around 20% less calories and protein. It also doesn’t feature a complete amino acid profile, so is best used when taken in conjunction with an amino acid supplement.
Its low-calorie profile makes soy a great option for those looking to lose weight, while it has also been shown to help lower cholesterol.
With an absorption rate somewhere between that of whey and casein, it is also a good choice for someone looking for a single protein powder they can use around the clock.
It is also worth noting that most soy products are heavily genetically modified, so won’t be suitable for those who avoid products containing GMOs.
Soy Protein Powder Is Recommended For:
- Cutting / Losing Weight
- Lowering Cholesterol
- Those seeking a single protein powder with a balanced absorption rate
- People taking an additional amino acid supplement
Hemp protein powder contains significantly less protein than a whey powder, however it offers perhaps the most complete amino acid profile of all plant-based protein powders, although in lesser quantities.
This means it can be incredibly effective but will need to be consumed in larger quantities to produce the same effects as whey.
This will increase both the cost and calories, which are already higher than whey, meaning hemp is best suited to those bulking and with a more generous budget.
Hemp Protein Powder Is Recommended For:
- Those who aren’t worried about money
- Anyone seeking a plant-based protein with a complete amino acid profile
Brown rice protein powder contains a nutritional profile that is almost identical to whey in terms of calories, proteins, carbs, and fats.
However, the one real drawback is that it doesn’t contain a complete amino acid profile.
This means that, while it may be the best direct plant-based replacement for whey, it will need to be taken in combination with an amino acid supplement to produce the same results.
It also features a naturally earthy flavour and chalky texture, so is best mixed in with something else, as opposed to being consumed on its own.
Brown Rice Protein Powder Is Recommended For:
- Those seeking an alternative with the same nutritional profile as whey
- People taking an additional amino acid supplement
- Mixing with another product offering a more desirable taste and texture
Choosing Vegan Protein Powders
When it comes to choosing the best vegan protein powder, you need to weigh up a number of requirements before settling on a product.
What is the protein content? How quickly does it kick in and how long will the effects last? What is the taste and texture like? Do you have any intolerances to the main ingredients? How much does it cost? Does it contain sugar or artificial sweeteners?
If you find a protein powder that gives you the best balance of these criteria, it should ensure you select a product that will not only be capable of producing the desired results but will also be palatable and affordable enough for you to continue using it for the foreseeable future.
While protein shakes are a great way to top up your protein levels, the majority of your intake should still be coming from food. This can be more of an issue for vegans that it is for most people, as the best sources of protein come from meat and dairy products.
In order to ensure your protein levels remain sufficient, without becoming too reliant on protein shakes, you will want to find a good range of different plant-based protein sources that you can add to your diet.
Some of the best options available include:
- Ezekiel Bread
- Oats / Oat milk
- Nuts and nut products
If you ensure to include a good selection of these and similar products in your diet, you should be able to keep your protein levels high and get a good range of different amino acids.
Whey protein may not be vegan, but that doesn’t have to mean people living a vegan lifestyle miss out.
There are plenty of different plant-based protein powders available, as well as natural vegan sources of protein, that those who choose to avoid animal products should be able to obtain a sufficient supply.
While it may not be as easy as it is for those who do consume animal products, if you select the right balance of foods and powders like those I have included above, you should have everything you require to hit your fitness and physique goals.
Dr. Ahmed Zayed holds a bachelor’s degree in medicine from Alexandria university and is a practicing plastic surgeon. He’s our expert on all things nutrition, medicine, rehabilitation, and flexibility. Dr.Ahmed has been a medical content writer for more than 11 years and his work reached top publications such as the HuffingtonPost