Why are Vegan Proteins Getting so Popular?

Vegan proteins are gaining more market share. Almost every brand nowadays has a vegan protein in their line and there is an abundance of brands that are fully vegan to cater for the higher number of people embracing veganism and those looking to try something new . In this article I give you a little insight into this whole thing. 

Researched & Composed by Veeraj Goyaram (www.suppsguru.com)

Source: Grand View Research (Year 2018 data)

Why are vegan proteins getting big?

Reason 1: Vegans love them

As you know veganism is a big diet trend right now. Typically veganism was a thing mainly for Indian people (for religious reasons) and, as far as I know, the average Indian vegan doesn’t care much about a high protein diet. However, even strongmen and hardcore bodybuilders are going vegan all over the world, surprisingly even Arnold Schwarzenegger. And, of course, these are people with mad love and need for protein.

A pain in the butt of many a protein-conscious vegan is to find protein sources that (a) supply all the essential amino acids as vegan proteins are notorious for lacking in some of them and (b) don’t come with a lot of carbs (e.g. grains supply decent proteins but come with a lot of carbs).

Vegan proteins, which typically boast high protein and low carb percentages are a God-sent as they can be used to boost drinks, smoothies, etc with protein without much carbs and fat. 

Reason 2: Non-vegans are starting to love them too

Non vegans are making the switch to vegan proteins because of the digestive issues they get with dairy-based supplements. These issues are generally NOT because dairy proteins, like casein and whey are inherently bad but because of the widespread use of high-lactose ingredients in protein supplements.

High lactose ingredients include whey powder, skimmed mik powder, or lower quality grades of whey protein concentrate (e.g. WPC60) which contain a lot of lactose. These are used to rescue some profits in a highly competitive whey market. As a consequence it is, sadly, rare to find low-lactose whey proteins like products based entirely on Whey Protein Concentrate 80 (WPC80), the Gold Standard of whey concentrates. Whey isolates are virtually lactose-free but are really expensive. Most wheys are almost always blended with something else these days (Topic for another article!)

Reason 3: Supplement companies love even more, perhaps!

Profit margins are quite attractive and the demand is increasing in the vegan protein space, which explains the high effort of supplement companies in promoting vegan proteins. 

Vegan proteins were sort of pioneered on the supplement market by wellness brands which generally charge a premium. It is only a while later that bodybuilding brands began offering a vegan protein alternative and, as they generally deal with a cost-conscious clientele, they kept prices more or less in line with that of whey proteins.

But here’s what makes supplement companies love vegan protein:

  1. Cheaper raw material: The Vegan protein raw materials are generally cheaper than dairy-based proteins. Soy is a mere fraction of the cost of whey and a generic pea protein is probably about 40% cheaper than a regular whey protein concentrate. Most brands use a generic form of these proteins (Any brand using a branded protein like Nutralys™ Pea Protein isolate would surely let you know this on their label!!)
  2. High Protein content of raw material: The vegan protein raw material is very high in protein (about 80-85%), which means that there is plenty of room for additives (hence cost cutting) as the end product offered to the consumer is usually in the vicinity of 70% protein (like whey supplements). These additives are those that:
  • Are necessary for flavoured proteins (flavouring, colourant, sweetener and often a thickener)
  • Are helpful (e.g. a couple of grams of fructose to boost sweetness and enhance the taste or some fat powder to enhance the creaminess of the typically gritty vegan protein).
  • Are somewhat unnecessary: An example is “superfoods” which, if used in small amounts, hardly contribute to anything significant (unless the brand discloses the amount of these superfoods and the amount of nutrients or phytochemicals they bring for the consumer to judge).

The finished vegan protein is sold for more or at the same price as a whey protein. Bodybuilding brands, which mostly use generic vegan proteins, sell in the vicinity of R280-300 per 900g container (as at Jan 2020), which is in line with their whey protein prices.  Wellness brands, on the other hand, sell for a lot more although most of them use a generic protein source too. Just take a walk in Wellness Warehouse!

But are vegan proteins any good?

Vegan proteins are considered incomplete because they have low amounts of essential amino acids (EAAs). EAAs are so called because the body cannot produce them and the body has no other way in getting them other than from food. For instance, soy protein has low amounts of the EAA lysine and Methionine. 

Now, for the body to efficiently make its own proteins (e.g muscle, hormones, enzymes, etc.) from the protein that’s consumed all the EAAs need to be there otherwise the process is severely limited. That is why scientists found that vegan proteins in isolation do not boost protein synthesis (the manufacture of the body’s proteins) as much as the EAA-rich animal proteins.

Amino acid content of various protein sources. Values are expressed in grams of amino acids per 100g of protein.

You can use a single source supplemental vegan protein if you combine sources.  For instance, while studying I had limited time and money. So, the bulk of my supplemental protein would be the cheaper soy proteins (dirt cheap at Dischem) and eating baked beans so that the methionine that’s lacking in soy protein is provided by the baked beans. I would also include the relatively inexpensive and convenient whole eggs (I am not vegan). Some planning was necessary.  

My advice:

However, your goal in buying a protein supplement is to simplify things for you and eliminate the mixing and figuring out. That is why it is definitely a better idea to use a product that has already been formulated to supply the full amino acid profile. In the light of the available information, a 70:30 blend of pea: rice protein seems to be the ideal blend. 

I hope the above helps. 

Veeraj Goyaram for suppsguru.com

Reference

Gorissen SHM et al. Protein content and amino acid composition of commercially available plant-based protein isolates. Amino Acids. 2018; 50(12): 1685–1695.

ABOUT ME

Sources of experience: university education, scientific lab research, work experience, and many years of promotions/ merchandising in retail (Dischem, Clicks, Wynberg Pharmacy, PnP, Wellness Warehouse, Sportsman’s Warehouse).  

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Medical disclaimer
The information presented on this website is intended for adults 18 or over. Its aim is purely educational and does not constitute medical advice. Please consult a medical or health professional before you begin any program related to exercise, nutrition, or supplementation especially if you have a medical condition. If you consume any product mentioned on our site, you do so on your own free will, and you knowingly and voluntarily accept the risks. 

 

About the author

Veeraj Goyaram, MSc Med (Exercise/ Nutr. Science)

My name is Veeraj Goyaram. I am a full time supplements guy and make my living in the world of nutritional supplements.

I am a nutritional product scientist by profession, meaning I create innovative nutritional supplements in the lab (food technology side) based on what I know about the human body and nutrients that affect it.

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