If you’re a vegetarian, you have quite a few options when it comes to choosing your supplements.
By definition, if you’re an ovo-lacto vegetarian, you’ll avoid all meat and fish, but still choose to consume dairy products and eggs. If this is the case, whey protein is a suitable choice – just be sure to check labels carefully. For example, carmine (or E120) is a red colouring agent, occasionally found in strawberry flavoured protein powders; this ingredient is not suitable for vegetarians.
If you choose to consume a largely plant-based diet, i.e. you’re moving towards veganism, there’s still plenty of scope. There is speculation as to whether a plant-based diet provides sufficient protein – largely because many plant proteins are considered ‘incomplete’. To explain further, animal proteins, found in meat, fish, eggs and whey, deliver what is known as a full spectrum of amino acids; hence, they are ‘complete’. Amino acids are the ‘building blocks’ of protein chains, and despite there being virtually hundreds (or even thousands) of amino acid units, just 20 of these are utilised by the human body (approximately).
Of these, eight (nine in infants) are classed as essential, meaning that our bodies cannot make them, and so we must obtain these eight from food sources/supplements. So, animal proteins contain all eight of these essential aminos, whereas not all plant proteins do. This doesn’t make them an inferior protein source, though – it’s simply a case of being a bit more aware.
Plant proteins often lack certain aminos, though this differs depending on the foods in question. For example, legumes (such as peas, beans and lentils) tend to contain low levels of methionine. Eating grains or nuts is the solution: these contain useful quantities of methionine, but tend to lack lysine. Vegan protein powders are usually based on a blend of say, pea protein isolates and brown rice protein isolates, because they’re a good source of lysine. Soya protein is the exception, since this is thought to comprise of all essential aminos.
The ‘protein combining’ theory stems from this. However, the key is to eat a variety of plant-based proteins throughout the day – without it being necessary to mix them at every meal. Low levels of certain aminos can impact the function of the other aminos. Owing to its role in muscle maintenance (and overall health), protein is a must for anyone who’s active.
Plant-based protein powders have come on a long way over the past few years; taste, texture and mix-ability have gone full circle! They usually feature base ingredients like hemp, sunflower, pea, and brown rice protein isolates. Many varieties are flavoured, and can be enjoyed with plant-based milk, e.g. almond or hemp, offering a convenient way to meet your protein requirements. You can achieve your fitness goals as a vegan or vegetarian – most definitely!
Vegan protein powders are also ideal for people who must avoid animal-based powders for medical reasons, such as having an allergy or intolerance.