There are literally dozens of plant-based protein supplements on the market today. How do you determine which plant-based protein is best for you?
In order to evaluate the many choices you have available for your plant-based protein options, it’s important to understand the role of protein in connection with your individual health and fitness goals.
But, first, what is the importance of protein? Protein is a very crucial nutrient that has many metabolic purposes, and we all need high quality protein daily. It is a nutrient that helps our bodies build muscle, balance blood sugar, reduce sugar cravings, create hormones, modulate our immune systems, assist with weight loss goals, and much more!
Why not whey protein? In a nutshell, since whey protein is derived from milk, lactose intolerance is a common side effect from consuming whey protein. Whey protein is also a common allergen and is notorious for causing bloating and digestive issues. Finally, whey protein is acidic which can cause inflammation in the body and can even lead to osteoporosis due to calcium loss. For more information see our previous article on Whey Versus Plant-Based Protein.
Plant-based protein is a much easier digestible source of protein for humans without the side effects associated with whey protein. Plant protein is perfectly packaged along with an abundance of phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber—all critical components for optimal health and disease prevention. Blended plant-based protein provides a full spectrum of amino acids through complementary sources and is alkaline forming in the body.
There are numerous popular plant-based protein supplements on the market today – Ground-Based Nutrition, Vega, Sunwarrior, Garden of Life, and many others. How do you choose the best plant-based protein supplement for you? It depends on your fitness goals. Is your goal to build muscle? Is your goal weight loss? Take a look at some of the following factors to figure out what’s most important to you:
Typical plant-based protein supplements vary from 10 grams up to approximately 30 grams of protein per serving. If you’re looking to build muscle or firm your body, be sure to select a product with sufficient protein for your needs as protein requirements are typically higher in athletes or very active individuals. If you are focusing on building additional lean tissue, you may need to up your protein slightly on a plant-based diet to ensure recovery, muscle growth and support the added demands of your sport or physical activities.
Regardless of whether your goal is to build muscle or lose weight, you should select a plant-based protein supplement that combines various sources of plant-based protein in order to form a complete protein. A blend of various plant-based proteins will result in a full spectrum of amino acids through complementary sources versus a single-source plant protein. Combining various plant-based protein sources may assist in your fitness goals by giving you a performance and recovery edge.
Believe it or not, many protein supplements on the market today contain sugar. Protein contains no sugar naturally, so if it’s added to your protein supplement it will be clearly disclosed on the supplement facts panel. Be sure to read the supplement facts panel and be a smart consumer! At a minimum, sugars and excess carbohydrates are unnecessary calories for individuals on a weight loss diet. Bottom line is, added sugar can be a hidden danger to your health and fitness goals. Sugar can stimulate hunger and spike insulin levels, which in turn, can shut-off the fat-burning mechanism in your body and even store body fat. Clearly, added sugar is a detriment to your weight loss goals and should be avoided.
Green supplements are veggies, algaes and/or grasses that have been compacted and distilled into powder form. They typically contain an assortment of nutrient rich foods like spinach, broccoli, spirulina, chlorella, herbs and vegetables. Supplementation with greens supplements can benefit energy, recovery, antioxidant status and bone health. Greens help alkalize and detoxify the body, reduce inflammation, speed up recovery, and promote a healthy immune system. For general health, fitness, muscle building or weight loss goals, the addition of greens in your plant-based protein is a smart way to supercharge your body.
Dietary fiber can provide health benefits such as helping to maintain a healthy weight and lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Soluble fiber may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoprotein, or “bad,” cholesterol levels. Studies also have shown that fiber may have other heart-health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and inflammation. Also, fiber tends to make you feel full longer which tends to be helpful in achieving weight loss goals or maintaining a healthy weight. Inulin, an all-natural soluble vegetable fiber, nourishes the good intestinal flora which helps promote digestive health and improved immune function. Check the supplement facts label of your plant-based protein to see if it has added fiber for your dietary health.
Medium-chain triglycerides (otherwise known as “MCTs”) are fatty acids that cannot be stored in the body but are used as energy. Consuming MCTs is like putting high octane fuel into your car – it runs better and gets better gas mileage. Likewise, with MCTs your body performs better because it has more energy and greater endurance. Because the medium-chain fatty acids are funneled directly to the liver and converted into energy, the body gets a boost of energy. And because medium-chain fatty acids are easily absorbed by the energy-producing organelles of the cells, metabolism increases. This burst of energy has a stimulating effect on the entire body.
A popular medium-chain triglyceride is coconut oil for its fat burning properties. Lauric acid, found within coconut oil, speeds up the body’s thermogenic rate and improves overall metabolism. In addition, coconut oil curbs the appetite. Bottom line is that medium-chain triglycerides can help turn you into a fat-burning machine and assist in your weight loss goals.
Be leery of products that use other fatty acid sources such as flax seed or chia seed as many individuals report stomach pain, bloating and gas. Unfortunately, these are common side effects. Additionally, flaxseeds contain phytoestrogens, plant chemicals that actually mimic estrogen in the body. For this reason, stick with coconut oil for its fat-burning effects and energy properties.
Use this article and the charts provided as a guide when examining the supplement facts panel of any plant-based protein product. Understand the ingredients list, and make sure the ingredients coincide best with your individual health and fitness goals. Good luck with all your fitness endeavors!