Among bodybuilders, athletes and plain old health conscious folk, high protein diets have been the in-thing for years now. However, as plant-based diets become ever more popular (Between 4-7% of the British people follow a vegan diet (say FullFact), a number which has quadrupled in the last 5 years) there is a growing number of snackers looking to increase their protein intake through plant based foods.
While this number can be partially attributed to an increasing number of vegans, there is also momentum from environmentally aware vegetarians and meat-eaters to reduce their reliance on meat protein or dairy products in their diet.
Protein is a key part of our diet and plays an important role in a number of bodily systems, though it’s probably most famous for building muscle mass. Without going into too much detail, the amino acids that make up proteins are the primary nutrients our body uses to reknit and rebuild muscles after we exercise.
Getting enough protein, if you follow a vegan diet isn’t necessarily that difficult. Until recently, however, there simply hasn’t been the same range of convenient options available to vegans as there have been for meat-eaters. Unsurprisingly carnivores have a huge selection, be that in the form of a piece of chicken, eggs and milk or protein bars, to name a tiny offering.
Compounding the ‘problem’ is the fact that many vegan sources of protein aren’t what we call ‘complete proteins’. Complete proteins contain all 22 amino acids that make up proteins and are key to building muscle on a vegan diet.
One of the most popular and convenient sources for protein in modern diets comes in the form of supplements: protein powders and protein bars (like this) for instance. Non-vegan protein bars are predominantly made using whey protein which is milk based. It’s a complete protein that’s fairly easy to turn into a tasty, creamy product.
Viva La Protein Revolución?
So how have things changed? Over the last year of two protein brands have begun to wise up to changing consumer demand – both for vegan options and for more environmentally friendly brands. While vegans are still in the minority as we’d already discussed, there has cleared been enough growth for brands to invest in vegan products.
Where once the range of vegan protein bars and snacks sucked, both in options and flavours, nutritionists and brands have worked hard to create high quality, delicious products that are just as appealing to vegan snackers and meat-eating gym goers.
Complete Vegan Protein
The new wave of plant-based protein bars have gotten over the stumbling blocks of quality. That’s to say the arguably lower-quality of vegan sources of protein, in a really simple way. By combining a number of sources of protein (typically pea and soy), manufacturers have managed to develop products that achieve nutritional parity with their whey-based cousins, something that is particularly important for athletes.
There are further advantages for plant-based life food! Protein for runners and cyclists can be an iffy business. Whey protein upsets a lot of people’s stomach which is the last thing you want with another hour of your run or ride to go! Vegan proteins are noticeably more tame on the stomach. This makes them far more appealing for endurance athletes and cardio-heavy exercisers.
There are some very minor compromises with pea and soy protein. Whey is digested extremely rapidly meaning it can get to work in rebuilding your muscles quickly. It’s also rich in BCAAs (branched chain amino acids – more details). BCAAs are a group of amino acids which are particularly important for muscle growth and endurance. That said, most vegan protein bars have been formulated to provide enough BCAAs.
Something for Everyone
Particularly among vegan protein brands there is a drive to create products that can be enjoyed by everyone, and why not? Not only are they beginning to nail the taste and nutritional value, but many vegan protein bars (example here) are gluten-free and low in sugar.
Snacking on a celiac-friendly diet can be a nightmare to put it bluntly. Even worse if you follow a vegan diet and have a gluten intolerance, so providing a gluten-free protein option for snackers can be something of a godsend.
Will Vegan Protein Products Take Over?
Honestly, no one knows. There is certainly something to be said for the ecological motivation of reducing our reliance on dairy and cattle based produce. Millenials and Gen Y today are possibly the most environmentally minded generation yet, according to https://www.digitalcommerce360.com/2019/09/08/green-generations-millennials-and-gen-z-change-the-fabric-of-fashion/.