Vegan Protein

BACK IN AUGUST of 2012, I wrote an article (here) that covered vegetarian protein choices and looked at how much protein people actually needed. Since then, I’ve gone vegan, which has affected what I eat, particularly when it comes to protein.

This was my list of protein rich foods when I was a vegetarian:

Tararua Cottage Cheese Lite 12g protein /100g

Vogel’s Original Mixed Grain bread 9g protein /100g

The Collective Dairy Black Plum Yoghurt 5g protein /100g

Chickpeas 5g protein /100g

Vitasoy Rice Milk with chickpea protein 1.5g protein /100ml

Yellow top milk has close to 6g protein /100ml

Green top milk has close to 4g protein /100ml

An egg has around 6g protein /100g

Perfect Italiano Mozzarella cheese has over 25g protein /100g

Now knock everything containing dairy off that list, get rid of every other dairy food source including the whey protein powder I used to take, lose the eggs and the choices seem pretty limited.

A really nice vegan protein powder but it's very expensive

A really nice vegan protein powder but it’s very expensive

Well, not really. All I’ve done is grabbed every high-protein vegan food I can find and they’ve become my new staples. I don’t eat much soy, so tofu is a treat not a daily deal, but just choosing the right food makes all the difference. For example, whole-wheat pasta has loads more protein than regular pasta, as does whole-wheat or grain bread when compared to white bread. By making some simple decisions at the supermarket, I’ve maximized my protein intake. I concentrate on whole foods, not processed foods, so I eat beans and lentils every day, and power through tins of chickpeas like a chickpea-eating machine.

All these high-protein foods just happen to be low GI, so they’re fabulous for cutting bodyfat too (see this article for more information).

Some vegan or fruitarian authorities would say that I don’t need much protein anyway, but to recap, I weigh 103Kg and train almost every day, so I eat a lot of food. Even if I wanted to only get around 25 percent of my daily calories as protein, I’d need about 200-250 grams of protein a day. So the food intake is supplemented with protein powder, particularly after a hard workout or bike ride, when the body is craving amino acids for recovery. Please note that a supplement is meant to be an addition to a proper diet – don’t try replacing food with supplements. To keep up the post workout protein, I’ve just replaced the whey powder with something derived from plants.

I’ve tried a few different types over the months – my favourite is Sunwarrior’s unflavoured protein powder, which is as pure as protein gets. The ingredients (well, the ingredient actually, is nothing more than ‘Bio-Fermented Raw Sprouted Whole Grain Brown Rice’. Unfortunately, at around $90 per kilogram, this stuff is priced more like a few other expensive white powders that aren’t so good for you. I picked up four bags of recently expired product from Sunwarrior NZ at half the regular price and that lasted a while, but that special offer is long gone. And no, expired product doesn’t worry me at all – it doesn’t magically “go bad” twenty seconds after its expiry date, although I might have some hesitation if it expired back in the time of the Incas.

I’ve also tried NutraFusion’s Plant Fusion powder, which is a mix of four different plant protein sources: pea, artichoke, quinoa and amaranth. It’s a really light protein but doesn’t taste as nice as the Sunnwarrior. At about $75 for 908 grams, it also costs a mint (although Endorphin Systems, my favourite supplement shop has it on a semi-perpetual special at $120 for 1.86Kg).

DrF-Red8-riceRed 8’s rice protein concentrate is the one that eventually made it to the top of my shopping list. It can be had for around $40 per kilo if you shop around, which compares favourably with any decent whey powder. Given that it’s just rice protein, it’s pretty pure, especially compared to many of the commercial whey or milk protein-based powders, which are generally loaded with artificial sweeteners, flavours and colours. It’s nearly 80 percent protein, too. It took a while to get used to the chalky texture, but the nutty taste makes for amazing protein smoothies – just blend a banana, Vitasoy Rice Milk with chickpea protein, a scoop of the rice protein and a handful of ice.

I don’t worry about eating complete protein sources either (not all vegetarian protein has all the essential amino acids) because I’m ingesting so many different sources of protein every day.

Between the heavy focus on eating heaps of whole food high-protein sources and the boost from the rice protein concentrate, it’s proven easy to maintain and build muscle while the bodyfat comes off. Getting plenty of vegan protein hasn’t broken the bank and with the massive reduction in animal fat and nasty dairy, it’s a much healthier lifestyle choice. The fact that I also feel miles better than I did when I was a vegetarian (see this article for more) makes it a win-win. ASHLEY KRAMER

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