Most athletes have read and have been told by their trainers to consume protein, protein, and more protein throughout their day for muscle building and recovery. Our bodies need protein not only to build and help muscles regenerate but protein also plays an important role in the body’s metabolism, hormonal balance, and immune protection. This does not necessarily mean, though, that we need animal protein such as cheese, yogurt, turkey, chicken and fish at every meal!
While animal protein might provide us with short-term training benefits, eating a diet high in animal proteins has been linked to a greater incidence of high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and a whole other host of diseases. The distinguished Cornell professor Dr. T. Colin Campbell who wrote The China Study has even linked high consumption of animal protein with increasing our risk of cancer and claims that we can literally turn on and off our “cancer genes” by eating a diet consisting of fewer than 20% and as close to 5% of animal protein. Our bodies were literally not meant to eat animal proteins all throughout the day and at every meal.
So, what is an athlete to do? On one hand protein is especially important for our bodies while, on the other hand, too much can cause long-term disease. Whether you are a meat eater or a vegetarian, here is where the vegan protein powder comes into play! Vegan protein powders are an ideal source of supplemental protein in our diets and can greatly enhance your performance while not compromising your long-term health.
How much protein does my body need?
An average person who does not exercise much needs approximately 0.4 grams per pound of body weight per day while runners generally need between 0.5-.8 grams of protein per day per pound of body weight – depending on how much they are running. This would mean that a 150 pound runner would need approximately 75-105 grams of protein per day and a 125 pound runner would need approximately 62.5-100 grams.
Considering that a 3.5 oz chicken breast has 30 grams of protein and a cup of yogurt has approximately 14 grams, that is a lot of protein to fit into your diet! Protein powders help us runners increase our protein requirements so that we are adequately fueling our muscles.
What protein powders do you recommend?
My absolute favorite protein powder is Sun Warrior, and is derived from a sprouted brown rice protein. Sun warrior is a complete protein containing all essential amino acids as well as high amounts of anti-oxidants, tocopherols, tocotrienals and other essential nutrients such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, phosphorus, iron and potassium. 1 scoop of Sun Warrior Protein powder contains 80 calories, 16 grams of protein and 20% of the daily iron requirement. Sun Warrior comes in delicious vanilla, chocolate or plain flavors. Best yet – this protein powder is not filled with one single chemical or ingredient that you cannot pronounce – it is 100% nutritional goodness!
Hemp Protein Powder, derived from ground hemp seeds, is another one of my favorite vegan protein supplements. Not only does hemp contain all 8 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein, but hemp is also high in Omega 3’s, antioxidants, and fiber. There are many brands on the market, but I buy whole hemp seed, keep it in the fridge, and then just grind them myself for freshness. 4 tablespoons of hemp protein has approximately 130 calories, 11 grams of protein, and 10% of the daily requirement for iron.
Pea Protein Powder, derived from yellow peas, is another vegan protein powder that is high in protein. 2 tablespoons contains 70 calories and 15 grams of protein. I find that I do gravitate towards hemp or brown rice protein, but pea protein is still a good alternative. Again, there are many brands on the market but just make sure that you buy a “raw” pea protein and that there are no additives so that you get a superior and nutritionally sound product.
If one is good, then all must be better!!! Some of my favorite sports products are the Vega products by vegan athlete Brendan Brazier, the author of Thrive, that contain hemp, pea, brown rice and flax seed protein. One of my favorite Vega products is the Vega Whole Food Health Optimizer. This product has 26g of protein per serving, probiotics, Omega 3s, greens powder, and 100% daily requirements for vitamin A, C, D, E, K, B12, biotin, thiamin, rioboflavin, iron, zinc and a whole host of other nutrients. This product comes in chocolate, vanilla and a delicious chia. If you are traveling or rushed for time, this is an ideal product to add to your regimen. Another Vega product is the Vega Sports Performance Protein, which contains 20grams of protein per serving. (Read their protein powder brochure here.)
Vega Sports Performance Optimizer is their other product touted as a pre-workout energy drink. It contains ingredients thought to work synergistically to boost performance – coconut oil, kombucha, yerba mate, green tarhodiola, ginseng extract, devil’s claw extract, turmeric, brown rice syrup, sodium and potassium citrate and palm nectar. (This last product I have to admit I have not tried and this is not a product that contains protein but I do think that it is important to note.)
How do I use them?
There are many ways you can use vegan protein powders. The most obvious way is to add them to a pre- or post workout smoothie! I use Sun Warrior Protein Powder, Vega Whole Food Optimizer or hemp protein powder in my smoothies every morning and sometimes will even have a smoothie mid-afternoon after a particularly hard run. I also add the Sun Warrior (chocolate or vanilla) to my puddings or yogurts, and even add them to pancakes and waffles! A waffle is a great post workout snack, and I make ‘waffle sandwiches,” which you can read more about below.
When do I use them?
Ideally, I recommend that you start your day with a protein smoothie. Not only will you start you day feeling powered up and light, but you can also make enough for 2 servings and have some ready for an afternoon snack later in the day. Get creative, though, and add them to muffins, pancakes, cookies, yogurt, really anything! The powders are delicious and add even more flavor and my kids can’t even tell the difference when I add them to their pancakes! Below are a few of my favorite protein powder recipes:
Chocolate Green Smoothie
- 2 cups unsweetened almond milk (or coconut water)
- 1 frozen banana
- Handful of fresh spinach (or 1 tbsp greens powder)
- 2 scoops of Sun Warrior or Vega Whole Food Optimizer chocolate powder
- Optional: frozen blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries
- Optional: 1 tbsp coconut butter
Blend all in a blender until smooth and enjoy!
- Arrowhead Mills Multi-Grain Pancake and Waffle Mix (or your favorite brand)
- Unsweetened almond milk
- Coconut butter or Earth Balance
- Sun Warrior or Vega vanilla protein powder
- Optional: unsweetened chocolate chips, bananas
Sandwich Filling Ideas:
- Almond Butter
- Raw honey
Plug in your waffle iron to get it warmed up, and coat it with an olive oil spray if it’s not already coated. In a bowl, combine the pancake mix, almond milk, coconut butter or Earth Balance (substitute for butter or canola oil) as indicated on the package.
Stir in the protein powder. Determine the amount you need based on whether you make the entire bag of waffles to freeze or whether you make a smaller amount. Approximate 2 scoops per 4 waffles serving. For a more “decadent” waffle, add chocolate chips to the batter.
Cook according to your waffle iron instructions, approximately 3-5 minutes.
For a sandwich: Take 2 waffles and put almond butter in the middle. We also love to add raw honey for sweetness as well as to aid digestion and boost immunity. These “sandwiches” are portable and great for breakfast or for a post-workout snack!
Tip: Make larger quantities and store them in the freezer so that they are ready to go!
- 1 cups almond pulp (or ground up almonds, walnuts, or any nut really)
- 1/2 cup ground flax
- 1/2 cup ground chia seeds
- 2 tbsp hemp powder
- 1 tbsp maca
- 1/2 avocado
- 1 tbsp coconut butter (optional)
- Splash of organic, alcohol-free vanilla extract (optional)
- Dash of cinnamon
- 2 tbsp agave nectar
- Almond milk (just enough to get mixture a good consistency)
- Topping: Blueberries, strawberries, kiwi or bananas
Mix all of the ingredients in a cuisinart or blender. Stir in the berries or other fruit by hand. Shape into pancakes and place into dehydrator for 6-8 hours and turn them over and dehyrate for an additional 4-6 hours. If you do not have a dehydrator then you can cook the pancakes on low heat in an omelet pan on the stove. (Then they would not be raw.)