Not so long ago the idea of a vegetarian or vegan bodybuilder was absurd. Many had the wrong understanding that bodybuilding or improving athletic performance is next to impossible for those who are on a plant-based diet. Times have changed and also the perception of a vegan athlete is becoming a reality. Evidence of the benefits of a plant-based diet for a healthy lifestyle and high performance in professional sports and sustainability is growing.
Research has confirmed that properly planned vegetarian and vegan diets are healthy, sufficient in nutrition and may provide the benefits of protection against certain diseases. These diets are suitable at all stages of life and for athletes too.
They are environmentally-friendly as they do not require many natural resources and cause very little alterations to the environment. Vegetarians and vegans are at a much lesser risk to certain diseases like type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease, hypertension, and certain cancers.
Vegans require fortified foods for vitamin B12. All other nutrients together with the low intake of saturated fats with high consumption of soluble and insoluble fibers through vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds bring about low cholesterol (LDL) reducing the chances of chronic diseases affliction.
15 Proven Health Benefits Of Vegan Proteins
If you are concerned that vegan proteins won’t supply you with the health gains you are desiring, read on to find out how plant-based protein stack up against animal or dairy-based proteins. You might be pleasantly surprised at some of these findings.
1. Promotes Muscle Thickness
Vegan proteins made from peas enhances muscle thickness and can be considered as an alternative to whey protein supplements.
The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reported a study that was conducted in 2015. The comparison between peas protein, whey protein, and placebo was of their effects on biceps brachii muscle thickness after a 12-week resistance training program. 161 male participants were divided into three groups and undertook resistance training of the upper limb muscles.
All the study participants had to take 25 grams of the proteins or a placebo twice a day. Tests of the bicep muscles were conducted on day 0, day 42 and day 84, post their training. Ultrasonography was used to evaluate muscle thickness. Strength was also measured.
A significant difference was noted in the biceps muscle thickness. It had increased on all the days of measurements. All three groups demonstrated an increase in muscle strength.
But, the pea protein showed an added advantage. The researchers revealed that
“Increases in thickness were significantly greater in the Pea group as compared to Placebo whereas there was no difference between Whey and the two other conditions.”
Summary: Pea proteins are as beneficial as whey protein in developing muscle strength and thickness.
2. Enhances Muscle Recovery
While whey protein has often been recognized as containing essential proteins for body composition and fitness, vegan protein made from rice has also shown to enhance the body build just as effectively.
A study reported in 2013 in Nutrition Journal investigated if there were any beneficial differences between rice and whey protein. 24 young men were divided equally into two groups. They were college-aged and were undertaking resistance training. The groups were given 48 grams of rice or whey protein 3 days a week that was consumed immediately after training. The total study period was 8 weeks. Recovery, soreness, and readiness for training were recorded before and after the training session.
No noticeable differences were present in the measurements of recovery, soreness and readiness to train. The body composition of both groups was perceivably significant with a decrease in fat mass. No differences were noticed in the exercise performance of both groups.
Summary: Rice protein has the same beneficial effects as whey protein for enhancing muscle recovery.
3. Eases Menopausal Symptoms
In the past two decades, soy foods have garnered many research studies mainly because of its unique production of isoflavones. The properties of these isoflavones have raised suggestions for using them as an alternative to hormone therapy.
Menopause is the stage wherein the ovaries stop releasing an egg every month and therefore menstruation ceases to continue. It is a natural process of aging in women especially after their 40s. The symptoms could be hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep disturbances. These symptoms can cause depression.
Isoflavones of soy can ease menopausal hot flashes especially if it contains genistein. More studies and research is required to investigate its effects on bone density in postmenopausal women. Several studies have shown evidence connecting soy derivatives to reduce the symptoms of menopausal conditions.
A survey held in the time period of 2015 to 2016 was directed at women who were vegans, vegetarians or omnivores. The investigation was to determine the vasomotor (hot flashes, night sweating during menopause) and physical symptoms with the help of the Menopause-specific Quality of Life Questionnaire along with dietary paths in the consumption of animal protein and its frequency. The survey found that the women who followed a vegan diet had less troublesome vasomotor and troublesome symptoms.
Summary: Soy isoflavones may reduce symptoms of hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and sleeplessness of menopause. A vegan diet may help in reducing the symptoms of menopause.
4. May Help Treat Cancer
Research has shown that early age consumption of soy reduces the risks of breast cancer in women. This is more effective than those who start eating later in life. The fiber, protein, and isoflavones have health benefits. One or two servings of tofu, soy milk or edamame adequately supply vital nutrients from soy.
Isoflavones of soy are plant estrogens. The risk of breast cancer has been connected to an increase in estrogen levels. But, soy foods do not contain high levels of isoflavones.
A study with 5402 Chinese survivors of breast cancer who were tracked for 3.9 years showed that the continued intake of soy after diagnosis was linked to a reduction in the recurrence of the tumor.
Statistical data from the National Cancer Institute during the 19th century showed a surge in the mortality rates due to cancer. This increase was noted in Asia and Southern Europe during the latter part of the 20th century. This was related to the increased consumption of animal protein. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables accompanied by regular exercise and abstinence from smoking should be able to reverse the risk of cancer.
Summary: Soy forms may serve health benefits in reducing the risk of recurrent breast cancer in women who have been consuming soy throughout their whole life. Diet and lifestyle changes could reverse the incidence of cancer.
5. Has High Fiber Content
Fiber or roughage helps the digestive system by absorbing water and upgrades the movement of bowels. Whole grains, fruits, legumes, and vegetables are rich sources of fiber. Fiber is of two kinds, soluble and insoluble.
A gelatinous kind of substance gets created with soluble fiber and water. Bacteria from the colon work on this substance. The presence of insoluble fiber maintains the acidity in the intestine. Constipation is averted and wastes get eliminated. Controlling acidity inhibits microbes to initiate the first stage of colorectal cancer.
Whole-wheat bread, kidney beans, pinto beans sprouts, broccoli, apples, oranges, the skin of fruits, spinach, Brussels, prunes, oatmeal are some of the best sources of soluble fiber. Insoluble fibers are present in nuts, wheat bran, corn bran, seeds, and dark green leafy vegetables.
Summary: A diet rich in fiber boosts digestion and contributes to reducing the risk of colorectal cancer.
6. Improves Digestion
The high fiber content in a plant-based diet also improves digestion. It is high in prebiotics and digestive enzymes. Improper digestion can lead to lower immunity increasing the vulnerability to infection and disease.
Those who would like to have a fit body or those who pursue sports as a career will have better results with longer duration of workouts when they include fiber-rich foods from plant sources.
More than 60% of the population have lactose intolerance. Digestive problems could be a constant worry if whey protein is consumed. Plant-based protein is a good alternative.
Summary: Properties of plant-based protein enhances digestion. It is a good alternative for those who are lactose intolerant.
7. Lowers Cholesterol Levels
Cholesterol and high amounts of saturated fats are among the primary causes of cardiovascular diseases. It is one of the reasons for high mortality rates in America, more than any other ailment.
Diets that are plant-based have low cholesterol and saturated fats that improve the overall health of the person. Soluble fibers reduce the risk of heart diseases by lowering cholesterol. Oats, brussels sprouts, oranges, flax seeds and kidney, black and pinto beans are rich sources of soluble fiber.
To choose a vegan diet over animal-based foods will be a healthy option for those who desire to improve their heart health.
Summary: Vegan Proteins are a good source of saturated fats and fiber that maintains cholesterol in the blood. It reduces the risk of heart ailments.
8. Reduces Risk of Heart Diseases
A considerable amount of evidence points out the potential benefits of soy protein to reduce symptoms of ischemic heart disease. The condition is caused by the narrowing of the arteries of the heart which in turn lessens the amount of blood and oxygen reaching the heart.
It influences the levels of LDL cholesterol amounts in the blood. Endothelium, the thin membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels improves in its functions. Arethrocolosis is a condition characterized by high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Studies indicate that soy isoflavones may slow the progress of this disease.
The Food and Drug Administration in the USA approved in October of 1999, the association between the ingestion of soy protein and reduction of risks or coronary heart disease.
Summary: It can be summarized that soy protein helps to reduce symptoms of heart ailments.
9. Improves Joint Health
Plant diets have shown to reduce the symptoms of arthritis. It is still unclear which components of milk are healthy. It can vary from glass to glass between skimmed milk and fat varieties.
A professional athlete who has dealt with inflammation know how excruciating the pain and inconvenient it is to train with the condition. Animal-based food, dairy, and eggs have high-omega 6 fat, saturated fats that increase inflammation in the body.
However, the causes of inflammation are not restricted to animal products only. Dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, ginger, garlic, onion, berries, grapes, pulses, and whole wheat grains are anti-inflammatory.
Summary: Opting for a plant-based diet will improve joint movement and may reduce the risk of arthritis.
10. Lowers Insulin Resistance
Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that helps to control blood sugar levels. When the cells of the body become insulin resistant (caused by many factors) glucose cannot enter the cells and accumulates in the blood. This causes type 2 diabetes.
264 women volunteers took part in a trial in 2013 to investigate the connection between soluble fiber and resistance to insulin. For 7 days they consumed fiber energy foods. The group which consumed high soluble fibers had low insulin resistance than the other group.
Summary: Insulin resistance can be controlled with the consumption of soluble fiber and was found to be effective in women. Fiber consumption may contribute to controlling and preventing the onset of type-2 diabetes.
11. Helps Body Weight Management
Whether it’s weight gain, weight loss or to sustain your current weight, vegan diets can be planned to include the right foods and quantities to help you achieve your weight management goals.
If you are looking for calories you will find sufficient amounts in clean plant-based foods. In comparison to animal-based foods plants provide equal amounts of calories. Nine carrots serve 225 calories as compared to chopped chicken bits. 236 calories can be obtained from two cups of peas. Two-and-a-half apples provide 232.5 calories.
Fiber promotes satiety as the calories contained in the fiber do not get absorbed. Weight management becomes effective with a well-balanced diet and exercise.
Fruits vegetables and whole grains are rich sources of fiber and other nutrients like vitamins and minerals. The body is protected from infections and diseases. Since it takes time to digest more fat gets burnt during metabolism and stored fats get converted to expended energy.
Summary: Fruits and vegetables have a high content of fiber that reduces appetite and gives a feeling of being full for longer time periods. This is good for a weight management program.
12. Low in Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are found to be in higher quantities in animal-based foods like meat, dairy, and eggs. It is a well-known fact that saturated fats expand the vulnerability to heart diseases with the arteries getting clogged.
Monounsaturated fats deliver many health benefits. It keeps the bad cholesterol in check (low-density lipoprotein). Monounsaturated fats are abundant in avocados, almonds, cashews, peanuts; oils from seeds like peanut, olive, canola sunflower, rice, and soybean.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, only 25 to 30% of calories are required from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Omega-3 fatty acids that are not prepared by the body are sourced from vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. These fats lower the levels of triglycerides in the blood; prevents the development of irregular heartbeat; contribute to reducing blood pressure; plaque does not get easily built up in the arteries. Sesame seeds, linseeds, soybean, sunflower, and canola oil have polyunsaturated fats.
Summary: Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats present in fruits and vegetables can lower the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood promoting heart health.
13. Provides ‘Complete Proteins’
Hemp seeds supply a ‘Complete Protein’ along with omega-3 rich fatty acids. Protein intake can be increased by adding this nutrient to salads and smoothies. Quinoa is another example that has the essential fatty acids apart from amino acids.
People living in the coastal regions can vouch for the rich nutrient content of sea vegetables like seaweed, kelp, wakame. Wakame can be added to soups and salads. Kelp noodles are available in the market.
Summary: Many plant-based proteins provide the complete profile of essential amino acids.
14. Textured Vegetable Proteins – the Alternative to a Meat Protein
A combination of vegetable proteins is an outstanding source of essential amino acids and other nutrients like phytochemicals and fiber. Additionally, it reduces the ingestion of saturated fats and cholesterol.
Textured Vegetable Proteins is a fibrous form of vegetable protein and is produced from soy flour wherein the protein is isolated. TVP has been considered as an alternative to a meat protein. It has low calories and low fat. TVP is mainly a meat alternative in vegetarian hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken patties, etc. It is also a low-calorie and low-fat source of vegetable protein. Vegetable sources of protein also provide numerous other nutrients such as phytochemicals and fiber.
The first recorded use of soy as food was in China in 2838B.C. In the 1920s the American population soy was consumed in very low quantities in comparison to Asian countries. Soy is an excellent alternative for those who follow a vegetarian diet and are lactose intolerant. It provides the complete profile of essential amino acids.
Summary: A combination of vegetable proteins provides all the nutrients needed for the body. Soy protein forms may be a probable substitute for animal-based proteins.
15. Supports Sustainability
A vegan diet is definitely more eco-friendly. Animal agriculture is the practice of producing animal products by breeding animals and also for recreational purposes. Intensive animal farming with minimal costs has led to a number of issues like water and land being used for its breeding. It is estimated that 80% of agricultural land is being used for animal agriculture.
Nearly 55% of the water from resources is for animal breeding whereas the domestic use of this precious resource is only 5%. High levels of CO2 get emitted into the atmosphere, apart from methane gas and animal excrement contaminating the water bodies.
Summary: Organically grown foods do not carve out a huge proportion of the earth’s natural resources in comparison to conventional methods employed for food production.
Side Effects of Vegan Protein
Plant-based proteins made with peas may contain high amounts of sodium. This may vary between manufacturers. People with high blood pressure and who may have heart conditions should look for the label content and amounts.
A 2004 study showed that allergies are related to soy, though its clinical importance is unclear. Clinical tests showed little difference in reactions to immunity attributed to soy proteins. There was no appreciable difference with other food proteins that could give reasons to its allergic reactivity.
Pea protein does not have sufficient levels of methionine which is an amino acid and is needed in humans for metabolism. Manufacturers of plant-based proteins usually blend protein from different plant resources to provide a wholesome nourishing supplement protein powder.
The Final Note
The health benefits of vegan proteins are innumerable. Over the years it has emerged from the shadows of animal-based food supplements to create a sustainable market on its own which is widening with the many scientific evidence backings.
A probable consumer of vegan proteins should research facts and studies associated with this food source to determine if it would serve health benefits. A check on the content listed along with its dosage and side effects if any is vital.
The health conditions of the user and if under medication should be ascertained by a medical consultant before the use of any supplement including vegan protein supplementation.
Recent trials and studies have demonstrated that vegan protein is a healthy alternative and provides health gains and can compete in the performance level with dairy or animal-sourced proteins.