The image of the vegan weakling has been shattered by the likes of bodybuilders and athletes that have completely sworn off meat. No longer does post-resistance-exercise-recovery require devouring a carton of eggs or a steak. The benefits of plant-powered proteins have been extolled for the last several years as interest in vegetarian and vegan diets have surged. But there’s more to plant protein powders than peas and rice.
There are some exceptional vegan sources of protein powder that contain all nine essential amino acids. But finding them at your local supermarket might prove difficult. Let’s take a look at a few under the radar plant protein powders you’re likely meeting for the first time (you can also consume them as whole foods).
Sacha Inchi Seeds
Not to be confused with the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, aka Borat, Sacha Inchi Seeds are no joke when it comes to supporting muscle tissue growth and recovery. Sacha inchi seeds are considered a superfood.
Although to a skeptic, superfoods are merely a trendy buzzword, this plant-powered protein source deserves the label. That’s because this star-shaped nutty seed that’s indigenous to the Peruvian Amazon basin (it is also grown in Southeast Asia) provides not only a complete amino acid profile, but also dietary fiber, essential fatty acids plus vitamins and minerals.
To play devil’s advocate superfood skeptic, lots of nuts and seeds provide these macro- and micronutrients. So what’s the big deal about sacha inchi seeds?
For starters, it’s incredibly easy to digest, which is of great importance to vegan bodybuilders and for those with a sensitive digestive tract. Just as there’s a scale that ranks food’s potential to raise blood sugar (the glycemic index), there’s a scale called the Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER). PER measures how efficient and easily digestible a protein is. Out of a score of 100, sacha inchi scores 98.
Moreover, the seeds contain 50% protein by weight. Sacha inchi seeds sustained inigenous tribes for millenia. These days, more plant-based dieters are learning about this pod-covered plant protein, which is also called Inca peanuts.
Just one ounce of the seeds in their raw form contain an impressive 8 grams of protein. That amount may be considered puny by iron-pumping carnivore standards. But considering that it’s a complete protein—you don’t have to combine it like rice and beans to get all your essential aminos—a couple scoops of sacha inchi seeds (or eating a couple handfuls of the nutty seeds) can support post-workout recovery.
In addition, sacha inchi seeds are an excellent vegan source of omega-3 fatty acids, and are high in antioxidants. Plant-based sources of omega-3’s are not as potent as animal-derived sources like salmon and grass-fed beef. So if you’re powered by plants, obtaining a wide variety of omega-3-rich foods is crucial.
When you take a look at a picture of red dulse, it’s easy to see why it’s called “the bacon of the sea.” You can take red dulse and fry it in oil or bake it in the oven as a vegan bacon treat.
Red dulse is an algae seaweed. Seaweed has become a popular vegan-friendly snack. But there’s a catch with seaweed snacks. They’re roasted. Roasting a comedian (like Sacha Baron Cohen) has its benefits. But roasting food destroys some of the nutritional content. Red dulse powder is raw, not roasted.
An excellent source of iodine, red dulse is found primarily in the chilly waters of the Atlantic. Seaweed and algae (seaweed is a type of algae) are excellent sources of trace minerals. As the name implies, you don’t need to absorb a large amount of trace minerals. But they are mighty in terms of importance to cellular function.
But the focus here is on protein. Just how reliable of a source of protein is red dulse? According to ScienceDirect.com, the protein content of dulse can be as high as 25% of the seaweed’s overall weight, depending on the season of collection and harvesting.
The variety Porphyra palmata, if collected from October through January contains the most. Porphyra species contains an amino acid profile that is similar to legumes like peas and beans.
Cranberries aren’t just for Thanksgiving and prostate/urinary tract health. Cranberry seed powder is another unsung plant-powered protein that contains all nine essential amino acids. Like red dulse, cranberry seed contains an impressive amount of protein per weight (25%).
For the vegan bodybuilding set, cranberry seeds help with muscle recovery because they are rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Although some of the research is conflicting, certain studies support BCAAs for building muscle, reducing muscle fatigue and assisting in quicker recovery from delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Another benefit of incorporating cranberry seeds (raw or from powder) is gut health. As this blog predicted, prebiotic fiber will be a major health trend in 2021 and beyond. Prebiotic fiber fertilizes bacteria in the colon. This, in turn, helps beneficial bacteria thrive and overtake otherwise harmful bacteria from colonizing in the gut. Cranberry seed powder acts as a prebiotic fiber. It’s also easy to digest for those with sensitive guts.
Brown rice protein powder isn’t going out of style. Because of its relative ubiquity and affordability, brown rice remains a popular plant-powered protein. But if you want to fuel your cells with the best Mother Nature has to offer in terms of muscle recovery, try one of these three vegan-friendly proteins.