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If you’re a vegan, vegetarian, or anyone who tries to steer clear of meat, you’ve probably heard one question over and over: Where do you get your protein?
And if you’ve been at it for awhile, you probably have a decent answer prepared – something touching upon the fact that protein deficiency is practically unheard of among average Americans, and that protein comes from plenty of plant sources that, when eaten in combination, are likely to give you all the amino acids you need without even thinking about it. In short, if you eat balanced meals, protein is generally not a problem.
As with everything, of course, there are a few exceptions. If you’re an athlete looking to bulk up, for instance, or you have specific medical or dietary needs that require you to supplement your protein intake, you’re not limited to raw eggs and dairy-based powders nowadays.
The vegan protein powder market is already $4.64 billion, globally, and is expected to grow to $13.19 billion by 2026, according to a study by Fior Markets. Even among people who aren’t vegan, the plant-based protein powders (generally made from vegetables or legumes) are increasingly popular because of people’s growing awareness to their own allergies and sensitivities to animal products and concerns about health issues like type II diabetes and heart disease.
There are already a lot of brands in this space making up that $4 billion figure. Vega protein powder and other supplement products can be found in a wide variety of grocery stores. Its All-in-One powder, which has an organic variety now, is made primarily of pea protein and also includes several other plant-derived ingredients, offering not just protein but a variety of vitamins and minerals as well. Orgain Organic Protein is another label you’ve probably seen in stores before, and it’s made of a mix of pea, brown rice and chia protein.
Lots of vegan protein powders on the market are certified USDA organic, which should be of note to anyone who’s eating vegan for the sake of their health or the environment. This includes Garden of Life and Aloha, as well as Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard. KOS, as well, has a protein powder that’s certified USDA organic, made from a mix of pea, flax, chia, pumpkin seed and quinoa proteins.
Although most of those are blends of ingredients that include some flavorings and sweeteners, those looking to really strip it back have options as well. Myprotein has a full line of Myvegan products, which include pure pea protein isolate and soy protein isolate, as well as flavored and stevia-sweetened varieties. OWYN’s protein powders use pea, pumpkin and chia as their protein source, and use cane sugar and monk fruit as sweeteners for those steering clear of artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. And the vegan supplement line Complement has a protein powder made of yellow pea, pumpkin seed, watermelon seed, almond and chia proteins – and nothing else. As for The Amazing Chickpea, a provider of nutritious spreads, it will soon be releasing a protein powder with the nutrient dense legume as one of its main ingredients.
Nowadays, most people with an interest in wellness are concerned with more than just changing their figure or bulking up – it’s more common to have a more holistic view of health. Fittingly, there are some brands which, like Vega, include other healthful ingredients meant to offer consumers more than just protein. Your Super’s Skinny Protein has a mix of hemp and pea proteins, but also super food greens like spirulina and alfalfa. Form Nutrition sells blends that include other beneficial ingredients like digestive enzymes or supergreen mixes; Sakara Life takes it a few steps further, offering not just protein (from pea, hemp, sesame and pumpkin seed sources), but a blend of greens, digestive enzymes, phytoceramides (which are said to improve the appearance of skin by protecting collagen) and B12, for a mind-body, inside-outside supplement.
As consumers begin to see not only different facets of their own health, but also issues pertaining to the environment and animal welfare as interconnected, it makes sense that something like protein powder – once thought of as something used just by athletes looking to gain muscle mass – would change shape and target different markets. Data suggests that adult men are still the primary consumers of protein powder, but they’re not the only ones. It’s no longer a single-use, one-size-fits all category, and as the culture around fitness, wellness and ethical living shift and change, it’s only fitting that the growing protein powder category would, too.