Unfortunately for vegetarians, some of the best dietary protein sources aren’t vegetarian-friendly.
So how do you ensure you still hit your macro protein target as a vegetarian?
Protein supplements can be a great help, but you must ensure they still adhere to your dietary requirements.
Whey protein is the most popular supplement on the market, but is it vegetarian?
What are whey protein powders made from?
While vegans don’t consume any animal products, vegetarians can consume foods produced by animals but don’t eat the animal itself. So red meat is off the table, but cow’s milk is okay.
Whey protein and casein protein are the two proteins found in milk.
How is whey protein made?
To make whey protein powder, you have two options. You can either separate these two proteins from the milk and from each other, which provides casein protein powder as well as whey protein powder.
Casein powder is the ‘nighttime’ protein powder, commonly taken before bed, because it releases protein to muscles slowly through the night. It is easy to digest, so it won’t disrupt the sleep of those who usually need to head to the bathroom within an hour of their protein shake!
Alternatively, whey is released as part of the cheese-making process, where most of the casein remains within the cheese.
Therefore, anyone who drinks milk and eats cheese can happily consume both casein and whey protein powder in its pure form, making it vegetarian-friendly.
Are whey protein powders always vegetarian?
The vast majority of whey proteins are vegetarian-friendly, but you may occasionally find some that aren’t.
A non-vegetarian-friendly whey protein can be a sign that it isn’t a high-quality product, as this is usually the result of unnecessary additives.
The exception to this is beef/whey mixed protein. This is simply non-vegetarian due to the use of beef protein rather than any nasty additives. So if you aren’t vegetarian, this is a great choice. Some people who are lactose intolerant and want the benefits of an animal-based protein opt for 100% beef protein instead of whey.
What if you are lactose intolerant?
Technically whey protein isn’t suitable for those who are lactose intolerant, However, the way in which the milk is processed, when turning it into whey, removes a great deal of the lactose content. This means that some people, who have mild lactose sensitivity, find that they are able to digest whey protein.
The lactose content depends on the type of whey protein you are using. Whey protein isolate is more processed than whey protein concentrate, resulting in a comparatively higher protein concentration and a lower lactose concentration.
The best whey proteins are specifically designed to be easy to digest, such as our TRI-PROTEIN formula.
Vegan Protein Powders
A range of vegan protein powders is available if you are avoiding animal products altogether. Hemp, pea, and mixed plant-based protein powders are good options because they are complete proteins. Their main drawback is they don't contain the same concentration of essential amino acids as whey protein powders.
Some vegan protein powders, such as brown rice protein, aren't complete proteins, meaning they don't contain all nine essential amino acids required for muscle protein synthesis. Therefore, you must supplement these with other vegan proteins to get your full quota.
When choosing a vegan protein powder, look for the calorie-to-protein ratio. Like whey protein powder, there should be at least 20 grams of protein for every 100 calories. For most vegan protein powders, you should avoid products that have been heat treated, as this degrades the nutrients.
Vegetarian protein sources
Whilst whey protein can be a great tool for helping build muscle, it is also important to maintain a balanced high-protein diet.
This can be harder to do as a vegetarian, but plenty of great protein food sources are available. Here are some of the best:
- Greek yogurt
- Nuts (especially almonds)
- Seeds (especially chia and hemp seeds)
- Cottage cheese
- Green Peas
- Peanut Butter
- Seitan (a meat substitute)
How much protein do I need?
Dieticians recommend a minimum protein intake of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, but those undertaking a lot of resistance training need anywhere between 1.2 - 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day to maximize muscle growth.
For an adult weighing 75kg, looking to consume 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, this equates to 112 grams of protein each day.
To put this into context, a large egg has 6.5 grams, 10 almonds have 3 grams, and a serving (half a cup) of hard tofu has 22 grams… so hitting that target on a vegetarian diet could take some work!
Whey protein provides more than 20 grams of protein for every 100 calories, making it an easy way to increase your protein intake.
Should I drink whey protein shakes if I am vegetarian?
Whey protein is the best protein option for vegetarians as it is higher quality than plant protein alternatives. So if you consume animal milk and eggs, we’d recommend you stick to whey protein to encourage optimal muscle protein synthesis after your workouts.
However, some whey proteins contain additives that aren’t vegetarian-friendly. So always check the label to make sure it is suitable.
Crazy Nutrition’s TRI-PROTEIN formula is 100% vegetarian-friendly. It doesn’t contain any unnecessary filler ingredients and has been developed so that it is easy to digest. It also tastes delicious!