I’ve had a few people ask me what I put into the recovery shake that I take post-workout. Especially since I’m vegan, the whole “where do you get your protein?” question is brought up frequently. And when talking about a protein recovery shake… it’s kind of an important question to answer.
I’ve got another article in the works on the various foods I eat, and how much protein they contain. While that’s cooking in the oven, let me give you the quick’n’dirty rundown on how I do post-workout recovery, and stay tied to my vegan roots.
I’ll start by briefly discussing the protein powders I use, and then top it off with how I get it to the point where one could drink it… and actually enjoy it.
Vegan Protein Powders
There are tons of them out there, so how do you choose which one is best? Well, that’s a loaded question. It depends on a few things:
- why you are taking a protein supplement (benefit you are trying to achieve)
- food allergies you might have
- how much money you are willing to pay
Plant-based Protein Sources Include:
- pumpkin seed
- …and many others. There are too many to list them all, but these are the most common.
For each type of plant-based protein powder, you will usually find:
- a single-ingredient powder, with only the protein from that plant
- a mixture of several plant-based proteins combined together
- additional supplements added to the protein, like probiotics, vitamins, minerals, sweeteners, etc.
General Rule of Thumb
In my opinion, fewer ingredients is usually better. This applies to every food you eat, not just protein powder. It’s the best way to control exactly what’s going into your body. And at least half of the time, if not more often, you don’t need all the extras that are being added. If you’re already eating a well-balanced diet, you’re probably getting enough of them already.
A Note About Soy
Over the past few years, soy has become quite controversial for its potential side effects. Some people believe that consuming soy can throw your hormone levels off balance, particularly the hormone estrogen. There are studies on both sides (for & against this claim), so we won’t debate that here, but because there are so many other plant-based proteins readily available, I choose not to use soy protein powders.
My Preferred Plant-based Protein Powders
Brown Rice Protein Powder
When first searching for an alternative to whey & soy protein, I stumbled upon brown rice. The big appeal for this type of protein powder is that it’s easily absorbed and super-gentle on the stomach. Very few people have issues with digestion, and thus it’s known for being easy on the stomach.
I also like it because, unlike whey & several others, it contains a fair amount of carbohydrates in addition to protein. For any post-workout recovery shake, I think it’s important to ingest some carbohydrates alongside protein. Just like you need to help your muscles repair themselves with protein, you also need to help your body recover some of the energy it expended (which, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source).
Pea Protein Powder
Pea protein is fairly inexpensive, and it has a high protein-to-powder ratio. Where a similar-sized scoop of brown rice protein would yield 14g, pea protein yields 24g. It also contains a very smooth texture, and mixes well with other ingredients. I’ll dive into more details about the pros and cons in another article, but I recommend you give this one a try.
Proprietary Protein Blend
I most-often use a mixture of brown rice & pea protein, but I also buy a proprietary blend from a local market here in Richmond (Ellwood Thompson’s). This blend consists of:
- rice, hemp, chia & mushroom protein powders
- a probiotic blend with 4 different active cultures
- an enzyme utilization blend with 5 different enzymes
- natural flavors
…the 4 different protein sources. I’m a big fan of variety, and think each one has something unique to help the body recover.
I’m indifferent about…
…the probiotic blend. I know some people swear by probiotics, but I’m not a huge believer. When dried out, grind up into a powder, packaged, shipped from here-to-there, and sitting on a shelf for X days… I’m not sure how anything is still “live” and “active.” But I also think they can’t hurt you at all, and maybe they do provide some benefit.
I’m unsure about…
…the enzyme utilization blend. My guess would be that these enzymes are supposed to help your body absorb the protein. However, to be honest, that’s just a hunch, and I really don’t know what this does.
I don’t like…
…the Stevia extract & “natural” flavors.
I suppose Stevia is likely not going to hurt anyone, but I’d much rather choose my own sweetener, if I’m going to choose one at all.
The natural flavors really strikes a nerve, though. If you don’t know by now, the word “natural” is so loosely regulated by the FDA that it’s almost a joke. Companies can say their products are “natural,” yet they can still contain GMOs. Not to mention we have no idea what a “natural flavor” actually is. But there is one thing we know for sure: it doesn’t naturally occur in nature. Not on this planet.
Time to Shake It Up!
So… what do I put into my post-workout recovery shake?
I’ll do one of two things.
- Create a 50/50 blend of brown rice protein & pea protein
- Use the proprietary blend of rice, hemp, chia & mushroom
For the 50/50 blend: If each serving size of your protein powder recommends you add it to 8oz of liquid AND you are making an 8oz protein shake, you would use half-a-serving of each. Adjust accordingly so you’re using the proper ratio of liquid to powder.
I add 1 to 1.5 tbsp of baking cocoa per 8oz of liquid. You chocolate lovers out there might want to go heavy on the cocoa. Play around until you get the desired flavor.
I add a splash of agave nectar. There are tons of sweeteners out on the market today, but I use agave because it’s relatively inexpensive, and it is one simple ingredient that was extracted from a plant. Plain & simple. No questions about its origin. No research/studies about potential negative side effects (that I’m aware of).
Agave nectar does have a lot of sugar (30+ grams per 2 tbsp) so only use a splash.
* Or just don’t use a sweetener at all. The choice is up to you. I don’t think 10-15g of natural sugar from the agave plant, taken post-workout, is really going to hurt you.
** If using a proprietary blend that contains Stevia, or another sweetener, than obviously you would leave this out.
For an anti-inflammatory effect…
…and just for bonus style points, you could add a splash of cinnamon.
Cinnamon is a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agent. When you workout, a lot of things inside your body swell up. That’s natural, and in most cases (aside from injury), it’s a good thing. But after an especially grueling workout where you probably pushed your body beyond where it wanted to go, cinnamon could help reduce some of the unnecessary swelling.
I hope to elaborate more on this in the future, as I continue to learn more about plant-based proteins, their benefits, and how it all plays into muscle recovery. Until then…
What do you put in your vegan protein recovery shake?