On days I had a workout event in the morning, I’d sip on half a shake before the sesh and finish the rest after.
Two, I’m not very good at food prepping, even if it's just blending water or almond milk with dust (call me lazy). And three, I’m dairy-free, and many protein powders contain whey—a byproduct of cheese or milk’s casein—as their main source of protein.
But over the past few months, I’ve noticed a growing trend: Plant-based protein is the latest fad in exercise fuel.
In fact, since January, I’ve received at least seven different brands of vegan protein powders on my desk, many from companies that once focused on whey. Each promise real, superfood ingredients, exceptional taste, and upward of 20 to 30 grams of protein, mostly from peas. Intrigued, I decided to give one a shot to see if the hip drinks would do anything for my strength-training routine.
After a dutiful comparison of ingredients, I chose to go with Vega, which many consider the OG of vegan protein powders (it’s been around for several years). Some of the other brands contained carrageenan, a possible inflammatory, which I try to avoid. I also liked that Vega had big tubs as well as ready-to-drink mini cartons, so I could grab my shake on the go if needed (again, #lazy).
At first, I was completely turned off by the taste. The chocolate formula reminded me of the old-school SlimFast shake but with more grittiness and a lingering taste of artificial sweetener. (Vega uses stevia leaf extract for sweetness.) I drank about a third of my shake and spilled the rest down the drain. I tried the vanilla the next day and was much happier—while I could taste the green base (kale, spinach, green algae, broccoli, etc.), it reminded me of a watered-down smoothie: clean and refreshing. After five-ish days, I got used to the flavor and even looked forward to it.
On days I had a workout event in the morning, I’d sip on half a shake before the sesh and finish the rest after. Perhaps it was a placebo effect, but I found that I was a bit more awake on those days. I had more verve in my legs for cycling, more power in my core and arms for boxing. I don’t know if it was the fact that I had “food” in my stomach to keep me going, or if taking the time to make a drink gave me more time to really wake up, but the difference was palpable. My Flywheel TorqBoard said so.
Over the course of three weeks of near-daily shakes, I lost five pounds. I don’t know that the ingredients in the shakes themselves caused me to lose weight, but I do know that they aided in my portion control (a real problem for me). Whenever I drank one post-workout while cooking dinner, I ate less of my subsequent meal. And I had less of a sugar craving: Instead of eating a couple chunks of dark chocolate for dessert, I’d finish the last few sips of my shake and feel perfectly content.
What’s more, I didn’t lose muscle mass, as far as I can tell. I strength-train four days a week, and since sticking to the powder, I’ve never received more comments on my arms. With the fat loss, as minor as it may be, my muscle tone is finally showing through. Of course, it’s not a head-turning transformation, but hey, I’ll take it.
Meanwhile, I love being sore, but I also hate taking more than one rest day per week because working out is mental therapy for me. With the drinks, I couldn’t help but notice how much less exhausted I felt on my days off, even if my muscles were super sore. On the whole, my body felt less heavy and fatigued, which allowed me to squeeze in a bit more activity (like climbing five flights of stairs in the subway station) on recovery days. Those added bursts of activity only added to my energy, so overall, I felt great even when my muscles didn’t.
To be honest, I don’t know that drinking any shake before or after every single workout is all that sustainable. But if you, like me, struggle to get in your daily protein because you don’t eat meat or dairy, plant-based protein powders might be what you need to shake up (ha) your fitness routine—in a good way.