Whey Getting Expensive? Soy Protein Can Be A Great Alternative

I am looking to bump up my protein intake significantly for weight loss reasons. I wrote an article on the cheapest protein sources last year, however, I didn’t account for the calorie-to-protein ratio. If I only rely on whole foods, I find it physically difficult if I want to consume sufficient protein in a caloric deficit. It might also be expensive if we rely on sources outside of chicken and plant-based sources. If we want whole foods with high protein, we will need a much bigger budget plus they will add to your daily caloric consumption.

Although consuming enough protein is important, fats and carbs are also important. However, in our Singaporean diet, typical food that we find outside in Singapore is already high in carbs and fats while low in protein so we should focus on reaching our protein diet.

I decided to use supplements to help me. However, the price of whey, the most common supplement, are insane nowadays. Looking at the various protein supplements, I decided on Soy Protein Isolate due to multiple reasons. In this article, we will look at my reasons for choosing soy protein as a supplement for a high-protein diet.

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed dietician or nutritionist. Please do your research or speak to a professional before starting on a different diet, especially if you have health issues.

High Protein For Fat Loss And Muscle Building

man weighing scale

Photo by i yunmai on Unsplash

When we look at losing weight, we will need to be in a caloric deficit, calories in < calories out.

Calories In Calories Out
Food Intake

What you eat during the day

Basal Metabolic Rate

What your body needs to perform basic functions like breathing, blood circulation, digestion

Physical Activity

Daily activities and exercise

Calories In > Calories Out – Caloric Surplus
In a caloric surplus, you will gain a combination of fat and muscle. This will generally depend on protein consumption and type of physical activity (cardio vs resistance training).
Calories In < Calories Out – Caloric Deficit
In a caloric deficit, you will lose a combination of fat and muscle. This will generally depend on protein consumption and type of physical activity (cardio vs resistance training).
Calories In = Calories Out – Caloric Maintenance
In a caloric maintenance, you will remain at the same weight but the fat-to-muscle ratio might change. This will generally depend on protein consumption and type of physical activity (cardio vs resistance training).

Most of us, if not all, would like to lose fat and build muscle. However, it can be difficult to build muscle in a caloric deficit, especially if you are already near or at a healthy weight, so some of us would like to lose as little muscle instead during weight loss. If you are looking to gain weight and build muscle, protein consumption is also important.

Since I am looking to lose fat while not losing too much muscle, I will need to bump up my protein intake coupled with some resistance training while keeping a caloric deficit. We will just focus on protein consumption in this article. Bumping up protein intake has several benefits in helping us achieve our weight loss goal.

High Satiety

Eating sufficient protein makes us full quicker and keeps us full for longer. Protein lowers our “hunger” hormone, Ghrelin, which allows us to stay full. Although fats also have satiating effects, it is more than twice the calories of protein. Carbohydrates have the same energy density as protein but they will spike our insulin levels, making us hungry. Some carbohydrates like potatoes even rank highest on the satiety index. However, the most delicious forms of potatoes and carbs come in unhealthy forms filled with fats like french fries and chips.

satiety index common foods 1995

Source: A Satiety Index Of Common Foods, 1995

Looking at a 1995 study, there is a list of common foods and ho w full they make us. Non-processed carbs with high fibre and protein sources have higher satiety effects than processed carbs with high sugar and fats. Take note that their porridge is made with oats, not the rice porridge we are familiar with.

Another study looking at 9,900 FitnessPal users shows that by consuming sufficient protein, we will feel more full and consume fewer calories. It also shows that a combination of carbs and fats is less filling, making it easy to eat more calories.

When we feel full, we will feel satisfied and will be less prone to “break” our diet.

I feel that once I consume enough protein, I feel more full as compared to a low-protein diet. It is usually the carbs and fats combo that makes us less full and exceed our daily caloric goal. Just think of fried kway teow, bar chor mee or even economical rice.

High Thermic Effect

When we digest our food, we will also burn calories. Although we talk about calories in and out, technically not all calories are equal due to the thermic effect of the different macros. Digesting protein burns about 30% of its calories as compared to 10% when digesting fat and carbs. This means that you can consume more protein as it has a lower net caloric count (calories from food – thermic effect from digesting), which has a positive feedback loop to make you feel more satiated, allowing you to hit your caloric deficit while remaining full.

If you are looking to gain weight, the satiating and thermic effects might work against you but there are ways to overcome this by consuming more healthy fats to hit a caloric surplus. You will still need to consume sufficient protein regardless.

Muscle Preservation And Building Effects

When we talk about weight loss, we are talking about fat loss. If we consume insufficient protein, although we do lose weight, we will lose a combination of fat and muscle. Amino acids, the byproducts of digesting protein, are the basic building blocks of muscles. We want to retain muscle mass for a number of reasons.

First, when we lose muscle, our metabolism drops, making it even harder to maintain a caloric deficit to continue losing weight. We will need to eat lesser and lesser to be in a caloric deficit, which is not sustainable. When a lifestyle is unsustainable, it is easy to revert to the old lifestyle. However, our metabolism is now lower, creating an even bigger caloric surplus, resulting in us gaining even more weight as compared to before starting on the diet.

Secondly, if you are looking to gain or retain mass, consuming sufficient protein is essential. Otherwise, insufficient protein will lead to muscle breakdown.

Next, when we lose weight, we would expect to look better. If you lose muscle instead of fats, it will lead to a skinny fat physique.

Additionally, losing muscle instead of fat means that we will have a higher body fat percentage than someone who lost the same weight but retained their muscles. This means that the former with a higher body fat will have a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Last but not least, losing muscle mass will cause a loss of functional strength. We will be more tired and less efficient when doing the same activities. This is especially crucial the older you are as you will lose muscle at a faster rate. Older people will need more protein to retain muscle mass and strength to prevent the risk of falls and fractures.

Recommended Protein Intake

table of whole foods

Photo by Shayda Torabi on Unsplash 

According to two local official sources(HPB, Healthhub), an adult Singapore resident should consume 0.8 – 1.2g of protein per kg of body weight. This means that the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein daily would be about 50g to 60g. Looking at the 2010 National Nutrition Survey, the average male consumed about 110g while the average female consumed about 91g of protein. Also, about 80% of adults consume at least 100% of the RDA for protein.

In the same survey, protein intake makes up 15.3% of the total caloric consumption (excluding alcohol). Working backwards means that the average male consumes about 2,875 calories while the average female consumes about 2,379 calories. This is about 600 – 800 calories higher than the recommendation, which means in the long-term individuals will be in a caloric surplus, and the average adult will eventually gain weight.

The recommended macros ratio is about 20-30% protein, 20-30% fats and 40-60% carbs. Counting calories is a pain. To make it simpler, just meet your protein needs and the rest should fall into place. If you are not meeting your goals (gain/lose weight), just adjust the amount of calories accordingly.

Anecdotally, the people around me fall below this average and barely hit the 60g threshold. Before purposefully bumping up my protein intake, I don’t think I even ate 60g of protein a day. Maybe my macros estimation is way off. Review your daily meals and see how much protein you eat. If you are eating on a budget and still eating out, I believe that your protein intake should be below 60g with high carbs and fats.

Do let me know what do your insights about your protein intake and the people around you.

Government-Recommended Requirements = Government-Recommended Body

Looking at multiple videos online for fat loss and muscle building, various recommendation is to consume about 1.5g – 2.2g of protein per kg of body weight which adds up to about 90g – 165g of protein. The higher intake of protein will allow us to stay full and build or retain muscle while losing fat. I try to hit at least 100 grams of protein a day.

I saw somewhere that if you follow the government-recommended amount of protein, you will look like a “government-recommended” person and I think there is some truth to that. The RDA is for the average person and if you want to look “above average”, you should go above and beyond what is recommended as a minimum.

Whole Foods Vs Supplements

If you just think about our typical Singaporean diet, most of them are high in carbs and fats with minimal protein. With such a combo, although we can get a low-cost meal, the calories are high and we might not feel full for long. If we want more protein while eating out, we will need to be willing to spend more. Even then, the amount of carbs and fats that come with high-protein meals can easily exceed our daily caloric goal.

I have the privilege to eat almost all my meals at home so I am able to control most of what I eat. Even so, I find it difficult to consume sufficient protein using whole foods. First, I cannot stomach so much protein using whole foods. Next, consuming enough protein using only whole foods can lead me into caloric maintenance or surplus if I am not careful.  Also, lean protein sources can be quite costly.

Supplements are cost-effective, caloric-efficient and easy to get down. I estimate my daily protein intake to be about only 100g even with protein shakes. This is why I decided to rely on supplements to assist me in reaching my fat loss goals. Without the protein shakes, my protein intake is even lower than the government-recommended requirements. If you are able to reach your nutrition requirements with only whole foods and without supplements, you should do that instead.

I want to emphasize that whole foods should still make up the majority of your calories. The reason being nutrition is not only about macros (protein, fat, carbs), but also micros (vitamins and minerals). You should also consume enough water and fibre. By relying on only supplements, you might meet your macros, but you might be missing out on your micros which will lead to various deficiencies.

How Much Protein Is Our Foods?

My favourite low-cost protein sources are chicken, eggs, tempeh, tofu and sardines. Here are some examples of the protein content in common foods.

Cooked Foods Protein/g
100g of Tofu 8
250ml of Soy Milk 10
250ml of Fresh Milk 10
2 Eggs 12
100g of Salmon 22
100g of Canned Sardines 25
100g of Prawns 25
100g of Chicken Thigh 26
100g of Chicken Breast 31
Fried Carrot Cake 2
Porridge With Minced Pork & Century Egg 11
Yong Tau Foo 11
Lor Mee 15
Wanton Noodles 19
Minced Pork Noodle 20
Sliced Fish Bee Hoon Soup 22
Char Kway Teow 23
Char Siew Rice 24
McSpicy 24
Chicken Rice 25
Kway Chap 33
Chicken Chop 41

100 grams of meat is about the size and thickness of your palm. The nutritional information for local dishes is from healthxchange.sg. The protein content looks overly high so take it with a pinch of salt. For example, chicken rice has a similar protein content to char kway teow which is questionable.

Whey Prices Going Through The Roof

Whey is the most popular protein supplement. If you are a frequent consumer of whey protein, your should notice that the prices have been going through the roof. This is due to the combo of increased demand from rising interest in health and fitness and the decreased supply from supply chain disruptions due to Covid-19 and lower milk production due to climate change. This led to corporations buying up as many supplies to hoard as they can to prevent supply disruptions, exacerbating the problem. Whey prices have more than doubled over the last twelve months. Looking at the article I wrote in June 2021, a 2.5kg bag of whey protein costs S$58.08. The same bag today (October 2022) costs S$186.44, increasing more than 200%. The high prices of whey nowadays eliminated it as one of my considerations for supplements.

Vegan Protein Vs Whey Protein

Then I started looking at other forms of protein powders and came across vegan protein powders. These vegan protein powders are extracted from plant-based sources like rice, pea and soy. Vegan protein powders have lower levels of amino acids and bioavailability than animal-based proteins like whey. However, for general health purposes, it shouldn’t matter too much. Consuming enough protein is more important than fussing about min-maxing the type of protein we consume.

I also have experience with whey and it kept making me fart so I wanted to try if vegan protein is better. If you are lactose intolerant, you might want to switch to vegan sources and try if it is better for you. Some people also might have digestibility problems with vegan protein powders so you got to experiment with them.

Why Did I Choose Soy Protein Isolate?

So out of all the vegan protein sources, why did I choose soy protein isolate? The product I chose was MyProtein’s Soy Protein Isolate 2.5KG, Unflavoured. This is not a sponsored post.

Cheap

Price is my most important factor. I did my shopping on Shopee and after searching, there are three main vegan proteins available. There is pea, soy and a blend of different vegan proteins. Although the alternatives are cheaper, soy protein isolate is the cheapest for the amount of protein available so this is why I chose it.

High Protein Content

Soy protein isolate has the highest protein content out of the alternatives.

Out of the various flavours, I chose unflavoured as it has the highest amount of protein. For flavoured versions like chocolate, the protein makes up 80% of the weight. For the unflavoured version, the protein makes up 90% of the weight as it doesn’t contain flavourings and sweeteners. Each serving contains 27g of protein, equivalent to about 5 eggs or 100g of chicken.

Low-Calorie

A serving of the soy protein isolate with 27g of protein is only 108 calories. It is almost pure protein with trace amounts of fat and carbs. This allows me to hit my protein target without adding too much to my caloric intake, letting me remain in a caloric deficit more easily. In comparison, I will need to eat 300 calories of eggs or 143 calories of chicken breasts to get the same protein.

Complete Protein

The problem with some vegan protein sources (even for whole foods) is that they do not contain all 9 essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce. Even if some of them contain all 9 essential amino acids, they do not contain enough amounts for some amino acids. This is why vegans/vegetarians need to take extra care in having a diverse and balanced diet so that they can consume enough nutrients.

Soy protein isolate is a complete protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids in sufficient amounts. If your normal diet outside supplements is diverse and nutritious enough, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue of needing a complete protein supplement. But it doesn’t hurt that the soy protein isolate is a complete protein.

Easier On Stomach And To Consume

As mentioned, I find it tough to consume sufficient protein using whole foods. By using supplements, I won’t feel bloated the whole day if I use only whole foods. Also, as mentioned previously, whey makes me fart. After taking soy protein isolate for a month, I don’t feel any discomfort.

Drinking a shake is also easier as compared to consuming food. This is why liquid calories in sugary drinks are so dangerous. We can use it to our advantage to make it easier to consume healthy stuff.

Convenient

A shake can be prepared within a few seconds and has a stable shelf life, unlike whole foods which we need to cook and have expiry dates. Cleaning is also limited to the shaker bottle while we will need to clean utensils, cooking equipment and food containers if we use whole foods. When you realize that you are somewhat short on protein at night, you can just bust out a shake. If you have to cook and prepare something at night, it can be quite troublesome unless you have something prepped in advance.

Soy Protein Controversies

There are some controversies regarding soy protein as there are compounds in soy called isoflavones. They have a similar chemical structure as estrogen, the female reproductive hormone. The controversies arose due to testing in mice but in humans, the bad effects of lower testosterone, crucial for building muscles were not seen. It can be almost impossible to consume enough soy protein to badly affect you. If consumed in moderation, it should be ok to consume soy.

How To Make Soy Protein Isolate Taste Better?

I started with the idea of writing an article on sharing how to make soy protein isolate taste better but the scope expanded to more than 3,000 words.

I won’t mince words. My first shake tasted really bad. Like salty mud sludge bad. I regretted ordering the unflavoured version immediately and was worrying about how was I going to finish the next 82 servings. In comparison, the whey I previously tried all tasted ok with just tap water.

While doing my research, I saw reviews saying that it tastes bad regardless so they just used less instead of more water to make the experience as short as possible. 长痛不如短痛. I used about 300ml of room-temperature tap water to prepare my shake which was a mistake. Here are some ways to make sure your shake tastes decent enough to drink. I would say that the first four are compulsory while the fifth one is optional. It is also an issue of getting used to the taste. I have been drinking it every day for over a month and I have no issues.

I have only tried unflavoured soy protein isolate so I cannot say for other flavours or vegan protein powders.

Liquids First Then Powder

To prevent clumping and sticking at the bottom of the bottle, you should always add your liquids first then add water. If there is powder sticking to the bottle, you will need to use a chopstick to break them free. The floating pieces of clumps will make your experience worse. If you are unable to make unstuck the clumps, a few grams of protein is wasted.

Sufficient Hydration

I saw a review saying that he put TWO scoops of protein powder in 300ml of liquids and he hated it. And no wonder he hated it. I did one scoop in 300ml and already hated the thick consistency and salty, beany taste.

I tried adding more water and it immediately tasted milder, more palatable. What I recommend is to use at least 500ml of water with one scoop of soy protein. It still doesn’t taste fantastic, but at least you won’t hate yourself drinking it.

Ice Water

Next, adding ice or using ice water will make it will elevate the taste even more. The salty beany taste is made less obvious due to the slight numbing effects of the cold temperature. I prefer cold water compared to room temperature water so it can also be a factor.

Blender Ball/Blender

There is a problem with the mixability of soy isolate protein as it tends to clump together. Fortunately, my purchase came with a surprise, a free shaker bottle with a blender ball. A blender ball allows the protein powder to be mixed more easily. It is a smart decision by the seller as if the product gives the consumer a bad experience, their ratings will suffer, ultimately affecting the sales. The taste is already questionable, imagine if the drink still clumps together. I also tried the shake with a blender and it works too.

Add Fruits (Optional)

If you would like to add some taste and nutrition to your shake, you can add some fruits to it and blend it together. However, remember that this also adds calories. This will make your shake even thicker so remember to add more water than normal. This is optional as the first three tips are sufficient. I only make use of the first 3 tips for most of my shakes. I only add fruits or other stuff when I am feeling experimental, fruits are going bad soon or when I feel that I need the extra calories. Besides fruits, I have also tried adding chickpeas and soybeans to boost the protein even more.

TL, DR

Enough protein consumption is important for different health goals. We can use whole foods to reach our daily protein intake but it can be difficult for some of us to use just whole foods. I decided to add supplements to my arsenal.

Whey is getting more expensive so soy protein can be a great alternative. Out of the different vegan proteins out there, I chose soy protein isolate due to its price, complete protein content and other reasons.

I have made quite a bit of progress with my weight loss but still not quite there. Once I reach my first goal weight, I might write down how I did it as a separate blog post.

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