I write this post with such a tongue in cheek title as protein supplements have quite the reputation amongst folk. Protein powders can be a helpful asset in a diet, but on the whole they are not a necessary addition. Some may find them useful for a number of reasons: protein powders can be used as a great weight gain or loss aid (depending on the overall diet plan), for convenient nutritional supplementation, to aid those who are severely compromised in health (such as one with damaged digestive function or too ill to function), or to speed recovery in heavily trained athletes.
What I do invite you to consider is that a protein powder is only as good as its source. In order to make the best choice regarding a protein product, you should consider your goals in using it, how to best utilize it, and to consider it’s processing and ingredients. I highly recommend reading Paul Chek’s (Holistic Health Practitioner) enlightening article on the history and science behind whey powder, which you can find here. It is important to get familiar with America’s relationship to dairy, pasteurization, and the marketing behind this product that makes us believe we need it in a healthy lifestyle (and somehow makes us willing to pay big bucks to get it!)
I enjoy using plant based protein powders from time to time merely out of convenience and for liking the taste. I’ll sometimes add protein powder into a morning breakfast smoothie if I need it to have more long term satiety, or I’ll put it in a shake that I’m taking on the go that I’ll consume directly after a workout. I try not to use protein supplements as a means to replace a meal. I believe wholeheartedly in turning to real food for addressing these needs rather than a product.
Given all these considerations, I switched from a whey based protein powder to a rotation of plant based ones about 1 year ago after deciding to go squeaky clean in eliminating any sources of artificial ingredients in my diet (read the back of a standard grocery store whey powder-sucralose a.k.a splenda, soy lecithin, corn maltodextrin, eek! Just take a look at this one that you can commonly find at superstores like Sam’s). These harsh chemical ingredients are taxing on the body to process and eliminate and take away from any potential benefits of using whey to support your muscles as your liver, immune, digestive health etc. are compromised. Whey protein is only as good as the cow that it came from as well as the other ingredients that it is combined with. I turned away from whey and almost all dairy because I began to recognize patterns in brain fogginess, poor digestion, and acne when I bumped up my use of it upon increasing my exercise. If you choose to use whey, I would recommend finding one that is cold processed (non-denatured), has no fillers or preservatives and natural ingredients (i.e. stevia as sweetener or none at all, NOT sucralose/aspartame), and lists itself as rBGH/rBST hormone free and with 100% whey protein isolate (whey protein concentrate listed is indicative or a poor quality whey being used within the mix). This Raw Organic Whey as found on amazon seems to fit the bill. I am also okay with the ingredients as found in Biochem Greens and Whey. You will see that such options are indeed more expensive, but you get what you pay for in this instance. Also, please, no soy protein! Soy is highly processed and most likely genetically modified. There are better options for those seeking a vegan option.
I am currently enjoying Growing Naturals Yellow Pea Protein in Vanilla. I happen to quite like the taste of pea protein and love that it is organic & raw. It adds a nice protein boost (15 g) and creaminess to shakes. I use this in cohesion with a lovely affordable and basic hemp protein powder which albeit an acquired taste (a bit gritty) has a nice protein (11 g) and fiber boost (14 g). I also love using Great Lakes Gelatin (highly recommend!) which is a no nonsense approach to protein powder. It is a great source of collagen, a nutrient highly void in the standard american diet and is therapeutic for joint & muscle health as glycine, proline, and lysine are all vital amino acids in building connective tissue and regulating cell function. From grass-fed cows and rapidly absorbs in the digestive track (1 g gelatin=1 g protein, boom!). It is hydrolyzed so it does not gel in shakes.
And now, to discuss some tried and true plant based options. I can honestly recommend all of these to have been easily digestible and delicious. Companies Plant Fusion and Sunwarrior were gracious enough to supply me with samples to test upon my request. The rest were purchased on my own. All products were used until finished and tested in a number of ways including only mixed with water or almond/coconut milk via hand mix in a bottle, or with non-dairy milks/fruits/and greens in a blender. In choosing one, you will just have to consider your price point & ingredient desires (i.e. Raw and/or sprouted, organic, and seed or grain based).I don’t find it worth splitting hairs over amino acid availability in each of these, as in one way or another, a plant based protein will in some facet be less comprehensive and bio-available than an animal based one. Click on each link for more information on amino acid profile and company philosophy. Prices vary depending on vendor, but I find Vitacost to be the most cost savvy (this is where average prices are derived from).
Garden of Life
Serving: 1 scoop (23 g), 90 calories, 28 servings
Ingredients: Organic Sprouted Brown Rice Protein, Organic Amaranth Sprout, Organic Quinoa Sprout, Organic Millet Sprout, Organic Buckwheat Sprout, Organic Garbanzo Bean Sprout, Organic Lentil Sprout, Organic Adzuki Bean Sprout, Organic Flax Seed Sprout, Organic Sunflower Seed Sprout, Organic Pumpkin Seed Sprout, Organic Chia Seed Sprout, Organic Sesame Seed Sprout
RAW Probiotic & Enzyme Blend, High Protein Chlorella, Proteases, Bacillus subtilis, Mixed Tocopherols,
Other Ingredients: RAW natural vanilla flavor, RAW organic stevia (leaf), brewer’s yeast (saccharomyces cerevisiae), lactobacillus bulgaricus, natto. Contains (fermented) soy.
Stats: 17 g protein, 4 g carb, >1 g sugar, fat: N/A
Verdict: I love the Garden of Life line of products. This is an amazing variety of protein sources which is especially important for someone following a vegan diet. The taste takes some getting used to but I found that I craved its earthy sweetness after some time. It is a bit more chalky but I forgo having the ultimate texture due to the organic quality of ingredients. Also one of the most cost effective per serving. Basic flavors of chocolate, vanilla, and natural. Chocolate is a nice option as it contains raw cacao.
Cost: about $30 for 1.7 lbs
Sunwarrior Classic Protein
Serving: 1 scoop (21 g), 70 calories, 23 servings
Ingredients: Raw sprouted whole grain brown rice protein, vanilla, pectin, xanthan, stevia.
Stats: 16 g protein, 4 g carb, 1 g fat, 0 g sugar
Verdict: Both vanilla & chocolate flavors were pleasant and natural tasting; heavy on the stevia so be prepared by a very sweet experience. Mixed surprisingly well with just water in a mason jar, much smoother than most brown rice proteins. Flavors available: chocolate, vanilla, natural.
Cost: about $43 for 2.2 lbs
Sunwarrior Warrior Blend
Serving: 1 scoop (25 g), 100 calories, 40 servings
Ingredients: Proprietary Protein Blend (raw organic pea protein, raw cranberry protein, raw organic hemp seed protein), medium chain triglycerides.
Stats: 20 g protein, 1 g carb, 1 g fat, 0 g sugar
Verdict: Same as the classic protein, the chocolate and vanilla were very nice but intensely sweet. I liked this one’s mixability with just water more so than the classic protein blend. This is a great raw protein option if that is important to you and much less chalky than compared to Garden of Life proteins.
Cost: about $43 for 2.2 lbs
**NOTE: This is a grain-free protein powder option if that is an important criteria for your diet (also if you are considered about the rice & arsenic link.) **
Serving: 1 scoop 120 calories, 30 servings
Ingredients: PlantFusion Amino Acid Infused Protein Blend: (Pea Protein Isolate, Artichoke Protein, Organic Sprouted Amaranth Powder and Organic Sprouted Quinoa Powder) Providing 4,500 mg BCAAs (L-Isoleucine, L-Leucine and L-Valine) and 3,350 mg L-Glutamine; PlantFusion Proprietary Enzyme Blend: Bromelain and Alpha Galactosidase with other naturally occurring enzymes.
Other Ingredients: Fructose, natural vanilla flavor, stevia, glycine, and silica.
Stats: 21 g protein, 4 g carb, 2 g fat, 4 g sugar
Verdict: This was probably my favorite out of all that I tasted. Huge variety in flavors as well including natural, vanilla, chocolate, raspberry, cookies & cream, none of which tasted artificial. The chocolate tasted like brownie batter & vanilla bean was probably my most favorite vanilla protein out of all. Lots of creaminess to the shake when mixed alone, and I love the variety of proteins used. Sprouted plant proteins are A++ to come across, improving their digestability and protein availability. The cost is also wonderful considering the type of protein blend.
Cost: about $30 for 2 lbs
Serving: 1 scoop, 135 calories, 22 servings
Ingredients: Pea protein, SaviSeed (sacha inchi) protein, hemp seed protein, sprouted whole grain brown rice protein. Omega-3 EFA Blend: Flax seed, chia seed. Green Chlorella (cracked cell, high CGF), alfalfa (grass) spinach (leaf), broccoli (floret), kale (leaf). Antioxidants Blend (ORAC 1000): Grape seed extract, maqui berry, goji fruit, acai berry, pomegranate seed, mangosteen fruit. Probiotic Blend: Lactobacillus acidophilus La-14, Bifidobacterium bifudum Bb-06. Digestive Enzyme Blend: Protease (plant and bacterial), aminopeptisdase, HemiSEB (amylase, pectinase, phytase, hemicellulase). Organic gelatinized maca root, Inulin Inulin (from chicory root), Natural vanilla flavors, stevia leaf extract, xanthan gum.
Stats: 15 g protein, 11 g carb, 3 g fat, 2 g sugar
Verdict: There’s no denying that this is a beautiful list of beneficial ingredients, but I am just not one to believe all of this is necessary for optimal health. Plus, I enjoy the idea more of adding superfood ingredients (such as spirulina, chlorella, maca, etc) on your own rather than paying for it to be all blended together for you in a product. Vanilla, natural, chocolate, berry, and tropical flavor varieties available on their site. Similar to Sunwarrior the stevia is a bit intense in this one but the blendability is great. I don’t feel the product warrants all the hype, but again, if all these ingredient advantages are what you’re looking for then this might be a good fit. My feeling with Vega is that it is a bit too expensive to be used multiple times a week and therefore not an ideal choice.
Cost: about $55 for 2.2 lbs
Serving: 1 scoop, 120 calories, 15 servings
Ingredients: Life’s Basics Proprietary Protein Blend (yellow pea protein isolate, hemp seed, rice protein concentrate, chia seed), natural vanilla flavor and sea salt.
Stats: 22 g protein, 6 mg carb, 1 g fat, 0 mg sugar
Verdict: I enjoyed the unsweetened variety as you don’t get that stevia aftertaste but still have the nice vanilla flavor. The pea protein flavor is prominent in this one so maybe pass if you anticipate you won’t be a fan of a distinctly pea-kind of flavor (this registers more as a veggie kind of earthiness). The chia is a nice addition and I like hemp seed as it is a sustainable protein source.
Cost: about $20 for 1.34 lbs