Let’s be honest it is no secret that plant based protein powders can taste like butt. It is easily the number one complaint I hear about them. The number two complaint is the belief that plant based proteins are not as healthy as animal based ones. It’s time to put those complaints to rest.
My kids and I went on a mission taste tested over 20 plant based protein powders in hopes of finding a good one. It was A LOT harder than expected. We ended up having to take an extended break from testing tasting, because some of the powders were just so bad the kids began refusing to try any more. In the end we did find a couple that not only we liked, but they now are in regular rotation in our diets. Scroll on down to see our picks.
First off, its important to know: no matter what your goals are, consuming adequate amounts of protein is imperative. Regardless, if you are aiming for fat loss, muscle gain, better performance or just to look better/feel better you need protein. (For more info on protein in the diet, including how much you should eat, check out my previous article here).
But why powdered protein?
Powdered protein supplements can be helpful when you struggle to get enough protein in your diet from whole foods. (*You should always aim to meet your needs with whole 1st first!)
They are just so dang convenient. What other protein can you just throw in your gym bag or purse and go? Chicken breast? Not quite.
Are plant based proteins as good as animal based?
Short answer, yes. The biggest con is their taste and texture. They tend to taste like dirt and have a gritty mouth feel (hence why we went on this massive taste testing mission. The good news we did discovered one that tastes good, doesn’t have a funky after taste and isn’t gritty)
Plant proteins may not be as rich in some amino acids as animal proteins, like whey and egg. They also are slightly less digestible. Proteins are evaluated on a scale from 1-0 based on their amino acid content and digestibility known as their protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS). The animal based ones (whey, egg, casein) all score a 1, as does soy. However, the plant based sources score a little lower. Pea isolate is .89, and rice is .5 and hemp is a .46
What about complete protein? So, the bro at your gym told you they are waste because they are not a complete protein? Tell that bro to read up in his science. True some do not have complete amino acid profile when they are consumed alone. (Complete amino acid profile means they contain the 9 essential amino acids. Essential amino are the ones we must get from our diet, as our body cannot make them.) As long as you are eating a variety of protein sources, you will get all the amino. If this is something that especially concerns you, look for powders that have combined pea and rice as they each supply the other’s lacking amino acids and together make a complete protein. Or consider soy. Soy is a complete protein on its own.
Ok then, knowing all this why choose plant based protein?
Allergies, intolerances, variety, ethical reasons.
If you are allergic or intolerant to animal proteins, you will need a plant based one.
You probably already know if you are allergic to an animal protein but just in case if you experience any of the following: hives, itching, eczema, tightness in throat, swelling then those are clear sign you need to avoid that protein (and consult with a medical doctor, duh)
If you are lactose intolerant. If you experience nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pains or excessive burping or flatulence after consuming a dairy based protein, you may be lactose intolerant.
If you find yourself feeling bloated, stuffy/congested, excessive mucus production or general stomach upset after consuming a protein powder (dairy especially) those are all signs you may be intolerant.
And ethical. Many people choose to avoid animal based proteins based on ethical and environmental beliefs.
In the end, variety is the spice of life. As long as you get a variety of sources of protein throughout your day you are golden. Not only will your decrease your risk of developing intolerances you also will get a balanced nutrition.
You can develop intolerances later in life, so just because you did well with dairy in your 20’s doesn’t guarantee you can handle in in your 40’s. There are studies out there showing people who do not have variety in their diet (especially with protein) are more opt to develop intolerances later on. So mix it up.
What to look for when picking a plant based protein?
Watch out for powders called meal replacement powders (MRE). Usually they will be very high in carbs/ sugars and fats. I am in the camp of adding in my own carbs and fats to my personal liking or needs. Also this enables us to mix it up not get bored with any one flavor. Chocolate peanut butter today strawberries and cream tomorrow! Also since plant based powders tend to taste like dirt, a lot of companies will add in extra sugars and fats to help make them more appeasing.
Watch those ingredient lists, especially if turning to plant based proteins due to intolerances or allergies. Many brands have a huge list of extra ingredients. Anything from a complete vitamins and minerals to a bucket list of “super foods”. The longer the list the bigger the chance of having a reaction. (FYI if you are also avoiding gluten, be very wary of any product that contains wheat grass. And a lot of these powders do contain wheat grass. Long story short it is VERY difficult for a company to produce truly gluten free wheat grass. But that is another story for another day)
Our Winner winner vegan dinner.
We decided to only test pea, rice and hemp brands and skip soy proteins. Many people who are intolerant to dairy are also intolerant to soy. Also soy proteins just don’t taste as bad as the other plant based powders.
All taste tests were conducted the same. One serving protein of vanilla flavored plant based protein mixed in a blender with 1 frozen banana, 1 cup frozen strawberries and 6-10 oz. plain unsweetened cashew milk.
In the end the family unanimously agreed that Garden of Life SPORT was the winner. (Be warned, however, there were two other Garden of Life brand proteins that ranked as the worst).
This protein was tasty enough, we were even able to use it in making a healthier, higher protein, lower carb Chex Muddy Buddies by subbing out half the powder sugar with protein powder.
Vega One All-in-one came in second place. I personally was not a fan, but the kids were ok with it. I felt it has a funky after taste. Who knew I would be the picky one in this.
In the end remember:
Variety is good.
Don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to benefit from including plant based proteins.
And contrary to internet bro science you can still gain lean muscle mass while consuming plant based proteins.
Just watch those ingredient list and nutritional breakdowns.