As a Trainer specializing in Fitness 4 Females since 1998, I get asked daily “what protein powders do you recommend?” As a busy Mom of 3, I have consumed my fair share.
Although I will tell you “it is always best to get your protein from natural sources first”, Monday to Friday is a grind dragging my 3 kids out of bed for school and breakfast those mornings sometimes means a homemade protein smoothie.
I am a fan of plant-based protein and 6 years ago I traded my love of whey protein to plant based.
I have tasted a tons of products and get contacted daily from companies and multi level marketing reps to sell their stuff. Money would roll in if I sold protein powders.
I only recommend what I believe in 100% and products that I would take myself.
Even though I know exactly what to look for I too get overwhelmed at the line up of choices at the grocery store so I called on my buddy, Kyle to break down the Good, Bad and the Ugly on Protein Powders.
Warning, he’s not only knowledgable, he’s handsome too!
Protein: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Kyle Buchanan, Clinical Holistic Nutritionist
As a clinical nutritionist, I am all about getting nutrients from whole foods and well balanced meals. That being said, I have a not-so-secret soft spot for GOOD protein powders, post-workout, smoothies or as a stand-alone afternoon snack.
It’s so frustrating to see someone investing in their health & working out only to sabotage that investment by gulping down poor quality, preservative & chemical-ridden protein powders. It just doesn’t line up.
If you are going to invest in yourself, do it RIGHT.
A lot of lower quality powders are ridden with CRAP that can cause allergic reactions, gas, bloating, skin-irritations (breakouts anyone), and more…
4 THINGS TO AVOID IN ANY POWDER
- Additives (ex. maltodextrin, most commonly derived from GMO corn)
- Artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, etc.)
- Soy (more on that below)
- Sugar Alcohols!
- i.e.: Xylitol: is becoming especially popular as the go-to non-calorie “natural” sweetener, however, xylitol, like many other sugar alcohols, can cause gas, bloating, abdominal pain and discomfort for many people, myself included!
When you are searching for powders they are typically separated into plant-based and dairy-based. Here’s the roundup:
Plant Based (my preference)
The reason that some don’t like plant-based proteins from a nutrient perspective is that they view these proteins as “incomplete”, indicating they don’t have adequate levels all of the essential amino acids needed by the body (“essential” as we can’t make them).
The brilliance of nature is that amino acids found in lower quantities in one plant protein can be found in higher levels of other plant based proteins (and vice versa!) For this reason, you’ll find that in general a lot of vegan powders are a combination of different plant proteins.
Brown Rice Protein: this is a popular choice, as brown rice is hypoallergenic, has good amino acid profile (amino acid = building blocks for protein), and has a relatively good digestibility track record.
Pea Protein: this is also a common protein choice for many powders, noted for its solid amino acid profile. However, pea protein (unfermented) can cause some bloating and distress in some people, especially women.
Hemp Protein: I’m a huge fan of hemp. It’s got a complete amino acid profile, and the added bonus of fibre and healthy fats. As most people tend to be deficient in good fats and fibre, I see this as a plus. However, if you are looking solely at getting just protein, this powder might not be your choice.
Soy (AVOID!): soy protein isolate is added to a TON of vegan fitness products, especially protein bars (read the labels!). Beyond being one of the most common GMO foods, soy is highly allergenic and can have negative effects on thyroid health with steady use (1). For these reasons and more, I HIGHLY recommend avoiding this ingredient at all costs.
Fermented vs. Unfermented Vegan Protein Powders
I’m a huge fan of fermented anything. Fermenting essentially breaks down the food, essentially pre-digesting it for you (making it more nutritious in the process!).
The fermenting process:
- Promotes digestive health
- Enhances the vitamins, minerals and amino acids for optimal absorption (2)
- Removes something called “anti-nutrients” found in a lot of plant-based foods that inhibit absorption of certain nutrients
- Helps boost the immune system and contribute to healthy bacteria in the gut
- BONUS: the fermenting process makes the powders very ‘fine’, and gets rid of that ‘gritty-ness’ that some find unappealing with plant-based powders
Many of my clients who have a history of vegan-protein bloat, don’t experience any symptoms with the fermented ones.
Personally, I am NOT a fan of dairy-based, as most people have way too much dairy in the diet anyway, and a LOT of people are sensitive to it, even if they may not realize it yet.
As far as dairy is concerned, there are 2 categories commonly found.
- Whey (most common): If (BIG if) you can tolerate dairy, whey is one of the most bioavailable (i.e. absorbable) proteins you can find. It typically tastes the best, boosts immunity (6,7), and is quickly absorbed by the body, so it’s a good post-workout option. You might notice that there are whey concentrates and whey isolates. Isolates contain the most protein, whereas concentrates contain more fat and lactose. If in doubt, go for the isolate.What to Look for: cross-flow filtration (method of extraction), stevia-sweetened, and New Zealand Whey. Why New Zealand? New Zealand cow’s are grass-fed and as such, produce cleaner milk. In addition, the New Zealand government mandates that all dairy products are to be free of chemical residue, hormones, and antibiotics. The same isn’t true in other countries (cough).
- Casein: The other primary protein found in dairy, casein is a slower digesting protein. Not an ideal post-workout option due to the slower rate of digestion. It’s also more allergenic than whey, so I tend to advise against it.
My dairy picks:
Hopefully that gives you some solid foundation for the next time you select your powder. My advice from a holistic perspective: go plant-based, preferably fermented, especially if you’re the type who easily gets bloated.
Please, invest in clean powders and do your body a favour.
Eat well, smile more. – Kyle Buchanan