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If you’ve been searching for the best plant protein powders, you’re not alone! Finding a great plant-based protein supplement is one of the most frequently asked questions I get. Along with those: “Isn’t protein powder a processed food?” and “Do I actually NEED a protein supplement?” and “I’ve heard that whey protein is better for you, so why would I try a plant-based protein supplement?”. All great questions and I’m here to clear some things up for you! Over the last few months, I’ve tested a ton of plant-based protein powders so I could recommend the ones I enjoyed the most and find the most effective. But first, let’s dive into why we need protein in the first place. Aside from research, much of my knowledge on protein comes from working with clients IRL, but also from books and a microlearning course on protein supplements by Dr. Stacy Sims – highly recommended!

You may already know that amino acids are the building blocks of protein (protein consists of chains of amino acids) and there are 20 amino acids in the human body. Our bodies can only synthesize 11 of these, which means that the remaining 9 amino acids have to come from the food we consume. We call these nine amino acids essential amino acids (EAAs). Three of these (leucine, valine, and isoleucine) are known as branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). They have a slightly different structure, are metabolized differently and leucine in particular is critical for muscle protein synthesis. I actually take an EAA supplement that contains BCAAs after tough workouts to ensure I’m getting my leucine in (see below).

Ok hold up – why should you care about building muscle if you like your body the way it is and have zero desire to look like a body builder? Our muscle mass actually declines at a rate of 3% to 8% each decade after the age of 30*. Building muscle mass is critical for optimal hormone health and will help hormonal shifts from pregnancy to post-partum to perimenopause and menopause. So now that we know we’re going to need to continue to work on lean muscle mass and leucine is a key player, why can’t we just get all the amino acids we need from food? It’s simply easier to get the right amount of leucine (and other amino acids) from supplements than getting this through food. You need 2.7 grams of leucine to trigger the mTOR complex that leads to muscle protein synthesis. Don’t get me wrong, real food is always best and the preferred source of protein. However, our lives these days are BUSY and as much as I encourage people to slow down (chew your food, ladies!), and be mindful of how we spend our days, when we’re on to-the-go, it’s still critical to get our protein in and the easiest way to do this is often through a protein supplement. You can read more about real food protein here.

 

What Exactly is Whey Protein?

Whey is the watery part of the milk that separates during the process of creating cheese. Over the years, we figured out that it’s quite high in protein and provides us with all 9 EAAs, which is why you’ll see a TON of whey protein supplements on the market today. It’s anti-inflammatory and helps with weight management and satiety. You can get a ton of protein from a fairly small serving of whey protein powder (depending on what other ingredients it’s mixed with – this is absolutely key). You’ll find whey protein in concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate (hydrolyzed) form. Whey protein isolate is more processed, but with likely also provide with the best protein content and is rapidly absorbed by the body. So why do I avoid whey protein personally? I find that it’s difficult for me to digest (dairy products in general are for me) and if you have acne prone skin (raising my hand here!), you’ll also find that avoiding dairy for some time may help with clearing up your skin. Of course, you don’t want to pick up just any whey protein powder, so keep reading to find out what I would absolutely avoid.

 

What to Look for in a Plant-based Protein Supplement

You’ll generally need more of a serving size for plant-based protein powders to match the protein in whey protein supplements, but this shouldn’t discourage you from consuming them. As with whey protein supplements, you’ll have concentrate, isolate and hydrolyzed versions. A great benefit of plant protein is that it’s generally easy to digest, provides fiber, minerals, vitamins, and omega-3s in most cases. Pea protein isolate will generally have the highest amounts of leucine needed for muscle protein synthesis, but is also more processed, stripped of fiber and starch, and minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients that you’ll find in whole peas. The isolate version of protein may also be more difficult to digest for some. Compared to whey protein, the bioavailability and amino acid profile of plant-based protein powders and supplements will be lower, which is why some companies provide a blend of pea protein and rice, protein, for example. Although a blend of plant-based protein sounds ideal, it doesn’t always work for AIP diets and those avoiding grains.

 

What I Completely Avoid

Here’s what you’ll want to stay away from entirely for any protein powder or supplement: highly processed sugar alternatives such as sucralose, sugar alcohols (erythritol, xylitol, and sorbitol), saccharine, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium. All of these are lab based sugars that can cause digestive distress, which in turn can lead to hormone imbalances as well. Stevia, thaumatin, and monk fruit are naturally derived sugars, but are still refined and processed. You’ll find them in everything these days, but I still prefer to only consume these on occasion as they can cause bloating and digestive issues in some people as well. I think it largely depends on your tolerance and how much has been added into the mix. Real sugar from real food is actually preferred, but of course, we try to minimize this as well. Protein supplements with sugar derived from fruit or dates are most ideal to me.

If you’re going the whey protein route, you’ll want to make sure you’re consuming whey from grass-fed cows. Both plant-based protein and whey protein should be clear from artificial flavors, colors, additives, and lecithins (which are flow agents that prevent a substance from sticking together). One of my biggest pet peeves in products is actually “natural flavors”, which sound so innocent, but even organic natural flavors could still be lab based. Not all natural flavors are bad (think “vanilla” or “vanilla extract”), but the fact that we don’t know what exactly is in these means we need to be careful. Avoiding the highly processed sugar alternatives, artificial flavors, additives, lecithins, and many natural flavors is a general rule of thumb that I recommend following when it comes to ALL foods you can consume. If it has any of these in it, skip it.

 

What Are the Best Plant-based Protein Powders?

Ok, so here are my top picks, including my all-time favorite that I consume every day.

I’ve narrowed down my list to Promix, Truvani, Sakara, Tejari, Kachava, Wholier, Lyfefuel, and Kroma. None of these contain artificial flavors or colors, sugar alternatives (except for Stevia and monk fruit – more about this in a bit), lecithins, dairy, soy, or gluten. Sounds like a pretty good start, right?

Here’s what I thought about each plant based protein powder, not presented in any particular order (read on to find my favorite). All of these can be purchased online, and some are available in Whole Foods as well.

Promix vegan protein powder – The first ingredient listed on this vegan protein in the raw chocolate flavor is organic Canadian yellow pea protein isolate. Although the flavor was ok to me (I don’t enjoy the flavor of monk fruit sweetener much), the isolate nature of the pea protein definitely caused some digestive issues for me. I felt bloated after I drank this and since the flavor wasn’t optimal either, I won’t be going back to Promix. Overall, however, Promix does a great job with keeping ingredients in their plant based protein powder minimal (only five were listed) and organic. I have not tried baking with Promix yet, so I’m holding on the bag I ordered and may try making some protein cookies with this!

Truvani – With only six organic ingredients listed, Truvani looks promising and I know many people love it. I couldn’t get over the taste of the monk fruit sweetener (it’s got a weird aftertaste) and also found something about the pea protein in here to lead to bloating for me. I first tasted Truvani when it came out in both the vanilla and chocolate flavors and then tried it again over the last year, but I just don’t love the taste of it. I know many people do and the ingredients are great in general, but I won’t be purchasing this again. Another solid pick if you’re looking for a very clean plant-based protein powder, though.

Sakara Protein + Greens Super powder – I love the blend of pea protein, hemp protein, and pumpkin protein in here! Sakara also blends in spirulina, wheatgrass, chlorella, and wheatgrass (in short, all green superfoods), which I also love. From a pure protein perspective, you’re only getting in 12 grams of protein per scoop, which I found to be the difficult part since you have to consume quite a bit to get to your 20 grams to 30 grams of protein per meal / snack. The taste of this is great thanks to the vanilla and coconut milk powder, but the red flag for me is the Stevia Leaf extract, which I don’t necessarily mind, but also don’t want to be consuming on a daily basis. I know it minimizes blood sugar spikes compared to regular sugar, but I wish Sakara would have just stuck to coconut sugar, which is at least less refined than cane sugar. I still have a bag of this sitting in our pantry and will enjoy it on occasion. It’s also really great in baked good and muffins.

Tejari Plant Based Superfood Protein – This is my #1 pick for a plant-based protein. The organic cacao and greens blend contains 8 organic ingredients and is simply unmatched in flavor in our morning smoothies. I also love that it contains reishi and cinnamon, which may both help with blood sugar balance. You need just 4 tablespoons to get 20 grams of protein in, which makes it super easy to add to a smoothie, muffins, or pancakes. Our boys drink this is their morning smoothies as well every morning. A close second to the organic cacao and greens blend is the organic cacao + strawberry version. SO good! You can find Tejari at Whole Foods stores, but I usually order it online.

Kachava – This is my pick for if you’re looking to make a super quick protein shake without any other added ingredients (except a plant-based milk or water). The chocolate flavor is seriously addicting. What sets this apart from other protein powders is that you’re getting omegas, antioxidants, adaptogens, super greens, a probiotic / prebiotic blend, and digestive enzymes in. Now, keep in mind that digestive enzymes are sometimes added in because other ingredients make it difficult to digest. If you’re avoiding grains as part of an AIP diet, note that Kachava does contain brown rice protein. Overall, I find Kachava easy to go down and very energizing. It didn’t cause bloating for me, and even though it does contain some Lo Han Fruit Extract (monk fruit), you can’t detect it in the taste. I often drink Kachava after races since it has optimal macro and micro nutrient ratios – about half of the serving size in grams is actually carbs, which is ideal right after endurance training. It’s a great alternative for when you’re on the road, can’t find a healthy meal or snack, and still want to get your protein in. With 25 grams of plant-based protein per serving, you’re good to go. Kachava is currently found online only and you can use my referral link to get 15% off your first order.

Wholier – I would rate Wholier’s Organic Plant Protein + prebiotics second (after Tejari) for taste and quality of ingredients. There’s a bit of a monk fruit sweetener taste, but also organic cinnamon, which makes this really tasty in a smoothie. Wholier added pumpkin and sunflower seed protein as well, which is great, except for that it makes it difficult to seed cycle. A very solid pick overall and I love that they did not include a single-use plastic scoop and made their pouch compostable, which is a nice nod to Mother Earth.

Lyfefuel – The daily essential all-in-one shake contains 25 whole food ingredients and 18 grams of plant-based protein per serving. Lyfefuel markets itself as a Kachava competitor, so being a huge Kachava fan, I had to try it. I was quite disappointed in the taste, maltodextrin (a sugar alternative I try to avoid), and natural flavor. Not a big fan of the taste either, but this may work in baked goods. I would stick to Kachava if you’re interested in an all-in-one ready to drink protein powder drink mix.

Kroma – Kroma is different in that they use Chocho plant protein (a different type of bean from cacao) in their Cacao Banana Plant-Based Smoothie. It’s more protein and nutrient dense than pea protein.  They’ve also added some maple sugar, maca, reishi, Ceylon cinnamon, and a digestive enzyme blend. I was not a big fan of the taste, though I appreciated the mix of protein + energy + immunity + hydration as functional benefits. I also love that they had a statement about heavy metal testing, which is important when you’re working with root powders and cacao. I’ll likely try this again on its own and in a smoothie sometime.

 

As you can see, so much of what type of plant-based protein you pick depends on your taste buds. To avoid this issue, you could always opt for an unflavored protein powder, but the quality of ingredients should still come first. The simpler the ingredients (and easier to pronounce), the better. I will always reach for whole / real foods first as a protein source, but I also spend so much of my day on the phone, in video conferences, or on the road (mom Uber!) that a protein shake or smoothie can come in really handy when I’m in pinch. I also love baking with protein powders, so be sure to check out some of my favorite recipes. If you didn’t find your favorite protein powder in this list, leave a comment so I know what it is and can try it out (if I haven’t already),

What questions do you have about the best plant protein powders? Be sure to ask in the comments!

 

the best plant based protein powders

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804956/#:~:text=One%20of%20the%20most%20striking,60%20%5B4%2C5%5D

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