By Heather Nicholds
I've been looking lately for the best vegan protein powder.
It's not because I'm worried about getting enough protein on a healthy eating plan without meat, but because Phil and I have been working out for a few years and trying to gain lean muscle mass.
It might seem strange that I use protein powders when I usually focus on getting nutrients from whole foods as much as possible.
So I want to be really clear on why I use them, and also on why people might think of using protein powders for reasons that are unnecessary.
Was that sentence confusing? What I mean is, there are some reasons I like protein powders. Then there are some reasons thrown around for using them that I don't agree with...
For instance, I don't think protein powders are necessary to get "complete" proteins (all the essential amino acids) from plant foods.
I don't think protein powders are necessary for someone who isn't working out on a regular basis - whether you eat animal foods or not.
Protein powders are a way to increase the percentage of protein in your diet relative to carbohydrates and fats. That's it.
Some of the best vegan protein powders are also easier to digest and assimilate before or after a heavy workout than eating whole foods.
They're definitely more concentrated so that you don't have to chew your way through a big pile of greens and beans when you're finished a workout.
So the practical reasons for using protein powders, in my opinion, are to support building muscle and to support losing fat (lots of studies show that increasing protein ratio to about 20% of total calories results in more efficient fat loss without losing muscle mass).
Keep in mind, though, that eating tons of protein from any source isn't how you build muscle. Doing regular and intense strength training is the way to build muscle - protein intake is just there to support recovery and give your muscles the building blocks to grow.
You can't eat your way to building muscle.
And on the flip side, eating tons of protein isn't the way to lose weight. Keeping your calorie intake slightly below your output, and building lean muscle mass by doing regular and intense strength training, is how you shed fat.
I have a few criteria I look for in a protein powder. If you're taking any supplements, the most important thing to consider is the quality.
When it comes to the source and specific brands, here are my thoughts on the main ones I know of:
Now, here's my comparison on the macronutrient breakdown of these proteins.
I took the nutrition facts on each of their labels (which you can check out if you want to at their respective websites) and equalized them all to 15g of protein to get a true comparison.
I also included a cost, which is what I found listed as a price online as of the date I posted this, and does not include any taxes or shipping charges. The prices can be very different if you have to have it shipped and pay customs like I do...
I included whey as a comparison.
Although some of the hemp proteins may look high in carbs, the carb content is mostly made up of fiber and not sugars.
In my travels and experiments, I've tried The Good Seed, Manitoba Harvest, Nutribiotic, PlantFusion and Vega.
So far, my personal favorites are The Good Seed hemp protein and Nutribiotic rice protein. I like to use the hemp protein in baking (like cookies, brownies, muffins), to mix in my morning porridge after a run, and in green smoothies.
I like to mix the rice and hemp proteins together with water, a bit of carob and mashed banana or chopped grapes after a workout. I find the hemp doesn't work on its own (to much fiber) and the rice doesn't work on its own (too fine and chalky), but together they're perfect. Even better with some ground flax mixed in.
I also tried mixing some rice protein into some frozen banana and raspberry ice cream. It worked really well, and didn't melt the ice cream which hemp always does because it has so much fiber.
I wasn't a huge fan of the Manitoba Harvest hemp protein (I tried the pro 70). I'd probably like the hi-fiber one more, since it would be similar to The Good Seed.
I really liked the texture of PlantFusion when it was mixed alone with water, and I love their mix of proteins and that they include digestive enzymes. I'd rather get an unsweetened kind and add my own fruit to sweeten. I asked them about it, and they said they're working on an unsweetened version.
Vega is awesome, and has lots of great stuff in there like digestive enzymes and antioxidants, but is just a bit too pricey for me right now.
But you know what they say - you get what you pay for... Vega is really great quality, and is designed to maximize athletic performance, so maybe I'm missing out.
What's your favorite vegan protein powder? Or do you not use any?
Leave me a comment below with your thoughts.