Protein is an important part of any successful diet. But, you don’t need to get all of your protein from animal or dairy products.
Although you can choose many vegan protein powders — such as pea, soy, hemp, and rice — figuring out the best option can be confusing because not all plant proteins are equally beneficial. Here’s what you need to know.
Pea Protein: The King of Plant Proteins
Amino acids are the key to the power of protein. Each amino acid -- or combinations of amino acids -- unlock a variety of benefits ranging from recovery and muscle growth to younger-looking hair, skin, and nails. But, if you want to put the amino acids to use, your body needs complete proteins, which are proteins that contain all of the essential amino acids available (there are 9 of them).
Most plant proteins are incomplete and don’t contain all of the amino acids your body needs. (We’re looking at you, rice protein and hemp.)
Pea protein is a complete protein and contains all nine of the essential amino acids you must get from your diet—including the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).
If you compare pea protein to whey (the gold standard protein powder), it becomes very clear that pea is the king of plants.
|25 Grams Pea Protein||25 Grams Whey|
In fact, a study in the of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that supplementing with pea protein after a workout led to the same amount of muscle gain as supplementing with whey protein.
And if you’re focused on fat loss, a study published in Food Nutrition Research found that pea protein helps fight off hunger and can reduce the likelihood of overeating.
What About Rice, Hemp, and Soy?
Rice and hemp protein are not complete proteins. They are too low in a few important essential amino acids, such as lysine and leucine.
Rice and hemp can also cause digestive and gastrointestinal (GI) issues, and have a gritty taste that is hard to mask without using artificial sweeteners or lots of sugar.
More importantly, rice and hemp grow in standing water, and, therefore, are more likely to possess high levels of toxins and metals, such as arsenic.
As for soy, it has two major drawbacks:
- Soy contains “anti-nutrients” such as tannins, phytates, and trypsin inhibitors. These can cause issues with the absorption of vitamins and minerals and disrupt digestion.
- While small amounts of soy protein are not concerning, significant amounts of soy consumption — due to the phytoestrogens — has the potential to reduce testosterone levels and interfere with fertility. Note, this only appears to occur if you consume daily amounts of soy in excess of 50-60 grams (about 2 scoops of soy protein powder) but is still a risk.
How to Choose the Best Vegan Protein Powder
Here's a checklist that will make it easier to scan through the ingredients and make the right selection for you:
1) High protein per serving: Most plant proteins are lower in protein. Don't settle for less than 20 grams per serving. And, as we already mentioned, make sure you're getting complete proteins with all the amino acids your body needs.
2) No artificial sweeteners or flavors: if you want your stomach to feel OK, opt for protein powders that use plant-based sweeteners (like stevia or monk fruit), or a little bit of sugar (3-4 grams max is fine).
3) No vegetable oils or creamers: you don't need added fat for a protein powder.
4) Milk ingredients: If you're searching for vegan or plant-based, dairy is off the list. So any whey or casein is derived from milk.
5) NSF Certified for Sport (most important): This label ensures that your label is accurate, the product has no banned substances, and -- maybe most importantly for vegan proteins -- that you have no dangerous levels of toxins or metals. All plant proteins will contain some level of metal because plants that grow in the earth's crust carry metals. But, the risk is in the dose. If you want to make sure that your protein powder isn't loaded with things like arsenic or lead, then look for NSF Certified for Sport, which guarantees safety.
If you’re looking for the best quality, clean, and great tasting plant protein, Ladder Plant Protein is your best bet. Not only does it have more than 20 grams of pea protein, but it also includes 2 billion CFU of multi-strain probiotics.