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 protein powders, post-workout, smoothies or as a stand-alone afternoon snack.
Hang on, I should be more specific, I have a soft spot for GOOD protein powders…
It’s so frustrating to see someone investing in their health & working out, only to sabotage that investment afterwards 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 the lower quality powders are ridden with CRAP that can cause allergic reactions, gas, bloating, skin-irritations (breakouts anyone), and more…
What to watch out for, and AVOID in any powder:
Additives (ex. maltodextrin, most commonly derived from GMO corn)
Artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, etc.)
Sugar Alcohols!!! (ex. xylitol. 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!.)
Now that we’ve gotten what that out of the way….
When you walk into any supplement store, you’ll typically find a section for plant-based and dairy-based. Here’s the round-up:
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.
Popular Vegan Proteins:
Brown Rice Protein: this is a popular choice, as brown rice is hypoallergenic, has a 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.
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 (omega 3 & 6). 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 my clients who have a history of vegan-protein bloat, don’t experience any symptoms with the fermented ones.
My Vegan Protein Pics: SunWarrior Blend, Genuine Health Fermented Vegan Protein + ,and Iron Vegan.
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.
1. Whey (most common). IF (big if) you can tolerate dairy, whey is one of the most bioavailable (ie. absorbable) proteins you can find. It typically tastes the best, boosts immunity (3) (4) , and is quickly absorbed by the body, so it’s great 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 other countries (cough).
2. Casein: The other primary protein found in dairy, casein is a slower digesting protein. Not 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: Brad King’s High Alpha Whey, Precision All Natural Whey Isolate.
Hopefully that gives you some solid foundation for the next time you go select your powder! Personally, I alternate between the vegan protein powders I mentioned above. For any further questions, feel free to get in touch!
Have an awesome workout!