Best Plant-Based Protein Powders of 2020 & How to Choose One
The human body needs protein to build muscle and perform basic metabolic functions. However, many Americans (especially older adults) do not consume enough protein in their everyday diet to meet their recommended daily intake. That's why protein powders and shakes aren't just for bodybuilders. In fact, supplementing with protein powder is an easy and tasty way to fuel your body with the nutrients it needs not just to function, but to thrive.
Plant-based protein supplements are dried, powdered forms of protein that come from a variety of sources. They are often made from soy, rice, hemp, and peas, where other protein powders are derived from eggs or milk protein, such as whey or casein.
Depending on the brand and source you choose, these products can range from 10 grams of protein to upwards of 30 or 40 grams per serving. Choosing the best protein powder for you depends on your lifestyle, dietary preferences, and taste buds.
What Do Plant-Based Protein Powders Do For You?
There are several reasons to add a protein powder to your daily diet. They help support a healthy body composition as well as overall wellness. If you're looking to lose weight or gain muscle, a protein powder can help.
When it comes to weight loss, a high-protein diet can help you feel fuller longer. This means you're less likely to make unhealthy food choices or reach for snacks throughout the day. One scientific review study on overweight and obese patients suggests that supplementing with protein improved patients' overall body composition and reduced risks associated with cardiovascular disease.
On the muscle growth side of things, a second review study demonstrates a link between protein intake and increased muscle mass in weight lifters.
Yet gaining strength isn't the only reason to enjoy a protein shake post-workout. Your fatigued muscles need protein to recover and rebuild after strenuous exercise. By feeding your body protein shortly after a workout, you may speed muscle recovery, reduce soreness, and increase the overall effectiveness of your workout.
Different Types of Protein Powder
There are several common types of protein powder on the market. From vegan to dairy-based, these are the protein sources you're most likely to encounter:
- Hemp: Hemp is a complete plant protein source, which means it includes all nine amino acids that your body needs, but cannot make on its own. Hemp protein is also soy-free, so it's a great choice for anyone with a soy allergy.
- Soy: Soy is a go-to protein source for anyone avoiding dairy. Like hemp, soy is also a complete protein.
- Pea: Pea protein is usually included in a blend with other plant-based protein sources. That's because peas offer plenty of one important amino acid, arginine, but not enough of the remaining eight essential amino acids.
- Whey: Whey protein concentrate is probably the most common protein source on the market. Whey is a complete protein derived from milk that is readily absorbed by the body. Like most dairy products, all whey protein is not created equally. When shopping for a whey powder, look for one made with milk from grass-fed cows.
- Casein: Another dairy-based option, casein protein powder is more slowly digested than whey. It also contains a high concentration of glutamine, an amino acid linked to speedier muscle recovery. Casein is a good option for nighttime exercisers to enjoy after a workout.
In this article we're looking only at the plant-based varieties.
5 Best Plant-Based Protein Powders
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Truvani's premium pea protein powder contains only five ingredients, all of which are organic and hand-selected to ensure this product is of the highest quality. Additionally, this lactose-free protein powder allows you to build and maintain lean muscle mass thanks to its complete amino acid profile. Truvani also offers a few flavor options (like vanilla, chocolate, and banana cinnamon), so you can choose one that appeals most to your preferences.
Unique features: USDA Certified Organic; Gluten, Dairy, and Soy Free; Paleo Friendly
Protein per serving: 20gPrice: $60 for 1.3 pounds (20 servings) on Amazon
Fitppl's protein powder goes beyond protein. With every scoop of this supplement you'll also get healthy nutrients from greens, fruits, and adaptogens to promote optimal health and vitality. You'll find unique, natural ingredients like spirulina and ashwaganha can help your body fight of inflammation and keep you feeling your best—even after an intense workout. This protein powder is available in two unique flavor options: Cocoa & Blueberry and Vanilla & Goji Berry.
Unique features: Gluten-free; Vegan; No sugar, soy, or stevia
Protein per serving: 18g
Price: $50 for 20 oz (20 servings) on Amazon
Orgain's protein powder is made with all organic ingredients, and comes in a new container that is more sustainable and reduces the amount of plastic used to make the product. Additionally, each serving of this organic protein powder includes 5 grams of fiber for increased satiety, and it comes in a few different flavor options, including chocolate, peanut butter, and vanilla.
Unique features: Organic; Vegan; Gluten-Free; Non-GMO
Protein per serving: 21g
Price: $27 for 2 pounds (20 servings) on Amazon
Certified by the USDA organic seal of approval, this ALOHA plant-based protein powder features top-notch ingredients and comes in a 100% recyclable tin. This product includes pea protein, brown rice protein, pumpkin seed protein and hemp seed protein sources, as well as some prebiotics and electrolytes to promote natural energy and endurance. It is available in both vanilla and chocolate flavors.
Unique features: Gluten-free; Vegan; Dairy-free; Keto-friendly; 3g of sugar; 5g of fiber
Protein per serving: 18gPrice: $24 for 18.5 oz/15 servings on Amazon
Planet Protein powder is made with nine quality ingredients, and includes a full amino acid profile with the help of BCAAs. Reishi mushroom and cacao are two of those ingredients, and they both help to naturally enhance mood and boost cognition. Planet Protein also offers a zero waste program that allows customer to return their empty bags for points that can be redeemed on future orders.
Unique features: USDA Certified Organic; Vegan; No added sugar or artificial flavors; Keto friendly
Protein per serving: 24gPrice: $56 for 2 pounds (25 servings) on planetprotein.com
How to Choose a High-Quality Plant-Based Protein Powder
When shopping for the best protein powder for you, there are some important things to take into consideration.
Start with your diet and taste preferences. There are plenty of vegan-friendly, dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free protein products out there. So if you have allergies, food sensitivities or a strong preference, start by narrowing your search there.
Secondly, consider the amount of protein you want, or need, to add to your diet. To find your personal Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein, multiply your body weight in pounds by 0.36. For example, that's 54 grams of protein per day for the average 180-pound male and 50 grams for the average 140-pound female.
That being said, athletes will have higher protein needs. If your diet is already rich in protein from meat, seafood, or plant-based foods, then a lower-strength protein powder might be sufficient for you.
On the other hand, if you're highly active and don't consume a high-protein diet, a powder that supplies 20 or 25 grams of protein can help you meet your RDA.
Finally, take a close look at the particulars of the powder itself. Many protein powders contain added sugars, fillers, and other unnecessary ingredients. Check the ingredient list. A short list that includes the main protein source at the top is a good sign.
Which Protein Powder is Right for You?
While there are dozens of options on the plant-based protein powder market, it doesn't have to be overwhelming to find the best product for you. Start with your preferred protein source, like pea, soy or hemp.
From there, look for a product with an appropriate amount of protein for your diet. And don't forget about taste. Choose a flavor you enjoy, from fudge brownie to unflavored, and you'll always look forward to your post-workout protein shake.
Whether you're looking to shed weight, gain muscle, or close a nutrient gap in your diet, adding a daily plant-based protein supplement can offer important health advantages. Once you've found the best protein powder for you, all that's left to do is sit back, take a sip, and reap the benefits.
Lizzy Briskin is the founder of Earthen Food Co. She is a chef, food writer, and recipe developer who helps people eat more mindfully for themselves and the environment, without overthinking it.
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