Best Protein Powder for Vegans
March 18, 2015
We get a lot of questions here at Naked Nutrition about how to choose between Naked Pea and Naked Rice, and also questions concerning why we don’t offer other vegan options like hemp and soy. In this post we are going to break down the difference between these types of protein powders to help determine the best protein powder for vegans.
Pea protein, as you can guess, is a 100 percent plant based protein that is naturally fat and cholesterol free. Pea protein is easily digestible, allowing for maximum absorption. The protein is also dairy and gluten free so it is particularly useful to those with specific dietary restrictions.
Out of all vegan protein powders, it has one of the better amino acid profiles but it is lacking in cystine. However it does contain great levels of these amino acids: lysine for balanced nitrogen levels in muscles, arginine promotes muscle metabolism and a healthy heart, glutamine helps restore nitrogen balance after a heavy workout, and leucine, isoleucine and valine help maintain tissues during exercise. Out of all vegan protein powders, pea protein is one of the most affordable but the taste can take some getting used to.
Sprouted Brown Rice Protein
Another 100 percent plant-based, rice protein has been shown to very comparable to whey protein. In an eight-week study comparing the benefits of both whey and rice protein supplementation, researchers concluded that there were no noticeable difference in the two test groups where one group supplemented with whey and the other with rice. Rice protein is also gluten-free, making it a safe choice for those with gluten allergies.
Just like pea protein, rice protein lacks an amino acid contained in animal-based protein powders. Rice protein is low in lysine so using it as your only protein source is not ideal. One downside to rice protein is that it tends to be low in a certain amino acid: lysine. This means that relying on rice protein powder as your sole source of protein likely isn’t a good idea. When combined, brown rice and pea protein offer a Protein Efficiency Ratio that rivals dairy and egg, but without the unpleasant side effects and allergens.
Soybeans and its various forms are a mainstay in the diet of many vegetarians and vegans. With this is mind, the types of soy that are studied by researchers do not often include soy protein isolates which is another name for soy protein powder. The type of processing that soy protein powder undergoes leads to a number of concerns when being consumed by humans. Specifically, soy protein isolates contain isoflavones which can interact with hormones like estrogen and potentially skew hormone levels when taken in excess. For men, specifically, increased soy intake can reduce testosterone levels and lead to a number of undesired health effects.
Additionally, soy protein contains something known as “anti -nutrients” that block the digestion and absorption of many nutrients. Two of the more important anti-nutrients found in soy are lectins and protease inhibitors. Lectins are nasty constituents of various plants and can cause all sorts of problems from interfering with the absorption of important nutrients to intestinal damage. Proteases are enzymes that assist in the digestion of proteins. Soy has several protease inhibitors that interfere with the enzyme trypsin and chymotrypsin, both of which are important for the digestion and absorption of proteins in the gastrointestinal tract.
Made from hemp seeds, hemp protein is arguably more of a food than a protein. While hemp has a high content of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, it also has a much higher fat, calorie, and carbohydrate content than other protein powders. Also, the amount of protein per serving is only about 50% by weight compared to over 80% for the other proteins listed above. The protein in hemp is also not as easily absorbed as other protein powders so the quality of the protein itself is not ideal. Add this to very few vitamins and minerals that are present in protein, and it becomes hard to make a case for it being on the same level as the protein powders listed above. Finally, if the cost per serving is one of your concerns, hemp is most of the most expensive out there due to illegality of growing the plant in the US.
As a vegan/vegetarian, finding the best protein powder will likely take some trial and error. From what we have read and studied here at Naked Nutrition, we’ve found that pea protein and rice protein offer the best options, with an ideal being a diet that contains both so that all the essential amino acids are consumed in the right proportion.
Unfortunately, a number of factors make soy and hemp protein substandard protein sources when consumed in powdered form when compared to other vegan protein powder sources.