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The 13 Best Plant Based Protein Powders | Whey Protein vs Plant Protein

The 13 Best Plant Based Protein Powders | Whey Protein vs Plant Protein

Plant based protein powder and plant protein sources are a hot topic with many comparing plant based protein vs whey and other animal-derived sources of protein. Is plant protein really the new king of recovery? If so, what are the best plant based protein powders?

With a number of elite athletes transitioning more towards a plant based approach, in other words, a diet consisting mainly of plants with moderate quantities of organic steak, duck, chicken, and wild salmon, the world is listening because many of these athletes are performing at a level unheard of for their age. Therefore, it is no surprise that there is a HUGE interest in the relationship between plants, recovery and performance.[1]  

Adding to this interest are documentaries like The Game Changers highlighting the success of plant based athletes and making extreme claims about the benefits of being completely plant-based compared to those who consume animal protein. While it was an interesting documentary and we’re all about eating loads of plants, the document spews biased and slanted information that you can read more about in our post The Game Changers Debunked

So, lets cut through the cobwebs and jump into the facts. This post is going to dive deep into comparing plant based protein powder vs whey protein. We’ll compare the various sources of plant protein, why it matters where the plant protein is from, how the amino acid content varies, how to make up for amino acid deficits in plant protein powders, and provide a detailed list of the best plant based protein powders.

Skip ahead: Jump to the list of the top plant based protein powders

What is Plant Protein?

We are often asked, “What is plant protein?” And, “Do plants really have protein?” We understand it can sound crazy to many who have not dug into the world of being vegan or vegetarian.

So, believe it or not, many plants have protein. There are a variety of good plant protein sources including chickpeas, soy, lentils, nuts and seeds.  

Plant protein powder is made from powdered versions of various plants or seeds. In the process of making plant protein, components of the plant such as peas are dried out, the skin and fibrous component of the plant is mostly separated and removed. The end product is a powdered version of the plant or seed with a high concentration of protein.

What are the Primary Plant Protein Sources?

Part of the confusion with plant protein is that they are so many options.  While whey protein is well known by athletes as the most common non-plant based protein, few people understand what exactly the best plant based sources of protein are or should come from.

The primary plant protein sources in most diets include pea, hemp, rice, quinoa, soy, chickpeas, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, chia seed, and flax. In terms of the production of protein powders, the primary plant protein sources are pea, hemp, and rice with pea protein by far being the most common as you will see in the list below. Although, many up and coming brands are creating new blends with interesting mixtures that include seeds and various other sources.

Plant Based Protein vs Whey Protein Core Components Compared

There is a HUGE debate in the sports world on whether plant protein is as good as animal-sourced protein for building muscle and achieving peak recovery.  When comparing the best plant based protein powder vs whey protein there are several key differences including:

infographic comparing Plant Based Protein vs Whey Protein Powder
  • Digestibility and absorption of the protein
  • Amino acid content
  • Grams of raw material needed per serving to produce 
  • Taste

Research has shown plant based proteins have a lesser anabolic (muscle building) effect when compared to whey protein. The reason for this is theorized to be due to the lower digestibility, lower essential amino acid content (especially leucine), and deficits in other essential amino acids.[2,3]

The infographic to your right shows research comparing the amino acid deficits, especially leucine, (the king of amino acids when it comes to muscle building,) in the most common sources of plant-protein powders. You will notice a clear advantage for the consumption of whey protein.

Lastly, when it comes to making sure you obtain the right amount of protein for muscle recovery as an athlete, plant protein requires a much higher volume of material to meet the needs of most athletes. We can promise you, that if you go from getting 25g of protein in one scoop of whey protein and then look to do the same with hemp protein for example, you will be shocked when you realize you need nearly 5 tbsp or 4x the amount of powder to get what you need! While this may not seem like a big deal, it can sometimes make for a chalky or gritty protein shake that is really hard to drink.

It is not just our opinion that athletes need ample BCAAs and the right amount of protein for peak recovery. The International Society of Sports Nutrition Position states that athletes should, “Strive to obtain 700–3000 mg of leucine and/or a higher relative leucine content, in addition to a balanced array of the essential amino acids (EAAs)” with each dose of protein.” 

Furthermore, ISSN states that “Rapidly digested proteins that contain high proportions of essential amino acids (EAAs) and adequate leucine, are most effective in stimulating muscle protein synthesis.”[4]

Related: 13 Best Grass Fed Whey Protein Powders

Whey protein contains a high proportion of amino acids and is the most easily digested source of protein. We’re not saying that you need whey protein to achieve peak recovery, we’re simply saying it may be one of the best options.

By the way, if you would like to know more about how much protein you may need to achieve peak recovery, we have a whole post dedicated to explaining the Protein Requirements for Athletes as well as a YouTube video which is below in case you prefer to learn in video format.🙂

Plant Protein vs Whey Protein Powder Recovery & Performance Comparison

We can write and review the various differences between plant based protein vs whey protein but in the end, its how we perform that truly matters, right? So, what does the research say? Here is a summary of a few studies that will really spark some thought and discussion, to say the least:

  • The Effects of Whey vs. Pea Protein on Physical Adaptations Following 8-Weeks of High-Intensity Functional Training: Both groups experienced increased strength for 1RM back squat and deadlift without major differences between groups.
    • Conclusion: Ingestion of whey and pea protein produced similar outcomes in muscle thickness and performance.[5]
  • Pea protein oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. whey protein: Supplementation with pea protein promoted a similar increase in muscle thickness compared to whey protein.
    • Conclusion: Pea protein could be used as an alternative to whey protein.[6]
  • Cycling Time Trial Performance 4 Hours After Glycogen-Lowering Exercise Is Similarly Enhanced by Recovery Nondairy Chocolate Beverages Versus Chocolate Milk: The ingestion of glycogen-promoting supplements post-exercise such as chocolate milk has been shown to enhance cycling performance. To compare proteins, participants ingested chocolate dairy milk, chocolate soy beverage, chocolate hemp beverage, low-fat dairy milk, or a low-energy artificially sweetened, flavored beverage placebo at 30-min intervals post cycling to test the effects of each beverage on recovery.
    • Conclusion: Performance was enhanced similarly for all treatments except the placebo.[7]
  • Ingestion of Whey Hydrolysate, Casein, or Soy Protein Isolate: Effects on Mixed Muscle Protein Synthesis at Rest and Following Resistance Exercise in Young Men: Three groups of healthy young men (n = 6 per group) performed a bout of unilateral leg resistance exercise followed by the consumption of a drink containing whey, casein, or soy protein.
    • Conclusion:  Whey protein significantly stimulated more muscle growth than soy or casein protein after resistance exercise.[8]

Whey Protein Powder vs Plant Protein Powder Taste Comparison

Oh, but what about taste? Well, that is an area where whey protein commonly has an edge as well. While everyone has a different palate and some may prefer the taste of certain plant proteins, on the whole when comparing plant based protein vs whey, many people find plant protein powders to be a bit chalky.  

Many find that whey protein powders mix well and taste great when blended with their favorite nut milk or when adding to a meal such as overnight oats (you definitely need to check out Kylene’s recipe for overnight oats. It is BOMB).

On the contrary, (and I can attest) when mixing a plant based protein powder with nut milk only or in basic overnight oats, the taste is tolerable but chalky and not nearly as delicious as whey.  This obviously varies depending on if you use pea, rice, soy, etc. and we tend to find soy tastes/blends the best though we use pea protein powders or a plant based blend most often.

Related: The 13 Cleanest Protein Bars on the Planet

(Usual disclaimer: FWDfuel Sports Nutrition is a participant in the Emerson Wellevate Associates program as well as the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.)

What is the Best Plant Based Protein Powder?

The best plant based protein powder includes a mixture of protein sources to create a better balance of amino acids, adds branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) to improve recovery, and includes digestive enzymes to improve absorption of plant-derived proteins. Garden of Life SPORT Plant Based Protein Powder is our top plant based protein powder as it includes all of these elements.

The Best Plant Based Protein Powder Top Picks by Category:

The Full List of The Best Plant Based Protein Powders

1. Garden of Life SPORT Plant Based Protein Powder

Plant protein source: Organic Pea Protein, Organic Sprouted Navy Bean, Organic Sprouted Lentil Bean, Organic Sprouted Garbonzo Bean, Organic Cranberry Protein (seed)

Sweetener: Stevia

  • Uses organic ingredients and includes a blend of protein sources
  • Includes 5.5. g of BCAAs, 5 g of Glutamine & Glutamic Acid, and 2 billion CFUs Probiotics
  • Includes “Recovery Blend” with Tart Cherry and Turmeric
  • NSF Certified for Sport & Informed-Choice.org Trusted by Sport (tested for banned substances)

We love Garden of Life for being as well rounded of a plant based protein powder as you can find. By including BCAAs to make up for the deficit in plant based protein vs whey and adding L-Glutamine, tart cherry, and turmeric to accelerate recovery, this is the perfect combo for an active individual. Taking things a step further, we recommend Garden of Life SPORT Plant Based Protein for all our collegiate and professional athletes who may be drug tested and desire a plant based protein powder. The NSF Certified for Sport icon means that every batch produced is 3rd party tested for purity and banned substances.

We personally use Garden of LIfe SPORT Plant Based Protein Powder whenever we make a protein shake that is just in a shaker bottle since it tastes better than plain pea protein or when we are looking for plant-based recovery after a workout.

2. NAKED Pea

Plant protein source: Yellow-Split Peas

Sweetener: None 🙂

  • Only 1 simple ingredient: 100% Yellow Pea Protein.
  • Completely free of all additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors.
  • Non-GMO and processed using water-only extraction techniques.
  • Sourced from yellow peas grown on environmentally friendly farms in the US and Canada.
  • Tested for heavy metals and gluten.

Pea protein is less chalky than rice protein, has a nearly comparable amino acid profile to soy protein (though less than whey protein), and has a mild taste that blends well with other ingredients. We love products with just 1 simple ingredient knowing we aren’t getting any other junk or unwanted additives, especially when it mixes well. When it comes to trying to eat clean and pure, its hard to beat a powder with 1 simple ingredient, especially when it is also tested for heavy metals and gluten.

Naked Pea Protein is also your best bang for your buck when you buy their 5lb canisters, which is what we do. Naked Pea Protein is our go-to plant-based protein powder whenever we’re making something in a blender which allows us to provide some flavor and mix in other superfoods and greens.

3. Ka’Chava Tribal Superfood | Plant-Based Whole Body Meal Shake

Plant protein source: Yellow Peas, Organic Whole Grain Brown Rice Protein, Organic Sacha Incha Seed, Organic Amaranth, Organic Quinoa

Sweetener: Lo Han Fruit Extract

  • BEST protein shake you’ll ever taste
  • Well balanced to increase satiety and keep hunger at bay
  • Calories to be a small meal replacement
  • Includes “Adaptogen Blend” with maca root, which may provide stimulant-free energy
  • Partner of the Rainforest Trust protecting tropical lands and endangered species

THIS. TASTES. AMAZING. If you’re looking for an outstanding meal replacement that tastes like a clean and dairy-free version of a milkshake that you can easily mix in a shaker bottle in seconds, Ka’Chava Tribal Superfood is it.  Packed with a “Omega EFA Blend”, “Antioxidant/Super-Fruit Blend”, “Adaptogen Blend” with Maca Root which we love, “Super-Greens Blend”, “Probiotic Blend”, and “Digestive Enzyme Blend”, this packs a punch. While it doesn’t replace whole foods, there is no other protein drink on this list that is as tasty or as wholesome.

The cons to Ka’Chava Tribal Superfood is the price, the use of binding agents such as Xantham Gum and Guar Gum. We could argue all day whether these ingredients are harmless or not but we recommend trying to limit consumption of anything that is not a whole food easily found in nature and picked off a tree or grown in the dirt. Many of our clients with sensitive guts react to added binding agents.

Lastly, if you’re trying to avoid grains or stay on the Paleo side of the eating spectrum, this would not be a good choice due to the use of several grains as their protein source including rice, amaranth, and quinoa (technically a seed, I know).

When we step back from nit-picking this product, it is really really amazing. The taste is unreal, the texture is smooth, it mixes well in just a shaker bottle (many on this list really need a blender), packs a ton of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and so much more. A bonus would also be that many notice a bit of energy and increased focus from drinking this powder likely from its Adaptogen blend that includes Maca.

Ka’Chava is well balanced with 7g of fat, 25 g of carbs including 9 g of fiber, and 25 g of protein so this will help keep hunger in check as it digests and burns slowly. Ka’Chava Tribal Superfood Whole Body Meal is our go-to plant-based protein powder for breakfast in the morning when we’re in a rush.

4. Nutiva Organic MCT Protein Plant-Based Shake

Plant protein source: Organic Pea Protein Isolate, Organic Sunflower Protein, Organic Pumpkin Seed Protein, Organic Hemp Seed Protein, Organic Fruit And Vegetable Blend 

Sweetener: None 🙂

  • Uses organic ingredients and includes a blend of protein sources
  • Includes 4 g of BCAAs and 2 billion CFUs Probiotics
  • Includes organic MCTs (Medium-chain Triglycerides) for steady energy and fat-burning
  • Includes organic fruit and vegetable blend
  • 1% of all sales have gone to regenerative agriculture since1999

This is a newcomer to the list and shows the future of plant based protein powders. Winner of the 2020 NEXTY Best New Supplement Award, this is a really awesome blend of plant proteins, BCAAs, fruits and vegetables, and even probiotics. While it doesn’t have some of the third party testing for banned substances that other brands have, every ingredient in this product is organic. Oh, and one last thing, when you buy Nutiva Organic MCT Protein Plant-Based Shake, you’re supporting a company that aims to create change In the food and supplement industry through support of regenerative farming practices.

5. OWYN Vegan Plant-Based Protein Powder 

Plant protein source: Pea Protein Concentrate, Pumpkin Protein, Chia Seeds

Sweetener: Organic Cane Sugar, Monk Fruit Extract

  • Top option for athletes with food allergies- produced in an allergen-free facility and tested for traces of contamination
  • Includes a full serving of Organic Greens with their “Greens Blend”
  • 1B CFU of probiotics
  • 500mg Omega 3

OWYN is one of our favorite companies for athletes with food allergies due to the extensive and thorough testing they perform on all of their products. When it comes to making clean products, their brand is one of the better options as OWYN actually stands for Only What You Need.

Their OWYN Vegan Plant-Based Protein Powder is delicious though it is somewhat on the lower end of the spectrum in terms of the amount of protein provided per serving. Many athletes will need 25 g to upwards of 40 g post intense workout, so a serving size of only 20g protein might be on the low end for a larger male athlete who has just completed an intense workout.

6.  KOS Organic Organic Plant Based Protein

Plant protein source: Organic Pea Protein, Organic Flax Seed, Organic Quinoa, Organic Pumpkin Seed, Organic Chia Seed.

Sweetener: Coconut Sugar, Organic Stevia

  • Arguably the best tasting of all tested
  • Sourced from organic ingredients
  • Includes “Digestive Enzyme Blend” with Amylase, Protease, Lipase, Lactase, and Cellulase
  • Balanced macronutrients to keep blood sugar and hunger stable

Looking for the best tasting plant based protein powder? Well, depending on who you ask, they just may choose KOS Organic Organic Plant Based Protein. Our team was torn between KOS and the milk-shake-like meal replacement, Ka’Chava Tribal Superfood. (In terms of taste and texture, KOS was Kylene’s favorite.)

KOS was named after a Greek Island that was also the birthplace of Hippocrates, “Father of Medicine”. Therefore, it’s no surprise the company prefers to take the Hippocrates approach to its products, vowing to make products that are bred with the “simplicity and purity of the Hippocratic approach to health” and “forward-seeing”.

KOS Organic Organic Plant Based Protein is not only one of the tastiest on the list, but would arguably be the best plant based protein powder for weight loss with its low sugar and carbohydrate content, a respectable amount of fat, and a hint of fiber in addition to its 20 g of protein. While not packing the antioxidants like some of the others on this list, it is hands down one of the best plant based protein powders money can buy at the moment.

7. ALOHA Organic Plant Based Protein Powder 

Plant protein source: Peas, Brown Rice, Hemp Seed, Pumpkin seed.

Sweetener: Coconut Sugar, Lo Han Fruit Extract

  • All Organic and Non-GMO
  • Includes MCT oil for slow-burning, natural energy
  • Keto friendly
  • Mixes easily in a shaker bottle
  • 👎 Only 18g or protein per serving

Aloha produces a great tasting plant based protein powder that is an excellent blend of several sources of proteien. ALOHA Organic Plant Based Protein Powder is a really great option if you like a hint of cinnamon in your flavor profile or like to include MCT oil in your protein shake.

We put ALOHA Organic Plant Based Protein Powder a few notches down on our list despite its great taste and organic ingredients due to only 18 g of protein in each serving. This means, most of us will plow through ~1.5-2 servings with each use. Though similar in protein content, KOS is about the same price, arguably better tasting, so when push comes to shove we would lean towards KOS Organic Organic Plant Based Protein.

8. NOW Sports Organic Pea Protein

Plant protein source: Peas

Sweetener: Organic Turbinado Sugar, Organic Erythritol, Organic Stevia

  • A tasty choice though this is due to added sugar and sugar alcohol
  • All organic ingredients
  • Mixes easily
  • 3rd party tested for banned substance making it a great choice for athletes (Informed Choice)

We love Now Nutrition and their sports supplement brand, NOW Sports because they not only implement extensive testing on their supplements and submit to 3rd party testing, but also because their supplements are extremely competitively priced for such high quality. For these reasons as well as the fact that NOW is an Emerson Wellevate Quality Program Gold company, (a very high standard for a supplement manufacturer), we recommend many of their products.

Now Sports Organic Pea Protein tastes great, mixes easily, and has the Informed-Choice and Informed-Sport.org Trusted by Sports certifications. These certifications assure athletes there are no banned substances in the product that may flag on a drug test.

We love that only organic ingredients are used but we would caution consumers to be careful when using products with added sugar and sugar alcohols. Some may experience unnecessary GI rumble as a result. However, if you’re on a budget and you need a bit of sweetness in your protein powder this is a great choice!

9. NOW Sports Nutrition, Soy Protein Isolate (Unflavored)

Plant protein source: Non-GMO Soy Protein Isolate

Sweetener: Unflavored: None. Creamy Chocolate or Vanilla: Fructose

  • Mixes easily and flavored versions taste delicious
  • 3rd party tested for banned substance making it a great choice for athletes (Informed Choice)

As previously stated, we love the quality and fair price that NOW Sports offers! We encourage using the Unflavored Soy Protein Isolate version and mixing in your own ingredients for more sweetness or flavor such as cinnamon, blueberries, and banana.

However, if you want something that tastes great without any further mixing or blending, the NOW Sports Soy Protein Isolate Creamy Chocolate & Vanilla Cream tastes excellent. But, please use the flavored versions in moderation since this great taste comes at a cost- it has the highest sugar content of all the proteins on this list.

10. VEGA Sport Premium Protein

Plant protein source: Pea, Pumpkin Seed Protein, Organic Sunflower Seed Protein, Alfalfa Protein

Sweetener: Stevia

  • Includes a variety of flavors including Berry, Mocha, and Peanut Butter in addition to traditional Chocolate and Vanilla
  • Includes 5.5. g of BCAAs and 2 billion CFUs Probiotics
  • Includes Tart Cherry, Turmeric, and Bromelin to aid recovery
  • NSF Certified for Sport (tested for banned substances)

Vega Sport is like the little brother to Garden of Life SPORT Plant Based Protein Powder. We love that it includes ingredients to aid in recovery such as tart cherry powder, turmeric extract, and bromelain as well as a bit of probiotic, but it doesn’t include L-glutamine while the GoL SPORT does. While VEGA Sport only has one ingredient that is organic, every single one in GoL SPORT is organic. While VEGA Sport is NSF Certified for Sport, GoL SPORT is both NSF Certified for Sport and Informed-Choice.org Trusted by Sports Certified.

Is this a good product? Absolutely. But, Garden of Life SPORT Plant Based Protein Powder is our top pick for a reason. Its formulation is extremely hard to compete with, especially when its the same price.

One last bone we have to pick with VEGA- We despise companies for listing the ever-vague “Natural Flavors” as an ingredient. In 2020, consumers want the actual name of each ingredient and we expect it to be a real ingredient, not some chemical. “Natural Flavors” is not a plant found in nature.

So, why would you buy VEGA Sport instead of GoL SPORT? Well, VEGA’s variety of flavors is enticing. VEGA Sport Premium Protein includes Berry, Mocha, and Peanut Butter in addition to traditional Chocolate and Vanilla while GoL only has chocolate and vanilla. This is an excellent option if the variety of flavors excites you.

11. ZEGO Foods Plant Protein Powder

Plant protein source: Organic Sacha Inchi Seed Protein Powder

Sweetener: None 🙂

  • As clean and pure as it gets! (All products are purity tested for over 400 pesticides, chemicals, allergens, and gluten.)
  • ABSOLUTE TOP OPTION for athletes with food allergies- produced in an allergen-free facility and tested for traces of contamination
  • Paleo friendly
  • Best when mixed with other whole foods in a blender for ultimate taste and texture

If you’ve read our post on the Tastiest Allergy & Peanut Free Snacks where we crowned Zego as our top company for their many super tasty and as-pure-as-it-gets products, then you know we love this up and coming corporation. It’s no surprise this Certified Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) is racking up the awards with 2 NEXTY Natural Products Awards in 2020.

The Zego Plant Protein is a really interesting product in that its one of the only ones on this list that is truly Paleo-friendly (some argue peas are acceptable in small quantities making other protein powders “acceptable” to the Paleo Diet but we’re not including them since many athletes consume protein powder regularly) and its made of only one simple ingredient, Organic Sacha Inchi Seeds. The only other brand to use Sacha Inchi Seed in their blend is Ka’Chava.

Because there isn’t any sweetener and its made from a seed, it’s best to go into buying this product knowing you will likely want to mix it in a blender with a few other ingredients to provide flavor such as a banana, nut milk, and cinnamon or maybe frozen avocado and blueberries. This will not be a great product if you just want to shake it up in a blender bottle with water and sprint out the door.

We higly recommend all ZEGO Foods products and Zego Plant Protein is a great pick if you want a grain-free, Keto-friendly, Paleo-friendly, and all possible allergens/chemicals/etc. free product.

12. Sunwarrior Warrior Blend Protein Powder

Plant protein source: Organic Yellow Peas, Organic Goji Berry, Organic Hemp Seed

Sweetener: Stevia

  • Uses almost completely organic ingredients, Non-GMO Verified, and Kosher
  • Uses fermented peas making digestion easier
  • Includes a variety of flavors including Berry, Mocha, and “Natural” in addition to traditional Chocolate and Vanilla
  • Keto-friendly
  • Difficult to mix unless its in a blender

The Sunwarrior Warrior Blend Protein Powder is a great-tasting shake made with a unique blend of protein sources as its the only one on our list that uses Goji Berry. We put it a few notches lower on our list since it doesn’t have some of the certifications other brands have and it doesn’t mix well unless you use a blender though this is fine for many people.

We love that the Sunwarrior Warrior Blend Protein Powder is unique in using fermented yellow peas as part of its base protein blend. As a brand that is all about gut health, we love fermented and sprouted foods.

13. LYFEfuel Essential Meal Replacement Shake

Plant protein source: Pea Protein, Organic Rice Protein.

Sweetener: Organic Coconut Sugar, Stevia

  • Nearly a multi-vitamin in a scoop!
  • Mixes easily and tastes excellent
  • 👎 Only 18g of protein per serving

Earlier in this post we mentioned that VEGA Sport protein is kind of like the younger sibling to GoL SPORT. Well, the same goes when comparing the LYFEfuel Essential Meal Replacement Shake to Ka’Chava Tribal Superfood.

This is a really good product and it has a TON of nutrient-dense ingredients in it including flax, grape seed extract, pomegranate extract, spirulina, tart cherry, probiotics, organic greens, digestive enzymes, Choline, and even CoQ-10. Awesome blend!

Also, as a side note, we realize 18g of protein might be perfect for a snack, or for our female athletes post workout. However the vast majority of male athletes training at a high level may need a bigger boost post workout than 18g protein.

So, why would you buy LYFEfuel Essential Meal Replacement Shake over Ka’chava? You would pick the LYFEfuel Shake if you want fewer calories per serving but still want nearly the same amount of vitamins and minerals per serving as Ka’Chava.

Best BCAA Powders to Add to Your Plant Based Protein Powder

Research tells us that the BCAA content in plant based protein powders is less than that of whey protein and this may or may not affect muscle building and recovery AKA muscle protein synthesis.

So, what can you do about the amino acid content if you prefer plant based protein powder over whey?

Because this is a major concern to many consumers (us included) many of the best plant-based protein powders add BCAAs to their formula to balance things out. Several on this list have it clearly written on the label how many BCAAs are added since they know this is one of the top concerns when comparing plant vs whey powders. An example would be that Garden of LIfe SPORT Plant Based Protein Powder includes both 5.5 g of BCAAs and 5 g of Glutamine, a non-essential (but still beneficial) amino acid.

So, what do you do if you want to buy a super clean plant based protein powder like NAKED Pea that is made up of only 1 simple ingredient? Simply add a scoop of your own! Here are our top 2 picks for adding BCAAs to your plant based protein powder or water jug to make sure you’re getting all that you need.

NOW Sports Nutrition Branched Chain Amino Acid Powder

The BCAAs in NOW Sports Nutrition BCAA Powder are pharmaceutical grade, mix easily, have zero other ingredients other than BCAAs, are 3rd party tested for banned substances, and digest easily.

It is important when buying a BCAA supplement that they include a ratio of “2-1-1” for the amino acids. This supplement includes this with 2.3g l-leucine, 1.1g l-isoleucine, and 1.1g l-valine which is the ratio that has been shown in research to be most effective for muscle building and muscle recovery.

Since this is a pure supplement with no other ingredients, sweeteners, or flavoring, NOW Sports Nutrition BCAA Powder is what we use when making protein shakes and smoothies.

Propello Life Rejuvenating Aminos Drink Mix, Lemon Lime + MintLife

Do you ever get tired of drinking plain water? We do. Sometimes we just want a bit of flavor to change things up. The Propello Life Rejuvenating Aminos Drink Mix is a perfect way to hit 2 birds with one stone: BCAAs and flavor all in one!

Keeping an ideal “2-1-1” with 2.5g l-leucine, 1.25g l-isoleucine, and 1.25g l-valine AND adding 2.5 g of glutamine, you have a really awesome supplement to add to your water.

Is there Heavy Metals in Protein Powder?

Not long ago a report was published by the Clean Label Project which stated there were detectable levels of heavy metals in many plant based protein powders.[9] Yes, this is concerning to all of us.

While heavy metals are always concerning, it is important to understand heavy metals are naturally occurring in plants. (Hence the Garden of Life scare a couple years back.) Furthermore, there are few if any other studies that have substantiated or provided further concern since this study was been published.

Our advice is to do 3 things:

  1. Buy from quality brands such as NAKED and Garden of Life that have a reputation built on providing clean products, submit to 3rd party testing (Naked is Informed-Choice.org Trusted by Sport Certified and Garden of Life is NSF Certified for Sport), and produce their products in a certified cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) facility which includes auditing twice a year.
  2. Rotate or alternate your products. If you’ve been using pea protein for a while, throw in Zego’s Sacha Inchi Seed next.
  3. Consume a majority of your protein from whole food sources instead of powders. Opt for tempeh, soy, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes if you’re 100% plant-based and grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish if you consume animal protein.

If you would like to read a different perspective, NSF wrote an interesting response to the Clean Label Project article which is quite thought-provoking. Heavy metals are nothing to mess around with and we will be monitoring things closely with updates as needed!

Is Plant Based Protein Powder as Good as Whey? (Final Verdict)

Is plant based protein powder just as good whey protein powder? Unfortunately, it is clear that a conclusion cannot be made at this time since many sources are conflicting. There is clear research that supports either side with studies showing increased muscle protein synthesis and growth with whey protein and other research showing that performance-wise, athletes recovered just as well with plant based protein.

Our recommendation is to is a diet focuses on whole foods, avoid packaged foods at all costs, and get your protein from high-quality sources of both plant and animal sources. Focus on organic soy, quinoa, legumes, nuts, and seeds on the plant side and wild-caught or grass-fed sources of animal protein. And if you are choosing plant based protein strictly because you have a sensitive stomach, it might be worth looking at an elimination diet at some point. Often when we eliminate inflammatory foods, the gut has a chance to rest for a few weeks, thus improving the ability to tolerate a wider variety of nutrients.

When it comes to your protein supplement, we recommend rotation, rotation, rotation. If you’ve been using a plant-based blend for a while, try a blend with different plant sources or go to a simple, clean pea protein. If you’ve been all-plant for a while, mix in a high-quality grass-fed whey such as the Garden of Life SPORT Grass-Fed Whey or our top grass-fed whey protein pick, SFH RECOVER Grass Fed Whey (which includes Co-Q-10, D-Ribose, Fruitex-B, and L-Leucine and N-Acetyl-L-Carnitine. Its the best mixture on the market!!) which are both sourced from cows in New Zealand that graze outdoors year-round.

If you would like to read more about protein powders and supplements, be sure to check out our posts on the Top Grass Fed Whey Protein Powders and Best All-Natural Protein Bars. Otherwise, we hope this post was helpful to you and we encourage you to always focus on clean, simple ingredients no matter if its from plant or animal sources!

References

  1. https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/heres-why-tom-bradys-cookbook-costs-an-absurd-200/ 
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31394788/
  3. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/145/9/1981/4585688
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5477153/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30621129/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25628520/
  7. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2015-0056
  8. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00076.2009
  9. https://cleanlabelproject.org/protein-powder-white-paper/
  10. https://www.nsf.org/newsroom/clean-label-projects-protein-powder-report-overlooks-basic-scientific-princ

About The Author

Michael Bogden

Michael is a residency and fellowship trained sports physical therapist. A life long advocate for exercise and nutrition, he unexpectedly ran into issues with fatigue and recovery which significantly hindered his training. After working closely with his wife, Kylene, a dietitian trained in functional nutrition, he learned an entirely new approach to eating and living a more holistic lifestyle. This dramatic life change lead to remarkable improvement in his overall energy and performance. In 2017, with the help of a Functional Sports Nutrition approach, he improved his half marathon PR by 5 minutes. These improvements inspired him to create the FWDfuel blog with Kylene in order to spread the word so that others could experience the same success.

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