Which protein powder is right for me?
February 8, 2012 6:21 PM   Subscribe

Protein powders, help me navigate the vast selection.

My only requirement is that it's from a non-animal source. There are so many different ones to choose from that I'm kind of lost in the sea of selection. I know a good one isn't going to be cheap, but I don't want to spend an arm and a leg.

I'm aware of the fact that most people get enough protein in their diets. I have a condition that requires me to eat more than the recommended amount for my age and weight and I'm not a big eater so I feel protein powders are the way to go. I also work out pretty intensely 3 days a week and I'm trying to build up a little muscle.
posted by MaryDellamorte to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Spirulina- based powder without dextrose or any added sugar is a good place to start.
posted by devymetal at 6:40 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like the Green Foods True Vitality powders. The vanilla is actually pretty decent with milk and a banana, and the chocolate is passable enough that I can down it quickly without barfing.

(I understand what thylacinthine is saying, but I've found powders to be a great way to get more protein without filling up, particularly earlier in the day before I ghit the gym.)
posted by beaucoupkevin at 6:54 PM on February 8, 2012

If milk is an option, I find that's a lot easier to use to get extra protein than protein shakes, as it's entirely liquid.

If not, EAS protein shake mix is not too expensive if you buy it in bulk, while not tasting bad if you mix it up with frozen fruit, and of course, contains a decent amount of protein.
posted by ignignokt at 7:00 PM on February 8, 2012

Depending on the condition (I have one too), protein powders can be a very effective way to increase protein intake, especially on a limited diet or appetite. I stick to whey protein isolate, but that seems to be out with your non-animal requirement, along with egg protein.

The next best is soy protein isolate. It's different from soy protein concentrate - there's less other stuff in it, it's the purest soy protein you can get. Get it unflavored and unsweetened, so you can mix it into whatever you like.
posted by WasabiFlux at 7:04 PM on February 8, 2012

'Good' is pretty subjective when it comes to protein powders. Ignoring other additives (vitamins, minerals, sugars, etc), the specific type of the protein doesn't matter very much so long as you are already getting all essential amino acids out of your existing diet. Assuming you are, there is really very little, if any, proven benefit to a premium brand, other than flavour or solubility. The importance of special protein supplementation for weight lifting and muscle growth is way overblown, at least for anyone not training at a very high level.

A 'non-animal source' definitely eliminates albumin (eggs), and whey and casein as well if dairy products are off limits. There are no meat based powders that I am aware of. Soy is probably the most popular plant based choice, but there is also hemp and brown rice among others. Ideally, you want a high concentration of protein with as little filler and added sugar as possible (at least 24g protein per 30g scoop). Avoid anything with excessive amounts of cholesterol or sodium. Also, be aware that many use artificial sweeteners, if that is a concern to you.

I can't recommend any particular brands, as I have tried the plant based varieties. If you want to mix it into your cooking or with juice, I'd suggest a flavourless or vanilla variety. If you plan on just mixing it in some water, you might prefer a chocolate or fruit. Just keep in mind those flavours tend to be less delicious than the packaging implies.
posted by vohk at 7:05 PM on February 8, 2012

There is a company called Vega or something similar... they produce a vegan protein/bcaa cocktail that has a mix of vegetable proteins including pea isolate, which is complete, and a bunch of others, including soy (way down the line). I think it's their "performance" line or something.

Now it's kind of expensive but it will meet your needs.
posted by some loser at 7:08 PM on February 8, 2012

My doctor said that some protein powders have heavy metals; here's a 2010 Consumer Reports article on that (seems like most of the ones they tested are whey-based). Apparently spirulina has the same problem with potentially containing heavy metals. My naturopathic doctor recommended this one, which is from a Toronto-based company and screened regularly for pesticides and heavy metals. Here's another vegan protein powder I've seen around.
posted by foxjacket at 7:34 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sun Warrior is the best protein powder I've tried, vegan or whey.
posted by jade east at 12:22 AM on February 9, 2012

The place to buy from is truenutrition.com (I have no relationship with them, except as a satisfied customer of many years). Here's a selection of non-animal proteins, and you can order mixes in proportions you specify:

Gemma Pea Protein Isolate

Hemp protein powder

Rice Protein Concentrate

Soy Protein Isolate

Each protein has a detailed listing of ingredients and amino-acid profiles. Fantastic prices.

What I would recommend however, is to order a minimum quantity first, because some of these powders have a strong taste and you may not be up for that (example: pea protein), or solubility issues (used to be virtually impossible to dissolve the pea protein in liquid, for example, until they reformulated it) or may not be compatible for other reasons. Try first, before buying in quantity - even though there are quantity discounts.

I like the pea protein for the amino acid profile specifically, but that's what I'm looking for in my protein. You may have different requirements, per your medical needs, so take a careful look first.
posted by VikingSword at 12:43 PM on February 9, 2012

Seconding truenutrition.com. IMHO the heavy-metals thing is a bit overblown (but the need for protein supplementation isn't; you don't need to megadose with 3-grams-per-pound-of-bodyweight-rar!, but more protein does make a noticeable difference for most people who are trying to build muscle.) That Consumer Reports article shook up the industry, and a few of the worst offenders were pulled as a result. Also, truenutrition does not source their protein from China, which is where the major problem with heavy metals comes from, and according to this they do testing and would be happy to provide the results on request.

Besides, the last time I looked at the quality report for the tap water around here it was worse than anything Consumer Reports found in any of the protein powders they tested (mmm, uranium -- a "naturally occurring element"!)

There are no meat based powders that I am aware of.

There's a beef powder available now. I haven't tried it and probably won't, but it does exist.

At any rate, when I was a vegetarian I passed on the soy protein due to the phytoestrogens. Frankly, I think this is a bit overblown, too, but it was just as easy to go with another option. I tried the rice protein, but I always preferred hemp protein: I like the nutty flavor all on its own, and the fiber and omega-3s are a nice bonus. It does tend to be less protein-y than rice or pea protein, but I always just took more of it to compensate. Almond milk was my favorite mixing option when I was avoiding animal products, also -- the unsweetened kind goes great with hemp.
posted by vorfeed at 1:43 PM on February 9, 2012

I've been happy with sprouted brown rice protein powder from Nutribiotic for the sake of plain protein (24 g per 30 g of the powder). Amazon has the best price I've found. This powder has a very plain taste and no added vitamins or minerals or foods that I get from other sources. It is easy to add to any smoothie or just plain (vegan) milk or juice. There is - to me - barely any detectable change in flavor or texture. I can even drink it with blended with water and ice. The vanilla includes natural vanilla flavor. I see there is also an organic/non-gmo option. I've never tried the chocolate but I can always add cocoa. My children drink smoothies with the added protein powder with no complaints.

Spirutein has delicious spirulina and soy options but these are quite a bit more expensive and have many more ingredients (you only mentioned wanting protein). The hemp I've tried has tasted very green to me. Vega is a complete meal replacement not just protein and has a very strong taste.
posted by kimmae at 6:09 PM on February 9, 2012

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