While whey protein is still king of the protein powder marketplace, plant-based protein powders are gaining market share. So what’s fueling the rise of plant-based protein powders?...
Health Benefits: Like whey protein powder, plant/vegan protein powders provide easily digestible amino acids to support cellular and tissue repair. This physiological phenomenon is essential for gaining and maintaining muscle size and strength, and for supporting recovery and repair. In addition to its anabolic (muscle building) and anti-catabolic (anti-muscle wasting) effects, the amino acids found in protein powders play a central role in immune system support.
However, unlike whey and egg protein powders, single-source plant proteins are not considered “complete” proteins- meaning that, by themselves, they typically don’t supply enough of the essential amino acids needed for optimal health. However, combining plant sources (for example, rice combined with peas) typically makes for a “complete” protein. In practice, the only people who should really be concerned about “complete” and “incomplete” protein are vegans who only source their dietary protein from a single plant source.
A final positive with vegan/plant-based protein powders is that they tend to be more hypoallergenic than whey and egg protein supplements.
Negatives/Cautions: One problematic plant protein source may be soy. Over 90% of soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified, and soy itself is known as a common allergen. Another issue with many plant-based protein powders involves taste and texture. Whey and egg powders tend to blend more smoothly, while plant-based powders often have a “grittier” texture, even when blended- a feature some consumers dislike.
What to Look For: The “Gold Standard” vegan/plant protein powders are certified organic, made from sources like brown rice, peas, hemp and/or other plant sources, and contain no artificial fillers, sweeteners, additives or allergens, and contain no (or low) amounts of simple carbohydrates.
How to Take: Like whey, plant protein powder is most often taken in a shaker bottle (with water, non-dairy milk, milk, etc.) or in a smoothie. As with whey, you can also bake with vegan protein powders (think protein pancakes, muffins, etc.). Most plant-based protein powders supply around 20 grams of protein per serving, and taking 1-3 servings a day is not uncommon, especially for those regularly engaging in strenuous exercise.
As far as pricing is concerned, both high-quality whey and plant protein powders tend to run at a similar price point when priced out at cost per gram of protein.