Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or lactose intolerant, there is a huge choice of protein powders available to you.
You only have to go back a decade or so to find a time when protein powders were limited to whey and soy.
These days you can supplement your protein intake with a selection of animal and green proteins, the latter of which form one of the fastest growing markets in this industry.
But how do these proteins compare to whey concentrates and whey isolates such as our own grass fed whey? Are they simply alternatives for people who can’t consume whey or do they actually provide some additional benefits?
In other words, should you add plant based/green proteins to your diet even if you can tolerate whey?
Pea protein is arguably the most popular of all green proteins right now. It serves as a base for countless vegan protein mixes and meal replacement drinks and it’s also one of the cheapest and most complete.
Pea protein is extracted from yellow split peas, as opposed to the green garden peas you automatically associate with the name. This is what a single 30 gram serving looks like:
Pea Protein: 30 Grams
- 100 Calories
- Protein 23g
- Carbs 7g
- Fat 0.3 g
- Fiber 6 g
It is fairly cheap, doesn’t have an off-putting taste, mixes well and will leave you feeling satiated just as much as whey.
Pros of Pea Protein
A number of studies have been conducted on both pea and whey protein, concluding that pea protein is just as capable of building muscle as whey protein. In fact, there seems to be no difference between these two proteins when it comes to building muscle.
Pea protein, just like whey isolate (but not whey concentrate) is also mostly protein. The composition is 85% protein, 10% carbs and fat, and 5% vitamins and minerals. It digests slowly, much like casein does.
This means that it is suited for night-time use, but if the aforementioned studies are anything to go by, then it is no less effective than whey protein when consumed post-workout.
Cons of Pea Protein
Pea protein is rich in amino acids and has a complete profile of these muscle-building nutrients. However, it has very little methionine.
This is not an issue for vegetarians and meat eaters as this amino acid is abundant in foods like chicken and eggs.
Vegans will need to look to foods like oats (a very good source of methionine) to get their recommended daily allowance.
This green protein is also slightly more expensive than whey concentrate and isolate. That will likely change as it becomes more popular though and the price difference is not signifiant enough to cause concern.
There have been some concerns with regards to pea protein’s ability to absorb nutrients, but a lot of the negative claims made about this have been false. The truth is that pea protein is highly bioavailable, just as much as animal protein.
Hemp is a wonderful substance and one that has many users. Hemp protein comes from the hemp seed, which itself is an incredibly nutritious foodstuff, providing a host of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, zinc and iron.
Hemp protein is an ideal substitute for anyone who suffers from intolerances and allergies, although some of these benefits are rendered moot by manufacturers that make hemp protein products on the same lines as their whey protein ones.
So make sure you pay close attention to the allergen warnings on specific products and don’t assume that all hemp protein is suitable for you.
Hemp Protein: 30 Grams
- 124 Calories
- Protein 16g
- Carbs 3g
- Fat 3.6 g
- Fiber 5 g
Pros of Hemp Protein
Hemp protein is a complete protein with all 20 amino acids. It also provides a dose of fiber, an array of vitamins and plenty of essential fatty acids.
In fact, the EFAs and B vitamins in hemp protein are often lacking in vegetarian and vegan diets, so it can help you to avoid those deficiencies if you abstain from meat. Hemp protein is also easily absorbed by the body.
Cons of Hemp Protein
At the time of writing, a good organic hemp protein costs around 3 times as much as a quality whey protein isolate. It’s a price that many will not be able to afford, and if you can consume whey and have a choice of all green proteins and animal proteins, this is probably not going to be the one you pick.
Hemp protein also has less protein per serving than most other proteins mentioned in this guide. If you want to consume 50 grams of protein from whey isolate, you can do so with less than 70 grams and about 250 calories.
The same amount consumed via hemp protein would require a little over 100 grams and 350 calories.
Brown Rice Protein
Brown rice has been a staple food for athletes and bodybuilders for many decades, a great source of carbs to bulk up those protein-heavy meals. Brown rice protein is a high-protein brown rice extraction with a unique taste and profile.
Brown Rice Protein: 30 Grams
- 127 Calories
- Protein 23g
- Carbs 5.7g
- Fat 0.6 g
Pros of Brown Rice Protein
Brown rice protein has a very high protein content, one that is comparable to whey and pea and provides a better profile than whey concentrate. It is around 80% protein, is easily digested and provides a full profile of amino acids. It should also be easy to mix due to its water solubility.
It is allergen free, low in fat and carbs and provides a great alternative to whey and to other green proteins.
Cons of Brown Rice Protein
If you listen to the supplement companies then brown rice protein tastes ”nutty” and even “wholesome”. But that’s generous and not entirely true. It actually tastes more like cardboard and is far from pleasant, although it can be covered up with stronger flavors.
Brown rice protein is a little more expensive than whey, but less than hemp and well within the affordability range if you are on a budget.
Soy protein has been around for a while. It used to be the main vegan/vegetarian protein powder before the aforementioned green proteins came onto the market. These days it doesn't have a great reputation, but it is still a solid protein source.
Soy protein is extracted from the soy bean, also known as edamame.
Soy Protein Isolate: 30 Grams
- 116 Calories
- Protein 27g
- Carbs 1.5g
- Fat 0.2 g
Pros of Soy Protein
Soy protein is cheap and thanks to its availability in isolate form, it’s also high in protein and low in calories. It has a fairly neutral taste, which is very easily covered-up by flavorings, and it also has a complete spectrum of amino acids, as well as a host of vitamins and minerals.
If that all sounds too good to be true, then it is, because there are some concerns with this green protein.
Cons of Soy Protein
Soy protein contains plant estrogens, which may lead to decreased testosterone for men. This has been blown out of proportion in the past and it has been suggested that even lower level supplementation can lead to serious issues such as gynecomastia.
That’s not the case, but the concerns regarding estrogen are very real. There are even suggestions that it could stimulate the growth of ovarian tumors in women.
There are also concerns regarding the manufacturing of soy protein, with suggestions that the end product contains unsafe levels of heavy metals.
Again, this is more speculation and fear-mongering than anything else, but when there are so many alternative proteins that help you hit your targets without those risks, why take a chance?
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