If your lifestyle is even remotely active, odds are you’d benefit from a quality protein powder in your diet. Proteins are the building blocks for hundreds of bodily functions, some of the most important being provision of amino acids for tissue repair, making immune cells and building neurotransmitters.
That said, there are as many flavors of protein powder these days as there are shades of lipstick. Which type is best?
To avoid confusion and ensure you get your needs met, we’re sharing this definitive guide to protein powders with Maressa Garner of Mattole Valley Naturals and nutritionist Kelly Leveque — brass tacks, no fluff, no frills.
Read on to discover which protein powder best fits your lifestyle, then enter to win our giveaway of 6 full-sized protein powders from Kelly Leveque below!
Look for grass-fed, pasture-raised sources that are raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics.
Bovine Whey protein
Pros: Grass-fed whey has high amounts of cysteine, which helps the liver make glutathione (master antioxidant and major detoxifier!); Complete amino acid profile, particularly branched-chain amino acids, which stimulate muscle growth and maintenance; Quick and easy to digest for those who tolerate dairy; Contains compounds called bioactive milk peptides that reduce stress
Cons: When poorly sourced, there is potential for contamination with hormones, antibiotics, heavy metals; It’s often heated and refined, which denatures proteins, destroys nutrients and eradicates growth factors. Look for a whey concentrate, not an isolate; Dairy is a common allergen, those with sensitivities may experience cramping or bloating, poor digestion or inflammation
Who should use: Athletes or anyone with specific fitness goals, vegetarians, those on an alkaline or primal diet
Our top picks: Mattole Valley Naturals Whey Protein Powder
Goat Whey protein
Pros: All the same benefits as bovine whey, plus a few more; less allergenic than bovine milk, oligosaccharides found in goat’s milk can ease digestion in the intestinal tract; easier to digest than cow’s milk; smaller fat globules and higher levels of medium-chain triglycerides amount to larger surface-to-volume ratio resulting in more efficient digestion; slightly more alkaline-forming than cow’s milk; molecularly closest to human milk
Cons: See above for cow’s milk cons; goat’s milk has a strong characteristic flavor, which some love, others loathe.
Who should use: Athletes or anyone with specific fitness goals, those with sensitivity to cow dairy, vegetarians, those on an alkaline or primal diet.
Our top picks: Mattole Valley Naturals Goat Protein Powder
Beef isolate protein
Pros: Beef protein is in its own category from why or collagen because it’s a complete protein containing 24 g of protein.16 g of that are collagen amino acids. While bone broth and collagen are incomplete proteins, beef isolate gives you all the benefits of collagen with a more robust amino acid profile.
Cons: Not suitable for vegans. Just like why and collagen protein, when poorly sourced, there is potential for contamination with hormones, antibiotics, heavy metals. Be sure to select grass-fed and responsibly sourced powder.
Who should use: Athletes or anyone with specific fitness goals, or primal diet.
Our top picks: Be Well by Kelly Swedish Grass-Fed Beef Protein Powder
Pros: Supports connective tissue repair; High levels of glycine help to buffer cortisol and encourage restful sleep; improves skin appearance; gut bacteria turns collagen into butyric acid, aiding digestion. Learn more about it here!
Cons: Incomplete amino acid profile (needs to be supplemented with another protein source); Heat processing reduces the benefits of collagen, look for a hydrolyzed source
Who should use: Athletes or anyone with specific fitness goals, those with compromised gut health, anyone with a dairy sensitivity, those specifically seeking joint support, anyone on an elimination diet, alkaline, paleo or primal diet
Our top picks: Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides Powder
When shopping for a plant protein, look for organic, sprouted grains for optimal digestibility as plant proteins can be difficult to digest.
Pros: Chocho is a special type of lupin bean from South America, offering a fiber, iron, and calcium-packed plant-based protein.
Cons: Be sure that your chocho is harvested ethically. This crop has traditonally ben cherished by indigenous farmers in the Andes with regenerative methods and we want to ensure this trending protein continues to serve them well.
Who should use: Those looking to build lean muscle. The perfect choice for sustainability-minded customers.
Our top picks: Mikuna Chocho Superfood Protein Powder or Be Well by Kelly Plant-Based Protein
Pros: Hypoallergenic; high amounts of arginine, an essential amino acid that aids in building tissue; relatively easy to digest.
Cons: Incomplete amino acid profile, must be supplemented with other forms of dietary protein; contains phytic acid that blocks nutrients; contains lectins that trigger inflammation and autoimmune response.
Who should use: Athletes or anyone with specific fitness goals, vegans, anyone with a dairy sensitivity, anyone on an elimination diet, paleo diet, or alkaline diet.
Our top pick: Ritual Essential Protein Daily Shake 18+
Pros: Hypoallergenic; Boasts a near complete amino-acid profile, unique in a plant protein; Generous quantities of vitamin E and lecithin, which supports healthy liver and brain function+ Rich in anti-inflammatory fatty acids and over 20 trace minerals; High amount of GLA, which promotes hormone health
Cons: Large amounts can cause bloating and indigestion, due to fiber content
Who should use: Athletes or anyone with specific fitness goals, vegans, anyone with a dairy sensitivity, endurance athletes (higher fat and carbohydrate content), anyone on an elimination diet
Brown Rice Protein
Pros: Hypoallergenic and easy to digest; excellent source of complex carbohydrates, vitamin B and fiber; scores low on glycemic index relative to most plant proteins.
Cons: Potential for high levels of heavy metals, particularly naturally-occurring arsenic; Incomplete amino acid profile, must be supplemented with other forms of dietary protein.
Who should use: Vegans, anyone with a dairy sensitivity, anyone on an alkaline or elimination diet.
Our top pick: Terrasoul Organic Sprouted Brown Rice Protein Powder
Our Protein Powder Giveaway!
We’re giving away 6 full-sized bags of Kelly Leveque’s best-selling protein powders in both Grass-Fed Beef and vegan Chocho. Never tried these excellent sources of daily protein? Enter to win and start adding a scoop to every smoothie, latte and baked good you make!
I knew about whey proteins a bit, but goat and other proteins are new to me. Really, its an amazing guide to all type of protein powders.
These are all hidden sources of MSG. Why doesn’t anyone talk about that, instead of leading so many of us to feeling ill??
For many of the vegan proteins, the comment is: “Incomplete amino acid profile, must be supplemented with other forms of dietary protein”. What do you recommend adding to a protein shake to supplement and create a complete amino acid profile?
Wow. I didn’t know about the phytic acid in Pea protein. That’s not goo for your teeth. It’s so hard to find a good protein powder.
My favorite is Sprout Living “Green Kingdom”. It’s an organic vegan blend of plant proteins that has a complete amino acid profile and 20 grams of protein per serving. It mixes and tastes ok on it’s own but can also be added to a beverage. They make other flavors to but “Green Kingdom” is my fave.
So which one is safest for vegetarians??
So basically pea protein (which I use daily) is not good for you since it triggers inflammation & auto immune response. This is very concerning.
Peas are very low in lectins. Furthermore, all legumes contain lectins, but research shows that people who eat a lot of legumes are healthier in every way. You don’t need to worry about it. Pea protein is certainly less allergenic than dairy based powders. I wish the author had gotten a little deeper into that subject instead of just making a scary statement and leaving it at that.
If you buy organic (which is always non-GMO) soy, you don’t have to worry about genetic modification. I wish that you had mentioned that in the article.
Ok, I take the Ritual Protein Powder 50+ (even though I’m younger, but it’s got a calcium boost, which I also need) and it is AMAZING. Not just “amazing for a protein powder made of peas” but for real AMAZING ALL CAPS TASTES LIKE VANILLA PUDDING. It will make your chosen milk as lush as a milkshake or any smoothie sweeter and hard to see go. Not sure I could ever go back to those odd tasting Vital Proteins or any other. Try this one, I promise no weird stevia flavor or funky burps. It has to be blended into it’s liquid, but the result is light and aerated kinda like a liquified marshmallow. You’ll wanna serve it to everyone you know.
Love that! We love Ritual, thanks for your insights!