I have been drinking protein shakes since I was a kid. I have literally killed a number of blenders. I take blender bottles and protein packets with me on vacation. So for a self-proclaimed protein shake junkie, I do not actually talk about protein shakes very often but as I sit on a plane on the way to a tradeshow in Las Vegas I think this is a great time to break it down.
Protein shakes are popular but not without controversy. Everyone has an opinion:
Real food is better.
They are overprocessed.
People eat too much protein, they don’t need a supplement.
Whey is better. Whey is bad. Soy is bad.
They taste bad.
Avoid ones with sugar.
They are for bodybuilders.
Dr. Oz says get pea protein.
The list goes on….
Here are my opinions based on years of self-study and experimentation 🙂
Which protein is best?
From a purely biological value, an animal based protein is always best absorbed (do not confuse that with best digested). Whey protein and egg protein are your best bets from that perspective. Whey isolate has the least amount of lactose and while more processed than a whey concentrate, is usually considered the best form. My recommendations for whey protein are:
1. Bluebonnet Whey Protein – Milk originates from grass-fed cows and it is sweetened with stevia. Best flavors: chocolate and vanilla, I do not recommend strawberry
2. Natural Factors Whey Protein – Milk also originates from grass-fed cows although they do not list it on the container. Best flavor: chocolate
Honorable mention: I have heard good things about Tony Gonzalez’s line but I have not tried it myself.
I do not recommend any brand with artificial sweeteners or colors i.e. Muscle Milk, Optimum Nutrition
I most often use vegan protein powders because the body burns them slower and I stay satisfied longer. This is important for me since I most often use them as a meal replacement, not a supplement. Vegan proteins are considered less desirable because they are not complete proteins on their own but there are ways of getting around that. Some brands of vegan proteins have added additional amino acids to their products to increase their biological value. Vibrant Health does with their Pure Protein line. It is an excellent product but it tastes horrible. I like their Maximum Vibrance Meal Replacement best but it is pricey ($75 for 15 servings).
Sprouting can increase the biological value of a protein. Sun Warrior and Garden of life uses sprouted brown rice protein to increase biological value and digestion of their proteins. Gardenof Life’s Raw Protein and Raw Meal lines are very popular products and are excellent choices if taste is not an issue. Raw Protein is very chalky and Raw Meal is thick, grainy and just hard to get down. Vanilla Chai is the least objectionable flavor in my opinion. I prefer their newest addition, Raw Fit. Raw Fit contains 28g of protein and only 12g of carbs. The flavor isn’t too bad and it contains green coffee bean. I used Raw Protein over the summer when I lost 15 pounds and I have several customers who have had success with the product.
Many companies combine different types of plant protein to make a complete protein. I find that this also enhances the flavor and texture.
Vegan Protein Recommendations:
1. Plantfusion – combination of rice, pea, and hemp protein, not chalky at all; only comes in one flavor
2. Sequel Naturals Vega One – combination of rice, pea, and hemp protein and sweetened with stevia; best flavors: French Vanilla, Vanilla Chai
3. Garden of Life Raw Fit – sprouted brown rice protein; only comes in one flavor
Honorable Mention: Lifetime Life Basics unsweetened
What tastes good?
At the end of the day taste is often the most important factor. Usually this means a protein powder with a caloric sweetener such as fructose or cane sugar. Here is my top five:
1. Nutrition 53 Vegan 1 – This product is the all-natural version of Lean 1. Nutrition 53 is the brain-child of Bill Romanoski, former NFL linebacker. Vegan 1 uses rice, pea, and hemp protein and contains 5g of fiber per serving and is gluten-free. While it does contain cane sugar it comes in at 10g or less per serving which is perfectly acceptable. It is reasonably filling. Best flavors: Chocolate and Chai, but all flavors are very good.
2. Nature’s Plus Ultra Energy Shake – This product is marketed as lower glycemic. It has a low sugar content and 25g of protein per serving. Protein is a combination of rice, pea, soy, and fermented soy. Best flavor: Strawberry, but all flavors are very good.
3. Nature’s Plus Spirutein – Spirutein has been around over 20 years. It combines rice, pea, and soy protein and is sweetened with fructose sourced from mango or tapioca. While fructose and soy make it controversial, it is hard to beat some of its flavors, and they have over 20 to choose from. Note: Does not taste well in water. Best flavors: Cookies and Cream (at least it was 10 years ago when I wasn’t gluten intolerant), Chocolate PB swirl, Raspberry Royale. Stay away from Exotic Red Fruit its their only bad flavor although I haven’t had their newer flavors that contain gluten (Chocolate Chip Cookie, S’mores, Red Velvet, Foible Fudge Crunch).
4. Lifetime Life Basics – These proteins use hemp, chia, rice, and pea proteins. They contain more protein than most brands but are not as filling. They use fructose as a sweetener, but only 5g of sugar serving. Best flavor: Chocolate, I have yet to find anyone who doesn’t like it. Greens is my least favorite.
5. Vega One – mentioned above, probably the most filling. Not crazy about the berry flavor and I haven’t tried the natural since they reformulated it a few years ago.
Honorable mention: Shakeology – Great product just VERY pricey.
What to mix it with?
This could be its own post but for now I’ll just post my personal favorites. Note: I avoid dairy.
1. Good Karma Unsweetened Flax Milk
2. So Delicious Almond Plus Unsweetened
3. Almond Breeze Unsweetened
4. Rice Dream Chocolate – if I’m not counting calories or carbs
5. So Delicious Coconut Milk Unsweetened
Clearly, I primarily use unsweetened milk. Frankly when it comes to unsweetened plant milks almost any type will do. I have used unsweetened cashew milk, blends of coconut, almond, and/or chia. Keep in mind, coconut milk will make the shake thicker and hemp milks have a strong flavor. If an organic milk is important, Pacific makes a good almond milk.
Well there goes my protein shake thoughts, I would love to hear what some of your favorites are…..