You may already be familiar with whey protein, which is the main ingredient for animal-based protein supplements. However, there are many different plant-based protein sources (the most popular being soya, rice, hemp, and pea). With that in mind, how do you choose which protein powder is right for you?
First, the science
Without getting bogged down by jargon, protein is made up of small building blocks called amino acids. Out of the 20+ known amino acids, 9 of these are considered essential: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. These need to be consumed in our diet, whereas the remaining amino acids can be produced by our body.
A protein is considered 'complete' if it contains all 9 of these essential amino acids. Animal protein such as chicken, eggs and dairy are complete, whereas a lot of plant-based proteins such as peas, grains, nuts, and beans are considered incomplete because they lack one or more essential amino acids. This isn't a problem, it just means that we need to have a balanced approached to nutrition.
Soya is the most common plant-based protein because it is complete, containing all the essential amino acids. Made from soybeans, it is almost tasteless with around 90% protein content, minimal fat and no carbs. It is easily digested, absorbed, and used in our bodies. However, some people are allergic to soya.
Hemp is also a complete protein, but due to its high fibre and fat content, hemp has less protein per serving than other plant-based protein (generally 50% content). Hemp also contains omega 3 fats, which promotes healthy brain development. It is made using the seeds of the hemp plant, which means that there is an earthy taste to the powder.
Pea protein is lacking in the essential amino acid methionine, meaning it is not a complete protein. It is generally made with yellow split peas and tends to be less chalky and blend more smoothly than soya protein. Unlike soya, it is hypoallergenic but the downside is a lower protein content (generally 80%).
Brown rice protein is also incomplete as it lacks lysine. Despite this, it has a high protein content (generally 90%) and is easily digested. It is made by heating a mixture of rice flour and enzymes to separate pure protein from carbohydrates.
Given the low protein content of hemp, and the incomplete protein of pea and rice, it is popular to blend these three sources together to make a complete protein source. The most popular combination is rice and pea, with the textures complementing each other and tasting better together.
So which do I choose?
After considering allergens and ensuring you have a complete protein source, your choice really comes down to taste and texture preference which you will learn with time.
At Turnativ we sell small-sized portions so that you can taste different powders without committing to a large pack. We recommend that you create your own blend of plant-based protein (check out Pulsin's range here) or try a pre-blended powder with a complete amino acid profile (like Raw Sport here).