Whey isolate (a dairy product) has long been the most popular type of protein powder. It has years and years of scientific research backing up its numerous recovery benefits. For those looking to refuel their body with proteins that will help build lean muscle, whey protein powder is usually the go-to option. Its relatively wide availability helps as well. Stop by Target, and there’s a good chance most of the protein products on the shelves are going to be derived from whey isolate.
However, whey protein isn’t without its downsides, especially when it comes to the digestive system, which it’s particularly harsh on. Too much whey protein in your system can lead to nausea, digestive issues, acne and a whole slew of other unpleasant side effects. That’s not even getting into all of the issues that come with consuming dairy too frequently.
Luckily, there are other options — vegan options. You may find yourself surprised by just how many different base ingredients can factor into protein powders. From rice to hemp to peas, there are plenty of clean alternatives to whey.
Vegan protein powders have a number of benefits beyond helping build muscle as any good protein powder should. They’re great for your digestive system and for cardiovascular health. Most also pack healthy doses of fiber, which can help boost fat burning as your body processes the fiber and protein.
But how do you choose among all the promising vegan options? We spoke with five personal trainers who swear by vegan products to learn which ones work best for them. Chances are they’ll do your body good, too.
Robin Arzon, Peloton
“I’ve noticed my body processes pea protein best,” says Robin Arzon, vice president and head instructor at Peloton. As such, one of her go-to powders is NorCal Organic Pea Protein. The 26-time marathoner looks for clean ingredients and only uses products with natural flavoring. NorCal’s pea protein is free of added colors, flavors and sugars and also packs nearly 5 grams of BCAAs, which have their own array of benefits.
Vanessa Padula, SLT
An instructor at SLT, Vanessa Padula favors a widely accessible vegan protein brand: Vega. The brand offers a variety of flavors of protein powder and is pretty readily available both online and in brick-and-mortar locations (including Target). Padula notes that Vega protein, and vegan protein powder as a whole, is a lot more versatile in kitchen application than whey (which is limited due to dairy products affecting the chemistry of a recipe that requires cooking). “You can use it in shakes and smoothies or add it into your oatmeal and pancakes,” Padula notes. “You can even bake with it by replacing part of the recipe’s flour content with the protein powder.”
Sara Benjamin, Evolve Fitness Clearwater
“My favorite protein is Lifetime Fitness Plant Powered Vegan Protein,” says Sara Benjamin, a strength and nutrition coach as Evolve Fitness Clearwater in Florida. Aside from the product containing a hefty dose of protein (24 grams, to be exact) per serving, she finds its versatility in the kitchen to be especially helpful. “It mixes really well into smoothies, coffee, plant-based milk and even water,” she explains.
Shauna Godwin, Lees-McRae College
Shauna Godwin, a choreographer, trainer and dance instructor at Lees-McRae College in North Carolina, swears by Bio Chem Vegan Protein Powder. The supplement is 100 percent plant-derived, taking protein isolates from peas, hemp seeds and cranberries. Godwin likes that the hemp seed protein is a source of Omega 3-6-9 and that the cranberry protein means the powder is also rich in polyphenols and antioxidants. “Plus, it tastes great,” she adds.
Valery Charles, Mile High Run Club
Valery Charles of Mile High Run Club is a big fan of Orgain’s supplement lineup, specifically the brand’s Organic Protein Powder. “I like the vanilla-flavored mix,” she says. All six flavors include 21 grams of protein per serving. Orgain prides itself on cutting down the gritty texture that can so often come with vegan protein powders. The powder is also relatively low in calories, coming in at 120 per serving.