Plant-Based Protein Powders and How to Choose One

Plant based protein powders IG post*Note: I am not a doctor or medical professional. I am studying nutrition and on the path to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Please, contact a practing RDN or other healthcare professional with any questions or concerns before adapting a new way of eating.

Good afternoon friends! ๐Ÿ™‚ Every week I receive multiple questions in my Instagram inbox about eating plant-based or being a plant-based athlete, so I figured it was time to start addressing those questions here on the good ‘ol blog!ย  As a future Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and an aspiring sub-elite runner, I am drawing on both research AND my personal experiences to share this information with you, so as usual, contact a licensed healthcare professional with any questions or concerns! Once I am a licensed and practicing RDN I will be more than happy to help you, though! ๐Ÿ™‚

So without further ado, let’s get to it! Today’s topic is plant-based protein powders.๐ŸŒฑย I want to start off by saying a protein powder should never be a replacement for a food in your diet, rather it should be an ENHANCEMENT or a SUPPLEMENT to your current diet. It is always best to get most of your daily calories and protein from whole, real foods (1). A protein shake is not meant to replace dinner or breakfast. Although, no judgment if you’ve done that before, as we have all been there ๐Ÿ˜› But generally protein powder does not make a very complete or balanced meal unless it is added to a smoothie with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc. Of course there are certain times when a protein powder may be appropriate: during a major illness where you need extra protein to help you heal, during a heavy training phase as an athlete, or when you are struggling to meet your daily calorie and protein needs with food alone (2). Always talk to your healthcare provider before beginning a supplement, because yes, protein powder is considered a supplement!

 

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There are a variety of reasons why an athlete might chose a plant-based protein powder: dairy allergy, vegan diet, or taste preferences. I personally am vegan and whey never sat well with me even when I ate dairy, so that is why I chose to consume a plant-based protein powder. I did not start consuming protein powder until 2019 because I used to be against it to be honest. But after running my highest weekly volume ever this summer to train for my second ever marathon (the Chicago Marathon this October), I can attest to the recovery benefits of consuming a high-protein shake or smoothie after a long run or tough training session when my stomach is otherwise not ready to eat a full meal rich in carbohydrates and protein. All I have to do is dump some water or almond milk and protein powder into my Blender Bottle, shake well, and sip as I stretch and foam roll.

So what are some key differences between whey based and plant-based protein powders? Well for starters, whey protein is a complete protein, meaning it has all 9 of the essential amino acids that your body cannot produce on it’s own (3). All animal based proteins are complete, but only quinoa and soy products are complete plant-based proteins (3,4). So before you panic, remember that you do not need to eat complete proteins at every single meal and snack, but rather throughout the day. Or you could do some good ol’ fashioned food pairing, i.e. the classic combination of rice and beans together contain all 9 of the essential amino acids in the proper amounts! So how does this relate to plant-based protein powders? Well, unless you are consuming a soy protein powder, which is already complete,ย  most plant-based protein powders will achieve a complete amino acid profile through the pairing of multiple plant protein sources, i.e. pea protein, chia seeds, cranberry protein, pumpkin seeds (4). The use of multiple protein sources just adds to the nutritional benefits of the protein powder! Whey protein powder is relatively low in nutrients besides protein, but a plant-based protein powder will often have some iron and other minerals, such as phosphorous or zinc (4). Pea protein powder is among the most common plant-based protein powders, but I’ve seen many types over the years, from hemp seed to combination plant protein powders.

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As an athlete there are two additional considerations I use when choosing a protein powder. I check the ingredients to see if the plant-based protein powder contains sugar alcohols and if it is NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Choice (6,7). I check for sugar alcohols because for me and many others, they cause GI distress (5). I cannot even chew gum because of the sugar alcohols! I am fine with stevia though, but I honestly wish more protein powders just used aย bit of regular sugar…but that’s a topic for another day ๐Ÿ˜›

I then check if the protein powder is NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Choice because supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so how do we know that our supplements actually contain what they say they contain (6,7)? The NSF Internationalโ€™s Certified for Sport program was created to test supplements and make sure they do not contain any banned or illegal substances, contaminants, and that they actually contain what they say they contain (6).ย  To receive the NSF mark the supplement has to be tested twice in a calendar year (6). Iย  also love that NSF has an app with a barcode scanner, so I check check supplements easily when I am on the go or at a store.

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Informed Choice is similar in that third party tests supplements for banned substances, but it is not the gold standard or recognized by major athletics teams, such as the MLB, like NSF certified for Sport (7). NSF Certified for Sport is especially important for elite athletes who are subject to random testings before/during/after competitions, because how would it feel to get disqualified because of your protein powder? I may be exaggerating here, but it’s still good to know exactly what is in our supplements, so even as an aspiring sub-elite athlete, I will only consume supplements from brands I trust and ones that are preferably NSF Certified, but at least Informed Choice so I know that they have been tested by a third party.

All 3 of my recommended protein powders below are NSF Certified or Informed Choice!

My top 3 favorite protein powders (in order) are linked below with pros and cons.ย 

 

1. Garden of Life Sport Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder: Chocolate or Vanilla

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  • Pros:
    • NSF Certified for Sport
    • Informed Choice
    • The chocolate is tasty in milk or water
    • Contains all the essential amino acids (complete protein)
    • 30 g protein per serving

 

  • Cons:
    • Expensive, but at least it lasts a while
    • Vanilla only tastes good in smoothies in my opinion
    • Contains stevia, which I am not sensitive to, but some of you might be or you may not like the taste of
    • Can be hard to mix unless you use a shaker bottle or a blender

2.ย Tailwind Rebuild Recovery Chocolate or Vanilla

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  • Pros:
    • Informed Choice
    • Tastes good even in just water (I prefer chocolate over vanilla in plain water)
    • Easy to transport if you get the single serving packs
    • Mixes very easily just by shaking
    • Contains electrolytes in addition to carbohydrates and protein, perfect for immediately after a run or athletic event
    • No artificial sweeteners

 

  • Cons:
    • Not NSF Certified
    • Most expensive option
    • Vanilla is not very tasty in my opinion but some may like it
    • Not as high in protein as other options (only 10 g)
    • High in sugar compared to other protein powders (39 g)

 

3.ย Vega Sport Premium Protein in Chocolate, Vanilla, Berry, or Mocha

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  • Pros:
    • Informed Choice
    • Can buy as a tub or individual serving packets
    • Tastes decent even mixed with just water, but is best in smoothies
    • 30% DV of iron
    • 30 g of protein

 

  • Cons:
    • Not NSF Certified
    • Vanilla only tastes good in smoothies in my opinion
    • Contains stevia, which I am not sensitive to, but some of you might be or you may not like the taste of
    • Can be hard to mix unless you use a shaker bottle or a blender.

 

Do you use plant-based protein powder? If so, which brand and why? Do you have a question you want to see on here next? Do next hesitate to comment below, contact me on Instagram, or e-mail me at blackbeanqueen@gmail.com ! ๐Ÿ™‚

ย References

  1. Plant-Based Sports Nutrition by D.Enette Larson-Meyer, PhD, RDN & Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RDN
  2. Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook by Nancy Clark, MS, RD
  3. What is a complete amino acid profile? by Kelli Shallal, MPH, RD
  4. Whey Vs. Plant Protein by Abbey Howarth
  5. Artificial Sweeteners and Other Sugar Substitutes by Mayo Clinicย 
  6. NSF International Certified for Sportย 
  7. Informed Choice
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Review: Run Mag Mile 10k 2019

Disclaimer: Iโ€™m reviewing the Run Mag Mile 10k as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

BibRave was kind enough to give me an entry to the Run Mag Mile 10k on Saturday September 7, 2019, so I could run it for the first time! ๐Ÿ™‚ I know I’ve lived in Chicago for 5 years and it’s a little sad I have not run it, but if you are a long time reader of Black Bean Queen you know that I have spent my fair share of those years injured… Anyway, let’s discuss the race weekend!

Packet Pick-up

As is tradition for most Chicago RAM races, packet pick-up was at Fleet Feet Old Town. I went on Friday late afternoon, since I did not have class and was already in the area. It was a little crowded, but I was in and out quickly. It was a little confusing when I showed my race registration to claim my bib and they told me my bib was already picked up…but this little snafu was solved quickly. I just had to go to a different spot of the store to grab my bib since all the elite bibs were pulled ahead of time apparently. Which bring sme to my next point, I was seeded as an elite for this race and that offered me some cool perks that I was not expecting, such as a separate bag check, an elites only tent, preferential placing in the start corral, and snacks/beverages! I was also a little surprised to be seeded as elite because I consider myself to very much be an aspiring sub-elite runner at this moment in time.

Pre-Race

I live within a mile of the start line of the race, so I decided to jog over with my husband who came to spectate for moral support. I was not as early as I wanted to be because I had to ummm….go to the bathroom before I left, but hey, better at home than a porta potty when given the option, right? ๐Ÿ˜›

Anyway, I quickly ran to the elite tent to check my bags and ditch my layers. I could not help, but feel out of place. All these legit athletes were with their coaches talking race strategy, changing into Nike Vapor Fly or Next %’s and here I was by my lonesome checking that my Saucony Kinvara’s were laced up tight enough…But I reminded myself that I belong there and it’s not a fluke! I am getting faster! And I did run competitively in college and never reached my potential due to injury and burn-out, so why not now?

I made my way to the start corral to do some strides and drills. The weather was perfect, not too hot or cold and hardly windy! I felt decent considering all the 50 mile marathon training weeks on my legs leading into this race. This race was just for fun and to change up my training, since the Chicago Marathon is the goal race! I did not taper for it whatsoever, so going into the race my legs were quite tired. ๐Ÿ˜› My goal was a sub 40 10k because that’s been a goal of mine for a while and because my workouts during marathon training indicated this was possible. Read more to see if I reached that goal!

I loved that I got to start at the very front of the corral as an elite, because start lines stress me out. Especially after my experience at the Boston Marathon 5k where I lined up at the proper spot, but no one else did…and then I ended up weaving in and out of slower runners all race. I prefer to be as close to the front and by the least amount of other runners as possible, but I know that is a wish most of us share ๐Ÿ˜›

The Race

I did a race recap on Instagram, so here’s a slightly longer/more detailed version of that recap:

-Miles 0-2: Woah, Iโ€™m going low 6 pace- this could be bad…or good ๐Ÿ˜‚ But I feel strong. I am glad I saw my friend Elin cheering (& congratulated her on her engagement the night before ๐Ÿ’) & later my hubs because they both gave me a boost โ™ฅ๏ธ Plus, my husband snapped some cool running photos without me having to ask him (see below)! He’s a true IG husband through and through :Pโ €Around this point a few corral A runners, mainly males began to catch up to me.

-Mile 3: Okay, with a 20 flat 5k, a sub 40 is possible, but I need to negative split ๐Ÿ˜ฌ I was hoping to be under 20 minutes, but because I took out the race a little hot this did not surprise me at all. More corral A males were gaining on me and the top elite female group was 1-a few minutes ahead of me and then the rest of the elite females were behind me at this point.

-Mile 5: Woah, Iโ€™m tired & basically alone. Can I still push? Youโ€™re falling off pace Amanda- get it together…๐Ÿ˜‘ โ €

-Mile 6: So tired ๐Ÿ˜“ Keep that dude from corral A in your sight…Oh man a 6:35 mile… now you need to basically sprint to have any hope of sub 40.

-Mile 6-6.2: I saw the clock say 38:25 at mile 6 & I knew it would be close ๐Ÿคž๐Ÿป I think I was a little aggressive pace-wise in the beginning of the race. But I gave it everything I had the last 0.2 miles. My husband apparently saw me when I made this realization and start to kick it in because I took two more photos (below)…

I ended up at 40:20, which was 21 seconds over my goal and an nice positive split of 20 flat for the first 5k and 20:20 for the second 5k , but Iโ€™m still proud of myself for this effort on tired marathon legs! A 3 minute 10k PR on tired legs gives me hope for future races! ๐Ÿƒ๐Ÿผโ€โ™€๏ธ

Post-Race

My good friend and fellow Heartbreaker teammate Emily also ran this race on tired marathon legs and earned a PR, so naturally we took a photo together!

Then, they had beer, canned Moscow Mules, and other goodies for us post-race. I went to find my warm-ups because I was surprisingly chilled post-race. The weather on this late summer race felt more fall-like than today’s weather to be honest, but we are only two days into fall, so I guess we need to give it time.

Overall, I cannot wait to run the Mag Mile 10k again. It was flat, fast, and fun! ๐Ÿ™‚ Have you run the Run Mag Mile 10k before?!