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! 🙂 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!  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! 🙂

So without further ado, let’s get to it! Today’s topic is plant-based protein powders.🌱 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 😛 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,  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 a bit of regular sugar…but that’s a topic for another day 😛

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 International’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).  To receive the NSF mark the supplement has to be tested twice in a calendar year (6). I  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. 

 

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. 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. 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 ! 🙂

 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 Clinic 
  6. NSF International Certified for Sport 
  7. Informed Choice
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Tasty Tuesday #7: Tempeh and Black Bean Taco Bowls

Good morning! I hope all of you are having a wonderful morning and a great week. 🙂 It’s hot here in the windy city, so I got my run in early this morning. I am so happy I did, even though I have the day off work, because holy cow it’s getting humid! I had another good run this morning of 3 miles at 7:35 pace.  🙂 I have a ways to go before getting to where I was before my injury, but I am starting to feel more like my old self. I still have to build up my mileage slowly and continue my PT exercises, but at least my run pace is starting to come down as I get back into shape!

Now, for the real reason I am here…Tasty Tuesday! This week’s Tasty Tuesday is a taco recipe because I am a little too excited about Taco Tuesday! I know, I know I already shared a taco recipe with all of you last week….BUT tacos are so tasty and this recipe is different! I love both recipes, but these tacos are a little more filling than the black bean and quinoa ones from last week. Plus, I absolutely love meals in a bowl and anything that is made with black beans, if you guys could not tell. 😛 These tempeh and black bean taco bowls are tasty, filling, full of protein, healthy, and last, but not least they are vegan. Bonus points for how quick they are to make! So do yourself a favor and make tacos tonight! I do have to confess that I made these last night…I could not wait for taco Tuesday! haha. I really want to make them again tonight because they are so delicious…. Without further ado here is the recipe! 🙂

Tempeh and Black Bean Taco Bowls

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Yield: 2-3 servings

Ingredients

1 packet taco seasoning (I used mild, but if you like things spicy I’d use medium or hot) 

1 cup rice of your choice (I used Jasmine rice)

1 package of tempeh (I used Lightlife original)

1 can of black beans drained and rinsed

1 cup of frozen peppers

canola oil (as needed)

Optional: red pepper flakes, salsa, pico de gallo, tortilla chips

1. Prepare the rice according to the directions on the package.

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2. Mix the packet of taco seasoning with water, according to the package directions. Set aside.

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3. Cut the tempeh into bite sized pieces.

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4. Let the tempeh marinate in the taco seasoning mixture for 5-10 minutes.

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5. Sauté the tempeh in canola oil and spoon some of the taco seasoning mixture into the frying pan for added flavor. Fry until the tempeh starts to brown ( ~ 10 minutes).

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6.  In the meantime, sauté the peppers in canola oil. Add the drained and rinsed black beans once the peppers are almost fully cooked (~10 minutes.). Optional: for more flavor add some of the taco seasoning mixture to the pepper and black beans too.

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7. Once everything is fully cooked, serve! Spoon the rice into bowls, add the tempeh, black bean/ pepper mixture, and any desired toppings (salsa,red pepper flakes, pico de gallo, etc). Mix it all together! If bowls aren’t your thing, serve in a warm tortilla! YUM!! 🙂

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I hope all of you have a great day and more importantly, a happy Taco Tuesday (am I the only one who thinks of the Lego movie?)!

Today’s question: Any fun plans this week or weekend? I’m going to Lollapalooza this weekend and I cannot wait! 🙂

Simple Sunday #4: Guilt-free chocolate chip cookies

Some days you don’t just want chocolate, you NEED chocolate. Today was one of those days! My goal was to make a cookie that not only satisfied my chocolate craving, but was also relatively healthy. Since my IT band injury a month ago I’ve been focusing on eating less and healthier, since I can’t run and to aid in my recovery. I REALLY miss running, so hopefully after a few more weeks of PT I can run again. 😦

Well, after searching my vegetarian cookbooks, Instagram, and Pinterest for inspiration I found myself on Chocolate Covered Katie’s blog. She is the queen of healthy, vegan desserts. It was there that I found a great recipe: http://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2011/04/27/worlds-healthiest-chocolate-chip-cookies/ . I have made a few modifications to the original, but she gets all the credit for an amazing recipe. I was skeptical to try an egg and butter-free cookie, but I was pleasantly surprised! They were delicious!  Plus at 80 calories per cookie you don’t have to feel guilty about eating one (or two or more 😉 )! So without further ado, roll up your sleeves and let’s get to baking this guilt free, quick, and easy cookie!

Guilt-free chocolate chip cookies

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Yield: 9 cookies

Nutritional analysis: see below

Ingredients

Dry

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

dash of salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons cane sugar (I used Trader Joe’s, which is vegan)

2 tablespoons (or more) semi-sweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli are vegan)

Wet

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon canola oil

4 tablespoons unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Mix the all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, expect for the chocolate chips.

3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture. I recommend adding the almond milk tablespoon by tablespoon.

4. Roll the dough into 9 balls and place on the greased baking sheet.

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5. Press the chocolate chips into the dough balls.  (NOTE: You may want to use more or less than 2 tablespoons, which is fine! Just know that the nutritional analysis below was performed for cookies with 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips!)

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6. Bake for 8-10 minutes until slightly golden brown.

7. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.

8. Enjoy one (or a few)! 😉

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NOTE: The chocolate chips here are not melted because the only chocolate chips I had at my apartment were the frozen ones my boyfriend and I use as a topping for Greek Yogurt. If they were room temperature chips they would have melted in the oven!

Nutritional Analysis (from MyFitnessPal): Calories: 81; Fat: 2.6 g (0.7 saturated); Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 57.2 mg; Potassium: 5.6 mg; Carbohydrates: 13.4 g; Fiber: 0.7 g; Protein: 1.2 g

What is your favorite type of cookie? It’s hard for me to chose one…but if I have to, I’d say any type of peanut butter cookie. Have a great night everyone! 🙂

Simple Sunday #3: Baked dark chocolate and peanut butter oatmeal

Hello friends! I know it’s waaaaaaaay past breakfast/brunch, but I wanted to share a tasty recipe I made this morning anyway.  You won’t believe it’s vegan!! Yes, I know it’s already past five o’clock…That’s what happens when it’s Daylight’s Savings and you lose an hour… You’ll want to make it tomorrow, though. Guaranteed. Or perhaps for dinner tonight. Breakfast for dinner is NOM! Plus this recipe makes enough for leftovers later in the week! 🙂

So I found this recipe where I find many of my ideas…Pinterest. As usual, I was wasting time there a few days ago and I came across a baked oatmeal recipe that seemed easy enough. The recipe had me at chocolate and sold me at peanut butter, so of course I pinned it! 😛 We all know that you actually only make a fraction of the things you pin… BUT, then, this morning my boyfriend suggested we make something new for breakfast. I agreed, but since I was feeling lazy due to “losing” an hour of sleep, I wanted to make something easy and low maintenance.  I knew that this was the morning to try baked oatmeal. My boyfriend and I both loved it. 🙂

Here’s the link to the original recipe that I found on Pinterest : http://laurenkellynutrition.com/peanut-butter-chocolate-chip-baked-oatmeal/. The only changes/modifications I made to the recipe was omitting the mashed banana and salt. So the above website gets all the credit for this amazing recipe, I just wanted to share anyway! : )

As long as you use non-dairy chocolate chips and milk this recipe is vegan! I used Ghirardelli, but as a note only the semi-sweet chips are vegan. The dark chocolate ones are not.

Baked dark chocolate and peanut butter oatmeal

Yield: 6 servings

Nutritional analysis: See below

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Ingredients

2 cups organic oatmeal

1/2 cup natural peanut butter

1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1/4 cup ground flax seeds

1/4 cup organic maple syrup

1/4 cup dark chocolate chips (can use semi-sweet or any other kind too)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

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1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a glass baking dish.

2. Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. It may be easier to add the dark chocolate chips last since peanut butter can be tough to stir.

3. Put the mixture into the greased baking dish.

4. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.

5. Let the baked oatmeal cool for a few minutes and then cut into 6 slices.

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6. Enjoy the chocolatey peanut butter goodness for breakfast (or anytime of day)!! 🙂 I highly recommend pairing the oatmeal with a large, cold glass of almond milk and/or a cup o’ joe! Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days.

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Also, here’s the nutritional analysis of the recipe for those interested. I used MyFitnessPal. It’s 321 calories/serving:

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Question of the day: What is your favorite way to eat oatmeal? Before today my favorite was just regular oatmeal, made in the microwave, topped with berries and/or peanut butter, but now I think I’m a baked oatmeal fan!

Simple Sunday #2: Vegan Blueberry Muffins

Good morning! I hope everyone is having a wonderful and restful weekend. 🙂 I’m enjoying a work free weekend myself, as my new job is only during the week. I have plenty of homework to catch up on, though. Graduate school will do that to you. 😛 Anyway I decided to take a break this morning, to experiment in the kitchen, and I want to share my results with all of you.

Vegan Blueberry Muffins are today’s Simple Sunday recipe. While I am a vegetarian, I sometimes consume and  bake with eggs. Therefore, I was skeptical that vegan muffins would turn out. I accepted the challenge nonetheless. Well, I am glad I did! These vegan muffins turned out just fine! The batter was thicker than muffin batter made with eggs, but otherwise I did not notice much of a difference.

I obtained this recipe from page 11 of the Vegan Outreach leaflet Guide to Cruelty-Free Eating.  The only modifications I made were using frozen blueberries instead of fresh and I did not make a crumb topping, so the muffins would have less sugar and fat. I hope all of you enjoy. 🙂

NOTE: To make these muffins truly vegan you have to make sure you use a vegan sugar. Some sugars are whitened with animal bones, which means they are not vegan. I used Trader Joe’s organic sugar made with evaporated cane juice, which is vegan according to page 5 of this pdf: http://www.traderjoes.com/pdf/lists/list-vegan.pdf.

Vegan Blueberry Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

Ingredients

3/4 cup sugar

1.5 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/3 cup canola oil

2/3 cup almond milk or another vegan milk (I used Silk Original Almond Milk)

1 cup frozen or fresh organic blueberries (or a different fruit)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a muffin tin with muffin liners.

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2. Mix the sugar, flour, salt, and baking powder together in a large bowl.

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3. Add the vegan milk and oil to the dry mixture and mix. It will be pretty thick.

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4. Add the frozen blueberries. The mixture may turn blue, but do not be alarmed! 😛 The muffins will not be blue once fully cooked.

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5. Fill the muffin cups nearly to the top with the batter and bake for about 30 minutes. If using fresh fruit reduce the baking time to 20-25 minutes.

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6. Take the muffins out of the oven and allow to cool completely.  Eat! Otherwise store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a few days.

Tip: Since I think muffins taste best warm, I like to reheat them in the microwave when I’m eating day old ones.

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(See, they aren’t blue anymore!)

I hope all of you enjoy the muffins and have a wonderful Sunday! 🙂

Question of the day: What is your favorite type of muffin? My favorite is actually lemon poppy seed, not blueberry!

Simple Sunday #1: Pecan roasted brussel sprouts

Brussel sprouts. You either love them or hate them. In fact, I read somewhere recently that they are the most hated vegetable in the USA. Luckily, I am a brussel sprout lover.  I credit that to my boyfriend who made me try them a few months ago…Yes, it took me 22 years to try them, but I turned out okay! 😛 You will never know if you are a hater or not unless you try them.

Anyway, we made gnocchi for dinner tonight and felt like trying something new for our vegetable side dish. And voilà! Pecan roasted brussel sprouts were born.  This recipe was adapted from several different recipes so it is not exact. It is super simple though! It is perfect for when you want a quick side dish that is a little fancier than regular steamed vegetables. Also, brussel sprouts are wonderful for your body. Chock full of iron, protein, potassium, and antioxidants, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. 😛 So for my first ever Simple Sunday here is a quick and easy side dish recipe. Enjoy. 🙂

Pecan roasted brussel sprouts

ingredients

16 oz. frozen or fresh brussel sprouts

1 Tablespoon or so of olive oil

pinch of salt

pinch of pepper

pinch of garlic

handful of chopped pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease a baking sheet with cooking spray .

2. Pour the 16 oz. of frozen or fresh brussel sprouts into a bowl.

3. Add the tablespoon of olive oil and coat all the sprouts.

4. Add a pinch of salt, pepper, and garlic. Mix .

5. Add the chopped pecans and pour the mixture onto the greased baking sheet.

before cooking brussel sprouts

6. Bake the brussel sprouts 20-25 minutes or so until slightly browned. Turn the sprouts at least once during cooking.

7. Serve and enjoy. 🙂

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Do you like brussel sprouts? Why or why not? If so, what is your favorite way to eat them?

I’m BACK :), World Vegetarian Day, and sweet potato bites

Whoa, can you believe it’s already October 1st?!  I cannot believe how fast September was. I blinked and it was over! Well, now I want to apologize first hand by saying I am sorry for epically failing on updating this blog. My last post was over three weeks ago and I said I’d try to post at least once a week. Whoops… Work, school, and life got in the way. Plus I am almost done with my first round of nutrition exams- after this upcoming Friday I will be officially done with round one. Thankfully, my job reduced my hours since 20-30 hours per week was way too much for this full time nutrition student! Now  that I have less hours at work I am now in more of a routine for studying, running/working out, commuting to class, and I know what is expected out of me in my classes. Even though I was a cross country athlete in undergrad and had a part time job, I still had to relearn this last month just how important time management is!  Regardless, I promise I am now going to try to update more often. I have thought of so many potential ideas for topics on this blog in the last month- I just haven’t posted them!

Well, I thought what better day to resume more regular updates on my blog than on world vegetarian day!  I hope you all celebrate today by eating a plant based dinner even if you aren’t vegetarian or vegan. 🙂 I plan to make homemade minestrone soup (I’ll share the recipe in a future post)! Not only is Oct. 1st world vegetarian day, but to me it also means fall time.  Nothing screams fall to me like apples, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, soup, crunchy leaves, crisp autumn runs, cozy sweaters, and hot beverages.

In honor of fall and world vegetarian day, I wanted to share a sweet potato recipe with all of you. It is basically just a healthier and bite sized version of sweet potato fries. Sweet potatoes, which are nutrient superstars, have more potassium than bananas, a healthy dose of fiber, and a good source of vitamins A and C.  The following recipe is easy, makes a perfect snack or side dish, and is made with heart healthy olive oil.

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Sweet Potato Bites

ingredients:

2-3 sweet potatoes

1  Tablespoon olive oil

dash of salt

dash of pepper

instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Lightly grease a baking sheet with cooking spray or use a non stick baking sheet and do not grease it.

3. Chop the sweet potatoes into bite sized pieces. Do not worry about the shape of the pieces.

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4. Put the sweet potatoes in a medium mixing bowl and add the olive oil. Mix the potatoes and oil with your hands. Then, add the salt and pepper to the oil and potato mixture.

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6. Place the potatoes on the baking sheet and bake for 25-35 minutes or more turning the potatoes often and checking regularly to see if they are done. You may want to cook them longer than 35 minutes for crisper bites.

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I hope all of you enjoy this recipe and have great nights!

What is your favorite thing about fall? I personally love apple and pumpkin picking. 🙂