Comparing 10 Plant-Based Protein Supplements
Peanuts and other nuts are among the best-known sources of plant protein. They contain all 20 amino acids in differing amounts, and, when compared to several other common plant foods, they provide among the highest numbers of protein per volume at 13 grams of protein per quarter cup. They contain high amounts of the amino acid arginine, which stimulates the immune system by increasing the production of T-cells by the thymus gland.
Peanuts are low in methionine, which is why peanuts should be complemented with grain to balance its amino acid profile.
You can take advantage of peanut protein by eating peanuts or peanut butter, or you can also find peanut butter powder alone or combined with other plant-sources.
Soy is among the most popular plant-based sources of protein to use in athlete-focused protein supplements. Soy is high in BCAAs, a group of amino acids that help to support muscle growth. A quarter cup of soy protein isolate powder provides between 20 and 30 grams of protein per serving.
Soy protein has also been demonstrated to have other benefits, including lowering cholesterol and regulating the thyroid. Soy protein has even been used as therapy for controlling menopausal symptoms in postmenopausal women.
Some people avoid soy supplementation due to allergies or fears of increasing the risk of breast cancer.
Algal proteins (proteins from algae) are among the newest in the options for plant-based protein supplements. Interest in the use of algae to complement our nutrition has arisen due to increasing awareness around the responsible use of environmental resources and the ecological impact of both animal and plant-based protein sources.
Some species of microalgae are known to have amino acid profiles and protein contents similar to those of eggs, soybeans, meat, and milk. However, some algae species tend to be low in the amino acid cysteine. While research is lacking, there also may be limitations to the absorption of the amino acids in algae, but some extraction methods may help overcome these barriers.
For now, few companies make algae-based protein powders and supplements, and those that do market it to be used as a fortifying ingredient in vegan foods. However, it is likely we will see a growing opportunity to purchase algal proteins in the future.
Pea protein powders are made from yellow split peas and contain about 21 grams of protein per quarter cup. Pea protein is high in BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), making it a popular choice for bodybuilders who follow plant-based diets. In fact, research shows that pea protein is comparable to whey protein in support of muscle building and increasing strength.
Additionally, peas contain components in their cell walls that help to promote digestive health.
Like other pulses, pea protein is low in the amino acid methionine. So, if you are worried about your protein consumption, you can complement pea protein with rice or whole grains, or you can purchase protein blends that include brown rice with the pea protein.
Chia seeds are best known for their omega-3 content, but they are also a great source of protein. A quarter cup of chia contains about 10 grams of protein.
Best of all, you can make it at home by grinding chia seeds in a food processor or coffee grinder to enhance the absorption of amino acids. It is also possible to purchase isolated forms of chia protein if you prefer to skip the other nutrients chia provides.
Note that chia is low in the essential amino acid lysine, so you may have to complement it with another plant-based source like soybeans, spirulina, or fenugreek seeds, which are all excellent sources of lysine.
Sacha Inchi-Based Protein
Sacha inchi is a seed that is native to South America, and it provides about 17 grams of protein per quarter cup. Like other seeds, it is low in lysine, but it offers an adequate balance of all other essential amino acids. It is comparable to soy protein regarding nutritional benefits for the body.
The seed’s nutritional components may also have a vital role in helping to improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, thanks to the amino acid arginine.
Sacha inchi tends to be quite expensive compared to other plant-based proteins because the seed is still in limited supply.
Hempseed protein is among the most popular plant-based protein supplements in the fitness community because it is easily digestible. It is made by grinding hempseed into a fine powder, and it is sometimes combined with other plant-based foods. It contains all nine essential amino acids but is low in lysine. A quarter cup of hempseed contains 12 g of protein.
In addition to protein, hempseed also provides significant amounts of fiber, which most Americans lack in their diet.
Since heat processing of hempseed can reduce the bioavailability of hemp protein, look for supplements that cold-press the seeds.
Pumpkin Seed-Based Protein
Pumpkin seeds, like most seeds, are best known for their oil composition. However, a quarter cup of pumpkin seeds provides 18 grams of protein! When pumpkin seeds are made into a powder, and some of the oil is removed, they provide an even more robust source of protein. Pumpkin seeds are also good sources of fiber, antioxidants, magnesium, zinc, and other essential minerals.
However, pumpkin seeds are deficient in the amino acids lysine and threonine, so combining them with grains and legumes can help to complement their amino acid profile.
Brown Rice-Based Protein
Some people might be surprised to know that brown rice protein powder is quite high in protein—a quarter cup contains about 22 grams of protein. Brown rice protein powder is a good source of BCAAs, which help to support athletes who want to build muscle mass, and maybe equally as effective as whey protein to do so.
Brown rice protein is low in the essential amino acid lysine, so some formulations blend brown rice protein with other protein sources, like pea protein, to provide a more complete amino acid profile.
Plant-Based Protein Blends
Many brands offer a blend of the plant protein sources mentioned above to provide the right balance of essential amino acids and, potentially, other phytonutrients as well. Some common combinations are rice protein and pea protein or quinoa and hemp protein.
Download our FREE plant-based protein supplement comparison chart
Plant-based protein supplements are one way to ensure you are getting enough protein in your plant-based diet. Contrary to popular belief, you can get all the protein you need through a plant-based diet. Just like with traditional protein supplement options, each plant-based source has its benefits and setbacks, and it is crucial to evaluate your options and the nutritional particularities different brands offer you before making a choice.