Food & Fitness

Protein Powders 101

A couple weeks ago, The Bird Cage asked me for advice about protein powders. Challenge accepted! (And my apologies for being so tardy with this blog post. I had hoped to have it published early last week).

I’ve written about protein powders a few times before:

Vegan Sources of Protein

Calcium and Protein Powders

Substitutions for Protein Powders

Complete Proteins

I use protein powder much more than I used to. Mostly it’s because when you eat high-raw and mostly-vegan, your options tend to be that you’re going to eat high-carb foods and/or high-fat foods. Not many raw vegan foods are super high in complete proteins, because there are no natural vegan sources of complete proteins. This means that you have to combine vegan foods to create complete proteins.

“Complete proteins” are when all of the amino acids are available in the food. You can achieve this by combining foods such as the classic South American meal of beans and rice. Animal products contain complete proteins, which is the main reason why omnivores don’t have to worry much about getting enough protein in their diet.

At any rate, I’m a big fan of my homemade “oat cakes,” which are basically the same thing as the “breakfast cookie” that so many bloggers talk about. It’s like a bowl of oatmeal except it’s not heated up and you use much less water – just enough to create a “batter” that will solidify when refrigerated. I like to use protein powder in those oat cakes for both the flavour and the protein. That’s where I consume protein powder in my diet: oat cakes.

Questions about protein powders

The Bird Cage wanted to know:

1. What should I be looking out for?
2. What kind minimizes digestive agony?
3. Is there a better product for women specifically?
4. What balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat should I look for?
5. Is there a brand you recommend?

I’ve been requested to go on protein powders and I am beyond overwhelmed with the diversity of the offering. I also have no idea what I should be looking for and I’m quite scared because they all seem to be for giant macho-men trying to be like Arnold.

Luckily you don’t have to worry – although some protein powders can be scary and macho-esque, it’s all just in the advertising. You can’t bulk up on protein powder alone! And for women, we can’t bulk up unless we’re also taking steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.

That being said, as a general rule I’ve noticed that most of the scary macho-style protein powders are full of nasty ingredients that we don’t want to consume. My protein powder canisters look much friendlier:

genuine health

nutribiotic protein powder

My favourite protein powders

I have tried Vega protein powder only once and I hated it. I thought that the taste was awful. Granted, it’s been some time since I last tasted it, so it could be that my tastes have changed. But I thought it was disgusting at the time. I’ve also heard good things about Sunwarrior protein powder, which is a raw vegan protein powder with awesome ingredients – but I haven’t yet tried it so I can’t comment on the taste or the effect of it on the body.

The two protein powders which I absolutely adore are Genuine Health Vegan Proteins+ and NutriBiotic Vegan Rice Protein. I get the natural vanilla protein powder of the first brand and the chocolate protein powder of the second brand. They are both tasty and work really well in all kinds of meals – baked goods, smoothies, oatmeal, oat cakes, you name it. I also find that they give me a good amount of energy.

Things to look for in protein powder

The extra ingredients should all be recognizable. Most are sweetened slightly with stevia or “natural flavours.” I’m not a huge fan of “natural flavours” (because it’s a very vague term), but it is so much better to have natural flavours than to have artificial ingredients, sugar alcohols and such. If you can recognize all ingredients, that’s good! I also like the blends of different kinds of protein – pea protein and rice protein and such. That way you know that you’re getting a variety of different amino acids. I steer clear of whey powder and such because they can sometimes be a little harder on the digestive system. Raw and/or vegan protein powders are your best bet to ensure that the protein powder will be gentle on your system.

As far as the balance of macronutrients, 80% protein is a good goal. There should be about 0 – 2 grams fat per 15 gram serving, 2 – 4 grams carbs, and 10 – 12 grams protein. I also choose protein powders that are gluten-free and made without GMO’s.

Hopefully this answers your questions! If anyone has additional information, please share your knowledge in the comments section below. And if anyone has more questions on the topic or wants clarification on any of this, let me know and I’ll write another blog post with more info about protein powders!


  1. fd

    thanks for this Sagan, it clarifies a lot for me. Ever since I started reading healthy living blogs I’ve been absolutely astounded that so many people considered protein powders just a normal everyday part of healthy living, when in fact I have never heard of anyone in my offline life who uses them as part of their diet, and I know plenty of healthy people. It seemed totally weird to me that so many bloggers who were embracing organic, whole foods would go out of their way to eat processed refined proteins of some sort.
    Your post has clarified for me that these proteins are not in fact synthetic but come originally from a genuine food source, PHEW!

    1. Sagan Morrow

      I agree – I think that protein powders are waaaaaay over-used. Unless you’re a hardcore muscle-builder, the average person really doesn’t need protein powder. But, like I said, for vegans/raw foodists, it can be helpful to incorporate small amounts of natural protein powders, particularly in foods that are otherwise carb-heavy (such as oats!).

      And yes: there are LOTS of crappy synthetic protein powders, but some are much more natural. Just takes some searching 🙂

      Glad that this was useful for you!

  2. The Bird Cage

    Dear Sagan,

    THANKS SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This post has been increadibly useful, I really wish I had come here first. Really, all the chat-rooms and info in the web is super overwhelming. A couple of people recommended Vega. I didn’t buy it because, let me be honest, it was so pricey! And I’m glad to read you didn’t like it before I commited to it.

    I like the approach of recognizing every ingredient. That’s the approach I use for food products as well, so it makes sense to apply it here too 🙂

    Thanks again for taking the time to put this togther. Your opinions and suggestions are very important in my eyes 🙂

  3. Lauren @ MRS

    Thanks for the recs! I’ve always wondered if there are tasty protein shakes out there. From all the time that I’ve been exposed to it, it seems like they’re not for the faint of heart, and I’m as finicky as you can get. I’ll definitely try some of these.

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