Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. These amino acids can be broken down into two main types: essential and non-essential. Your body can make certain amino acids. These are called non-essential amino acid because it is not essential that you get them from your diet. Essential amnio acids, as you probably guessed, are the ones that your body cannot make and thus it is essential that you get ample amounts from your diet.
In general, proteins from animal sources such as eggs, meat, poultry, dairy (including whey protein supplements) contain all the essential amino acids that your body needs in ample amounts.
Plant proteins generally do not contain the full complement of essential amino acids, soy, pistachios, chickpeas, and quinoa are the exceptions, and are thus considered incomplete proteins.
Combining different plant proteins, what nutritionist will call complimentary proteins, is a way to get all the amino acids that your body needs from plant sources. Three of the best plant-based proteins that you will find in a protein powder are:
Made from yellow split pea beans, not the green peas your mother used to serve with carrots at dinner, pea protein contains relatively high levels of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). This is a subclass of protein that is preferred by your muscles. Pea Protein is a serious muscle builder - a 2015 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that taking a pea protein supplement after a workout was just as effective for promoting muscle growth as if you took a whey protein supplement. Unfortunately, like other plant proteins, is contains inadequate amounts of an essential amino acid - in this case methionine.
Pumpkin seeds contain a rich blend of essential amino acids but unfortunately, they contain low levels two essential amino acid - lysine and threonine. Pumpkin seeds contain high levels of fat and fiber, but the protein powder allows you too specifically take advantage of the great protein pumpkin seeds contain without the additional macronutrients.
As noted above, chickpeas are a unique plant protein in that they contain all the needed essential amino acids - earning them the “complete protein” stamp of approval. This is one of the most well-rounded plant proteins that is also easily digested and allergen free.
Making the Best Plant Protein Powder
The best plant protein powders will contain a blend of plant proteins. This allows you to take advantage of the different amino acids that the various plant sources contain while minimizing the effects of lower levels of essential ones. These blends give you ample amounts of high-quality protein from plant sources without the compromise.
If you are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, one of the other great benefits of these plant protein blends is that you are easily able to add quality protein from your diet without added fats and carbohydrates.
Protein rich plant sources naturally contain high levels of either carbohydrate or fats making is difficult (impossible?) to meet specific macronutrient targets. For example, 1 cup of pumpkin seeds contains 12g of protein, 12g of fat, and 12g of fiber. In order to get 30g of protein from pumpkin seeds you’d also get 30g of fat and 30g of fiber! This much fiber in one sitting will likely pose significant digestive problems.
Plant protein powders remove the fat and carbohydrates allow you to get almost pure protein. Making it much easier for you to manipulate your nutrient goals to your liking.
Different plant proteins have different flavors and aftertastes. In addition to blending plant proteins to create the optimal amino acids profile - combining the right mix of plant proteins will also create the best tasting protein powder that you will want to drink day in and day out.