6 Protein Powders for Smoothie Making

By: Emily Lee
Some Soy Flour

Some Soy Flour

Some Soy Flour on rustic wooden background (close-up shot)

Some Soy Flour on rustic wooden background (close-up shot)

Looking to bulk up your smoothie? Then chances are you’re going to reach for a protein powder. The question is, which one should you choose? As the options get more plentiful, the choice also gets more confusing. Whichever you decide on, be sure to read the nutrition label to see how much you need to use. “Twenty to 25 grams of protein is a safe amount to add, but depending on the protein source, that could mean anywhere from half a scoop to two full scoops,” says Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Here’s the rundown on six popular protein mix-ins.

Soy (pictured above)

This is considered the king of plant-based proteins and is a great option for vegans and vegetarians. Made from ground soybeans, it’s a complete protein (meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids) and has the highest bioavailability (meaning how quickly it’s absorbed by the body) of all the plant-based options. Look for soy isolate, rather than soy concentrate, in order to get the most protein bang for your buck.

Hemp

While it is derived from cannabis seeds, hemp won’t get you high. What it will do is provide all nine essential amino acids plus Omega-3s and fiber. Hemp is not as protein-packed as other sources (a scoop averages about 10 to 15 grams), but you can pair it with another plant-based option to create a more complete protein.

 crispy roasted chickpeas - garbanzo beans

crispy roasted chickpeas - garbanzo beans

closeup to crispy roasted chickpeas - garbanzo beans

Photo by: Agata Gładykowska

Agata Gładykowska

closeup to crispy roasted chickpeas - garbanzo beans

Pea

This vegetarian and vegan option is derived from the yellow pea, which is a legume. “But it’s missing two essential amino acids, so it should be paired with hemp or rice,” suggests Pritchett. She also notes that pea protein is easier to digest than some other sources, making it a good choice for anyone with a sensitive stomach.

Dietary fiber.Detox concept.

Dietary fiber.Detox concept.

Dietary fiber. Rice in round wooden bowl with dietary rice fiber on dark brown wooden background, top view. Healthy eating concept.

Photo by: Eskymaks

Eskymaks

Dietary fiber. Rice in round wooden bowl with dietary rice fiber on dark brown wooden background, top view. Healthy eating concept.

Rice

This is another good option for vegetarians or vegans, but again, since it’s not a complete protein, it should be paired with another plant-based source to round out its nutrients. It’s also worth noting that rising concern over levels of arsenic in rice has caused some experts to recommend limiting consumption of this crop.

A scoop of vanilla whey isolate protein

A scoop of vanilla whey isolate protein

A scoop of vanilla whey isolate protein

Photo by: Gordan Gledec ©Gordan Gledec

Gordan Gledec, Gordan Gledec

A scoop of vanilla whey isolate protein

Casein

For those who aren’t lactose-intolerant (or vegan), this protein derived from the semisolid portion of milk is a great choice. It is digested more slowly than other proteins, which means it will help you feel fuller longer. “People who are trying to increase muscle may drink it before bed to stimulate muscle building,” says Pritchett.

Whey

It’s no wonder that whey is the most commonly used protein source (for non-vegans). This powder, derived from the liquid portion of milk, is high in essential amino acids and it’s the fastest-acting of all the protein supplements, making it the ideal choice for replenishing muscles immediately after exercise. “It’s also high in leucine, an amino acid that’s involved in building muscle,” says Pritchett.

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.

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