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What is the Best Protein Powder?

In this post I review the most popular animal and plant-based protein powders and discuss what all your options are and my opinion on them too.
Mar 6, 2023 | Joy McCarthy

I totally get it - it's confusing and a total minefield when shopping for a protein powder and trying to figure out what is best for you. That's why I'm hoping this video and post should help you decide!

I would recommend taking some time to think about what your goals are and then talking to a sales associate at a health food store who can advise you what may be best. Oftentimes the people working at the health food store are certified nutritionists, so they have tons of knowledge, and they are able to steer you in the right direction. 


I do think that having this info in your back pocket should help you decide! I have my favourite brands, but I thought it would be worthwhile to take you through the most popular kinds (not brand specific) of powders on the market. 

Please use the same eagle eye you use when shopping for any packaged foods.

There are certain ingredients that should NOT be in a protein powder:

ingredients to avoid in protein powder

*Avoid fillers like inulin and psyllium. Unless you specifically want some fibre -- but note that inulin is very bloating.

Whey Protein

Whey protein

I used this protein in my smoothies religiously many years ago in my personal training days until my digestive system could no longer handle it (BLOAT-CITY). It was the GOLD STANDARD a decade ago, but one of the reasons aside from the excellent absorption rate of high-quality whey is that there just wasn't much else on the market. Fermented protein powders are the new gold standard, in my opinion, whether you choose whey or vegan -- your body will thank you when you consume protein in a form that makes the amino acids far more bioavailable and easier on your digestive system. But more about that in a bit...

  • Whey protein is a milk-derived protein and the second most abundant protein found in cow's milk next to casein
  • It contains a balanced ratio of all the essential amino acids 
  • Supports the immune system as it's a source of immunoglobulins which function as antibodies to fight infection
  • Helps you stay fuller longer
  • It is high in BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) which represent 35-40% of all amino acids in the body. They are ideal building blocks for protein and muscle
  • A scoop will yield 25-33g of protein per serving, depending on the brand
  • Choose whey protein from grass-fed cow and whey protein "isolate" as it's purer, contains less or zero lactose and fat. 


I talked about collagen on my Cityline segment only because people commonly assume it's an ideal source of protein for your smoothies. While it has amino acids, it is NOT a complete protein and should not be considered a good substitute for an actual "protein powder."


Collagen has many other benefits, and I've talked about them on the blog before in this Matcha Collagen Latte but I do not recommend collagen as your protein of choice for your smoothies. However, it has multiple benefits for beauty which you can read all about here

Definitely try my Collagen Chocolate Chip Snowballs , they are super duper yummy!!

Pea Protein 

yellow peas

Pea protein was one of the first most widely used plant-based proteins on the market and really started the trend of plant-based protein. It's an excellent option, particularly for those who can't consume any dairy protein, lactose, or those with allergies and vegans. The one drawback I hear about often and experience it myself from time to time is that it can bother your tummy - cause constipation or bloating. But if it doesn't do that for you, it's an excellent option.

  • Pea protein is extracted from yellow peas and has a neutral taste
  • It contains all the essential amino acids, but it is low in methionine. With that in mind, some people consider pea protein a "complete" protein while other health experts do not because it is low in one essential amino acid
  • It is high in L-Arginine an amino acid that helps enhance blood flow and circulation making it heart health-friendly 
  • High in iron
  • It is one of the more easily digested plant-based protein powders and research shows it may help you stay just as full as whey protein
  • A scoop will yield around 15-22g of protein, depending on the brand
  • This plant protein is very common in vegan protein powders

Brown Rice Protein

Brown rice protein powder

A very popular choice among people searching for a plant-based protein. It's a great option for those with pea protein allergies or those on a therapeutic diet that restricts peas. It's also a great idea to mix up your protein powders and not always use the same protein. 

  • Even though it contains all the essential amino acids like pea protein, it is too low in lysine to be considered a complete protein
  • When comparing rice protein to whey protein, they have almost identical absorption rates except for rice protein is a little more effective at absorbing leucine 
  • Brown rice protein may protect the liver from damage due to the peptides in brown rice as found in animal studies
  • It has a mild rice-like taste but mixes well into a smoothie when you have other ingredients
  • You often see blends that will combine brown rice and pea protein for a complete essential amino acid protein profile
  • A scoop will yield around 15-22g of protein, same as pea protein, depending on the brand

Pumpkin Seed Protein 

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seed protein has been slowly gaining in popularity over the years. It is a great source of plant-based protein, it tastes like pumpkin seeds (which are delicious) and you can even find it at bulk food stores, making it quite affordable. I love this one!

  • There are numerous minerals in pumpkin seeds such as magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, iron and copper. Whether these are also in the powder form, I don't know because there's just not very much research on it
  • A scoop will yield around 8-10g of protein (depending on the brand), so it's not very high, but it's not terrible either considering all the minerals it may contain and if you purchase an unprocessed pumpkin protein that is just pumpkin protein it will be very easy to digest

Hemp protein 

hemp hearts, hemp protein

Hemp is a very popular protein powder, but even more popular is the food it's derived from -- hemp hearts. My preference is to use the whole food as opposed to just the powder for all the healthy and anti-inflammatory fats in hemp. I use hemp hearts ALL THE TIME! I've got multiple recipes on the blog such as my Hearty Hemp FlatbreadVanilla Chai Truffles and Lemon Basil Pesto

  • I've long considered hemp to be a complete protein, but to be more accurate, even though it contains all 9 essential amino acids, it's low in lysine. So depending on how you evaluate complete proteins (just like brown rice protein) it may not be truly complete
  • Hemp contains very easy to digest proteins called edestin and albumin
  • The less processing the hemp goes through, the better the product will be, and it tastes like hemp 
  • A scoop will yield about 15g of protein depending on the brand so even though that's lower than pea protein or brown rice protein it is a less processed protein powder

Fermented Vegan Protein Blends

vegan protein powder

Before blends came along, I always recommended you cycle your protein powders, so you don't develop an intolerance to a protein you're using all the time. You don't need to worry about this when you're using a blend because you won't always get the exact same amounts of each protein in every scoop since it's all mixed together.


As I mentioned earlier in this post, that's pretty much what happened to me with whey - I had too much of it and then had to stop using it. 

  • Enhanced digestibility due to the fermentation process making the amino acids easier to digest and absorb
  • When a plant-protein is fermented the protective casing around the protein is unlocked which means your own enzymes can properly digest it
  • Nourishing to the microbiome and bloat-free 
  • A blend is an excellent way to ensure you get a wide variety of amino acids and most brands will have enough of a variety that you'll get a complete source of protein 
  • Depending on the brand, a scoop will yield 15-20g of protein


I did not include soy protein on my list because even though it's a great source of protein and amino acids, it can increase impact estrogen levels, and this is not ideal. That being said, there have been some more recent studies done that say that's not the case. Nutritional science is often conflicting and confusing. Additionally, most soy protein on the market is highly processed and subjected to some nasty chemicals. My experience in clinical practice and my own body has made me not favour it, so that's why I do not recommend it. 

You will be happy to know that there are more ways to enjoy protein powders than in a smoothie. I also shared some recipes on my recent Cityline segment, which you can watch here, and the recipes are posted below. 

In this segment I made the following recipes:

 Protein Blondies

 Sweet Potato Protein Muffins

If you love using one particular protein powder and you're always using the same protein source then I would suggest it's time to mix it up! I hope you found this post helpful.

Wishing you joyous health!

Joy xo

Mar 6, 2023 BY Joy McCarthy
Lisa   •   October 8, 2019

Great resource on all of the different protein choices which can be overwhelming! Thank you

Joy McCarthy   •   October 8, 2019

Doa   •   October 8, 2019

Hi Joy, Are you able to provide any insights into collagen supplements as well? thank you

Joy McCarthy   •   October 8, 2019

Melissa   •   October 8, 2019

Thanks for the great info! Just wondering what your favourite rice and pumpkin protein powders are? I love Genuine Health Protein Powder but I’m looking for something that doesn’t contain pea protein. Thanks!

Joy McCarthy   •   October 8, 2019

Jaclyn   •   October 8, 2019

Have you researched bone broth protein powder? Would be curious how that ranks!

Joy McCarthy   •   October 8, 2019

Megs   •   October 9, 2019

Bookmarking this page for sure! Excellent resource, thank you!

Joy McCarthy   •   October 9, 2019

Cindy McCarthy   •   October 9, 2019

I tried the genuine health protein and I liked it a lot. However since then I’ve came across research and I’ve seen in a few places where a big issue with protein powders that is often overlooked is the levels of heavy metals. So there’s a website that’s called project clean I think.. and they do testing on several types of consumer products, to see the nutritional profile as well as other contaminants. Unfortunately SO many protein powders didn’t make the cut. Most were very high in heavy metals. So I stopped using genuine health and went in search for a different protein powder. I’ve only tried a couple and they were either ridiculously expensive or whey/whey isolate. (Trying to steer away from animal products if I can) Its tough! Hopefully in the future there will be better products that not only look at the criteria that you’ve listed but at the heavy metal levels! Thanks for your helpful tips Joy. Just wanted to make a note of that!

Joy McCarthy   •   October 9, 2019

Jo   •   November 18, 2019

Great info! Is the Genuine Health fermented vegan protein powder safe for pregnancy?

Joy McCarthy   •   November 18, 2019

Vanessa LaBranche   •   December 22, 2019

I loved watching your segment on Cityline and your expertise on protein powders. I too started out with whey protein but used "isolate" instead but still experienced some bloating pain from using it despite the lactose being removed. I've moved on to more plant based with my favorite being pea protein and runner up hemp protein. I will try your suggestion of "cycling" to switch things up a bit. I didn't even know other protein options were available such as the fermented ones or blends. Thank you very much!! Much appreciated.

Joy McCarthy   •   December 22, 2019

Vanessa LaBranche   •   December 22, 2019

Thank you so much Joy! Will definitely check out this product:)

Joy McCarthy   •   December 23, 2019

Aleks   •   January 2, 2020

Hi Joyous Health team! I am looking for a suggestion for a protein powder to include in my smoothies while pregnant. I want to be able to bring an option with me for my next appointment and chat with my doctor about it! What would you recommend?

Joy McCarthy   •   January 6, 2020

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