It used to be that plant-based proteins were thought of as sub-par. “Nutritionally and taste-wise, they didn’t really compare,” says Molly Kimball, a sports dietician with Ochsner’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans, LA. But those days are over—and building mass without meat is not only plausible, but incredibly effective. “The taste, texture, and dissolvability has really come a long way—so has the technology of how protein can be isolated,” she says.
Even more: Beyond protein, plant-based powders are packed with probiotics, vitamins, minerals, fiber, omega-3s, and green powders, says Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of Plant-Powered for Life. And though science and the average athlete remain apprehensive about making the switch in favor of plant-based powders, research suggests that the green stuff is just as good as whey.
Choosing the perfect powder could matter to Olympic athletes or bodybuilders, says Matt Ruscigno, M.P.H., R.D. But a few extra grams of lysine (which are found in various amounts in different vegan and vegetarian powders), or not, is not going to affect the life, training, or muscle building of the average guy, he explains. That means that picking from the slew of options—from hemp to soy and pea—ultimately comes down to which you prefer. After all, supplemental protein powders should be just that: supplemental. That’s why Ruscigno also suggests choosing a plant-based protein that’s different from what you eat: “If you eat tofu and drink soy milk, don’t do soy protein powder. Add variety.”
Plus, some big name stores like GNC sell smaller, trial packages that are single servings—a good way to test a product to find out if you like it. Many (including GNC) also have policies where, if you open a powder, try it, and don’t like it, you can bring it back and return it if you have your receipt, says Kimball.