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The scary stuff hiding in your protein powder shakes (and what to drink instead)

Quick Take

Protein, protein, protein.

When you switch to a plant-based diet, you may worry about meeting all your protein requirements. Do you need to drink vegan protein powder shakes now that you're not eating meat. No, you do not! Yes, protein is important -- but you're most likely getting "enough" protein on a plant-based diet, without supplementing. And protein powders (even the "plant-based" ones) are best avoided altogether. Here's why.

On this page

What is protein and why do I need it?

How much protein do I need?

Is there such a thing as “too much protein?”

What is in your protein shake (you don’t want to know)

The ultimate whole food plant-based protein shake recipe

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Key Takeaways

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What is protein and why do I need it?

OK, before we break down why you don't need vegan protein shakes, let's do a quick review on what protein is exactly.

Protein is an essential nutrient for human life.  Dubbed “the building blocks of life,” protein, like carbohydrates and fat, is a macronutrient. Macronutrients give the body energy (by way of calories). Your body needs lots of macronutrients to keep this train going. Chemically speaking, protein is composed of the amino acids: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, or sulfur.

We use protein to build muscle mass, but that’s not all we use it for.

Your body puts protein to work in nine essential ways:

  • to grow and repair tissue
  • to aid important biochemical reactions
  • to facilitate communication between cells
  • to act as a structural framework within your cells
  • to regulate proper pH balances within your blood
  • to maintain your body’s fluid balance
  • to transport and store nutrients
  • to form antibodies to fight infection
  • and (last but not least) to give your body energy.

Protein has also been linked to weight loss through improved metabolism and reduced appetite.

How much protein do I need?

We hear this a LOT for plant-based beginners...and the answer may surprise you as it's not as much as you might think!

Only 3% of America is protein deficient, and those people typically don’t consume enough calories. (By the way, Americans are 97% fiber deficient and 98% are potassium deficient). 

Protein deficiencies can be found in elderly people with hindered appetites, individuals with eating disorders, or those who are impoverished.

If you’re vegan, or plant-based and you consume enough calories for your BMI, you don’t have to worry about “getting enough protein.” 

Did you know plant-based dieters (vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians, WFPB dieters, etc.) get about 70% more daily protein than their bodies need? This is roughly the same daily protein intake consumed by those with traditional omnivorous diets.

How to calculate your protein needs

Your protein needs depend on your activity level, age, and other factors, but a good rule of thumb to calculate recommended daily protein allowance is to take your body weight (in pounds) and multiply it by 0.36. This will give you approximately how much protein you need (in grams). 

If you weigh 165 pounds then your protein requirement would be...

165 x 0.36 = 59.4 grams of protein per day.

Or just 2 cups of edamame. That’s it!

(Try our handy protein calculator here.)

Is there such a thing as “too much protein”?

While people tend to get stuck on meeting protein needs, it’s not all fun and gainz. There is such a thing as too much protein - and it can have serious health consequences.  

Most Americans are eating far too much protein. Research shows those with diets extremely high in protein are five times more likely to die from cancer and 23 times more likely to die from diabetes.

The culprit? Animal protein.

An overconsumption of animal protein leads to fatal diseases, particularly cancer, while an overconsumption of plant protein does not. (And considering the high fiber content in most protein-rich plant foods, you’d be uncomfortably full before you ever got close to dangerous levels of protein intake).

What is in your protein shake?

(… you don’t want to know)

Many popular protein powders contain whey and casein - both animal products derived from cow's milk. Too much whey can lead to digestive issues and acne, while casein is linked with in cancer. 

Not to mention, protein powder often contains fillers, gums, high amounts of processed sugar, and empty calories. This can lead to fat storage in the body, spiked glucose levels, and inflammation (which is the LAST thing you want as an athlete or if you're trying to lose weight!).

And for those who think your vegan protein powder is healthy studies find that whey and sugar aren't the only toxin added to these protein powders:

“Earlier this year, a nonprofit group called the Clean Label Project released a report about toxins in protein powders. Researchers screened 134 products for 130 types of toxins and found that many protein powders contained heavy metals (lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury), bisphenol-A (BPA, which is used to make plastic), pesticides, or other contaminants with links to cancer and other health conditions. Some toxins were present in significant quantities. For example, one protein powder contained 25 times the allowed limit of BPA.”

               - Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School


The ultimate whole food plant-based protein shake recipe

Boost your workout with plants, no processed powders.  This whole food plant-based protein shake recipe contains 35 whopping grams of vegan protein per serving -- no casein, no whey, no toxins!

1 ½ frozen ripe bananas (peel, chop, and freeze after buying)

3 Tablespoons of all natural peanut butter 

3 Tablespoons of hemp seeds

1 teaspoon of flaxseed

1 ½ cups of unsweetened soy milk

2 dates (pitted, soak for a smoother texture)

1 cup of raw spinach 

Blend ingredients until smooth. Blend an additional 30 seconds. 

Excellent Source of Dietary Fiber, Excellent Source of Protein, Excellent Source of Vitamin A, Excellent Source of Vitamin C, Excellent Source of Calcium, Excellent Source of Iron

Get 10% off athlete meals, delivered!

Say goodbye to chalky and unhealthy protein powders and say hello the MamaSezz Peak Performance Bundle -- ready-made meals delivered to your door and specially formulated for whole food plant-based athletes.

Use code POWER for 10% off your first Peak Performance bundle.

Key Takeaways

  • Protein is important for healthy bodily function and growth -- but chances are you're getting enough.
  • Most Americans (including vegans) get well over the RDA of protein so time to stop stressing about where you'll get your protein!
  • Protein powders (even "plant-based" ones!) are often filled with ingredients that are counterproductive to your workout and weight loss goals as they can even cause inflammation (which will increase your recovery time and can cause disease!)
  • Swap your protein powders for whole plant-based foods.
  • Enhance your athletic performance, no protein powders necessary! Order the MamaSezz Peak Performance Bundle for whole food plant-based meals loaded with ingredients scientifically proven to enhance athletic performance. Use the code: POWER to get 10% off your first Peak Performance Bundle! 

Don't forget your Free DOWNLOAD



By Caroline DiNicola Fawley

Caroline is a plant-based chef, recipe designer, and whole food plant-based nutrition educator, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.

What you should do now

  1. We have been where you are and we’ve helped thousands of people (just like you) transition to eating a plant based diet. If you are looking for a guide that can help you with some of the big questions, and dramatically reduce your stress, this FREE Ultimate Little Guide to Plant-Based Eating is a great place to start.
  2. If you're interested in Weight Loss, Download this fantastic FREE guide Ultimate (little) Guide to weight loss
  3. If you’d like to learn about plant-based living go to our MamaSezz Blog where you can read hundreds of “How To” articles. If you’d like to learn about plant-based cooking go to our Recipes Section for easy step by step favorites.
  4. If you enjoyed this article, then so will your friends, so why not share it on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Email

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