Most people get all the protein they need from whole foods. A protein powder supplement may be warranted if you're an avid athlete or have trouble eating a balanced diet. Whey and soy are favored protein powders because they deliver all the essential amino acids your body needs, blend well into smoothies and digest readily. Egg protein powders and vegan options can offer many of the same benefits, though, without the lactose and soy. You may be surprised to learn, too, that whey and casein are often nearly lactose-free, despite being derived from milk.
If you're not a vegan who shuns all animal products, egg white protein powder may be your best bet when whey and soy are off limits. Proteins are made up of amino acids, nine of which your body cannot produce on its own. Egg whites contain all of these nine essential amino acids -- particularly the branched-chain aminos that are critical to muscle repair and growth. Egg white protein powder is also a source of l-arginine, a nonessential amino acid that may boost cardiovascular health and energy.
The concern with many one-ingredient vegan protein powders is that they don't contain all the essential amino acids or offer them in the right ratios to form a complete protein. If you're looking for a protein powder to supply a complete array of amino acids after a workout, you're best off with vegan blends that include multiple protein sources; the combinations optimize amino acid content. These blends usually include a mix of pea, hemp, brown rice, spouted seeds and grains. When shopping for vegan protein blends, check the ingredient label to make sure the blend doesn't include soy.
Options such as 100 percent hemp protein or pea protein may not be complete, but they will serve to boost your protein intake if you're not getting enough. If you're not trying to build major muscle, other whole foods, such as beans, nuts, legumes and grains, eaten throughout the day round out your amino acid intake. Hemp offers a high-fiber content and may help fight inflammation because of its high omega fatty acid content. Hemp contains all the essential amino acids but not in the same ideal ratios as complete proteins, such as soy or whey. Pea protein does offer branched-chain amino acids to help with muscle recovery, making it suitable after a workout, but not in the high concentrations found in egg or whey protein.
Maybe Whey or Casein Protein
Whey protein comes in concentrate and isolate forms. Isolate is more highly processed and usually contains little or no lactose. Whey isolate is a derivative of milk, though, so if you are highly sensitive to lactose you may still need to avoid it because of the potential for cross contamination. Casein is the other type of protein found in milk. Surprisingly, most or all lactose may be separated from the casein during processing. Casein is sometimes even included as an ingredient in lactose-free products, such as alternative cheeses. Traces of lactose may possibly make their way into casein powders, however. For most people with lactose intolerance, these small amounts will have no effect -- but if you're exceptionally sensitive, skip it.