Guide to Protein Powders for smoothies and smoothie bowls

There are as many flavors of protein powder these days as there are shades of lipstick. We have our tried and true faves, but when it comes to formulations, what’s the true difference between pea protein, goat protein and whey? And which is best for our bodies? 

We asked a pro who is familiar with every type of protein powder, because she formulates all of them. Mattole Valley Naturals smoothie-savvy COO, Maressa Garner, gave us this ultimate cheat sheet to finding the right protein powder. The Santa Barbara brand doles out super-pure, small-batch powders we love and we knew they’d shoot us straight. 

Demystify your morning smoothe below, then enter to win a trio of Mattole Valley’s hard-core favorites so you can find out what works best for you…

If your lifestyle is remotely active, odds are you’d benefit from a quality protein powder in your diet. Proteins are the building blocks for hundreds of bodily functions, some of the most important being provision of amino acids for tissue repair, making immune cells and building neurotransmitters.

“Quality over quantity” applies here. More protein is not always better, as your body is designed to only absorb a finite amount at one time. Everyone has a unique set of needs based on lifestyle, body composition and fitness goals. Many protein powders on the market are full of preservatives, artificial or refined sweeteners, additives and all manner of funky junk. It goes without saying that no matter your choice, you should seek out the cleanest, organic, non-GMO protein powder with a minimal ingredient list.

To avoid confusion and ensure you get your needs met, we broke it down for you. The definitive guide to protein: brass tacks, no fluff, no frills.Read on to discover which will best fit your lifestyle and enhance your daily groove…

Animal-Protein Sources
Look for grass-fed, pasture-raised sources that are raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics for the most nutrient-dense protein.

Bovine Whey

Pros: Grass-fed whey has high amounts of cysteine, which helps the liver make glutathione (master antioxidant and major detoxifier!); Complete amino acid profile, particularly branched-chain amino acids, which stimulate muscle growth and maintenance; Quick and easy to digest for those who tolerate dairy; Contains compounds called bioactive milk peptides that reduce stress

Cons: When poorly sourced, there is potential for contamination with hormones, antibiotics, heavy metals; It’s often heated and refined, which denatures proteins, destroys nutrients and eradicates growth factors. Look for a whey concentrate, not an isolate; Dairy is a common allergen, those with sensitivities may experience cramping or bloating, poor digestion or inflammation

Who should use: Athletes or anyone with specific fitness goals, vegetarians, those on an alkaline or primal diet

Goat Whey

Pros: All the same benefits as bovine whey, plus a few more; Less allergenic than bovine milk, oligosaccharides found in goat’s milk can ease digestion in the intestinal tract; Easier to digest than cow’s milk; smaller fat globules and higher levels of medium-chain triglycerides amount to larger surface-to-volume ratio resulting in more efficient digestion; Slightly more alkaline-forming than cow’s milk; Molecularly closest to human milk

Cons: See above for cow’s milk cons; Goat’s milk has a strong characteristic flavor, which some love, others loathe

Who should use: Athlete or anyone with specific fitness goals, those with sensitivity to cow dairy, vegetarians, those on an alkaline or primal diet


Pros: Supports connective tissue repair; High levels of glycine help to buffer cortisol and encourage restful sleep; Improves skin appearance+ Gut bacteria turns collagen into butyric acid, aiding digestion. Learn more about it here!

Cons: Incomplete amino acid profile (needs to be supplemented with another protein source); Heat processing reduces the benefits of collagen, look for a hydrolyzed source

Who should use: Athletes or anyone with specific fitness goals, those with compromised gut health, anyone with a dairy sensitivity, those specifically seeking joint support, anyone on an elimination diet, alkaline, paleo or primal diet

Plant-Protein Sources
When shopping for a plant protein, you want to seek a multi plant-based blend to cover your bases with a complete amino acid profile. Look for organic, sprouted grains for optimal digestibility as plant proteins can be difficult to digest.

Brown Rice Protein

Pros: Hypoallergenic and easy to digest; Excellent source of complex carbohydrates, vitamin B and fiber; Scores low on glycemic index relative to most plant proteins

Cons: Potential for high levels of heavy metals, particularly naturally-occurring arsenic; Incomplete amino acid profile, must be supplemented with other forms of dietary protein

Who should use: Vegans, anyone with a dairy sensitivity, anyone on an alkaline or elimination diet

Pea Protein

Pros: Hypoallergenic; High amounts of arginine, an essential amino acid that aids in building tissue; Relatively easy to digest

Cons: Incomplete amino acid profile, must be supplemented with other forms of dietary protein; Contains phytic acid that blocks nutrients; Contains lectins that trigger inflammation and autoimmune response

Who should use: Athletes or anyone with specific fitness goals, vegans, anyone with a dairy sensitivity, anyone on an elimination diet, paleo diet, or alkaline diet

Hemp Protein

Pros: Hypoallergenic; Boasts a near complete amino-acid profile, unique in a plant protein; Generous quantities of vitamin E and lecithin, which supports healthy liver and brain function+ Rich in anti-inflammatory fatty acids and over 20 trace minerals; High amount of GLA, which promotes hormone health

Cons: Large amounts can cause bloating and indigestion, due to fiber content

Who should use: Athletes or anyone with specific fitness goals, vegans, anyone with a dairy sensitivity, endurance athletes (higher fat and carbohydrate content), anyone on an elimination diet

Soy Protein

Pros: Near complete amino acid profile; Neutral flavor; May improve immune system and bone health

Cons: Heavily genetically modified crop; Contains phytoestrogens, which may trigger a hormonal imbalance; Contains phytic acid that blocks nutrients

Who should use: Athletes/or anyone with specific fitness goals, vegans, anyone with a dairy sensitivity

Enter to win A Set of Protein Powder!

We’re giving away three delicious protein powders from Mattole Valley Naturals:
1 goat, 1 whey, and 1 vegan protein powder
Enter for the chance to win by leaving us your email in the entry box below.

This giveaway is officially closed!

From our friends


  1. I knew about whey proteins a bit, but goat and other proteins are new to me. Really, its an amazing guide to all type of protein powders.

    Kumkum Sharma | 08.31.2017 | Reply
  2. These are all hidden sources of MSG. Why doesn’t anyone talk about that, instead of leading so many of us to feeling ill??

    Michal Lynch | 08.31.2017 | Reply
  3. For many of the vegan proteins, the comment is: “Incomplete amino acid profile, must be supplemented with other forms of dietary protein”. What do you recommend adding to a protein shake to supplement and create a complete amino acid profile?

    Ranie | 08.31.2017 | Reply
  4. Wow. I didn’t know about the phytic acid in Pea protein. That’s not goo for your teeth. It’s so hard to find a good protein powder.

    therese | 08.31.2017 | Reply
  5. My favorite is Sprout Living “Green Kingdom”. It’s an organic vegan blend of plant proteins that has a complete amino acid profile and 20 grams of protein per serving. It mixes and tastes ok on it’s own but can also be added to a beverage. They make other flavors to but “Green Kingdom” is my fave.

    Michele | 08.31.2017 | Reply
  6. So which one is safest for vegetarians??

    Rekha | 08.31.2017 | Reply
  7. So basically pea protein (which I use daily) is not good for you since it triggers inflammation & auto immune response. This is very concerning.

    Fran | 09.04.2017 | Reply
    • Peas are very low in lectins. Furthermore, all legumes contain lectins, but research shows that people who eat a lot of legumes are healthier in every way. You don’t need to worry about it. Pea protein is certainly less allergenic than dairy based powders. I wish the author had gotten a little deeper into that subject instead of just making a scary statement and leaving it at that.

      Lisa | 09.21.2017 | Reply
  8. If you buy organic (which is always non-GMO) soy, you don’t have to worry about genetic modification. I wish that you had mentioned that in the article.

    Lisa | 09.21.2017 | Reply

Leave A Comment