Can You Use Protein Powder on a Whole30 Diet?
By Cliff Harvey PhD
There are a lot of whole food and clean eating nutrition strategies available and one of the most popular of these is the Whole30® 30-day nutritional program.
While there has been some criticism of the Whole30 program because it is very restrictive, it has also provided benefits for many people, and it can function almost as a reset to encourage the eating of natural and unrefined foods.
The program itself allows:
Meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables and fruit, natural fats, herbs and spices, and seasonings.
Sugar (in any form) and any non-nutritive sweeteners, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, carrageenan, MSG, sulphites, baked goods or treat foods (even if they have allowed ingredients).
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Can I Use Pea Protein on a Whole 30 Plan?
In the plan as prescribed, any refined food (which could include a protein powder) and any food that contains legumes or sweeteners (even natural ones like the fruit protein thaumatin used in Clean Lean Protein). So, technically pea protein isn’t used as part of the Whole30 plan.
However, similarly to the Paleo Diet (which also avoids legumes), many people do use Pea Protein Isolate in modified versions of diets like Whole 30 for the following reasons.
Protein powders are convenient. Many people struggle to have good quality meals, consistently, even when following a nutrition program. Protein powders can provide the base for simple, effective, nutrient-dense meals when prep time is short or when you are struggling for meal ideas.
2. For use in and around training
Many people benefit from protein either before, during, or after training. Eating whole food may not be ideal for these times due to stomach upset or simply not feeling like eating. Protein powders offer a convenient, easy-on-the-gut option for peri-training nutrition.
3. Bolstering the protein content of the diet easily
Many people actually don’t get the protein they require to perform and feel at their best even if they are eating an otherwise good diet. Protein supplements can help to meet this shortfall.
Pea protein isolate, in particular, avoids many of the typical issues that people associate with legumes (one of the big reasons they’re excluded Whole30 and Paleo-style approaches), especially the presence of anti-nutrients. These are things like phytic acid (which inhibits the uptake of various minerals), saponins (which can cause gastric upset), and trypsin inhibitors (which can reduce protein digestion). Overall, for most people though, there’s little concern that eating some of these are going to cause any problem at all. But, if this is a concern, many processes help to markedly reduce the levels of anti-nutrients in legumes and grains like sprouting, soaking in an acidic medium (such as lime juice), and cooking. Nowadays, high-quality pea protein isolates are processed using a low-heat, enzymatic isolation process that effectively removes almost all the phytate, lectins, saponins, and trypsin inhibitors.
As you can see in the table below the functional properties of the gold standard of plant protein—-isolated golden pea protein—are quite different to whole legumes and to the commonly used vegan protein, soy protein isolate, with between 1/60th and 1/100th of the phytate content.
So, despite it being derived from a legume, pea protein isolate has become a favorite of many in the wholefood community as a convenient protein source with no adverse effects.
What about after the initial 30 days?
Many people do stick to the Whole30 plan rigidly for the first 30 days. But afterwards, many do want to find methods to help make good nutrition easier to follow, and that’s where pea protein isolate (like Clean Lean Protein) can really help as a convenient base for meals.
So, while pea protein isn’t “allowed” on a Whole30 plan, there’s really no reason why it would cause any negative effect and it can certainly help bolster the protein content of the diet if you’re not achieving optimal protein intakes and as a convenient option, and it can also provide a valuable ongoing option as you find your own particular methods to optimize nutrition over the long term.