Protein powder has become increasingly popular as a quick, cheap, and easy way to add high levels of protein to your diet. And the results are convincing in that these powders do work, allowing your muscles to better recover from resistance training, which allows for greater muscle build-up over time.
If you have experimented with protein powders, you probably have noticed one constancy in most brands – an excess of sugar to disguise the chalky and bitter taste that many protein powders have (also check our best tasting protein powders article).
There are several reasons a prospective athlete would prefer to use sugar-free protein powder. Sugar is simply and generally best avoided. It is a highly addictive, highly inflammatory substance. People with certain diseases including diabetes and gluten insensitivity (namely those with Celiac disease, though not limited to that) may also need to avoid sugar for health reasons.
When looking to purchase a no sugar added protein powder or a lowest sugar protein powder, it is important that you closely read nutrition facts and ingredient lists. Brands are allowed to say their product is sugar-free as long as there is no added sugar. Basically, if they don’t add traditional sweeteners, like cane sugar, into their powder, they can say it’s sugar-free. And on a ‘sugar-free’ powder, they can still include certain sweeteners like Sucralose.
These sweeteners are full of chemicals that may be harmful to your health. Even though these powders may not contain added sugar in the traditional sense, they are still artificially sweetened – some athletes might be okay with a little sucralose in their powder, others might not.
The reason these sweeteners are included in protein powder formulas is pretty simple. They are used to mask the naturally bad taste of protein powder, which can be completely unpalatable to many people. But if you are one of those people that prefers health over flavor, here are the top 5 sugar and sweetener free protein powders on the market.
[Editor’s Note – If you’re looking for a simple, 5 ingredient protein powder see my in-depth Isopure Infusions review]
#1 Bob’s Red Mill Pea Protein Powder
Bob’s Red Mill is a leading company in non GMO, unprocessed whole grains. They demonstrate this again with their Pea Protein powder – the only ingredient is pea protein isolate. This powder contains 21 grams of protein, only 100 calories, as well as a high content of iron. It’s a proper no sugar added protein powder. Also making it the lowest sugar protein powder on the list (some of them do contain some sort of sugar). Both the strong and weak point of this powder is that it has no flavor whatsoever. It, instead, is designed to be used in addition to shakes, smoothies, or baked goods like cookies or muffins.
For someone with less readily available time to concoct a protein shake, this might not be a good option. But, if you have the time, this is one of the healthiest protein powders out there. And, it only costs (click for price).
#2 Garden of Life Raw Protein Powder
This USDA organic, Vegan, non GMO, gluten, dairy, and soy free protein powder comes loaded with vitamins, probiotics, and 22 grams of 100% plant-based protein. The protein used in this protein powder is derived from a combination of peas and sprouts, and is considered to be clean protein.
The ingredients list is longer than the one for Bob’s Red Mill protein powder, but the ingredients listed are simply a large variety of plants used to derive their protein isolate. This powder additionally contains 22 grams of protein and 110 calories. At an affordable price for a 20-serving container, this product is competitive considering what you’re getting for the money – clean, raw, and organic protein.
#3 Nutiva Organic Hemp Protein
Nutiva is providing a USDA organic, non GMO, nutrient and fiber rich protein powder, that, like every other powder on this list, contains no added sugar or sugar substitutes. Like Bob’s Red Mill powder, Nutiva’s Organic Hemp Protein Powder contains only one ingredient: organic hemp protein.
This powder is a little lower on the protein content, containing only 15 grams. It also has only 90 calories per serving, and includes 8 grams of fiber, as well as high levels of iron, magnesium, and zinc. A 48-ounce container of this cold-processed, raw organic hemp protein cost for a low price. The only reason it only makes number 3 on this list is that it is lower in protein levels than the first two options.
#4 Amazing Grass Protein SuperFood Powder
For a small tub, Amazing Grass is making an organic, non GMO, gluten, dairy, and grain free protein powder that is loaded with full servings of fruits, veggies, and clean, plant-based protein.
One serving contains 110 calories and 20 grams of protein. The protein used is derived from peas, quinoa, hemp, and chia seeds.Similar to Bob’s Red Mill powder, this is designed as an additive to shake, and is not really meant to be mixed with water the way most average protein powders are. It’s a good all-around healthful option.
#5 Vega One Organic All-In-One Shake
Last but not least, is the Vega all-in-one shake. This vegan, organic, non GMO, non-dairy, stevia-free, plant-based protein powder is loaded with a large variety of vitamins and minerals derived from plant-based sources.
It has high levels of vitamins C and A, and as such, is loaded with antioxidative properties. Because of its high nutritional content, this powder can also be used as a meal replacement if necessary. It contains 20 grams of clean protein, 150 calories, and one gram of sugar, making it mostly, though not entirely sugar free.
This doesn’t mean it’s a bad option. But if you are looking specifically for something that is entirely devoid of sugar, any of the other four options listed above are better. Now, if you’re just looking for a lower-sugar option, and don’t particularly care about the difference between one gram and zero grams, you can put this one back on the table. It is also on the more expensive side, for a 20-serving container.
Now that we’ve seen the best sugar-free protein powders the market has to offer, how do you decide which is the best for you and your workouts? Below we have collated a list of the most important features to look for to ensure that you’re getting the best from your purchase.
Type of Protein Powder
The most important thing to consider is the type of protein powder you’re going to be using. There are various different types on the market, each doing their own thing and having their own effectiveness.
Whey protein is perhaps the most common type of protein powder, and it is used for impressive gains in muscle as well as quicker recovery times. Your body also digests whey protein quickly.
Casein protein is another popular choice derived from milk. It digests slower than whey protein and is rich in an amino acid called glutamine, which is essential for muscle recovery after a workout.
Then you get onto plant proteins, such as pea protein. This features all nine essential amino acids for your body to properly recover after a workout. Soy protein is also a complete source of protein, although some steer clear of it due to its phytoestrogenic properties.
Brown rice protein powder is not complete, although there still are a number of helpful amino acids in it. Fava Bean is also not complete, despite it being a good source of fiber, manganese, and copper.
The type of protein you choose will depend on your workouts, recovery, and personal preference. The best protein powders will include all of the essential amino acids that your body needs so that you can get them all from one place.
There are nine amino acids that you should look for in your protein powder. If it has all nine, it is considered a complete source of protein and will aid your body most during your workout and during the post-workout recovery period.
Below are the amino acids that you should be focusing on:
Amino acids play a crucial role in how your muscles recover and are restored, so they’re important to source for your pre- and post-workouts.
Just because the protein powder is sugar-free, doesn’t mean that it can’t taste nice! There are plenty of healthy protein powders out there that still come in inventive and intriguing flavors.
Make sure that you peruse the market thoroughly to find which flavor calls out to you the most. Having a delicious protein powder will make you more likely to use it all up and get the most out of your purchase, rather than using it once and leaving it at the back of your cupboard due to the poor taste.
The amount of protein in each serving should be considered before purchasing a protein powder. Most athletes won’t even consider a protein powder if it has less than 20 grams of protein per serving, particularly if you’re looking for impressive muscle gains.
The majority of protein powders on the market won’t come with less than 20 grams a serving of protein, but it’s still good to check just in case. If a serving does contain less than this, it’s likely that it is full of filler ingredients that won’t do anything for your gym performance.
You should also be aware of how much fat and carbohydrates a protein powder includes as well. Knowing exactly what is in a serving of the protein powder you’re looking at will ensure that you’re hitting all of your macronutrients rather than just the protein.
We’ve already ruled out sugar from the ingredients list, so you don’t need to worry about this on the ingredients list. However, does the protein powder you’re looking at contain too many carbohydrates from other sources, leaving you feeling bloated and heavy just in time for your workout?
Is the powder rich in gluten which could irritate your digestive system and leave you feeling sluggish in the gym? Every ingredient in protein powder needs to be beneficial to your body rather than just being there to fill a space.
Look to the customer reviews to see how real life previous customers found the protein powder. Here you’ll get the most accurate opinions on the powder, including both the benefits and the drawbacks.
If anyone has found an issue with the protein powder, from its efficiency to the flavor, you’ll hear about it in the customer reviews. It’s helpful to get a general consensus of the protein powder from previous users before spending your own money on it, especially if it’s expensive.
Look at both how many stars a customer has given the protein powder and why they have given this rating. Someone might have given it one star because they didn’t read the description properly rather than a real reason why it’s being rated so low.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it bad to drink 2 protein shakes a day?
Drinking two protein shakes a day shouldn’t harm your diet, provided that they don’t include too much, if any at all, sugar. Protein powders are full of beneficial nutrients that can help your body before, during, and after a workout.
They can also give your body nutrients that your body is lacking, as well as helping you reach your macronutrient goals.
With that being said, many nutritionists believe that consuming solid foods rather than liquids is preferable. So, you can drink two protein shakes a day as long as you are still consuming solid foods. Just be mindful that this could leave you consuming too much protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
What protein powder is good for diabetics?
A study in 2017 used a small group of people to determine that whey protein could help people with Type 2 Diabetes. The whey protein stimulated and prompted insulin to be secreted in people with a normal body weight and triglyceride levels.
This was only done with 22 people and therefore is not the most valid study. You should consult your doctor before using whey protein to aid your diabetes. If they give you the okay to do so, make sure that the protein powder you opt for is sugar-free.
Is it OK to have protein powder every day?
Yes, you can have protein powder shakes every day before, during, or after your workout. Again, like we said earlier, protein powder is not designed to replace meals and therefore should be consumed between meals rather than during mealtimes.
Some people are cautious that drinking protein powder shakes while consuming a high protein diet is harmful to them. To avoid these uneasy feelings, make sure that you adjust your meals to prevent you from consuming too much protein.
Is there a protein powder without artificial sweeteners?
Yes, there are plenty of protein powders on the market that don’t include artificial sweeteners or sugar. These can use natural flavorings to make the shake taste nicer, or simply go without. Many people think that these protein powders are undesirable and not as appealing as alternatives with sugar or artificial sweeteners.
What happens if you drink protein shakes without working out?
Drinking protein shakes will obviously increase your protein intake, as well as your carbohydrate and fat intake. If you’re not working out and still consuming these in between meals, you’re going to be consuming too many calories for your lifestyle.
Protein contains calories, making losing weight harder in the long run. Without exercising, you should only be consuming between 46 and 56 grams of protein every day, depending on your weight and health.
People believe that consuming protein shakes instead of meals will help them lose weight, but this is not what they’re designed for. Use protein powders properly for the best results, alongside your diet and an exercise routine.
The Bottom Line
Clearly, several sugar and sweetener free protein powders do exist, they’re just a little harder to find. It’s way easier to find just low sugar protein powders instead of sugar free options. And if the taste is really a big concern, all you have to do is add these unsweetened powders to a fruit shake, where they will be naturally sweetened.
Depending on what you’re looking for, whether it be overall health, or solely protein content, these are truly your best options.
I’m a personal trainer based in Denver (Matrix Gym) and a true fitness nerd. If I’m not training clients or working out at my home gym, I’m probably skiing, cycling or hiking with my dog Rufus.
Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org