This homemade protein powder is the perfect way to add protein to any diet. It is a four-seed blend inspired by Naked Seed protein powder. It's vegan (dairy-free, egg-free), grain-free (gluten-free), soy-free, nut-free, and refined sugar-free.
Protein on a Plant-Based Diet
Plant-based protein powders have become quite popular in the last few years. Walk into any large grocery store and you will plethora of organic, kosher, plant-based, sprouted, anything you want protein powders.
Getting enough protein is a common concern for those looking to switch to a plant-based lifestyle. Given the abundance of misinformation on the subject, concern over protein deficiency is understandable yet totally unfounded in science.
So, let's review what protein is, what the requirements are, and what the best sources of plant protein are.
Complete vs Incomplete Protein
Protein is one of the three macronutrients the human body uses for energy. (The other two macronutrients are carbohydrates and fat).
There are 20 amino acids that link together to form peptides. Peptides are then linked together to form proteins.
Though all 20 amino acids are important for health, only nine of them are labeled as essential. Essential amino acids - histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine - cannot be produced or stored by the body and need to be regularly obtained through diet. (1) Non-essential amino acids, on the other hand, can be produced by the body.
Protein Intake Requirements
How much protein a person needs depends on their age, sex, build, health status, and activity level.
Government-issued recommendations for protein intake have varied over the years. Currently, the protein requirements for an average adult are 0.8 - 1.0 g per kg of body weight. (2) So, if a person weighs 132 lb/60 kg, then their general protein requirements are 48 - 60 g per day.
For an adult athlete, the protein requirements are 1.2 - 2.0 g per kg of body weight. (3) So, 72 - 120 g of protein per day for an athlete who weighs 132 lb/60 kg.
Certain plant foods contain significantly more protein than others. Some of the highest plant-based protein food sources include:
- Tempeh (15 g per ½-cup serving)
- Tofu (10 g per ½-cup serving)
- Edamame (9 g per ½-cup serving)
- Lentils (9 g per ½-cup serving)
- Quinoa (8 g per 1-cup serving)
- Hemp seeds (13 g per ¼-cup serving)
- Peanuts (9.5 g per ¼-cup serving)
- Chia seeds (7 g per ¼-cup serving)
- Nutritional yeast (8 g per 2-Tbsp. serving)
- Almond butter (7 g per 2-Tbsp. serving)
Protein-rich foods are typically categorized as "complete" or "incomplete" based on the amount of essential amino acids they contain. Most plant foods are deficient in at least one of the essential amino acids and therefore considered an incomplete protein source.
However, it is not necessary to combine plant-based proteins carefully to avoid deficiency. As long as you're eating a wide variety of whole foods, you're most likely getting all the amino acids you need. (4)
The one amino acid to pay special attention to is lysine. Only a few plant-based protein sources contain lysine in large amounts - tempeh, tofu, beans, and lentils. If you don't eat legumes, it might be worth considering an amino acid supplement.
It is absolutely possible to obtain adequate levels of protein from food alone. However, for anyone with a goal of gaining muscle, increasing protein with age, or obtaining peace of mind that they are getting a complete amino acid profile, a simple boost from protein powder can be a total game-changer.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of subpar options on the market. So, ignore the marketing and look straight at the ingredient label.
Here's what I look for in protein powder:
- Plant-based: if you're vegan or dairy-free, plant-based protein is your friend. Not only are vegan protein powders high in protein, but they are also typically high in fiber, enzymes, and antioxidants, depending on the product.
- Clean: pure protein powder should contain only a few simple ingredients - no added sweeteners, flavors, colors, thickeners, stabilizers, or some other additives. All the ingredients should be listed right on the packaging. No "proprietary blends".
- Complete: the most common plant-based sources of complete protein include amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, and soy. Seeds such as chia seeds, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds all contain significant amounts of all nine essential amino acids. However, research is mixed on the exact amounts of these essential amino acids. This is why these seeds are sometimes labeled as complete proteins and sometimes as incomplete. Finally, pea, rice, and sunflower seeds need to be combined and sold as blends to be considered complete. When purchasing protein powder, look for a company that lists the amino acid profile on the label, so you always know what you're getting.
- Cold-pressed: high-quality protein powder is minimally processed to retain the integrity of the protein. No high temperatures or harsh chemicals during processing. Cold-pressed, ideally raw, protein powder is best.
- Third-party tested: all ingredients should be third-party tested for heavy metals and pathogens. Every ingredient and dosage on the label should also be verified by an independent lab. Third-party testing labels help stack the odds in favor of better-quality control measures.
Naked Seed Protein Powder
A full disclosure - I partnered with Naked Nutrition on this blog post. This entire blog post is inspired by their Naked Seed protein powder, which is a seed-only protein powder with a superior amino acid profile optimized for a plant-based diet.
The Naked Seed protein powder literally contains only four real food protein ingredients:
- Pumpkin seeds: shelled pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of protein - 100 g of pumpkin seeds provide 30 g of protein and 5.3 g of BCAAs*. Pumpkin seeds contain all nine essential amino acids even though they are typically quite low in lysine.
- Sunflower seeds: every 100 g of shelled sunflower seeds provides 20.8 g of protein and 4.1 g of BCAAs. Sunflower seeds are low in lysine and therefore not considered a complete protein source.
- Watermelon seeds: while many people shy away from eating watermelon seeds, they are one of the most nutrient-dense seeds. Every 100 g of watermelon seeds provides 28.3 g of protein and 4.5 g of BCAAs. Just like sunflower seeds, watermelon seeds are quite low in lysine.
- Chia seeds: every 100g of these tiny little seeds contains 16.5 g of protein and 3.1 g of BCAAs. Because of their great amino acid profile, they are typically labeled as a complete protein.
*In fitness, BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) are particularly important because they have been shown to increase muscle growth and recovery after exercise. BCAAs include isoleucine, leucine, and valine.
Store-bought vs DIY Protein Powder
You might be wondering why you wouldn't make your own DIY seed protein powder at home.
Although protein powders come directly from whole food sources, they are not whole foods themselves. Rather, they are made by extracting the protein component of certain foods to reduce their carbohydrate and fat content. This is why store-bought protein powders are so high in protein.
If you'd like to make your own version of this seed protein powder, you certainly can (see below). The only downside is that the homemade version won't be nearly as high in protein as the store-bought one.
How to Use Naked Seed Protein Powder
I use this protein powder in my post-workout smoothies or shakes. You can also mix it into oatmeal, sprinkle it over yogurt, or add it to energy bars. The protein powder comes unflavored, which makes it undetectable when you blend or bake it into just about anything.
Also, even though there is no emulsifier, the seed protein powder mixes and dissolves really well.
Homemade Protein Powder
How to Make Homemade Protein Powder
If you're determined to make your own seed protein powder at home, there is one thing you can do to naturally increase the amount of bioavailable nutrients, including protein. That one thing is sprouting.
- Sprout. Sprouting enhances the amino acid profile of foods and increases their protein concentration by 9-12%. (5) Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and watermelon seeds are easier to sprout than chia seeds, so start with those.
- Add the seeds into a quart jar. (You will need three jars to sprout the seeds individually). Fill the jar with water, add 1 tsp. salt, cover the jar with a sprouting screen and soak the seeds for ~ 12 hours. Soaking the seeds in salted water neutralizes enzyme inhibitors and increases the bioavailability of many nutrients.
- Once soaked, drain the water and invert the jar over a bowl at an angle so that the seeds can drain while still allowing air to circulate.
- After 12 hours, rinse and drain again. Repeat rinsing and draining twice daily.
- Tiny sprouts will begin to form in 1-2 days. Sprouting is complete when you see tiny sprouts emerging.
- Dehydrate. Transfer the seeds onto dehydrator trays and spread them into an even layer. If your dehydrator has a 'nuts and seeds' setting, use that. If it's manual, turn it up to 115°F/46°C. Dehydrate the seeds until completely dry and crispy, 18-24 hours.
- Blend. Add the seeds individually into a high-speed blender and blend into a fine powder. Don't mix the seeds prior to blending otherwise they won't mill evenly. Chia seeds take the shortest time to blend into a fine powder while pumpkin seeds take the longest.
- Mix. Transfer the seeds into a mixing bowl or a container and mix until well combined.
How to Store Homemade Protein Powder
- Refrigerating: transfer the powdered seeds into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 month.
- Freezing: transfer the powdered seeds into an airtight container and freeze for up to 6 months.
If you give the protein powder a try, let me know how you liked it in the comments below!
Homemade Protein Powder
- Sprout (optional). Add the pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and watermelon seeds into a quart jar. (You will need three jars to sprout the seeds individually). Fill the jar with water, add 1 tsp. salt, cover the jar with a sprouting screen, and soak the seeds for ~ 12 hours. Once soaked, drain the water and invert the jar over a bowl at an angle so that the seeds can drain while still allowing air to circulate. After 12 hours, rinse and drain again. Repeat rinsing and draining twice daily. Tiny sprouts will begin to form in 1-2 days. Sprouting is complete when you see tiny sprouts emerging.
- Dehydrate (only if using sprouted seeds). Transfer the sprouted seeds onto dehydrator trays and spread them into an even layer. If your dehydrator has a 'nuts and seeds' setting, use that. If it's manual, turn it up to 115°F/46°C. Dehydrate the seeds until completely dry and crispy, 18-24 hours.
- Blend. Add the sprouted and dehydrated seeds as well as the chia seeds individually into a high-speed blender and blend into a fine powder. Don't mix the seeds prior to blending otherwise they won't mill evenly. Chia seeds take the shortest time to blend into a fine powder while pumpkin seeds take the longest.
- Mix. Transfer the seeds into a mixing bowl or a container and mix until well-combined.
- Store. Homemade protein powder keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. For longer-term storage, freeze in an airtight container for up to 6 months.