I evaluated a few dozen protein powders suitable for those who are lactose intolerant, and in this article I share what I consider are the best products currently available.
Five are vegan (plant-based) and one is an egg-white powder.
I also included a protein powder made from whey isolates.
And although it is technically not lactose-free, over 99% of its lactose has been removed during the filtration process.
Many lactose intolerant people have enjoyed drinking this without any digestive problems, so I thought I’d include it here too.
Best lactose-free protein powders
Up ahead I’ll provide detailed ingredient & nutrition information for each of these protein powders, including their amino acid profiles.
Next, I want to briefly discuss the term lactose-free, specifically how the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) views this label.
And (hopefully) without going into full-blown lecturing mode, I’d also like to point out a couple of important things to be aware of when choosing a plant-based protein powder.
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.
Lactose-free per the FDA
In their own words,
“There is no FDA definition for the terms ‘lactose free’ or ‘lactose-reduced’…” (1)
Strange but true
There are a number of terms used by manufacturers & sellers in the food & supplement marketplace to label their product, or to point out its supposed advantages over its competitors:
- all natural
- & lots more
Believe it or not, some of these food labels have no legal meaning at all, because the FDA doesn’t have a formal definition associated with that particular term.
This allows supplement sellers a certain “leeway” when using these labels, if you catch my drift.
I wrote about this food & supplement industry practice in detail in my article Misleading Food Labels, here on heydayDo.
Anyways, lactose-free is another one of those labels that are not monitored by the FDA.
FDA lists whey as a product with lactose
The FDA does say simply that “a lactose-free product should not contain any lactose.”
(Ya think? 😜)
They then provide a list of milk-related products, cautioning that
“If any of these words are listed (in the ingredients), the product probably contains lactose.”
Whey is one of those words listed. Of course it is, it’s made from milk.
So how can I include a whey product in an article on lactose-free protein powders?
Enter whey isolate
The term whey protein isolate means that the whey has been processed – usually through filtration or ion exchange – in such a way that most of the fat, carbohydrates, & lactose have been removed. (2)
The minimum standard for whey protein isolate is that it contains at least 90% protein.
And as noted by the Whey Protein Institute, the amount of lactose in whey protein isolate is very small, from 0.5% – 1%. (3)
This means that between 99% – 99.5% of the lactose has been removed.
And that’s why many lactose intolerant people can drink whey isolate in their shakes & smoothies just fine, whereas regular whey products cause them all kinds of trouble.
Vegans, get your EAAs & BCAAs daily
If you’re vegan &/or lactose intolerant and intend to go with a plant-based protein supplement, I want to humbly offer you a couple of suggestions.
These tips are for anyone who wants to try & preserve what muscle mass they have, but is intended especially for those of you who are:
- physically active
- trying to stay strong/get stronger
- want to build muscle
- or are trying to lose weight
Adequate protein is a priority
Eating enough protein every day brings you heap big benefits:
- stimulates muscle growth & strength when resistance training (4)
- boosts metabolism (5)
- increases fat burning (5b)
- fights age-related muscle loss (6)
- reduces food cravings & speeds weight loss (7)
Simply put, proteins “are the building blocks of life”. (8)
BCAAs & EAAs
And amino acids are the building blocks of protein, as well as being important components of metabolism. (9)
The nine essential amino acids (called essential because your body can’t make them on its own), which include the three branched chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, & valine, are in their highest concentrations in the following foods:
- Whey, milk, and soy proteins
- Beef, chicken, fish, and eggs (10)
Essential amino acids provide all sorts of benefits in the areas of mood regulating, sleep quality, weight loss, exercise performance, metabolic function, & more. (11)
A couple of examples include:
- All nine of the EAAs – in particular leucine – are needed in sufficient quantity to stimulate muscle growth (12)
- BCAAs help with muscle recovery & immune system functioning following exercise (13)
I’m sure you get the idea: they’re important. Anyway, here are a few things to consider:
1. This is obvious, but really get to know how much protein you’re actually eating every day, especially if you’re vegan.
2. Make sure you get a sufficient amount of EAAs (essential amino acids) & BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) every day.
3. Be aware that some plant-based protein powders aren’t complete, and some that say they are a complete protein** have pretty weak amino acid profiles compared to whole food proteins (meat, dairy, eggs, fish) and compared to whey & egg protein powders.
**- A food (or supplement) with the full fleet of essential amino acids in it in the right proportions is what you’ll hear called a whole or complete protein (14).
It doesn’t mean there are ENOUGH of them, just that all 9 of them are there & in proportion to each other.
4. Read the Nutrition Facts labels and add up the EAAs or BCAAs yourself if the manufacturer doesn’t bother to do that for you.
5. If they don’t provide the amino acid profile on the packaging, write them and have them send it to you, which they ought to**.
(**I wrote to a handful of companies asking for their amino acid profile while vetting the protein powders considered for this article, and got replies from every one of them.)
Lactose-free protein powder review
The plant-based (vegan) protein powders are listed first.
I’ve ranked them in terms of customer satisfaction, though their owner ratings are all within a fairly narrow range.
- 4.5 ⭐ – 5,000+ reviews
- 24g protein per serving
- 4g BCAAs per serving
- Organic ingredients
- Pea, brown rice, and Sacha Inchi seed proteins
Read more about Sacha Inchi
- 4.5 ⭐ – 300+ reviews
- 21g protein per serving
- 4g BCAAs per serving
- Organic ingredients
- Pea, brown rice, and chia seed proteins
- 4.4 ⭐ – 800+ reviews
- 20g protein per serving
- 3.3g BCAAs per serving
- greens, fruit, & vitamins added
- Pea, hemp, & flax seed proteins
- 4.3 ⭐ – 2,500+ reviews
- 30g protein per serving
- 5g BCAAs per serving
- Tart cherry, turmeric, & probiotics added
- Pea, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, & alfalfa proteins
- 4.3 ⭐ – 3,700+ reviews
- 20g protein per serving
- 3.5g BCAAs per serving
- Organic ingredients, digestive enzyme blend added
- Pea, flax, quinoa, pumpkin, & chia seed proteins
- 4.4 ⭐ – 300+ reviews
- 23g protein per serving
- 4.7g BCAAs per serving
- Digestive enzymes added
- egg white protein
- 4.7 ⭐ – 700+ reviews
- 29.7g protein per serving
- 6g BCAAs per serving
- Only 2 ingredients: 99% whey, < 1% sunflower lecithin
- Pure cold-processed whey protein isolate
Lactose-free Protein Powder FAQ
Here are answers to a few of the commonly asked questions regarding lactose intolerance & protein powders.
Can you drink protein shakes if you are lactose intolerant?
If you are lactose intolerant, avoid the milk-based protein products high in the milk sugar lactose, like whey concentrate & casein.
Here are a few protein powder alternatives for the lactose intolerant: egg, pea, hemp, soy, peanut, beef bone broth isolate or collagen peptides.
Often other plant-based ingredients are included to round out the protein profile, like flax seeds, chia seeds, grains like quinoa, etc.
What protein is good for lactose intolerance?
The following are good alternatives to regular milk-based protein. Just make sure any vegan product provides a complete protein with sufficient amino acids:
- Meat, chicken, & fish
- Beans & legumes
- Bone broth, gelatin, & collagen
- Egg protein
- Whey isolate (the lactose has been removed)
Is Iso Whey lactose free?
Technically, there is still a very small amount of lactose in a whey isolate protein powder.
However, per the Whey Protein Institute 99% – 99.5% of the lactose is removed during the protein isolation process. (16)
I hope that my article on lactose-free protein powders is useful to you, and that the tips on essential amino acids & BCAAs are helpful too.
I wish you well on your fitness journey; let’s go.