What is the best vegan protein powder?
Great question, glad you asked.
Finding a great cruelty-free protein powder that doesn't break the bank is not easy.
And so in today's post I'll help you navigate through the dense jungle of plant protein supplements...
...so that you can find an awesome vegan protein powder that will help you build muscle, lose fat and get healthier.
OUR TOP PICK
For most individuals (and fitness goals) a pea protein powder is a great choice.
And because of the tremendous bang for your buck, high quality, and with a detailed amino acid profile, the NOW Sports Pea Protein is my top pick for the best overall vegan protein powder.
The Many Awesome Benefits of a Quality Vegan Protein Powder
While you should base your protein intake mostly around whole plant foods such as legumes, peas, beans and lentils (as they are packed with protein and deliver some serious amounts of other important nutrients)...
...a vegan protein powder shake or two per day just makes getting adequate protein a hell of a lot easier.
As you might've noticed this particular nutrient is quite popular amongst bodybuilders.
And not without good reason.
Protein not only provides the building blocks required to support the growth and repair of muscle tissue - it also offers some other pretty cool benefits:
Contrary to the traditional meat-head dogma of bodybuilding magazines, you actually don't need astronomical amounts of protein to optimally build muscle and get stronger.
For the purpose of packing on as much muscle mass as possible, around 1,6-2.2 g of protein per kg, or roughly 0.73-1 g per lbs, is going to cover the protein needs for 99.2% of vegan athletes.
It should also be pointed out that one can build appreciable amounts of muscle mass on protein intakes as low as 1 g per kg bodyweight.
However as dietary protein tends to correlate with the amount of new muscle synthesised, and also as plant protein generally speaking is less anabolic and not as well digested than animal protein, I recommend going with the upper end of the protein range suggested by the scientific literature to be optimal.
So for example:
A vegan athlete weighing 80 kg, or 176 lbs, would need around 1.6-2.2 x 80 = 128-176 grams of protein per day.
With these numbers in mind, and taking into account the general lifestyle of a vegan athlete, here's why I believe a plant-based protein supplement to be so invaluable:
It's super convenient.
Instead of having to lug around cans of chickpeas, finding somewhere to drain the liquid, eat the chickpeas and dump the cans, you can just rely on a powder as a protein snack.
No other high-protein plant food beats protein powder in terms of convenience:
It's great for bringing with you to work or school in a shaker, just add some water, shake and gulp down.
Woke up too late and can't afford spending time preparing your oatmeal?
Grab a protein shake and you're set!
Too tired to cook dinner after your workout?
Make a protein smoothie with a bunch of fruit and some oatmeal!
Alleviates some of the burden of having to eat tons of legumes.
Don't get me wrong, I adore legumes, beans and lentils.
But relying on these foods solely to meet your protein demands can be... daunting.
Adding 30 g of vegan protein powder to your morning oatmeal will make it a lot less bothersome hitting the rest of the prescribed protein macros.
So if I you crave some delicious pasta instead of kidney beans for dinner, feel free to indulge as you've already hit your protein macros with the protein supplement and you thus fit less protein-dense foods into your diet.
Makes cutting down (without losing muscle) a lot easier.
You can probably relate to this problem:
Cutting calories and carbohydrate intake while simultaneously keeping protein intake high on a vegan diet can be a difficult, if not an almost impossible task.
High-protein foods such as beans, lentils and tofu simply comes with too many extra calories in the form of fat and carbohydrate.
When my calories dip down to about 2000 calories, and I still want to make sure I get 150+ grams protein, it's not really doable without a vegan protein powder.
A high-quality vegan protein with a good protein content should sit around 80-90% protein, with only trace amount of carbs and fats. This macronutritional composition is guaranteed not to screw up your vegan cutting macros and can help you lose fat, while preventing going catabolic and keeping your gains intact.
Has a high digestability.
Turning whole plant foods such as peas and rice into a protein powder - essentially grounding it up to a fine powder and filtering out the fiber, carbs and fats - improves the digestability of the protein.
While whole plant foods as a rule of thumb aren't digested as well by the body as animal protein, vegan protein powders are almost as well-digested as animal products.
This makes it a very high-quality source of protein which can sometimes be lacking in the vegan diet.
What Are The Factors That Determine a Good Vegan Protein Powder?
Different individuals have different reasons for looking to purchase a vegan protein supplement - which makes it kind of difficult to pinpoint or define exactly what 'good' or 'high-quality' means in this context.
Someone who's looking to fix his or her nutritional deficiencies is probably wanting something drastically different compared to the broke bodybuilder who exclusively wants maximum bang for your buck.
However, to get some overall sense of the overall quality of a vegan protein powder there are 4 key factors that you ought to consider:
- 1Value - How much protein per dollar you get.
- 2Yield - Percentage of protein per serving.
- 3Taste & Mixability - What it tastes like and how well it mixes.
- 4Nutrition - What the ingredient list looks like.
Depending on your particular reasons for getting a plant-based protein powder, certain factors will weight more heavily in your decision making.
Need a protein powder to help with weight loss?
Then yield is going to be the most important aspect as you want lots of protein with as few calories as possible from carbs or fats.
Don't care that much about the nutritional value or protein content, but more so about how tasty and smooth it is?
Then obviously the best tasting option, which blended with some plant milk produces a smooth delicious shake that still provides some protein, will be the best fit for you.
Trying to find the 'jack-of-all-trades' vegan protein powder?
Well you're definitely up for a challenge.
Products with great value, high protein content, that tastes fantastic and mixes well with a clean ingredient list are few and far between.
But that's not to say they don't exist, I recommend you continue reading till the end as I've uncovered some really awesome products in my thorough investigation of the available options.
1. Value - Protein per Dollar
In order to spend the least amount of money for the most amount of protein, here's the number you need to be looking at:
Dollar per gram of protein.
The basic formula to calculate this looks like:
Protein per serving * Servings per container
With this figure you'll have a much easier time directly comparing vegan protein powders in a non-biased way, to see which delivers the best bang for your buck.
Otherwise you might end up buying a giant protein tub for $30 thinking it's a steal, whilst in reality it mostly a bunch of filler carbohydrate and fat per serving.
You want plenty of plant protein, not some cheap sugars or other BS fillers.
Percentage of Protein
I reckon the majority of consumers purchase a protein powder for one purpose...
...you guessed it, protein.
That's why it's important to look at the protein yield - or how much protein you get per 100 grams.
Different plant protein powders can range from 50% protein up to 90% protein.
This figure is especially significant for those looking for something that can be used during a vegan cutting or weight loss phase. When calories are sparse, you don't have much room for extra carbs and fats - ideally a protein powder close to 90% will serve you the best in this case.
Taste & Mixability
Gone are the days where you have to suffer grueling, chalky shakes if you want some extra protein in your vegan diet.
But at the same time...
...you're perhaps best of not expecting a gourmet experience.
It's just really hard turning raw plant-derived powder into something that resembles liquid chocolate pudding.
While there has been an increase in palatable vegan protein supplements (and with veganism gaining traction there should be tons more) - many plant-based protein powders still lack somewhat in terms of texture and flavour.
Especially so for unflavored products where there's nothing to mask the grittiness and earthy taste that often accompanies vegan protein powders.
With that said, there are in fact a few options which according to users taste pretty alright. If taste is a major deciding factor for you, pick a product with some sweetener and not mono-ingredient powders.
Before you add any protein supplement to your diet it's a really good idea to check the ingredient list first.
There shouldn't be any dubious ingredients, fillers or other crap that doesn't belong in a protein powder.
As a rule of thumb, the fewer the number of ingredients the better. If there's a long list of unrecognizable ingredients it's usually a pretty good sign to choose another product.
So... Which Vegan Protein Powder is Best For Your Goals, Needs and Preferences?
Best Soy Protein Powder
Soy has been a source of much controversy over the last of couple years in the health and fitness community, having been attacked viciously for turning men into women amongst other accusations.
The root of this debate is that soy contains something called isoflavones or phytoestrogens.
These compounds mimic the effects of estrogen (the primary female sex hormone) to some degree in the body by binding to the same receptors as estrogen, and as such may disturb the hormonal system.
However, despite this estrogen-likie behaviour and anecdotes surrounding soy and its ill effects...
...no conclusive evidence exists that suggests a moderate consumption of soy would cause any problem for otherwise healthy individuals.
There is one theoretical concern that a high soy consumption could mess with thyroid function in individuals with an already compromised thyroid function and/or a low iodine intake.
And another possible danger of excessive soy is increased IGF levels, associated with increased all-cause mortality and risk of developing various cancers.
Due to this IGF-raising effect plant-based doctor Michael Greger suggests no more than 3-5 servings per day based on available studies.
This equates to roughly ~30-50 grams per day.
If you have pre-exisiting thyroid problems, and/or you already eat a ton of soy products, you might want to consider another type of protein powder.
Our top pick for a soy protein powder is:
Bulksupplements Soy Protein Powder
Best Hemp Protein Powder
Hemp protein powder is not only a great choice because of the quality protein...
...it's also a nutritional powerhouse.
Whenever someone uses the term 'superfood' it makes me cringe, though I must admit, hemp protein might actually qualify join this group of elusive superfoods.
In addition to the protein it contains tons of beneficial nutrients such as dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, gamma-linolenic acid, iron and zinc, cholesterol-lowering phytosterols and may even help protect against heart disease.
These qualities makes a hemp protein powder a very well-rounded protein supplement.
However here's kicker:
As hemp protein powder contains quite a bit of carbs and fat, the protein content gets diluted resulting in less protein per serving.
The protein content of hemp protein powder is typically in the range of 45-50% which is somewhat low compared to pea and rice protein at 80-90%.
So if you're restricting calories and juggling a very low calorie intake with a high protein intake, you probably want to pick another plant-based protein powder with a higher ratio of protein per calorie.
Another use of hemp is to make ropes out of it, and that's perhaps a good way to describe what it tastes like:
Another way of putting it is as earthy and grassy with a gritty texture. So be prepared to learn to love it or mask it in a smoothie with some fruit and other strong flavors.
Our top pick for a hemp protein powder is:
Best Rice Protein Powder
Rice protein might seem like a bit of a contradiction.
Isn't rice a carb...?
That is absolutely correct, but if you let the rice undergo an extraction process where the protein is isolated and the finer and carbs are discarded - the reuslt is a very pure, high-quality protein powder.
It's hypoallergenic is very well digested, suitable for people with an easily upset stomach.
Most rice protein powders deliver an impressive protein content of ~80% or higher which makes it an excellent supplement when cutting on a vegan diet, adding plenty of protein but very little calories.
It's even got some evidence that supports it's efficacy in promoting muscular gains:
One interesting study looked at the effects of supplementing either 48 g of rice protein or whey protein as post-workout beverages.
After 8 weeks there was no difference between the two groups - both had seen an equal increase in strength, muscle mass and decrease in fat mass.
The amino acid profile of rice protein does have a slight shortage of lysine. But in the context of an entire day of plant-based eating, that should provide loads of lysine, this isn't going to have any measurable negative impact on protein synthesis.
If this is bothering you to the point where you can't fall asleep, you can always mix rice protein with pea protein which contains plenty of lysine!
Unflavoured rice protein usually doesn't have any prominent flavour and texture-wise it can be a bit chalky.
Our top pick for a rice protein powder is:
Best Pea Protein Powder
Pea protein is made from yellow field peas that are packed with protein and has many similarities to rice protein.
It is easily digested by most people, hypo-allergenic and packs a protein punch at a percentage of around ~85 %.
The thing about pea protein that makes me strangely excited is the large amounts of muscle-building BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) and especially leucine, a potent trigger of muscle protein synthesis.
In fact, my recommendation for the best pea protein powder below has 8.3% leucine, or 8.3 grams per 100 g. This is quite comparable to what is known to be the most anabolic protein, whey protein powder, which has around 10% leucine.
This attribute makes pea protein very conducive for supporting your vegan muscle and strength gains, and to retain muscle during cutting.
Might help explain why pea protein has been shown to promote muscle hypertrophy just as well as whey protein (and the added benefit of not supporting the cruel dairy industry).
Tastewise pea protein is quite pleasant - sweet and mild - with the texture also being better than other plant-based protein powders.
Our top pick for a pea protein powder is the:
NOW Sports Pea Protein Powder
Best Vegan Protein Powder Blend
Why keep plant proteins separated when they can mingle together and have a party?
Pea and rice. Hemp, pea and soy and so on.
The options are really limitless.
So instead of having a protein shake with just one single ingredient, you can combine the various perks of plant proteins and meld them together to create one awesome vegan protein powder blend:
Perhaps the nutrient density hemp protein provides, the protein-punch and BCAA content of pea protein, as well as rice protein to round it off and achieve a perfect amino acid profile.
Usually the texture is a lot better as well when combining different plant proteins, pea protein will give the smoothness that is often lacking and mask up most chalkiness prevalent with vegan protein powders.
Now here's what you don't want:
A protein powder that has blended in too many ingredients.
Look at the label to see if there is unnecessary crap in there such as fillers and other questionable ingredients.
Our top pick for a vegan protein blend is:
I feel like some supplement companies really overprice their line of vegan protein powders to take advantage of this niche-within-a-niche market.
So what are you supposed to do on a tight budget... surrender and buy tiny tubs of vegan protein for 50 bucks?
Well luckily there's no need for that.
If you look beyond the traditional brands such as Vega and Orgain you can actually find some pretty damn cheap products.
And by cheap I don't mean the price of the container. I'm referring to how much protein per dollar a container delivers.
Having spent way too much time thoroughly combing through the market, there's one specific vegan protein powder that blows all competition out of the water:
Best Vegan Protein Powder for Weight Loss
Effective vegan weight loss is an entire chapter for itself - but the basics looks something along the lines of this:
The one problem many vegans encounter trying to lose weight is balancing their macronutrient intake and getting enough protein.
As calories creep lower and lower it becomes more and more difficult maintaining a high protein intake as many plant foods contain a bunch of carbs and fats.
Naturally a vegan protein powder can indeed come in handy in such a predicament.
But not just any old protein supplement. You want something with a small amount of calories and with a large percentage of calories coming from protein...
... and ideally it ought to provide a lot of plant protein for every dollar spent.
At the top of the list is the:
Best Vegan Protein Powder for Weight Gain
Weight gain is the result of eating more calories than you burn = being in a caloric surplus.
And honestly... for the purpose of bulking up and putting on mass just about any quality plant-based protein will work fine.
The idea behind adding in a protein powder, in my opinion that is, is to maximally stimulate protein synthesis and not to add a bunch of calories to encourage weight gain.
The bulk of your calories should always come from plant foods, not protein powders.
It would also be quite wasteful economically when you could just as well reach total calorie goals with cheap staple foods like oatmeal.
(For 13 effective tips on healthy vegan weight gain check this article out)
A hemp protein powder is not a bad choice when it comes to bulking. Besides protein it also contains healthy fats, carbs and other nutrient that may aid your objective of muscle gain:
Best Vegan Protein Powder for Athletes
Vegan athletes, gym-goers and bodybuilders have one thing in common:
Increase performance and maximize muscle gain.
In this case you'd want a vegan protein powder that delivers high-quality protein with plenty of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) - these amino acids activate key enzymes that initiate the process of muscle growth and repair (especially leucine).
And to really nitpick you would also want an otherwise balanced amino acid profile to, i.e some sort of vegan protein blend.
Well there's one pretty damn good fit:
Best Tasting Vegan Protein Powder
Finding the best tasting plant-based protein powder is quite possibly... a bit impossible.
Everyone has got their own unique taste palate.
While someone might describe a certain beverage as delicious with just the right amount of chocolate, another reviewer will say it's cloyingly sweet and the chocolate is way overpowering.
Neither is wrong or right, they just have different opinions on what tastes good.
However I do think that most people will agree that stepping away from unflavoured single-ingredient protein supplements is a good start.
Adding some type of natural sweeteners and flavours will do a lot to conceal the typical taste of raw earthy plant protein. It's also equally important that the texture is on point, ideally it should blend really smoothly without any grittiness or bits of rice floating around in your shaker.
So here's one fantastic option for anyone that is seeking something that both boosts protein intake whilst still being a pleasure to consume:
What's the Best Overall Vegan Protein Powder?
As you may have realized by now...
...there's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.
Based on the individual's needs and preferences the answer can vary quite a lot.
Still if I had to pick one go-to protein powder it'd probably be some sort of pea protein powder.
Many of the pea protein powders are very affordable, with the highest protein per dollar yield, and delivers great muscle-building potential due to large amounts of leucine and BCAA.
This makes it a great option for most people and most different fitness goals.
And because of the tremendous bang for your buck, extremely high quality, and with a detailed amino acid profile, the NOW Sports Pea Protein is our top pick for the best overall vegan protein powder.
Now if it's important for you to have a vegan protein that tastes decent, I would definitely recommend the Vegan Protein Optimizer Formula from True Nutrition.
You can choose between A LOT of different flavours, as well as the intensity of flavour and type of sweeteners used, so you can customise to your exact taste palette.
Hopefully this article was informative and that you learned something about the different vegan protein powders.
PS. Share this with anyone that might find it helpful and let me know which protein powder you prefer in the comment section!
Best Vegan Protein Powders (Update 2018)
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