Whey protein may still dominate the supplement industry as one of the most well-known and widely available forms of protein powder, but with more and more people turning to a plant-based lifestyle in recent years, the selection of vegan protein powder products on the shelves has steadily started to increase.
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see professional bodybuilders and athletes alike following a vegan or vegetarian diet and getting their protein fix from plant-based supplements. Vegan protein powders from sources like hemp, peas and brown rice make it easy and effective to kick up protein intake, improve body composition and reap the many rewards that these plant-based protein foods have to offer.
What Is Vegan Protein Powder?
Protein powders are a type of supplement that contain a concentrated amount of protein, typically from either animal or plant-based sources. They are often used to increase protein intake, promote muscle growth and repair, enhance exercise performance, or boost caloric intake for healthy weight gain.
Protein powders come in many different forms based on the way that they are processed and the macronutrients that they provide. A few of the most common types of protein powder include:
- Protein concentrates: These are produced by extracting protein from whole food sources. Protein concentrates generally contain between 60 percent to 80 percent of calories from protein and 20 percent to 40 percent of calories from fat and carbohydrates.
- Protein isolates: This form of protein powder filters out much of the fat and carbohydrates to create a product with a higher concentration of protein. Although it can vary between brands, protein isolates usually contain about 90 percent to 95 percent of calories from protein and just 5 percent to 10 percent from fat or carbohydrates.
- Protein hydrolysates: In this type of protein powder, the bonds between amino acids are broken to create a highly concentrated protein supplement that is easier for your body to use and absorb.
Some of the most popular forms of protein powder are sourced from whey, casein and bone broth, all of which are favored for their rich protein content, widespread availability and well-researched health benefits.
However, if you’re following a vegan diet, there are plenty of plant-based, dairy-free protein powder options available as well. And not only do these vegan protein powders supply a good amount of protein in each and every serving to help you meet your needs, but many also boast other benefits as well, including enhanced heart health, a rich fiber content and improved blood sugar.
So which supplements should you start stocking up on to increase your protein intake? Let’s take a look at a few of the top plant protein powder products out there to determine which one is right for you.
Best Vegan Protein Powders
1. Hemp Protein Powder
Hemp protein powder is produced from Cannabis sativa, also known as hemp, a type of flowering plant native to eastern Asia. Unlike other plants belonging to the Cannabaceae family, though, hemp contains little to no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the cannaboid responsible for the psychoactive properties of drugs like marijuana.
Research shows that this vegan protein powder is easily digestible to ensure you’re really optimizing your protein intake and getting the most nutritional bang for your buck. (1) Hemp protein powder also stands out as one of the best plant-based protein powder options available because it contains a hearty dose of fiber to optimize digestive health and keep blood sugar under control. (2) Plus, it’s also high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation, protect against neurodegenerative disorders and aid in weight management. (3)
2. Pea Protein Powder
Pea protein powder has skyrocketed in popularity and is often dubbed the best vegan protein powder for bodybuilding thanks to its impressive nutrient profile, including its high-protein content. This powerful plant-based protein powder is made from the yellow split pea and is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids that your body needs to function and thrive.
According to one study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, supplementing with pea protein was equally as effective as whey protein at increasing muscle thickness when paired with resistance training. (4) Pea protein powder may also help enhance weight loss, with some studies showing that it could slow digestion and modify levels of certain hunger hormones to promote satiety. (5)
3. Brown Rice Protein Powder
Brown rice is considered one of the top nutrient-dense foods, so it’s no wonder that each serving of brown rice protein powder packs a serious punch of important vitamins and minerals, such as iron, vitamin C and calcium. Impressively enough, this potent vegan protein powder been shown to be as effective as whey protein at improving body composition and exercise performance. (6) As a bonus, it’s also loaded with fiber, making it one of the contenders for the best vegan protein powder for weight loss.
An animal model conducted by the School of Food Science and Technology at Jiangnan University in China actually showed that brown rice protein contains several specific peptides that can reduce weight gain in hamsters fed a high-fat diet. (7) Plus, other animal studies have found that the fiber content in brown rice protein powder may be associated with other benefits as well, including lower cholesterol levels and better blood sugar control. (7, 8)
4. Mixed Plant Proteins
Because not all vegan protein powders contain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs, many products are made using a blend of different plant proteins to help fill in any nutritional gaps and help round out your diet.
Some of the most common protein sources used to produce mixed plant protein powders include:
Additionally, many mixed plant proteins also contain other ingredients to boost the fiber content and nutrient profile, including extracts from other fruits and vegetables. Since this form of protein powder contains a wider array of ingredients, it’s also often considered the best tasting vegan protein powder because it’s available in a variety of flavors to please any palate.
Keep in mind, though, that mixed plant proteins are often more slowly digested than other types of protein, like whey, because of their high fiber content. This reduces the amount of protein available for muscle repair and recovery immediately following exercise, limiting its usefulness as a post-workout meal or supplement. While this may not be an issue for many, it’s something you may want to consider when planning when to take your protein supplement.
If you’re using vegan protein powder to simply increase your protein intake or enhance muscle recovery and growth, stick to one serving per day and be sure to line it up with your workout routine. Protein powder can also be used to promote healthy weight gain by simply adding a serving or two throughout the day to your snacks and meals to help increase your caloric intake.
Protein shakes are one of the most common ways to use vegan protein powder, as either a pre-workout snack or post-workout power-up. However, you aren’t limited to sticking a scoop in your smoothies if you’re looking to bump up your protein intake. In fact, you can easily add vegan protein powder to everything from baked goods to desserts, snacks and breakfast foods, allowing you to get in your fix at any time of day.
Need some ideas for how to get started? Here are a few high-protein recipes for you to try at home. Simply swap in your vegan protein powder of choice and enjoy!
- Dark Chocolate Protein Truffles
- Strawberry Banana Spinach Smoothie
- Lemon Protein Bars
- Hemp Protein Brownie Bites
- Paleo Protein Pancakes
Risks and Side Effects
Adding protein powder into your routine can be a good way to help meet your protein needs and ramp up your performance at the gym. However, not all protein powders are created equally, and overdoing it can actually do more harm than good when it comes to your health.
Many manufacturers add unnecessary ingredients and extra fillers to protein powders in an effort to cut costs. In a practice called “amino spiking,” some companies also pump protein powders full of individual amino acids to increase the total protein content listed on the label, even though these individual amino acids don’t boast the same health benefits as complete proteins.
Opt for organic protein powder whenever possible, and check the ingredients label to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting. In particular, keep an eye out for additives and thickeners like maltodextrin, xanthan gum or artificial sweeteners, and skip the supplements that contain extra amino acids lurking on the label.
Overdoing it on the vegan protein powder can cause side effects like unintentional weight gain, bone loss, kidney issues and liver problems. Calculate how many grams of protein you need per day based on your age, weight, activity level and health status, and keep your intake within moderation to prevent adverse side effects. (9)
- Vegan protein powder can provide a concentrated amount of protein and nutrients to help round out your diet, enhance physical performance and aid in muscle growth and recovery.
- Plant-based protein powder can be derived from sources like hemp, brown rice, peas and mixed plant proteins to deliver a megadose of essential nutrients in each serving.
- Look for organic brands free of fillers, artificial sweeteners and added individual amino acids to maximize the potential positive effects on health.
- Add your favorite vegan protein powders to shakes, smoothies, baked goods or breakfast foods to take advantage of the unique benefits that each has to offer.f