Vegan protein powder: The best types of protein powders for vegans

Read Time:   |  27th September 2021

Looking to fuel your workouts with a complete vegan protein powder? From hemp to soy, find out which is the best plant-based protein powder for you with our handy guide.

We now have more vegan protein powders available to us than ever before. However, it can be quite baffling knowing which type to go for, which flavour to try and how best to use them.

Let’s be honest, over the years there have been some shocking earthy tasting powders that can put most off trying any of these products ever again.

But with the wide choice available to us now, we are pretty sure there is a perfect vegan protein powder out there for everyone.

Why aren’t all protein powders vegan?

Most powders out there use either whey or casein. Both come from cow’s milk, making them unsuitable for vegans or anyone with lactose allergies and intolerances.

In addition to the dairy content, some products may also use albumen, which is egg whites.

On the colour front, for some of the red/berry flavoured powders, there may also be colourings such as carmine/cochineal. This gruesome ingredient originates from insects and gives food a bright red colour.

All these ingredients are unsuitable for vegans.

Thankfully there are a lot of vegan protein powder products out there that use plant-based substitutes instead.

Many protein powders contain whey or casein (from cow's milk) so aren't suitable for vegans

Many protein powders contain whey or casein (from cow's milk) so aren't suitable for vegans

What is vegan protein powder made from?

Instead of using ingredients from animals, vegan protein powders use nuts, grains, seeds, and beans to deliver the protein content.

In the past, the vegan choice of protein powders was limited somewhat to classic soy protein.

There are now a variety of options including pea, hemp, brown rice, and quinoa as the main ingredients. You will often find other useful additions like chai, sunflower and buckwheat that are often added into mixed protein powders.

With all protein powders, you have a choice of either isolate or concentrate formats.

Isolate involves more processing to deliver more protein whereas concentrate isn’t as processed and tends to be lower (but not by a lot) in protein.

That tends to be of higher importance to vegan bodybuilders and strength training athletes.

Why do we need protein?

Every cell in the human body contains protein. Protein has more than one job to do in the body with effects on muscle growth, immunity and energy.

Protein is one of the essential macronutrients (along with carbohydrates and fats) and it helps to build muscle, repair muscle tissue and make enzymes and hormones.

Without adequate protein in the diet, there is a risk that these essential areas are not maintained, and we run the risk of becoming ill.

So, it is important we make sure we get adequate protein in our diets.

The RNI (reference nutrient intake) is set at 0.75g of protein per kilogram of body weight for adults.

What are the benefits of vegan protein powder?

If you opt for a vegan protein powder that is a complete source of protein, they will contain all nine of the essential amino acids.

The body can’t make these itself and they play crucial roles in muscle growth and muscle trauma repair. They can even help speed up your recovery process in between workouts.

Pea, hemp, quinoa and soy products are all complete protein sources.

Looking to add more protein to your diet? Try these high-protein vegan recipes:

Pea, hemp, quinoa and soy products are all complete protein sources.

Pea, hemp, quinoa and soy products are all complete protein sources.

What different types of plant-based protein powders are available?

Soy protein

Soy is the one that most people know about as it’s been knocking around in the market the longest. Made from defatted soy flour, soy can boast up to 90% protein.

Interestingly, soy has been found to strengthen the bones, assist with weight loss, improve skin health, regulate blood sugar.

Incredibly, soy has also been found to destroy harmful cells in the body.

Pea protein

Pea protein is the new kid on the block and has been used in a lot of recent launches as it is allergen-free, so it’s a good choice for those who have a soy allergy.

The field peas used in the production of pea protein powder can boast up to 80% protein content. It’s also a complete protein containing all nine of those essential amino acids.

It’s by no means a subordinate option either.

A study undertaken in 2019 found that pea protein was just as effective as whey protein. It had little or no differences in body composition, strength, performance, or muscle gain.

Hemp protein

Hemp protein has been around for a while, but it does have a distinctively earthy taste to it so bear that in mind with how you are planning to use it.

Moreover, hemp has been linked to positive effects on heart health and the immune system. Check out this VF&L article that covers all the amazing health benefits of hemp.

Brown rice protein

Brown rice protein is another good option for vegan protein powder.

It’s not a complete protein, which is why you often see it added in other protein powders to deliver all the amino acids, but it is rich in BCAAs (Brand chain amino acids).

A study in 2020 found that it’s just as good as whey protein powder for supporting muscle growth when taken post-exercise.

Quinoa protein

Quinoa is another one that tends to be mixed with other protein powders, but you can also get it on its own too.

Furthermore, quinoa is high in iron so that adds another functional benefit to this option and it’s a complete protein too.

With most, if not all these options, they are available in natural flavours which are great for adding to smoothies and baking when you don’t want a flavour to dominate.

They are also available in a variety of other flavours like vanilla, banana and chocolate. These tend to work well for those people that just want an uncomplicated post-workout protein shake with a delicious flavour kick.

Who should use vegan protein powder and how often? 

It’s always best to try and get all the nutrients in our diets from real foods and prepared meals. But occasionally with busy life schedules, that doesn’t always go to plan.

Protein powders are best used not as meal replacements but to complement the rest of the nutrients you are consuming in the day.

If you are aware that your diet is a little low in protein, then shakes are a great way to boost that for you.

It’s especially important if you are training hard if you want to speed up your recovery time and get back to doing what you do best.

Usage frequency is going to be different depending on your lifestyle.

Vegan bodybuilders and CrossFit athletes like to use them daily. Once or twice a week is often the sweet spot for gym-goers, runners, cyclists, swimmers, and generally sporty people.

The beauty of vegan protein powders is that they don’t just have to be consumed as protein shakes.

You can also add the powder whenever you fancy a protein boost to smoothies or cookies, cakes, biscuits, bars, pancakes, and muesli.

Check out this recipe for Vegan raspberry ripple protein popsicles which goes to prove that protein powders can be used for more than just protein shakes!

Want to build lean muscle on a vegan diet?

Follow these top tips from bodybuilder Tsuki Harris to find out how to build muscle on a plant-based diet

Written by

Lisa Gawthorne

Lisa Gawthorne

Vegan athlete and co-founder of vegan food business Bravura Foods, Lisa is the European Champion for 10k in her age group. Lisa is a qualified vegan nutritionist, author of health and fitness book Gone in 60 Minutes and is a passionate animal advocate.

www.instagram.com/lisa_gawthorne

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