It might seem strange that I use protein powders when I usually focus on getting nutrients from whole foods as much as possible.
Do vegans need protein powder?
Protein powders are not necessary to get "complete" proteins (all the essential amino acids) from plant foods.
Protein powders are not necessary to get enough protein from plant foods.
So why would you take a protein powder instead of whole foods?
Why use protein powders?
Protein powders are a way to increase the percentage of protein in your diet relative to carbohydrates and fats. That's it.
Some of the best vegan protein powders are also easier to digest and assimilate before or after a heavy workout than eating whole foods.
They're definitely more concentrated so that you don't have to chew your way through a big pile of greens and beans when you're finished a workout.
So the practical reasons for using protein powders, in my opinion, are to support building and repairing muscle after workouts.
Keep in mind, though, that eating tons of protein from any source isn't how you build muscle. Doing regular and intense strength training is the way to build muscle - protein intake is just there to support recovery and give your muscles the building blocks to grow.
You can't eat your way to building muscle.
Criteria For The Best Vegan Protein Powder
There are some criteria to look for in a protein powder. If you're taking any supplements, the most important thing to consider is the quality, and protein powders are no exception.
- Protein Source: Vegan sources include rice, hemp, pea, quinoa, and others. Whey and other animal ingredients are not vegan.
- Degree/Method Of Processing: Even though any protein powder is going to be processed, some are done in a more natural way and have less impact on the nutrients in the food.
- Macronutrient Breakdown: When taking a supplement to increase relative protein, it should have a good balance of protein
- Taste & Texture: Although it's not essential, it should be somewhat enjoyable to drink.
- Added Ingredients: Avoid products that have a lot of chemicals or refined sugars.
- Bonus: Some companies add digestive enzymes or probiotics, which is smart because it helps make the protein more available to your body. Others may add greens, fruit, or veggie powders to boost antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
There are lots of sources of vegan protein used in powders, here are the main ones:
- Soy: This is better than whey for a lot of reasons, but it also has some issues. Mainly in digestion, so if you find that you don't have any gas or indigestion after having some soy protein, you might be ok to stick with it. It's really important to get an organic source to make sure it's not genetically modified. Soy is highly processed to become a protein powder, so it's not my favorite, but it is cheap and widely available so if comes to soy or whey for you, I'd vote for soy every time.
- Hemp: It has a great balance of amino acids, is able to be grown sustainably and undergoes low levels of processing to become a protein powder. The texture can be gritty because it has a lot of fiber, and a lot of people don't like the taste of it. It works perfectly in baking, to make cookies or muffins, and is also fun to add to things like veggie burgers!
- Rice: Brown rice is sprouted and then processed into a very high-protein powder. It makes a very fine powder, so it dissolves smoothly in plain water. It can be a bit chalky, though. Most often rice protein is mixed with pea protein for complementary amino acids.
- Pea: This is usually mixed with rice protein, to take advantage of complementary amino acids. It's usually really well priced.
- Blends: There are some products (like PlantFusion and Vega) that blend a few different proteins together. Rice and pea are common, but things like quinoa, amaranth, sacha inchi, alfalfa, cranberry, and artichoke proteins are becoming more common.
Vegan Protein Powder Comparison Chart
Now, here's my comparison on the macronutrient breakdown of these proteins.
I took the nutrition facts on each of their labels (which you can check out if you want to at the links below) and equalized them all to 15g of protein to get a standardized comparison.
One thing to keep in mind when looking at the carbohydrate and fat numbers for these products is that some of them are designed to be pure protein powders, while others are meant to be nutritional shakes or meal replacement supplements. So it depends what you're looking for
All of these numbers are based on the vanilla flavor of each product.
I also included a cost, which is based on what I found listed as a price on Amazon.
I included whey, only as a comparison.
*This isn't the serving listed on the companies nutritional information charts. This is the serving that will give you 15 grams of protein, which I calculated to equalize the comparison. The calories, fat, and carbohydrate numbers are for that serving which gives 15 grams of protein.
Although some of the hemp proteins may look high in carbs, the carb content is mostly made up of fiber and not sugars.
What's your favorite vegan protein powder? Do you want to see me add one to this list? Leave me a comment below!