Best Vegan Protein Powder - And Why I Use It

Best Vegan Protein Powder

I've been looking lately for the best vegan protein powder. There's protein in nuts and seeds, beans, whole grains, quinoa and pretty much all whole plant foods.

When I calculate how much protein I need as a vegan, I can get more than enough from the foods I eat on a regular basis.

So I'm not at all worried about getting enough protein on a healthy eating plan without meat, but because I work out and want to gain lean muscle mass I want to increase the relative percentage of protein above my basic needs.

It might seem strange that I use protein powders when I usually focus on getting nutrients from whole foods as much as possible.

So I want to be really clear on why I use them, and also on why people might think of using protein powders for reasons that are unnecessary.

Was that sentence confusing? What I mean is, there are some reasons I like protein powders. Then there are some reasons thrown around for using them that I don't agree with...

Do You Need Protein Powder?

For instance, I don't think protein powders are necessary to get "complete" proteins (all the essential amino acids) from plant foods.

I don't think protein powders are necessary for someone who isn't working out on a regular basis - whether you eat animal foods or not.

Reasons For 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 muscle and to support losing fat (lots of studies show that increasing protein ratio to about 20% of total calories results in more efficient fat loss without losing muscle mass).

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.

And on the flip side, eating tons of protein isn't the way to lose weight. Keeping your calorie intake slightly below your output, and building lean muscle mass by doing regular and intense strength training, is how you shed fat.

Criteria For The Best Vegan Protein Powder

I have a few criteria I look for in a protein powder. If you're taking any supplements, the most important thing to consider is the quality.

  • Protein Source: As a vegan (who's also allergic to milk), I don't use whey or anything containing animal ingredients.
  • 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.
  • Nutrient Breakdown: If I'm taking a supplement to increase relative protein, it needs to have a good balance of protein
  • Taste & Texture: If I have to mix it in with lots of sweet fruits and/or sugars, it defeats the purpose of being a concentrated form of protein.
  • Added Ingredients: I don't want to take anything that has a lot of chemicals or refined sugars.

When it comes to the source and specific brands, here are my thoughts on the main ones I know of:

  • Soy: I think it's 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.
  • 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. The one I like is from a company called The Good Seed. They operate in Canada, and source their hemp from family farmers. They're also really nice, and I like ordering from them. Unfortunately, they don't ship to the US... For those in the US, Nutiva makes a good product (one with about 50% protein by calories, and another with more fiber) and Manitoba Harvest (another Canadian company, larger than The Good Seed) ships to the US.
  • 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. I've only tried Nutribiotic's rice protein, but there are lots of others - Sunwarrior (they also make blends), Perfect Fit, North Coast Naturals (they also make hemp, soy and whey), and more.
  • Pea: I haven't tried this myself, but always hear good things about it. I usually see it mixed with rice protein, to take advantage of complementary amino acids. It's usually really well priced. I haven't looked up many brands for pea protein, but Now is a brand that makes a bunch of different proteins.
  • Blends: There are some products (like PlantFusion and Vega) that blend a few different proteins together. Rice and pea are common, but PlantFusion blends quinoa, amaranth, pea and artichoke proteins and adds in some digestive enzymes to help your body process the powder. Vega blends pea, sacha inchi, rice, hemp and alfalfa proteins and also includes digestive enzymes. It's a smart way to go, since the real value of what you eat is what you actually digest and absorb. Then there's an online company called True Nutrition that allows you to custom-make your own blend. They have a few different vegan proteins to choose from and you can add digestive enzymes and other supplements (like coQ10 which is supposed to help athletic performance).

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 their respective websites) and equalized them all to 15g of protein to get a true comparison.

I also included a cost, which is what I found listed as a price online as of the date I posted this, and does not include any taxes or shipping charges. The prices can be very different if you have to have it shipped and pay customs like I do...

I included whey as a comparison.

Protein SourceServing for 15g proteinCaloriesProtein by CalCarbsFatCost
Good Seed (Organic Hemp) 32.0g 139 43% 15.0 6.4 0.65
Manitoba Harvest Pro 70 (Hemp) 22.5g 105 57% 3.4 3.4 0.90
Nutiva 15g (Hemp) 30.0g 90 67% 9.0 3.0 0.88
Nutiva Hi-Fiber (Organic Hemp) 40.91g 109 55% 16.4 5.5 1.02
Nutribiotic (Organic Rice) 18.75g 75 80% 2.5 0.0 0.51
Sunwarrior (Rice) 19.7g 66 91% 2.8 0.9 0.98
Perfect Fit (Organic Rice) 20.0g 70 86% 3.0 0.0 1.15
PlantFusion (Partly Organic Blend) 21.4g 86 70% 2.9 1.4 0.71
Vega Sport Performance (Blend) 35.2g 127 47% 9.8 3.5 1.12
Now (Pea) 17.7g 70 86% 0.5 1.1 0.39
Now (Soy) 18.0g 68 89% 0.4 0.4 0.41
Now (Whey) 16.8g 63 95% 0.6 0.2 0.44

Although some of the hemp proteins may look high in carbs, the carb content is mostly made up of fiber and not sugars.

In my travels and experiments, I've tried The Good Seed, Manitoba Harvest, Nutribiotic, PlantFusion and Vega.

So far, my personal favorites are The Good Seed hemp protein and Nutribiotic rice protein. I like to use the hemp protein in baking (like cookies, brownies, muffins), to mix in my morning porridge after a run, and in green smoothies.

I like to mix the rice and hemp proteins together with water, a bit of carob and mashed banana or chopped grapes after a workout. I find the hemp doesn't work on its own (to much fiber) and the rice doesn't work on its own (too fine and chalky), but together they're perfect. Even better with some ground flax mixed in.

I also tried mixing some rice protein into some frozen banana and raspberry ice cream. It worked really well, and didn't melt the ice cream which hemp always does because it has so much fiber.

I wasn't a huge fan of the Manitoba Harvest hemp protein (I tried the pro 70). I'd probably like the hi-fiber one more, since it would be similar to The Good Seed.

I really liked the texture of PlantFusion when it was mixed alone with water, and I love their mix of proteins and that they include digestive enzymes. I'd rather get an unsweetened kind and add my own fruit to sweeten. I asked them about it, and they said they're working on an unsweetened version.

Vega is awesome, and has lots of great stuff in there like digestive enzymes and antioxidants, but is just a bit too pricey for me right now.

But you know what they say - you get what you pay for... Vega is really great quality, and is designed to maximize athletic performance, so maybe I'm missing out.

What's your favorite vegan protein powder? Or do you not use any?

Leave me a comment below with your thoughts.

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About Heather

I’m Heather Nicholds, a registered holistic nutritionist. I can help you transform your life through simple changes in how you eat.

Whether you’re seeking healthy weight loss, more energy or a boost towards balanced nutrition, I’ll introduce you to the positive and powerful impact of a plant-based whole food diet.

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