For many fitness enthusiasts, protein powder is an essential tool for helping the body refuel after an intense workout. But if you’re plant-based, finding a vegan protein powder can be a bit more complicated—since so many brands use whey as the base of their products.
“Veganism is a lifestyle that abstains from the use of products of animal origin, so from a dietary perspective, this means consumption of exclusively plant foods, eliminating even honey for many vegans,” says Kelly Jones, RD, CSSD. That can make things tricky since very few plant-based foods are complete sources of protein (meaning that they lack the full complement of amino acids that your body requires to function).
But that doesn’t mean finding a high quality vegan protein powder is impossible. Nor is it wishful thinking for hope for one that tastes amazing, too. Keep reading for tips on how to find the best tasting vegan protein powders, plus some RD-approved recommendations to try.
How effective are vegan protein powders?
As mentioned, not all vegan proteins are nutritionally complete, making sourcing essential. “The effectiveness of a vegan protein powder for building muscle absolutely depends on the plant sources of protein,” says Jones. “This is why most vegan protein powders come from mixed plant sources versus one source.”
However, she notes that there are some effective single sources of plant-based protein. Soy is a great option for any protein powders because it’s a complete source of protein and contains relatively high amounts of protein per serving. “Like soy, pea protein also contains adequate amounts of the essential amino acids, and while soy protein has long been known as the best alternative to animal proteins when it comes to food, recent studies have suggested pea protein isolate is just as effective as whey protein isolate for muscle repair after both endurance and resistance activities,” adds Jones.
Many vegan protein powders may also promote satiety more effectively than animal-sourced whey, casein, or egg white protein. “This is because they may also contain filling fiber, depending on the sources,” Jones says.
What to look for in a vegan protein powder
First and foremost, it’s important to choose a reputable brand with strict third-party testing. “As a sports dietitian I recommend protein powders that are NSF Certified for Sport, Informed Choice for Sport, or those that are regulated as a food and certified organic,” she says. Since supplements are not closely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s important to check for these labels to ensure you’re getting effective, high-quality ingredients without shady or dangerous additives.
For protein, look for a product containing at least 15 grams per serving. “For women, I tend to recommend 15 to 25 grams of protein per meal or snack depending on their personal needs and their goals, with the higher end being best for those with high physical activity levels,” Jones says.
Sugar content might depend on the person’s activity level and their taste preferences, but you want to keep it low to stick within the American Heart Association’s recommendation of consuming no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day. “Some people are not fond of the flavor of stevia, so they’ll be more satisfied if a product contains real sugar,” Jones says. “However, many times the products are without sugar anyway and you’ll likely blend with something somewhat sweet.”
Avoid artificial sweeteners if you can, especially if you get digestive discomfort. “I do advise against regular intake of artificial sweeteners like sucralose and acesulfame-K, however, as consuming them frequently may negatively impact taste for sweet foods, appetite, and the balance of bacteria in your gut,” Jones says.
Fiber is an extra perk you can get in a powder, but you can increase fiber naturally with the ingredients you add to your smoothie or shake to complement the powder. “I look at fiber as a bonus in protein powders, as it’s best to obtain a variety of fibers and fermentable carbohydrates through whole plant foods throughout the day,” Jones says.
Keep reading for the best tasting vegan protein powders, all loved by dietitians
“This is a go-to for professional and collegiate athletes due to its NSF for Sport certification and their blend of pea and rice protein that’s smooth in texture and flavor,” says Jones. Each serving offers 20 grams of protein, two of which come from the amino acid leucine, known to be the trigger for muscle protein repair. It comes in two delicious flavors: vanilla chai (pictured here) and chocolate.
Buy it: Absolute Zero Momentous Vanilla Chai Essential, $60
If you live in an area with Sprouts Farmer’s Market stores (there are over 340 stores in 20+ states), the store brand’s protein powder is an unsung hero. “If you’d rather enjoy a latte post-workout than a smoothie, Sprouts Farmer’s Market makes a delicious Matcha Latte Vegan Protein powder with a pea and rice protein base that offers 20 grams per scoop,” says Jones. It also uses monk fruit extract as a sweetener instead of stevia, which is a bonus for those who find stevia bitter.
Buy it: Sprouts Matcha Latte Vegan Protein, $25
If you want to make your own protein bars or use protein powder in some of your favorite recipes, NOW is a great pick, says Jones. “Or, if you’re just looking for something sans sweeteners and flavor, it’s pure pea protein isolate and nothing else,” she says—making it able to work in whatever you put it in.
Buy it: NOW Sports Organic Pea Protein Powder, $27
4. Vega Sport Premium Protein Berry, $50
This berry flavored vegan protein powder is also NSF Certified for Sport, so it’s more commonly known and used in the fitness community. “It offers 30 grams of protein per scoop and the berry flavor is great for anyone who likes to blend their protein powder into a berry smoothie,” says Jones.
Buy it: Vega Sport Premium Protein Berry, $50
This vegan powder is loaded with protein, prebiotic fiber, and probiotics. “One two-scoop serving packs 20 grams of plant-based protein and a whopping 12 grams of fiber, which is almost 50 percent of the daily value for women,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. It’s also gluten-free, vegan, a good source of omega-3 fats, and an excellent source of iron. Try it in chocolate too, with some nut butter, spinach, and banana.
This protein powder is a complete vegan plant protein source with the benefits of fermented fruits and veggies, probiotics, and digestive enzymes to regulate the gut. “It’s made from a hypoallergenic blend of rice, amaranth, quinoa, and medicinal mushrooms and is gluten-free, soy-free, and contains 110 calories per serving,” says Harris-Pincus, so it’s high in fiber and healing properties.
Buy it: SoTru Organic Vegan Protein Shake, $36
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