To find the best vegan protein powder, I have tested and analyzed numerous natural protein supplements that contain only clean ingredients without any artificial flavors, sweeteners, fillers or proprietary blends.
How to Choose a Plant-Based Protein Powder
The workout supplement market is flooded with cheap, ineffective and sometimes unhealthy products that can make you sick. That’s because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the supplement industry as rigorously as it regulates drug makers.
As a result, manufacturers can claim virtually whatever they want on their labels. That makes it difficult for people who follow a plant-based diet to identify products that actually work. Unfortunately, most workout supplements are ineffective and a waste of money.
I’ve noticed that the most popular supplement brands — such as the ones you can find at Walmart, Costco and even Whole Foods — offer crap products that over-promise and under-deliver.
All the vegan protein powders I cover in this review are natural and don’t have any of those inflammatory ingredients. Instead, they contain carefully-processed protein from plant-based sources.
Best Time to Have a Protein Shake
Common advice is to have a protein shake or smoothie immediately after a workout because that’s when your body can best utilize its nutrients.
While it’s true that there is a “metabolic window” of 30-60 minutes after a workout, don’t stress out over the timing of your protein intake. Depending on how many grams of protein your vegan protein shake has, your body won’t likely be able to absorb it all within an hour.
My recommendation is to ensure you get enough plant based protein throughout the day — be it as part of your meals or through a smoothie. In the latter case, I recommend using a blend of different protein sources to improve the amino acid coverage and absorption rate.
With those tidbits out of the way, here are some of the best vegan protein powders I’ve seen on the market.
Best Protein Powder Blends
Plant protein powders in this category contain a blend of protein sources that results in a more robust amino acid profile and improved bioavailability.
Below are my top five recommendations for products that contain two or more sources of plant-based protein:
- BN-Labs Vegan Protein (Out of business)
- Nature’s Best Plant Based Protein by Isopure
- Organifi Complete Protein
- Vega Sport® Premium Protein
So let’s dive into each of these products.
1. BN-Labs Vegan Protein
- USDA Organic and non-GMO
- Blend of three different protein sources
- Free of soy, gluten, dairy and artificial ingredients
- Delicious taste with just the right level of sweetness
- Good source of omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseeds
BN-Labs is a company I recently stumbled upon. They make only a handful of high-quality supplements, including this vegan protein powder that contains a blend of protein from organic peas, organic brown rice and organic pumpkin seeds.
The advantage of including three different types of plant-based protein is that it delivers a robust amino acid profile — something that single-source (plant based) protein powders typically can’t offer.
I consider myself a “chocolate guy” and would normally not pick any vanilla-flavored supplements. So when, BN-Labs sent me their vanilla-bean-flavored protein, I wasn’t sure if I’d like it.
To my surprise, the powder tastes delicious when mixed with water or macadamia nut milk. I also noticed the perfect level of sweetness. Some supplement makers overdo it by adding too much stevia or monk fruit, but BN-Labs’ product had just the right amount of natural sweeteners for my taste buds.
However, for the sake of full disclosure, I’ve been on a low-carb and virtually sugar-free diet (the ketogenic paleo diet) for years, so my taste buds might be slightly more sensitive to sweetness than those of someone who eats a lot of carbs and sugar every day.
Speaking of the keto diet, each serving has only 1 gram of net carbs. So this vegan protein powder is perfectly suitable for anyone who follows a low-carb lifestyle.
The other thing I really like about this product is the inclusion of flaxseeds, which are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. That’s important because the standard American diet (SAD) usually consists of lots of inflammatory omega-6 and not enough omega-3 to provide a counter-balance.
|Protein type||Organic pea protein, organic brown rice protein, organic pumpkin protein|
|BCAAs per serving||6 grams|
|Flavors||Chocolate, vanilla bean|
|Protein per serving||21 grams|
Overall, BN-Labs’ vegan protein is currently my favorite plant-based protein blend because of its combination of clean ingredients, delicious taste and fair price.
Update: It appears as if BN-Labs went out of business
If you’d like to give BN-Labs a try, make sure to use discount code MICHAEL10 and get 10% off your purchase.
2. Nature’s Best Plant Based Protein by Isopure
- Blend of pea and rice protein
- Zero sugar and only 2 grams of net carbs
Nature’s Best by Isopure plant-based protein is a high-quality blend of organic pea and rice protein. As a result, you get an excellent mix of slow and intermediate absorbing amino acids.
The protein powder is available plain or in delicious chocolate or strawberry flavors. As a result, you can just mix it with water or your favorite nut milk — or even add it to a smoothie.
|Protein type||Organic pea protein, organic brown rice protein|
|BCAAs per serving||Unknown|
|Flavors||Plain, chocolate, strawberry|
|Protein per serving||20 grams|
This protein powder is non-GMO and has only 2 grams of net carbs per serving, thus making it keto-friendly as well.
3. Organifi Complete Protein
- Blend of three protein sources
- Packed with micronutrients
- Includes digestive enzymes
Organifi’s all-in-one protein powder is another great choice for anyone who wants more than “just” an organic vegan protein powder.
This complete and soy-free powder consists of a blend of three different types of protein, which helps improve the product’s amino acid profile.
|Protein type||Organic pea, quinoa, pumpkin seed protein|
|BCAAs per serving||Unknown|
|Protein per serving||20 grams|
Besides the organic protein sources, Organifi also added a digestive enzyme blend and a ton of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) from whole-food sources, such as vegetables.
As a sweetener, Organifi uses monk fruit extract — my favorite.
4. Vega Sport Premium Protein
- 30 grams of protein per serving
- Diverse protein blend
- Keto-friendly (low-carb)
- Contains probiotics and tart cherry for recovery
- Higher in carbs and fat than traditional protein powders
Vega Sport Premium Protein is a hybrid between traditional protein and meal replacement powders. As a result, it has higher amounts of carbs and fat than traditional protein supplements. Despite the 4 grams of net carbs, this product is still compatible with a ketogenic diet.
|Protein type||Pea, pumpkin seed, organic sunflower seed, and alfalfa protein|
|BCAAs per serving||5 grams (2.4 grams leucine)|
|Flavors||Chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, berry, mocha|
|Protein per serving||30 grams|
The advantage of such complete protein blends is that they are a significant source of BCAAs and leucine, among other micronutrients. For example, Vega Sport contains 2 billion CFU of probiotics, as well as tart cherry to support recovery.
Best Pea Protein Powder
A popular option among vegans and vegetarians is pea protein powder. It’s slow-absorbing and less bioavailable compared to brown rice protein, based on the PDCAAS scoring metric.
- Naked Nutrition Naked Pea
- Do Vitamins PerfectPea (discontinued)
If I were a vegan or vegetarian, I’d be OK with consuming pea protein powder as part of my meal replacement shakes. But if I had the option, I’d use it in combination with brown rice protein powder for building muscles and for recovery.
1. Naked Nutrition Naked Pea
- Non-GMO, soy-free, dairy-free and gluten-free
- Produced using environmentally-friendly farming practices
- Slow absorption
- Made from conventional peas (non-organic)
Naked Nutrition makes its pea protein by extracting the soluble pea protein, instead of just grinding peas, which would include starches and fiber.
The company uses a mechanical water-extraction method without chemicals to process Naked Pea, thus delivering an incredible amino acid profile featuring 5.7 grams of BCAAs and 2.7 grams of leucine.
The product is also one of the least expensive protein supplements in this review, with a cost per serving of only 27 cents.
|Protein type||Yellow pea protein|
|BCAAs per serving||5.7 grams (2.7 grams leucine)|
|Flavors||Plain, chocolate, vanilla|
|Protein per serving||27 grams|
Additionally, Naked Nutrition offers “less naked” flavors, including chocolate and vanilla. Both flavors contain organic coconut sugar as a sweetener.
In addition to a one-time purchase, Naked Nutrition offers a lower-priced subscription for all of its products.
2. Do Vitamins PerfectPea
- Zero additional ingredients
- Domestically sourced and processed
- Carefully processed
- Slow absorption
According to Do Vitamins, PerfectPea is the only organic pea protein powder that is 100% sourced, processed and packaged in North America. Other manufacturers often source or process their peas in Asia.
PerfectPea is a vegan protein powder, it’s only available unflavored, and it’s the only pea-based product in this review that has the USDA Organic certification.
|Protein type||Organic pea protein|
|BCAAs per serving||3.5 grams (1.6 grams leucine)|
|Protein per serving||20 grams|
PerfectPea has a neutral taste and a smooth texture. I usually mix it into post-workout protein shakes together with banana and plain kefir.
Note: I just learned that Do Vitamins discontinued PerfectPea — at least for now (as the company said).
Best Rice Protein Powder
Rice protein is an excellent intermediate-fast absorbing option for those who don’t want to consume animal protein. Intermediate-fast absorbing means that your body absorbs rice protein slower than whey, but faster than casein or egg white protein.
- Naked Nutrition Naked Rice
Besides the overall absorption rate, a 2014 study by the University of Tampa (download PDF) discovered that the body absorbs the amino acid leucine from rice protein faster than from whey protein. That’s worth noting because leucine is one of the most potent amino acids for building muscle.
1. Naked Nutrition Naked Rice
- Excellent alternative to whey protein
- Non-GMO, soy-free, dairy-free, gluten-free
- Hexane-free extraction process
- Absorbs reasonably fast but slower than whey
Naked Rice is only available unflavored, and if I had to guess it’s because the “neutral” taste of it is difficult to mask. It doesn’t taste bad by any means, but it tastes like you’re drinking ground-up brown rice.
I have used Naked Rice to make smoothies, and despite all the other ingredients, I could still tell it had rice protein powder.
Besides the distinctive taste and texture of rice protein powder, it’s vegan protein powder and arguably one of the best plant-based alternatives to whey protein.
|Protein type||Organic sprouted brown rice protein|
|BCAAs per serving||4.9 grams (2 grams leucine)|
|Protein per serving||25 grams|
Many other manufacturers use the chemical hexane to extract protein from rice, but Naked Nutrition doesn’t, thus creating a protein with an excellent amino acid profile.
In addition to a one-time purchase, Naked Nutrition also offers a lower-priced subscription for all of its products.
Best Hemp Protein Powder
Manufacturers extract hemp protein from hemp seeds, which are rich in potassium and Omega-3 fatty acids. Despite its nutritional benefits, hemp often contains less protein per serving than pea protein or rice protein, and its bioavailability is much lower than that of other protein sources.
- Nutiva Organic Hemp Seed Protein
As a result, you can consider supplementing with hemp protein powder, but I wouldn’t use it instead of more bioavailable types of protein.
1. Nutiva Organic Hemp Seed Protein
- Just hemp with no additional ingredients
- Available as a high-fiber formula
- Low absorption rate
- Low amount of BCAAs
We use a lot of products from Nutiva in our household because the company focuses on high-quality ingredients without trying to take shortcuts.
The organic hemp protein powder they offer is no different and an excellent choice, if you’re specifically looking for that type of protein.
|Protein type||Organic, cold processed hemp seed protein|
|BCAAs per serving||1.5 grams (0.6 grams leucine)|
|Protein per serving||11 grams|
As mentioned above, hemp is not the best protein choice when it comes to absorbability and bioavailability. Plus, it’s got a relatively weak amino acid profile with low amounts of BCAAs and, in particular, leucine.
What About Soy Protein Powder?
Soybeans are an inexpensive yet incredibly unhealthy source of protein because soy contains lectins, a type of protein that confuses your body’s hunger and energy expenditure signals.
That’s why I have not included any soy protein supplements in this review, and why I recommend you stay away from soy protein altogether.
Protein Powder 101
If you’re new to protein powders — or workout supplements in general — here is some additional information and a few terms you should become familiar with.
Animal vs. Plant-Based Protein
If you follow a plant-based diet, you probably know that getting all the essential amino acids that your body needs from the food you eat is challenging.
That’s because, compared to animal protein, most plant-based protein has an incomplete amino acids profile and a lower absorption rate.
In a nutshell, most animal protein has a complete amino acid profile, whereas most plant-based protein does not.
That’s why I recommend using a variety of plant-based protein powders if you follow a vegan diet. That way, you can improve your chances of providing your body with all the essential amino acids it needs.
To give you a better understanding of the various absorption rates, here’s a list of different protein supplements and their biological properties.
A term to play close attention to is the so-called Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS), which addresses some of the shortcomings of the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS).
Both measure the protein’s value in human nutrition, but the PDCAAS doesn’t take certain anti-nutrient factors into account that limit the absorption of protein and other nutrients.
As a result, some lower-quality proteins had high PDCAAS scores, which didn’t accurately reflect the protein’s overall nutritional value.
|Whey protein concentrate||Animal||Fast||1.00||1.1|
|Whey protein isolate||Animal||Fast||1.00||1.25|
|Egg white protein||Animal||Slow||1.00||1.18 (whole egg)|
|Collagen, hydrolyzed||Animal||Very fast||1.00||N/A|
|Pea protein isolate||Plant||Slow||0.85||0.95|
|Soy protein isolate||Plant||Slow||1.00||1.0|
For both standards, higher numbers reflect a better score. Both the DIAAS and the PDCAAS score supersede previous rating standards, including the Biological Value (BV), which measured the protein quality by “calculating the nitrogen used for tissue formation divided by the nitrogen absorbed from food.”
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find DIAAS scores for every protein type, but I’ll try to get more information from the manufacturers.
For a more in-depth analysis of protein quality, check out this paper on “Dietary protein quality evaluation in human nutrition.”
Protein Absorption Rates
The human body absorbs dietary protein at different rates, as you can see in the table below. Besides the absorption rate, it’s also important to understand how long it takes for the amino acids in the protein to reach peak blood concentrations, and for how long they stay in the bloodstream.
|Protein||Absorption Rate (Grams/Hour)|
|Egg protein||1.5 to 4|
|Soy protein isolate||3.9|
|Brown rice protein||6 to 8|
|Whey protein||8 to 10|
What about hydrolyzed collagen? In tests with rats, scientists were able to measure peak plasma concentration of hydrolyzed collagen after six hours of ingestion, when given 10 grams per kilogram of body weight.
You can find more information about the absorption rate of proteins here.
Your body can generally absorb animal protein — in particular, whey protein — faster than any plant protein. That’s why whey protein is so popular among athletes.
However, from an evolutionary perspective, humans did not consume milk protein until they started farming and domesticating animals about 10,000 years ago.
So from that perspective, you could argue that plant protein is the better (and potentially healthier) choice. However, according to the latest research and the DIAAS score (see the beginning of this article), the body generally absorbs animal protein, including whey protein, better than plant protein.
That said, plant-based food is incredibly important due to its nutrients, and should thus make up a significant part of your diet — just not as a source of protein.
Frequently Asked Questions
When it comes to dietary supplements, the term “premium” means minimally or carefully processed ingredients of high nutritional value.
The “label” also indicates that the manufacturer follows specific processing standards and that the ingredients are certified to meet quality indicators related to potency, bioavailability and more.
Here’s a list of key attributes that I looked for to conduct this review. Of course, not all attributes apply to every product. For example:
– No artificial ingredients
– GMP certified
– Third-party tested
– Free of heavy metals (important for certain protein sources, including rice)
Some, but not all, companies hide potentially harmful ingredients behind the term “natural flavors.”
I recently learned that “natural flavors” aren’t as harmless as you might think — despite their name. In reality, natural flavors are often manufactured in labs, much like artificial flavors and the final products often contain chemicals from that manufacturing process.
The problem is that the FDA requires companies to use “natural flavors,” even if those flavors come from dehydrated sources of whole foods.
I’ve sent out inquiries to all brands to ask what’s behind their “natural flavors” and I’ll keep updating this article as I learn more.
The best source of protein is the food you eat. However, during intensive exercise, such as CrossFit, when your body breaks down muscle tissue, it may need more protein to rebuild the damaged tissue than you can supply through your diet.
If you don’t give your body the fuel it needs to recover, you run the risk of building up a recovery deficit. As a result, you may experience reduced performance and muscle gain, as well as an increased risk of injury.
You do not need (protein) supplements if you only exercise moderately and have a healthy diet that contains quality sources of protein, such as the ones mentioned above.
Also, do not use protein powders as a replacement for a healthy diet. As the name “supplement” implies, they are only meant to supplement your dietary protein, not replace it.
Essential amino acids are the ones your body cannot make. As a result, you need to provide those to your body via food and your diet.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are a particular type of essential amino acids and include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Those three amino acids make up approximately 35% of all muscle protein in the body. Much like other essential amino acids, the human body cannot make them.
I talked about the benefits (and lack thereof) of BCAAs in my article about natural pre-workout ingredients. The bottom line is that leucine is the most critical amino acid of the three BCAAs.
The manufacturing process of protein powder is crucial in determining the quality of the final product. As with many other products, processing methods that involve low heat and no harsh chemicals (minimal processing) yield the best results.
The human body absorbs dietary protein at different rates, as you can see in the table above.
While soy lecithin doesn’t appear to contain enough soy proteins to cause an allergic reaction in people with a soy allergy, there are still pros and cons to consider with that emulsifier. But I am not too concerned about it.
The best natural non-nutritive sweeteners are stevia and monk fruit extract. The latter is more expensive, and thus less popular among manufacturers of organic protein powder supplements.
While most plants are an excellent source of fiber, plant-based protein doesn’t have any fiber. That’s because during the manufacturing process, all “impurities,” including fat, fiber and other components, are removed.
Meal replacement shakes — as the name implies — are meant to replace a full meal. As a result, they contain fat, carbs, protein and other micronutrients, such as digestive enzymes, prebiotic fibers and probiotics.
There’s nothing wrong with drinking a meal replacement shake after a workout instead of a plain protein shake. However, if you’re counting macros and you only want to increase your protein intake — but not your fat or carb intake — I recommend sticking with protein powder instead.
That way, you can better control your fat and carb calories.
Nuts are also a reasonable source of plant-based protein. For example, we use almond flour — a healthier alternative to grain-based flour — for baking. Theoretically, you could use blanched almond flour for shakes and smoothies.
I’d just stay away from peanut protein powder for numerous reasons, including the toxicity of peanuts and their antinutrient content.
What’s the Best Vegan Protein Powder?
While the global supplement market is flooded with cheap and unhealthy products, it’s been my experience that manufacturers of vegan products pay slightly more attention to product quality.
I suppose that could be because vegans often know more about food than the average American. Still, finding the best vegan protein powder can prove challenging if you’re new to the plant-based dietary lifestyle.
My goal for this roundup was to share some tips and tricks on what to look out for when buying protein powders, and I hope my recommendations help point you in the right direction.
If you know of a vegan protein powder that I should include in this review, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.
I’m a healthy living and technology enthusiast.
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