- 1 Popularity of Plant Based Proteins
- 2 Plant Based Protein Guide
- 3 Animal Protein Powders vs Plant Protein Powders
- 4 Plant Protein Powders vs Meal Replacements
- 5 How To Choose The Best Vegan Protein Powder
- 6 Best Plant-based Vegan Protein Powders in 2020
- 6.1 1. Plant Fusion Complete Protein – Best Vegan Protein Powder to Buy in 2020
- 6.2 2. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard – Best Tasting Vegan Plant Protein Powder
- 6.3 3. Garden of Life Plant Sport Protein – Best for Bodybuilding and Sport
- 6.4 4. Nutiva Cold Pressed Hemp Seed Protein – Best Hemp Protein for Women
- 6.5 5. Now Sports Pea Protein Isolate – Best Pea Protein Powder
- 6.6 6. Herbal Secrets Organic Soy Isolate – Best Soy Protein Powder
- 6.7 7. Zen Principle Organics Brown Rice Protein – Best Rice Protein Powder
- 6.8 Top-rated Vegan Protein Powders Comparison Chart
- 6.9 Conclusion
There are many plant-based vegan protein powders, and each have their own merits. The most popular choice is usually a mixed plant protein, but single ingredient plant proteins include pea, rice, soy and hemp derived protein powders. Various factors such as amount of protein, amino acid profile, nutritional content, texture and flavoring will help in selecting the best vegan protein powder for your needs.
Popularity of Plant Based Proteins
Some 17% of the US population regularly consume protein powder supplements. Although whey protein accounts for 56.7% of the 2018 US protein market, global sales of plant-based protein powders (12.1B USD) are about a quarter more than whey (9.4B USD).
Plant-based protein powders are becoming more popular because of their beneficial nutritional profiles, lower risk of allergens, a wider selection of products, and a low environmental impact compared to animal based protein production (pie chart).
Plant Based Protein Guide
In terms of popular consumption, pea protein leads the way, followed by rice protein, soy protein and hemp protein. These proteins, or combinations of them, are the key ingredient to most plant-based protein powders.
1. Pea Protein
- Rich in BCAAs
- Rich in iron
- Low cost extraction
- Good for sports training
Pea protein is extracted from yellow peas which are also a rich source of iron: 15 grams of pea protein can contain about 5 grams of iron. Plant based iron is not absorbed by the body as well as meat based iron, but vitamin C has been proven to dramatically improve iron absorption.
Although extremely popular, pea protein, like most plant proteins, is low in the essential amino acid (EAA) methionine—necessary for protein synthesis and proper cell functioning—to be considered a good source of complete protein. Pairing this protein with rice protein powder will create a complete amino acid profile.
2. Rice Protein
- Lower EAAs and BCAAs count than other plant proteins
- Rice leucine has a high bioavailability
- Low allergy risk – hypoallergenic
- Combines well with pea protein
- Easy to digest
Most rice protein powders are made from brown rice. The bioavailability is similar to casein, making it a good substitute for meat protein. Another study has found that rice leucine, a main muscle building and repair EAA, is absorbed at a higher rate compared to whey protein.
Rice protein contains all nine EEAs, but it’s too low in lysine, to be considered a complete protein. Many mixed protein powders will combine pea and rice protein for a complete protein profile, and this is an excellent choice for a sports or muscle building protein powder.
3. Soy Protein
- Very similar to egg protein
- Cholesterol free
- Higher in carbohydrates
- Lacks EAA methionine
- High mineral content
- Isolate form contains no phytoestrogens
Soy protein powder comes in the isolate form, and is made from dehydrated soy flakes. The protein is very low in fat, contains no cholesterol, and is used in a wide variety of products. It is also relatively high is iron, phosphorus, copper and manganese.
Soy protein powder contains all EAAs in adequate amounts. In terms of bioavailability and speed of uptake, it sits halfway between whey protein and casein protein.
The effects of soy protein are very well-studied. It compares very favourably with whey proteins in weight loss programs, has a modest effect on LDL cholesterol reduction, and some studies point to a possible positive effect of tofu on reducing prostate cancer risk. Soy should be avoided if you have thyroid issues and don’t have an adequate iodine intake.
Isolate soy protein contains no phytoestrogens found in other soy products, and while adverse effects of GMO soy are controversial and highly debated, some people may be more convinced.
4. Hemp Protein
- Rich in albumen
- BCAAs less than soy, but more than rice
- High fiber and easy on the gut
- Cold pressed is better
Hemp protein powders are becoming more popular and are projected to exceed soy protein consumption in the near future. Hemp protein is made from hemp seeds, it contains all EAAs, and is rich in healthy omega and polyunsaturated fats and minerals. Hemp protein quality varies, and pure hemp protein powders tend to be lower in protein content. Some studies show that it may lack sufficient lysine like pea protein.
Hemp protein is easy to digest and has a high bioavailability. It is, however, susceptible to high temperatures, so cold pressed hemp powders are the better choice. Hemp protein powders are also rich in magnesium and iron, and contain at least seven to eight grams of fiber for every 30 grams.
5. Mixed Proteins
- Complete EAA profile
- Base proteins tend to be pea and rice
- Suitable for sports and physical training
- Most beneficial
Most plant-based protein powders will combine various types of plant proteins in order to have a full EAA profile in amounts similar to animal proteins. These kinds of protein powders are usually the better choice, unless you specifically need a particular protein, such as soy protein or hemp protein.
Other reasons to choose a particular plant protein, or combination of plant proteins can include: personal taste, food allergies, GMO soy, and effects on the gut because every person’s body constitution is slightly different.
Mixed protein powders may often contain a wide spectrum of additional protein sources other than those listed above such as: chia seeds, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, sunflower, alfalfa, amaranth, buckwheat and more.
Animal Protein Powders vs Plant Protein Powders
A key established difference is that animal proteins have a higher bioavailability than plant proteins—animal proteins are utilized more easily and efficiently by the body. Whey protein is the most popular animal protein, but for some people plant proteins are much easier on the gut.
Most plant proteins, except for soy protein, do not contain all nine essential amino acids (EAAs) in sufficient amounts to be considered a complete protein. However, blended plant protein powders have amino acid profiles that match those of animal-based proteins. The advantage of plant protein powders, is that they are much lower in fats and cholesterol than animal protein powders.
Plant Protein Powders vs Meal Replacements
Meal replacement powders have a full spectrum nutritional profile. A meal replacement should have between 200 and 400 calories, with one third from at least 15g of protein with nine EAAs. There should be a complete profile of essential nutrients (33% DV), fiber and fat. Most meal replacements can be used as a protein supplement, and are generally vegan friendly.
Protein powders derived from animal sources, such as whey, casein, bone broth, or egg white tend to have limited nutrients other than protein, carbohydrates and fats. Plant protein powders, however, generally contain a wider spectrum of nutrients—especially minerals. They sit halfway between a straight up whey protein powder and a typical meal replacement.
A key factor when considering a plant-based protein powder is the micronutrient profile, and how the additional vitamins and minerals fit into your nutritional needs and intake.
The plant proteins we review here do not qualify as meal replacements, but you can go here to see our guide and reviews of the best meal replacement shakes.
How To Choose The Best Vegan Protein Powder
Here are five things you should check before choosing the best plant-based protein powder for your needs:
- Protein serving amount – soy or mixed proteins tend to have 20 to 30 grams of protein per serving, while hemp is likely to be 15 grams.
- Servings – double check serving measurements because some products use one scoop and others two. Make sure the number of servings per container and their protein value match the price you are prepared to pay.
- Source ingredients – check if the protein type and other ingredients are suitable for you, especially for dietary restrictions or allergies.
- Amino acid profile – a product that lists amino acid values is generally more trustworthy. Look for added BCAAs if you need the product for muscle gain and sports performance.
- Additives, sweeteners and flavorings – plant protein powders tend to have less emulsifiers , bulking agents and artificial sweeteners than whey protein powders. Avoid high-intensity and non-nutritive sweeteners such as sucralose or Aspartame K.
See our product selection guide for what types of ingredients and products we avoid.
Third Party Verification
Checking for third party verification is highly recommended for plant-based protein powders. Source materials vary widely, and extracting plant proteins is not as straightforward as extracting animal proteins. Plant protein powders are more at risk of contamination from heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury.
Two popular products recently flagged are: Vega All In One Nutritional Shake (excess cadmium/5.3mcg and sodium/537%), and Orgain Organic Protein (excess sodium 181%). We do the third party checking for you in our product reviews below.
Best Plant-based Vegan Protein Powders in 2020
Here is our selection of the 7 best plant-based vegan protein powders to buy in 2020. Our Best to Buy is a high quality protein, and tastes almost as good as our Best Tasting Plant Protein. Our sports selection, Best for Bodybuilding, has the best amino acid profile, and the remaining choices are all single ingredient protein powders.
- Plant Fusion Complete Plant Protein – Best to Buy in 2020
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard – Best Tasting Plant Protein
- Garden of Life Sport Plant Protein – Best for BodyBuilding
- Nutiva Cold Pressed Hemp Seed Protein – Best Hemp Protein for Women
- Now Sports Pea Protein Isolate – Best Pea Protein Powder
- Herbal Secrets Organic Soy Isolate – Best Soy Protein Powder
- Zen Principle Organics Brown Rice Protein – Best Rice Protein Powder
Here are our picks for the Best Vegan Protein Powders.
1. Plant Fusion Complete Protein – Best Vegan Protein Powder to Buy in 2020
Plant Fusion is a pea-based protein powder. The amino acid profile is completed by a mixture of artichoke, amaranth, quinoa and algae. You get protein (21g), minimal fats with a little sodium and potassium. It mixes well, gets popular ratings for taste and comes in six flavors, including a stevia free and an unflavored option.
Plant Fusion is a high quality protein powder. The final product is quite powdery, not grainy, and additional ingredients are minimal. There are 21g of protein per serving (32% DV), sodium 17%, potassium 1%, and 3g of fat.
Amino Acid Profile
Although the amino acid profile is not listed on the product, we managed to get in contact and procured the following information:
Alanine 885mg, Arginine 1,790mg, Aspartic Acid 2,365mg, Cystine 205mg, Glutamic Acid 3600mg, Glycine 1,060mg, Histidine 515mg, Isoleucine 1285mg, Leucine 2,090mg, Lysine 1480mg, Methionine 225mg, Phenylalanine 1330mg, Proline 925mg, Serine 1090mg, Threonine 800mg, Tryptophan 205mg, Tyrosine 780mg, Valine 1390mg.
Mixing and Flavor
Because the product is very well processed, it’s a fine powder, mixes well and doesn’t have a grainy texture. Like most plant proteins, there’s a chalkiness to it, but comparatively less noticeable. It mixes and tastes okay with water, but different kinds of milk such as almond are better. The most popular flavors seem to be chocolate and cookies N cream, and most people say it is not too sweet. There is a stevia free and unflavored option too.
There are seven flavors to choose from: Natural-no stevia, cookies N cream, chocolate, vanilla, red velvet, unflavored and vanilla chai. There are a number of sizes to choose from according to the flavor. The popular chocolate and vanilla flavors come in 15, 30, and 80 ounce tubs. Other flavors the sizes are 15 and 30 ounces. You can also get convenient sachet packs.
Apart from the regular product, they also have a weight loss protein powder, Complete Lean, which is rich in dietary fiber, iron and chromium. It also has a special digestive blend and 1Billion CFU probiotics.
PlantFusion guarantees that all products are non GMO, gluten free, free of contamination from dairy, soy, eggs, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts and added sugar. Their ingredients are also third party tested and verified by Consumer Lab.
2. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard – Best Tasting Vegan Plant Protein Powder
The general taste and texture of a plant protein is not something everyone enjoys. ON Gold Standard gets a lot more appreciation that most other plant protein powders, and the good taste doesn’t come at any cost to the quality and value.
Protein and Nutritional Content
This protein powder is a blend of pea and rice proteins, as well as other sources such as amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat and chia. All ingredients are verified by USDA Organic, and the full amino acid profile includes 24g of protein per serving. It has 4g of both BCAAs and glutamine, so this is a good protein for workouts and sports supplementation.
Plant proteins are often rich in iron, and this product contains 4g (20%) of iron, 25% DV vitamin B12 and 100% DV vitamin C. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of plant iron and is an important antioxidant.
Flavoring and Mixing
This powder mixes well and doesn’t have an overpowering taste. The chocolate and vanilla flavors are the most popular, and while the strawberry flavor is okay, most think it doesn’t taste of strawberries. If you just want to mix quickly with water, the better flavor is chocolate.
As far as plant proteins go, ON Gold Standard is the most commented on for good flavor, and our Best to Buy selection comes in a close second. There are no artificial colorants or flavorings, but other ingredients may include cocoa, beet powder or pomegranate.
ON Gold Standard’s ingredients are certified by Informed Choice and USDA Organic. It is also gluten free and non GMO.
3. Garden of Life Plant Sport Protein – Best for Bodybuilding and Sport
Garden of Life is a pea-based protein supplemented with various bean sprouts and cherry seed proteins to make the complete amino profile. There’s a full value listing of amino acids with 5.5g of BCAAs. Recommendations for BCAAs range from 5 to 15 grams per day for healthy adults, which may be obtained from a combination of food and supplements. For strenuous exercise, athletes or optimal muscle building, it’s leucine value (2.5g) is lower than ideal.
This product is quite convenient when it comes to serving out the protein. There are nutritional servings and values for one scoop and for two. One scoop gives you 15g of protein, so it’s quite convenient to take a scoop before and after a training session. One scoop is convenient for a protein breakfast boost as well.
All nutrients are naturally occuring and not supplemented. There’s a good quantity of phosphorus (40% DV)—a nutrient many people lack—and which is essential for energy production, protein synthesis as well as building and maintaining muscle strength. Other key nutrients include calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium. The benefit of pea protein is its low fat and minimal carbohydrate content, which leaves you to add them as you wish in a shake.
Taste and Texture
Like a typical pea protein, most people find that it mixes well, with a bit of a thick texture. The most popular mix is a more watery almond milk, and it’s better to mix thoroughly by hand, one scoop at a time with a little liquid. Relatively speaking, the taste is not bad. The texture can be a little chalky, especially if not mixed well, but the stevia is not too overwhelming. The chocolate flavor seems to go down best.
Garden of life is one of the top brands when it comes to trusted verifications. It is verified organic and non GMO, made in a GMP/FDA approved facility, and the ingredients are tested and approved by Informed Choice as well as Consumer Lab.
4. Nutiva Cold Pressed Hemp Seed Protein – Best Hemp Protein for Women
Hemp protein powder has a relatively good complete protein profile, a high bioavailability, and is rich in fiber—supporting healthy digestion. This is a pure, single ingredient protein powder with 15g of protein per 30g of powder (3 tablespoons), and is rich in iron and magnesium.
The protein extraction method of Nutiva is cold pressed, which preserves the integrity of the hemp protein. Hemp protein is also rich in omega-3 and 6 fats, antioxidants, and there’s 0 saturated fat and sodium.
The serving nutritional profile daily value (DV%) has 8g of fiber (8%), iron (40%), magnesium (60%) and zinc (25%). The iron and magnesium content makes this product a good choice for women, and it’s very easy on the gut too. Men should consider their overall iron intake before taking this product. The contents are certified non GMO, organic and are independently verified by Consumer Lab.
Nutiva hemp seed protein comes in three different sizes and two flavors: plain and chocolate. The powder is very fine, but it does not completely dissolve, so it’s best to mix with a thicker liquid and to drink between stirrings. There are no added sweeteners, so you need to add your own—banana, peanut butter or avocado is a good option for a smoothie.
There is also a less processed option with 12g fiber (not 8g), and the protein content is a little less (11g).
5. Now Sports Pea Protein Isolate – Best Pea Protein Powder
If you’re looking for a pure pea protein, Now Sports yellow pea isolate is a good choice. It has 4.2g of BCCAs and 2g of L-arginine—although not an EAA, is essential for muscle building and repair. It is easily digestible and suitable for a post workout protein.
The protein you get per serving is a typical average of 24g. The nutritional profile shows 8g or 45% DV for iron, so men who wish to take this product should make sure their total intake of iron is not excessive. The additional calcium and potassium content is negligible.
The unflavored product has just pure pea protein isolate, so you have to mix it and sweeten it as you see fit. There are flavored options with natural flavoring and added stevia, xylitol and sea salt.
Sports Now is also a fully certified product, with ingredients tested by Labdoor as well as Informed Choice, with additional certification by LGC for banned substances. Although this is a good product for sports and muscle training, if you’re happy with a mixed plant protein, our other reviewed product— Garden of Life Sport—has a better amino acid profile.
6. Herbal Secrets Organic Soy Isolate – Best Soy Protein Powder
Herbal Secrets is a pure, single ingredient, unflavored, non GMO soy isolate protein. Soy protein has the closest match to animal proteins (especially egg white) and this product delivers 20g protein in 38 servings—so it’s very affordable and reasonably priced compared to other high quality plant proteins.
Apart from 20g of protein, the nutrition fact panel lists some additional nutrients. The highest value nutrient is calcium (120mg/17%) and iron (3g/17%) which are quite beneficial to all users. There are smaller quantities of magnesium and potassium.
This soy protein is a very fine powder which mixes well and smoothly. It’s unflavored which is a more convenient choice for people to blend in their own sweeteners, especially if they don’t like stevia..
Research shows soy protein isolate may be the preferred protein powder for men at high risk of prostate cancer due to its ability to increase urinary excretion of estrogen.
Herbal Secrets Soy Protein is made in the USA in a GMP/FDA facility, certified non GMO and all ingredients are third party tested and certified.
7. Zen Principle Organics Brown Rice Protein – Best Rice Protein Powder
Zen Principle organics is a single ingredient, unflavored brown rice protein. It is not a hydrolyzed isolate, but extracted under low temperatures with negligible levels of MSG. It has a full amino profile with 5g BCCAs per serving, so it’s good for sports training as well as health supplementation.
This rice protein has 15 Amino acids, including all EAAs and 5g BCAAs. It delivers 24g protein in 45 servings, and the price is quite reasonable. Other nutrients include low levels of calcium and iron. Rice protein is a good choice for sports training or if you have allergies, and this product is certified gluten free.
Zen Principle rice protein is regularly tested for heavy metal contamination, and source ingredients are certified by Baystate Organic Certifiers and Oregon Tilth Organization for produce grown in America. It is also certified non GMO, GMP and USDA Organic. .
This plant protein is quite a fine powder, it’s not so grainy and mixes well with a cold liquid. It has a bland, neutral flavor and many people just take it with chilled water. It tastes better than most other rice proteins, which in general are easier to drink than pea proteins. It can also be baked into different recipes.
Top-rated Vegan Protein Powders Comparison Chart
|Plant Fusion||Mixed |
|21g Protein |
Micronutrients not listed
|ON Gold Standard||Pea and Rice||24g protein |
Rich in iron, B12, Vit.C
|Garden Of Life Sport||Mixed |
|15g or 30g protein|
|Nutiva||Hemp||15g protein |
Rich in Fe, Zn and Mg
|Now Sports||Pea||24g protein|
Rich in iron
|Herbal Secrets||Soy||20g protein|
Rich in calcium and iron
|Zen Principle Organics||Rice||26g protein|
Rich in iron
Our best plant-based vegan proteins showcase three mixed plant proteins, all of which are good choices for sports, and the other selections are all single ingredient plant proteins. All products are fully certified and free of artificial additives. If you have anything to add, or would like to ask a question, please use the comment feature below. We are always here for you.