There are different types of Vegan Protein Powders available. You can choose from vegan protein powders that are creamy or lemonade-like and transparent. There are various raw materials from which a vegan protein powder could be made of, for example pea protein, rice protein, soy protein, hemp protein, sunflower seed protein and various mixed protein powders (the so-called “protein blends”). The composition of vegan protein powders can therefore vary greatly. Each type of vegan protein powder has its own unique nutritional profile. Vegan protein powder recipes are not standardized, so understanding which one best suits your needs is essential.
Written by: A.L.Oosterling, Fitness and Health Expert, BSc sports dietitian, NSCA-CPT, ISAK
|Type of vegan protein powder||Vegan protein raw materials||Added Essential Amino Acids||Add-ons of vitamins, minerals||Sweeteners|
|isolates; give a creamy shake|
Hydrolysates are further cut proteins; these give a lemonade-like shake
sunflower seeds protein
pumpkin seed protein
Vegan Protein Powders can be made from a single protein source or a mix of protein sources
|BCAA’s (BCAA branched chain amino acids)|
EAA’s (essential amino acids)
Leucine (or other single amino acids)
“Superfoods” (e.g. chlorella, maca, etc.)
Erythritol (extracted from fruit)
Steviol glycosides (derived from stevia plant)
Xylitol (extracted from wood fibres)
Mannitol (derived from mushrooms)
Looking for the perfect vegan protein powder? Discover the Best Vegan Protein Powder with these 6 Essential Questions!
- Why do you need a protein powder?
If the answer to this question is “adding more quality vegan protein on a daily basis”, then you want a vegan protein powder that can do that best for you. A good vegan protein powder provides at least 70g of usable protein per 100g of powder. You can find out whether this is the case in the nutritional information, under the heading “protein or protein per 100g“.
For protein powders that provide less usable protein, you need to use a lot more powder to get a significant amount of usable protein. This is of course also accompanied by more calories.
In addition, a good vegan protein powder contains larger amounts of essential amino acids. If this is not the case, the vegan protein is not “high quality”. You would theoretically need more protein powder to compensate for this. This is of course a waste of money.
What about added vitamins and minerals?
Adding extra vitamins, minerals and so-called “superfoods” takes away the essence of what a vegan protein powder is supposed to do, which is to provide high-quality usable vegan protein. With larger intakes of a protein powder with added vitamins, minerals and “superfoods”, you run the risk of ingesting toxic amounts. Especially if you use more than 1 serving (30-50g) of protein powder daily. Remember that more is not always better.
- Does the vegan protein powder fit my personal nutritional needs?
Obviously, it’s important to take your specific nutritional needs into account, such as food sensitivities, allergies or intolerances. If you are sensitive to soy, it is not convenient to use a vegan protein powder based on soy.
It is also important to look at what other protein sources you now consume daily to make sure you maintain a varied diet. If you mainly eat plant-based foods, chances are that you already use a lot of soy products, such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy milk, soy yogurt and (soy based) meat substitutes. Although soy is a high quality protein and in theory it seems appropriate to use a soy based protein powder, this would not help to maintain a diverse and balanced diet. In this case you are almost completely dependent on a single vegan protein source: soy. To maintain a healthy and varied diet, it is advisable to combine different (plant-based) protein sources.
There are alternative vegan protein powders that are not soy based. Consider, for example, a pea protein-rice protein blend (only rice protein does not provide an optimal amino acid profile) or pea protein supplemented with essential amino acids. A blend of specific protein sources can increase the quality of a vegan protein. For example: pea protein mixed with rice protein. One source contains a higher dose of specific essential amino acids than the other and vice versa.
In short, the best vegan protein powder is made from high-quality plant-based ingredients, but must also support a balanced and varied diet.
- Is the vegan protein powder really high quality?
Not all proteins are equal in quality. A protein is made up of amino acids. We call some amino acids “essential amino acids”. These are amino acids that your body cannot produce itself and must therefore be obtained through the diet. Each protein source has its own amino acid profile.
There are two main requirements that make a protein high quality:
A. Abundance of Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)
The best vegan protein powders contain a balanced amino acid profile that is high in essential amino acids. These are the amino acids that the body cannot make itself and must therefore be obtained through the diet. Some essential amino acids occur in lower doses in certain plant protein sources. By adding extra essential amino acids to vegan protein powders, you increase the quality of the protein. A fast-digesting protein that contains ample amounts of essential amino acids is most effective at stimulating muscle building (muscle protein synthesis).(1) In addition, leucine deserves a special place in this story, as it appears to be the most important essential amino acid that can trigger muscle building and muscle recovery. Ideally, one serving (20-40g) of protein powder must provide at least 2g of leucine.
A protein powder with extra BCAAs (Isoleucine, valine, leucine) or EAAs (all essential amino acids) is of high quality, because it contains a larger amount of essential amino acids than simple vegan protein powders due to enrichment. However, many brands are not jumping at this solution because of the extra costs or ignorance of the added value on the quality of the product.
Please note: some brands do not properly check their blends for unnecessary (and sometimes dangerous) additives and impure raw materials. For example, in 2022 Body & Fit made the news with their vegan protein powders, because they contain the dangerous substance Ethylene oxide.
B. Good digestibility and absorption
The protein of some vegetable proteins is sometimes more difficult to digest and is partly absorbed. By definition, a protein powder has reltively good digestibility and absorption, because the vegan protein has been transformed into an isolate or hydrolysate. In other words, the vegan protein has been converted into a concentrated and “cut up” protein. This makes it easier for the body to process the vegan protein and absorb more vegan protein.
- Do I want a protein lemonade or rather a creamy shake?
The most common variants of vegan protein powders are: the powders that provide creamy protein shakes with a milky texture and the refreshing protein shakes with a lemonade-like texture. Each type has its own unique features and benefits, but the right choice will depend on your specific needs and preferences.
Creamy Protein Powder:
- The creamy variants of vegan protein powders are often based on pea protein isolates and rice protein isolates or soy protein isolates. In an isolate, the protein raw material is processed to reduce the fat and carbohydrate content, leaving a more concentrated form of proteins.
- This type of vegan protein powder is excellent to mix with vegetable milk, such as almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, or cashew milk. These shakes have a thicker texture and are creamy, making them a great choice for those looking for a more satiating and filling option. This type of vegan protein powder is widely used in smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt and as an ingredient in baking. For example in protein pancakes!
- The vegan protein lemonade is often based on hydrolysed pea protein.
- This variant has a light and refreshing texture, similar to lemonade.
- This is a vegan protein powder that has undergone the process of hydrolysis. Hydrolysis consists of two terms: Hydro, meaning water, and -lysis, meaning to remove or detach. When a protein is hydrolyzed, the protein chains are broken down, making it easier to digest.
- Hydrolyzed protein is even more “cut up” than isolates, for example. This allows the vegan protein powder with water to become a clear lemonade-like drink.
- The advantage that hydrolyzed vegan protein powder has over conventional vegan protein isolates is that it ensures that amino acids from the protein are absorbed more quickly.
- Protein lemonade (hydrolyzed protein) usually has a fruit flavor. So, if you’re not a fan of the creamy milkshakes or think they’re too heavy, these refreshing lemonade-like protein shakes might be a nice alternative. They are especially popular with people who like to hydrate and start recovery during strength training or those who need a lighter protein option after a workout or during the day. You can also add this protein powder to sugar-free vegan yogurt.
- Do I like the taste of the vegan protein powder?
The taste of a vegan protein powder is very important. If you don’t like the vegan protein shake, you won’t use it. The cheaper vegan protein shakes are usually not made with the highest quality and/or natural ingredients and you can taste this.
- Is the vegan protein powder formed with expertise and attention to sustainability?
And last but not least, the knowledge, standards and values of the company from which you purchase the vegan protein powder and give your money to are important.
- Are you buying from a company that is committed to stay on top of of the latest developments in the fast-growing and fast-developing plant-based protein world (and are they qualified to do so)?
- Are the vegan protein powders made with the knowledge of a qualified nutrition professional (sports dietitian)?
- How is the company committed to sustainability?
- Is it a company that only sells vegan protein or does it also sell products with animal ingredients?
It is crucial to keep in mind that it is not only about the quality of the vegan protein powder itself, but also about the knowledge, standards and values of the company you buy it from. Choose a brand that fits your standards and values.