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The 8 Best Vegan Protein Powders Of 2023 + Buying Tips

Author:

Emma Loewe

Expert reviewer:

Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN

Updated on January 9, 2023

mbg Sustainability + Health Director

By Emma Loewe

mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of “Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us.”

Expert review by

Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN

mbg Vice President of Scientific Affairs

Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN is Vice President of Scientific Affairs at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor’s degree in Biological Basis of Behavior from the University of Pennsylvania and Ph.D. in Foods and Nutrition from the University of Georgia.

Image by Kos

Last updated on January 9, 2023

Our editors have independently chosen the products listed on this page. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.

Our bodies are built on protein–but it can be difficult to get enough of it from plants alone. Vegan protein powders make it easier to fulfill your protein needs without getting animals involved, but there’s a catch. Many vegan protein powders on the market don’t contain the essential amino acids that your body actually needs to rebuild and recover.

In a side-by-side comparison, while no array of plants will offer as many essential amino acids as animal protein, vegan protein powders still represent a complementary and robust strategy to infuse a diverse lineup of essential and nonessential amino acids (the building blocks of protein!) into your nutrition regimen and body.

This guide will explore the ins and outs of what makes a well-formulated vegan protein powder and share the eight best options of the year.

What is vegan protein powder and is it for me?

No matter who you are, or what you eat, you need protein to feel your best. Protein is an essential macronutrient, meaning we must consume it daily for our bodies to run properly (or better yet, more optimally). While protein requirements vary depending on factors like age, weight, physical activity level, and health status, emerging research is finding that active people should consume 100 to 120 grams of protein per day. This means you’ll want to aim to eat at least 25 to 30 grams of high-quality protein1 in each meal. Of course, healthful and strategic snacks (including those incorporating vegan protein powders) can help bridge protein gaps, too. This is especially important as you get older and begin to lose muscle mass2.

Every time you eat protein, you’re investing in whole-body health, immune function, and especially muscle growth and maintenance. And since muscles are a prime site for glucose and fat metabolism, protein is also helpful for insulin sensitivity, metabolic health, and cellular energy. Plus, high-quality protein is very satiating3 and can be used to promote healthy weight management4 and healthy body composition5. (Learn more about how to use protein for healthy weight goals here.)*

The protein (i.e., the amino acid profile, or array) you’ll find in a plant is not the same as the protein you’ll find in an animal (think: poultry, beef, fish, eggs, dairy, etc). For starters, individual plant proteins (with the exception of soy) naturally do not contain all nine essential amino acids, many of which (especially the branched-chain amino acids, BCAAs) are critical for muscle growth and repair.

This means that plant proteins are technically, by definition, “incomplete” and must be combined with other protein sources to build something that starts to resemble animal protein, which is complete. This approach of combining complementary plant proteins (think: beans and rice) to achieve a more comprehensive amino acid profile is something that vegetarians and vegans are very familiar with and lean into daily.

One serving of plants is also typically lower in overall protein than a serving of meat. A serving of chicken (3.5 oz) has 32 grams of protein6, for example, while a serving of black beans has 24 grams7. Protein from plants is also less bioavailable than animal protein (e.g., whey).

This isn’t to say that we should all swap beans for meat. Plant-based diets have health (not to mention environmental) benefits of their own. And as the leading protein and amino acid researcher Don Layman, Ph.D., explains on his episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, it’s possible to be vegan and still get enough protein. It just takes more effort–and likely more calories, too.

That’s where vegan protein powders come in: They’re a more targeted way to help ensure you’re getting enough protein every day. Vegan protein powder is often made from peas, rice, hemp, or soy. More unique plants, like pumpkins, artichokes, and other legumes, seeds, or grains can be used to make protein powder as well.

Research shows that plant protein powders can build muscle and promote metabolic health8 just as well as animal-based powders can (when consumed in larger amounts9).*

The key is that they need to be well-formulated (with complementary plant protein combinations) to contain all nine essential amino acids–especially leucine, one of three essential BCAAs. Thanks to research we now know that leucine is what triggers mTOR, a key cellular signaling pathway that initiates muscle growth and speeds up recovery, and experts believe we should aim for at least 2.5 grams10 of the amino acid in each meal to support this important physiological process (and supplements can be an important part of obtaining this goal.)

For context, whey protein powder (from cows or goats) typically has about 8 to 10% leucine content. Soy is 7.8%, while hemp is 5.1%11. This means, Layman explains, that it would take 23 grams of whey protein to trigger muscle growth and 33 or 34 grams of soy. It can be trickier to find out how much leucine is in combination plant protein powders, as amino acid compositions are not always listed on labels. When possible, you’ll want to go with a protein powder that is transparent about its amino acid content. (We call out a few below.)

There are a few reasons to choose a vegan protein powder over an animal-based one, despite its less complete amino acid profile. The most obvious is if you follow a strictly plant-based diet. But some meat eaters might also want to weave more plants into their nutrition regimen and be easier on their personal carbon footprint12 too. Plant protein powders can also contain key nutrients from plant sources (e.g., dietary fiber, and omega-3 fatty acid ALA, to name a couple) that you won’t find in animal-based ones. Plant proteins are convenient to boot; add 1-2 scoops to a smoothie or shake and you’re well on your way to meeting your daily protein needs.

Of course, powders do not replace whole-food protein sources; they work together. And even the most complete protein powders can’t build muscle alone. You need to pair them with resistance exercises to see any change in body composition and strength.

Summary

If you’re looking to support your daily essential protein needs for whole-body health, especially to maintain or build muscle, consuming at least 100 grams of daily protein is critical. Vegan protein powder can help plant-based eaters or carnivores alike meet this threshold because protein powders are incremental to whole food sources. Aim for one that packs 20 to 30 grams of protein and features an amino acid profile whenever possible (and check for leucine!).

How we picked.

Vegan protein

Each powder delivers a meaningful dose of protein sourced exclusively from plants. These vegan supplements can be enjoyed by everyone (not just vegetarians and vegans) thanks to their healthful formulas and convenience in infusing diverse protein sources in our day. We prioritized proteins that have higher BCAA counts and are transparent about amino acid breakdown.

Diverse ingredients

These product offerings feature innovative formulas with a variety of plant-sourced proteins, from pea and rice, to seeds, grains, and more. Additionally, you’ll find complementary additions like digestive enzymes, greens blends, probiotics, fiber, and even keto-friendly fats.

Quality

We include reputable brands that prioritize quality testing, to ensure the potency of ingredients, but also the purity (limiting heavy metals, microbials, etc.). These products strive to be clean, with high-quality additional ingredients to complement the taste experience.

Sustainability

Whether in ingredient sourcing or product and packaging materials, we appreciate protein powders created with sustainability in mind. We take pride in highlighting green initiatives and certifications, as well as recyclable and eco-friendly packaging options.

Our picks for the best vegan protein powder of 2023:

Best for muscle building: Metagenics Perfect Protein

Pros

Supports an active lifestyle* Extra branched-chain amino acids

Cons

Flavors added

Protein per serving: 20 grams

Flavors: ChocolateVanilla

Sugar content: 3 grams

Leucine content: 2.77 grams

Dietary considerations: GMO-freeGluten-freeDairy-freeVegan/ vegetarian

Certified Organic: No

Metagenics’ powder is made of pea protein–a highly bioavailable and easy-to-digest plant protein source. One 2015 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutritionfound that men who took pea protein over a 12-week resistance training program experienced similar improvements in muscle size and strength as those who took whey protein.

On top of 20 grams of pea protein per serving (2 scoops), this powder contains an extra 3.5 grams of essential amino acids, which are important for muscle growth.

It hits the necessary leucine threshold to gain muscle thanks to added BCAAs, with an average of 2.77 grams per serving. It’s a bit higher in sugar than some other options on this list, though, and its sweetness comes from cane sugar, monk fruit extract, and stevia extract.*

What it tastes like: Reviewers note that this sweet protein has a smooth flavor with none of the funky aftertastes you’ll find in other plant proteins. It can be added to smoothies or shakes, or simply blended with cold water.

Best for weight management: Garden of Life Raw Organic Fit Protein Powder

Pros

Promotes fat burn & satiety*Features green coffee bean extractContains added digestive enzymesCertified B Corporation

Cons

Contains sesame allergenFlavors added

Protein per serving: 28 grams

Flavors: ChocolateVanillaOriginal

Sugar content: Less than 1 gram

Leucine content: 2.34 grams

Dietary considerations: GMO-freeGluten-freeDairy-freeVegan/ vegetarianSoy-free

Certified Organic: Yes

This plant-based blend is made from 13 raw, sprouted organic grains, seeds, and legumes including peas, brown rice, chia seed, and flax seed. There is no soy in this product. On top of 28 grams of protein per serving (including 5 grams of BCAA and a respectable 2.34 grams of leucine), it’s fortified with live probiotics and enzymes to assist with digestion and decaffeinated green coffee bean extract to promote fat burn and curb cravings. It also contains a superfood blend of ashwagandha root, baobab, and cinnamon to further support healthy weight management.

Reviewers note that Garden of Life’s formula is filling and effectively stops food cravings–and it’s very low in sugar to boot. We appreciate that its raw ingredients are certified organic and that Garden of Life is a certified B Corporation for its commitment to sustainability.*

What it tastes like: The vanilla, chocolate, and original flavors are subtle and not too sweet, though they do have an “artificial” aftertaste and gritty texture, some reviewers note. However, it’s nothing a well-formulated smoothie can’t fix.

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Best organic: KOS Organic Plant Protein

Pros

Good source of fiberFeatures digestive enzyme blend

Cons

Contains tree nut allergen (coconut) Flavors addedNo amino acid profile provided

Protein per serving: 20 grams

Flavors: ChocolateVanilla

Sugar content: 2 grams

Leucine content: Not listed

Dietary considerations: GMO-freeGluten-freeDairy-freeVegan/ vegetarianSoy-free

Certified Organic: Yes

This popular powder contains a mixture of pea, flax, quinoa, pumpkin seed, and more, making it a complete protein source. (The brand does not share its amino acid breakdown, however, so it’s hard to know if the amino acid profile is balanced.) It also contains 3 grams of dietary fiber for a healthy gut and immune response and digestive enzymes and prebiotics for further gut support.*

Kos prides itself on using organic ingredients, and its lower-impact packaging is made from recycled materials.

What it tastes like: Kos powder contains coconut, monk fruit, and stevia for a rich and tasty flavor that reviewers pretty unanimously love. They note that the powder–particularly the chocolate variety–tastes great no matter what you blend it in and is especially delicious mixed with plant milk.

Best tasting: Truvani Organic Vanilla Plant Based Protein Powder

Pros

Comes in many flavor varietiesClean formula

Cons

No amino acid profile provided

Protein per serving: 20 grams

Flavors: ChocolateVanillaOriginalPeanut butterVanilla chaiBanana cinnamonChocolate peanut butter

Sugar content: 1-2 grams depending on flavor

Leucine content: Not listed

Dietary considerations: GMO-freeGluten-freeDairy-freeVegan/ vegetarianSoy-free

Certified Organic: Yes

Truvani’s simple ingredient list is what sets this plant protein powder apart. Each bag contains pea protein, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and monk fruit, plus some extra natural spices depending on the flavor–no fillers or funky additives. This powder also contains 3 grams of fiber per serving and is very low in sugar, especially when you consider how pleasantly sweet it tastes. Truvani says that one of its flavor secrets is to remove pea’s pods before turning them into protein powder, which leads to a smoother and richer taste.

What it tastes like: If you have a sweet tooth, this is the plant protein powder for you. As one reviewer puts it, “It’s like cake in a cup without the dairy.” It’s not chalky or grainy and comes in a variety of crave-able flavors including chocolate peanut butter, vanilla chai, and banana cinnamon.

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Best for women: Plant Fusion Inspire

Pros

Hormonal balance and energy support* Features botanicals and digestive enzymes

Cons

Plastic container Flavors addedMCT oil source not clear, but likely coconut (tree nut allergen)

Protein per serving: 18 grams

Flavors: ChocolateVanilla

Sugar content: Less than 1 gram

Leucine content: Not listed

Dietary considerations: GMO-freeGluten-freeDairy-freeVegan/ vegetarianSoy-freeKosher

Certified Organic: No

PlantFusion’s Inspire formula contains a mix of pea protein and more unique sources like artichoke protein and algae protein. It contains 4 grams of BCAAs per serving, though it’s not clear what the amino acid breakdown is.

Designed specifically for women, the formula also has pomegranate extract to support hormonal balance, ashwagandha to ease stress, L-theanine to rev up focus, and biotin to promote healthy skin and nails as well as help balance blood sugar. Plus, it has added digestive enzymes for gut health and MCTs to enhance cognition and support metabolic health.*

What it tastes like: Though the powder does not contain sugar, it’s sweetened with a blend of monk fruit, lucuma fruit, yacon root, and stevia. Reviewers note that this does give it a slight aftertaste, though the flavor is still pleasantly mild and the texture blends very easily into shakes and smoothies.

Best affordable: Life Extension Wellness Code Plant Protein

Pros

Protein plus amino acid blend Supports lean muscle mass*

Cons

Plastic container Flavors addedHas an artificial taste

Protein per serving: 18 grams

Flavors: Vanilla

Sugar content: Less than 1 gram

Leucine content: Not listed

Dietary considerations: GMO-freeGluten-freeDairy-freeVegan/ vegetarianSoy-free

Certified Organic: No

This pea protein powder is fortified with additional BCAAs (though the company does not share amino acid breakdowns on its website). It also contains inulin from blue agave, and digestive enzymes from pineapple for gut support.*

It’s an affordable option that is well-suited for those who are new to the world of protein powders, though we don’t love the plastic packaging or long list of added ingredients (including unspecified natural flavors, seed oils, and xanthan gum).

What it tastes like: Reviewers note that this powder has a strong artificial vanilla flavor that can be overpowering, so you need to doctor it up with smoothie mix-ins.

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Best with protease digestive enzyme : Ora Work It Performance Plant Protein Powder

Pros

Supports performance and recovery* Features protein digestive enzyme

Cons

5 grams of added sugars Flavors addedContains tree nut allergen (coconut)

Protein per serving: 25 grams

Flavors: ChocolateVanillaOriginal

Sugar content: 5 grams

Leucine content: Not listed

Dietary considerations: Gluten-freeDairy-freeVegan/ vegetarianSoy-free

Certified Organic: Yes

This performance plant protein is geared towards active people who are looking to optimize recovery. It packs an impressive 25 grams of protein (from various plant sources including peas, rice, chia seeds, and more unique sources like watermelon) and contains plant-based protease enzymes.

These enzymes help assist with digestion to ensure that your body is optimally absorbing and utilizing the protein. Research shows that they can help the body take in more amino acids following a workout, and help maximize digestive comfort along the way. Ora’s formula is complete, but its amino acid breakdown is unclear. Unlike other protein powders that can be taken at any time of day, Ora recommends consuming this one within 30 minutes of a workout to reap the most recovery and muscle-building benefits.*

What it tastes like: Ora’s formula has a simple ingredient list, but it has more sugar (from organic coconut sugar and organic stevia extract) than any other option on our list. This leads to a pleasantly sweet taste that goes down extra easy thanks to the digestive enzymes.

Best keto protein powder: Orgain Keto Plant Protein(TM) Organic Keto-genic Protein Powder

Pros

Keto-friendly protein to fat ratio

Cons

Contains sugar alcohols and added flavors Plastic container

Protein per serving: 10 grams

Flavors: ChocolateVanilla

Sugar content: Less than 1 gram

Dietary considerations: GMO-freeGluten-freeDairy-freeVegan/ vegetarianSoy-freeKosherKeto friendly

Certified Organic: Yes

This powder has a keto-friendly ratio of protein to fat, making it a good pick for vegans who are keto or following a low-carb diet. It contains 10 grams of plant-based protein (from peas) and 13 grams of organic, plant-based fats (from coconut oil, avocado oil and cocoa butter). It can be consumed on its own or combined with MCT oil for a satiating serving of protein and healthy fats to hold you over until your next meal.

With its lower protein count, however, this isn’t the best pick for building muscle. Its amino acid count is not listed either.

What it tastes like: The taste of this powder is hit or miss among reviewers; some note that it’s easy to blend into smoothies and hot beverages like coffee while others find it too lumpy and artificial for their liking.

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How to choose.

To choose the right vegan protein powder for your needs, you’ll want to consider the following:

GI friendly: Clean vegan protein powders that don’t contain as many artificial sweeteners, added flavors, and other additives will be less likely to cause stomach upset. If you have gut sensitivities or concerns that make it difficult to fully extract nutrients from food, you might want to opt for a protein powder with added digestive enzymes, like Plant Fusion or Ora Organic.Amino acid content: As noted earlier, the best complete vegan protein powders will be formulated with complementary plant protein sources (think: pea and rice) to contain all nine essential amino acids along with a meaningful dose of BCAA content (especially leucine) per serving. Everyone, but especially those looking to build muscle, will want to prioritize protein powders that fit these qualifications.Flavor profile: Vegan protein powders come in plenty of flavors these days. Feel free to experiment to find one that fits your tastebuds; just beware that the super artificial-sounding ones likely contain lots of added sweeteners that may not be so great for your gut health.Packaging: If you’re eating vegan for environmental reasons, you’re probably also looking for a product that’s produced and packaged responsibly. Ditch large plastic tubs for recyclable paper bags and buy from brands that source their ingredients responsibly like Garden of Life, a certified B Corporation.

Summary

Everyone should be looking for a vegan protein powder that packs around 20 grams of protein per serving (at least), is third-party tested, and is low in artificial sweeteners or preservatives. Beyond that, flavor, amino acid content, digestibility, and packaging are a few factors that can sway which one you choose.

Side effects and safety.

Vegan protein powders are safe to consume for most people. However, those with nut or seed allergies or sensitivities to legumes (e.g., pea, soy, etc.) will want to be careful about what kind they buy. Some vegan protein powders might cause digestive discomfort. There’s also the not particularly dangerous (but unpleasant) side effect of a bad aftertaste.

Eating too much protein13 at one time can cause abdominal discomfort, tiredness, and irritability in some people. Those with existing kidney issues or considerations will want to be extra cautious about protein intake levels and would be partnering with their healthcare provider to achieve nutritional goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is vegan protein powder inflammatory?

It shouldn’t be. Vegan proteins like soy have actually been shown to improve antioxidant status and support a healthy inflammatory response in clinical research.

However, some protein powders can contain pro-inflammatory additives like sugar so you’ll want to look for a clean formula with minimal extra ingredients.

What are the negatives of protein powder?

Protein powders deliver a concentrated amount of protein, but they don’t have the same nutritional array as whole foods. Depending on the formulation, protein powders can also be less filling than whole-food protein sources.

Is vegan protein powder as good as whey?

It depends what you’re looking for. Whey is a complete protein, making it more effective at stimulating muscle growth and recovery. However, research has found that they both have positive impacts on providing our body with diverse amino acids, while supporting healthy body composition and muscle density.*

Conventional whey protein comes with sustainability considerations and won’t be suitable for vegans or those with certain sensitivities. In those cases, vegan protein powder is a good alternative.

The takeaway.

Vegan protein powders can make it easier for plant-based eaters and those with sensitivities to meet their daily protein needs (which may be higher than you think). Just be sure to choose one that is transparent, quality tested, and low (or absent) in artificial sweeteners and preservatives. And don’t go on a completely liquid diet just yet: your body needs whole food sources of protein, too!

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.

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