If you’ve ever tried to purchase a vegan protein powder, your first reaction was probably analysis paralysis. Why are there so many options?
There are different types of plant-based protein, which means you need to know why you’re looking for vegan options at all (unless you’re vegan in general, then that’s the easy part). Some are organic, some are not. Some are for getting lean, some are for bulking up, some are just for balancing nutrition.
And then there are so many brands! Some are gritty, some are chalky, some are too sweet, some are too bland, some are flavored, some use natural sweeteners … and on and on it goes!
I’ve got you covered.
Once you know the benefits of plant-based protein (for vegans, but also for vegetarians and carnivores), the different types of vegan proteins, and what to look for, you can easily make the right decision about which protein powder is best for you.
But first, a list of my top five. If you’re tired of shopping and you just need to get on with it, here are the best.
Top 5 Vegan Protein Powders Available in 2020
There are dozens of options for plant-based protein powders. It was not easy to trim the list all the way down to five, but I wanted to get you to the very best as quickly as possible.
1. Your Super: Skinny Protein Mix
I’ve tried a lot of protein powders, but Your Super’s Skinny Protein Mix is my go-to.
If you haven’t heard of Your Super, it’s because they’re relatively new to the scene, but I guarantee you’ll be hearing more about them soon.
Your Super has a couple vegan protein powder options, but this one has the most protein per serving.
- Ingredients — The Skinny Protein Mix includes three green superfoods, which I love, because who really eats enough greens? My favorite thing about Your Super is that the two proteins plus three superfoods are the only ingredients. There are no additives, no sweeteners, nothing—just five simple ingredients.
- Flavor — The superfoods give the powder a little bit of “green” flavor, which is expected, but easily covered in a good smoothie if you don’t care for it. Because there are no sweeteners, it doesn’t have any of the weird, off taste that many other vegan protein powders have.
- Texture — Your Super powder blends really well, without adding any gritty or chalky texture to smoothies or food.
It’s 100% vegan and 100% natural. It’s also certified organic and no-GMO.
And Your Super is a socially conscious company, which is a big deal for me. They source sustainable ingredients, and for every mix sold, they donate a food bar to malnourished children through Action Against Hunger.
Protein types: Pea and hemp
Taste: Slightly nutty, slightly green
Price: $1.50 / serving
2. Garden of Life: Raw Organic
Garden of Life’s Raw Organic was my favorite vegan protein powder for a while. It provides a lot of what your body needs and it does it well.
What sets Garden of Life’s powder apart is that it gets a lot of its protein from sprouted grains, which may improve how well your body absorbs those proteins (as well as other nutrients).
Raw Organic is available unflavored, or in vanilla or chocolate.
- Ingredients — Raw Organic includes live probiotics, in addition to the plant-based proteins. Flavored blends include organic erythritol, organic stevia leaf extract, sea salt, and organic guar gum.
- Flavor — The flavoring is not overpowering as in some other vega protein blends. The vanilla, for example, is noticeable but light and works well in smoothies, etc.
- Texture — Garden of Life powders are a little chalky, but mostly blend really well. I’ve never noticed any of the gritty texture that other powders add to foods.
Raw Organic powder is 100% vegan. It’s also certified organic, non-GMO, and RAW.
Protein types: Pea, sprouted grains, and seeds (flax, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame)
Taste: Varies; flavors are only slightly sweet
Texture: Slightly chalky
Price: $2.40 / servingAloha: Organic Protein Powder
3. Aloha: Organic Protein Powder
Aloha’s Organic Protein Powder comes in a variety of flavors (and some besides vanilla and chocolate!), and generally boasts a shorter list of ingredients than many vegan protein powders.
- Ingredients — Aloha is one of the only protein powders offering omega-3s in their mixes, which is an interesting touch. They’re also using organic coconut sugar and monk fruit—instead of stevia leaf extract—as a sweetener, which (if you must have a sweetener) is thoughtful. The flavoring is more natural than many other options. The vanilla, for example, actually gets its flavor from organic ground vanilla beans and cinnamon. The ingredients list does include xanthan gum as well.
- Flavor — The flavor is decent, but honestly I give it more credit for using real, and fewer, ingredients and for skipping the stevia. The sweetness is more natural and not overpowering.
- Texture — The texture is where this misses for me. It’s a little bit chalky, but definitely gritty.
Aloha checks all the other awesome boxes, though: 100% vegan. Certified organic and non-GMO. No soy and nothing artificial.
The coconut is a possible allergen for some people, of course.
Protein types: Pea, brown rice, hemp seed
Price: $2.00 / serving
4. Vega One: All-In-One
Vega’s All-In-One is a fairly popular plant-based protein mix. It packs a punch, but it’s not necessarily pleasant.
Vega also includes a serving of greens in their powder—as well as fiber and probiotics—which is why it is so popular. If you’re looking for an all-in-one mix, Vega is going for it.
- Ingredients — The list is longer on this one, because it’s doing so much. In addition to all the proteins and fruit/veggie extracts, though, the ingredients list includes cocoa powder, “natural flavors,” stevia leaf extract, sea salt, bromelain, and xanthan gum.
- Flavor — The powder is chocolate flavored, and fairly sweet (from “stevia leaf extract,” so no added sugar). This really comes down to your sweet tooth. If you like a sweet, chocolatey hint in your smoothies (or whatever you’re adding it to), this is a good option.
- Texture — Vega does add a bit of grit and chalkiness to foods. If you’re used to protein powders, it’s consistent with what most of them feel like.
Vega is also certified organic and non-GMO. It’s vegan, but the label does say it’s produced in a facility that processes dairy, soy, and eggs.
Protein types: Pea, sunflower seed, pumpkin seed
Texture: Gritty, chalky
Price: $2.38 / serving
5. Orgain: Organic Meal
Orgain has a few vegan protein powder options, but Organic Meal is arguably the best of them.
Similar to Vega, Orgain is going for the all-in-one meal replacement.
As a meal replacement, Orgain is a “just add water” mix. You certainly can add it to smoothies and other food, but the powder provides its own creamy base.
- Ingredients — Organic Meal offers a serving of fiber, as well as fruits and veggies, along with its plant-based protein. The creamer base includes organic acacia gum, organic high oleic sunflower oil, organic inulin, and more. Flavor sweetness comes from organic stevia extract.
- Flavor — I lean toward vanilla flavors where I get the option because they’re usually more mild. Orgain’s vanilla flavor is okay, but largely overpowered by other flavors in the powder. Overall, the flavor leans toward “earthy.”
- Texture — It has a fairly standard protein powder texture: a little gritty and a little chalky. Again, not more than you might be used to if you’ve been using protein powders, but a little off-putting if you’re new to these mixes.
Orgain is also 100% vegan. It’s certified organic and non-GMO. As a total vegan meal replacement, it does the job. It’s just not the most pleasant.
Protein types: Pea, brown rice, chia seed
Texture: Gritty, chalky
Price: $2.81 / serving
How to Choose a Vegan Protein Powder
If you’re not convinced, or you just really love shopping, there are lots of other options to explore. Choosing a good plant-based protein powder essentially comes down to three factors:
- Protein content
- Protein type
Most Westerners eat a lot more protein than they really need. The Dietary Reference Intake recommends about 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight for the average person.
200 pound human / 2.205 = 90.7 kilograms x 0.8 grams = 72 grams of protein per day
Remember that, even on a vegan diet, you will get some protein from foods you eat. Beans, nuts, and some grains (like quinoa) are well known for being high in protein, but many green veggies also contribute. One cup of asparagus or broccoli, for example, provides about 2.6 grams of protein.
So as you consider how much protein you need from a powder, consider:
- Your diet — How much protein are you regularly consuming from other sources?
- Your goals — If you’re doing extra work to build muscle, you will need more than 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, of course.
Sweeteners are best avoided in general. Look for the lowest number of sugar and the fewest ingredients. If you must have some added flavor, look for natural sweeteners like fruit extract or stevia.
The best option, though, is to get a good, unsweetened, simple protein powder and add it to a fruit smoothie. That way you decide on flavors and all the sweetness is natural.
There are a few different plant-based protein sources that build these vegan powder mixes. Some of the most popular are pea, soy, hemp, and a variety of other seeds.
- Pea protein — Pea protein comes from yellow peas. It is as effective as whey protein for helping muscle growth, and it makes you feel full more than most other plant-based proteins. Additionally, most vegan protein options are lower in amino acids, but pea protein is one of the better options for amino acid counts.
- Soy protein — Soy protein is one of only a few complete, plant-based proteins—meaning it contains all nine amino acids. You don’t find a lot of soy in protein mixes anymore, because it is usually genetically modified in the U.S. and because it’s a common allergen.
- Hemp protein — Hemp protein comes from seeds of a variety of cannabis plant bred for lower levels of THC. (Read: You won’t get high from hemp protein.) Lower in protein and amino acids, hemp is a favorite seed-based protein because it offers more fiber and omega-3s than some others.
Because few plant-based proteins offer all nine amino acids, the key to a good vegan protein powder is finding one that combines two or more plant-based protein sources, to make sure you’re getting everything your body needs.
What about whey protein?
Whey is a popular powder option, and packed full of protein, but not vegan. Whey is one of two proteins in dairy products. If you need or want to avoid dairy, don’t use whey protein.
Benefits of Plant-Based Proteins
If you’re vegan, the decision to use plant-based proteins is an easy one. But even if you’re not vegan, there are lots of reasons to use a plant-based protein powder instead of animal-based proteins.
Benefits of plant-based proteins, compared to animal-based proteins, include:
- Fewer calories and lower fat content to support weight loss and heart health
- Higher levels of fiber to support gut health and promote regular bowel movements
- More essential nutrients to improve energy levels and support overall health
Basing your diet on plant-based protein will also help you cut down on snacking. The extra fiber found in vegan proteins makes most people feel full longer than they do after eating a meal based on animal protein.
Finally, in addition to what your body does get from plant-based proteins, it’s worth considering what you’re not getting by avoiding animal proteins. Unless you have ready access to free range, organic animal products, there’s a risk of ingesting antibiotics and other bacteria frequently found in commercial meats.
3 Smoothie Recipes for Your Vegan Protein Powder
Smoothies are the most popular way to make use of your vegan protein powder of choice, because there’s no end to the combination of flavors you can use.
A basic smoothie usually consists of about one to two cups of fruit (frozen or fresh), a cup of greens, enough liquid to make your blender work and achieve your favorite consistency, and a protein source.
Pro tip: If you have a protein powder with a weird flavor that you want to try to mask, include at least one fruit with a really strong flavor. Bananas and blueberries, for example, can cover a multitude of weird tastes.
If you need some inspiration to get started, here are three recipes to try first.
Breakfast Smoothie: Banana-Berry Oatmeal
I like old fashioned oats in a breakfast smoothie for a little bit of a different flavor profile. The oats add some additional protein, of course, but also come with some additional carbs. If you’re really concerned about carbs, you can leave out the oats—or use this as a pre-workout smoothie.
- 2 Tbsp old fashioned oats, uncooked
- ½ a banana
- ¼ C frozen strawberries
- ¼ C frozen blueberries
- ½ to ¾ C coconut milk*
- One serving protein powder
Thaw a half dozen or so additional blueberries to garnish.
If you do leave out the oats, this is a good one to pack some baby spinach into as well.
*Use your liquid of choice here. Any non-dairy milk—or even water—will do. I like the slightly tropical twist that coconut milk adds to this smoothie.
Lunch Smoothie: Orange Carrot
Matching produce options based on color might not be a hard-and-fast rule, but for orange foods it is!
Tip for using carrots in smoothies: If you have a high-powered blender or food processor, raw or frozen carrots are fine. If not, you might want to steam or boil them a bit so you don’t end your blender. Do not try to soften carrots in the microwave. It makes them bitter in the smoothie. I don’t know why, I just know I’ve ruined a couple smoothies ‘cause I didn’t want to boil water.
- 1 C orange juice*
- ½ a banana
- 1 C carrots
- One serving protein powder
- Optional: ½ C fresh or frozen mango
*Adjust for desired consistency
Dessert Smoothie: Key Lime Pie
This one comes compliments of Your Super, and it really is a perfect solution for those dessert cravings.
- 2 frozen bananas
- 1 lime, juiced (about 2 Tbsp)
- ½ an avocado
- 1 C water
- 2 Tbsp Skinny Protein mix (or one serving of your protein powder of choice)
Tired of smoothies? There are lots of other ways to incorporate your vegan protein powder into your daily diet. Add it to soups, creamy pasta sauces, homemade protein bites, oatmeal, chili, and more.
Getting Started with Vegan Protein Powder
If shopping for a vegan protein powder starts to get overwhelming, remember the three key factors: protein content, sweeteners, and protein type(s). Or, pick one from the list above and give it a try.
I highly recommend Your Super, for all the reasons listed above, and because—for anyone unsure where to start—it’s one of the most affordable options available. At $1.50 per serving, and free shipping, it’s easily the best deal.