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Ranking the best vegan protein powder of 2021

Written by John Davis

Last updated: December 7, 2020

Many vegans are on the lookout for the best supplemental sources for vegan protein.

Though it used to be a nightmare to try to find quality vegan protein powder, that’s not the case anymore.

Though whey protein (derived from cows) is still the dominant protein source in protein powder supplements, there are a plethora of great vegan protein powders out there, and they aren’t just for vegans.  

People with milk allergies, severe lactose intolerance, or simply an interest in getting a different amino acid profile might want to look into vegan protein powder too.

Wondering what the best vegan protein powders are? We’ve got you covered. Our research team has reviewed and ranked the top vegan protein powders on the market, plus taken a close-up look at the advantages and disadvantages of vegan protein powder.

Rankings

1. Transparent Labs Organic Vegan Rice and Pea Protein

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There are plenty of vegan protein powders out there, but they rarely contain the expert sourcing and care we see with Transparent Lab’s Organic Vegan.

Inside Organic Vegan you’ll find USDA certified organic pea and brown rice protein as well as natural flavors and natural sweeteners.

No cheap soy protein. No artificial anything. No shortcuts. Organic Vegan comes in both chocolate and vanilla flavors, providing 24 grams of quality protein per serving. Without a doubt, this is Alpha XR’s #1 vegan protein powder on the market.

2. Ladder Plant Protein Powder

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Ladder plant protein is a vegan friendly powder that is free of lactose and NSF-certified for purity. One of the unique advantages of this vegan protein is that it offers a complete profile of essential amino acids. This ensures your muscles get the nutrition they need to recover and perform.

Each serving also contains probiotics to ensure a healthy gut and optimized digestion.

3. Performance Lab SPORT Protein

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Performance Lab® has built its reputation on the purity of its products, and SPORT Protein is a predictably flawless addition to the range.

It’s 100% plant-based, organic, and vegan-friendly.

It’s made exclusively from whole brown rice protein, which is USDA certified-organic, and clinically shown to be just as effective as whey for building muscle.

With no fillers, flavorings, or nasty chemical processing, it conquers the bitter aftertaste issues sometimes associated with plant-based proteins.

And with a seductive blend of organic cocoa, vanilla, and cinnamon, peak performance never tasted so good.

4. Naked Pea Protein

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Yes, there are other pure pea protein products out there, but can they make the claims that Naked Pea Protein does? It’s non-GMO, sourced from farms in North America, and it proudly advertises its independent lab testing that verifies its purity and its lack of contaminants like heavy metals.

5. Battle Ready Fuel Vegan Protein

Vegan Protein

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If you walk the vegan path in life, you are likely always on the lookout for good protein sources that don’t come from animals.

Battle Ready Fuel’s Vegan Protein is 100% plant-based, packs in 25.5g of protein per serving, and combines this with digestive enzymes to make it easier on our human digestive systems!

The main ingredients in this formulation include Pea Protein and Hemp Protein — but it also includes inulin, Moringa, Chlorella, Ginger Extract, Betaine HCI, DigeZyme, and Bioperine.

If you’re looking for a world-class vegan protein that will give you powerful-gains and fuel your most intense workouts, then Battle Ready Fuel has you covered!

6. Garden of Life Raw Protein and Greens

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As is usually the case, Garden of Life puts out a very strong protein product for vegans. Their Raw Protein and Greens blend combines sprouted brown rice protein, pea protein, and chia protein with Garden of Life’s hallmark, their proprietary blend of greens.

Adding more vegetable nutrients to your diet is never a bad thing, and doing it in conjunction with a diverse mix of vegan protein sources is even better.

7. Vega All-In-One Shake

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If you’re looking for a little something extra, Vega’s got it. It’s a pea and hemp protein based protein powder that has the added benefit of fiber and a blend of vitamins and minerals. To top it off, it’s sweetened with stevia for taste and has fruit concentrates added for antioxidant power.

8. BulkSupplements Pure Pea Protein Powder

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Straight and simple, like the rest of BulkSupplements’ products, their pea protein is exceptionally pure and has zero adulterants, fillers, or flavorings.

Purists and minimalists will love this one, but if you want a little more flavor with your protein, there are some better options.

9. Orgain Plant-Based Organic Protein

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Orgain includes rice, pea, chia seed, and hemp protein for a robust amino acid profile, and keeps the carb content low with sugar alcohols instead of sucrose or fructose to sweeten the mix.

There isn’t much in the way of additional nutrients, but if you want a protein shake that is creamy and flavored so it doesn’t taste like chalk, Orgain is a solid choice.

10. NOW Sports Pea Protein

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Now Sports is a straight and simple, no-nonsense vegan protein powder. There’s only one ingredient, and it’s non-GMO yellow pea protein isolate, the purest and most concentrated form of protein.

If you know that all you need is pure protein, NOW sports is the way to go.

11. VeganSmart All-In-One

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VeganSmart takes the crown for the most diverse vegan protein profile. It’s got hemp, pea, chia, potato, and chlorella protein, plus a good vitamin and mineral mix.

Strict paleo and low-carb enthusiasts will scoff at the sugar content (a relatively mild five grams per serving and 14 grams of total carbohydrates), so it’s not for everyone, but if you aren’t on the low carb bandwagon, it’s a good choice.

12. Promix Vegan Complete

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Promix is a blend of pea protein and sprouted brown rice protein. Other than that, the only real unique aspect about it is its inclusion of 200% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin B.

However, without the other B complex vitamins, or any larger micronutrient strategy, it feels like more of a gimmick than a selling point.

Category winners

Best vegan protein overall: Transparent Labs Organic Vegan Protein

Transparent Labs is our top overall pick thanks to its simple but effective formulation. Too many protein powders are bloated with additives—instead, Transparent Labs provides a simple and all-natural vegan protein powder that still tastes great thanks to natural cocoa powder and stevia. 

Best-tasting vegan protein: Ladder Plant Protein

With its combination of cocoa, monk fruit extract, and only a tiny amount of sugar, Ladder Plant Protein has a great taste and texture that doesn’t rely on artificial flavors and additives. With both pea and pumpkin protein, it’s hard to beat if you want a great-tasting and functional vegan protein powder. 

Best vegan protein for women: Performance Lab SPORT Protein

Performance Lab uses brown rice protein to deliver a minimalist protein powder that provides a high concentration of protein, tastes great, and isn’t packed with sugar or synthetic flavors. Instead, it uses all-natural compounds for flavoring, making it perfect for women who are serious about nutrition. 

Best vegan protein with a complete amino acid profile: Transparent Labs Organic Vegan Protein

For a full profile of amino acids, we like Transparent Labs. Using both rice and pea protein allows it to cover all of its bases when it comes to the essential amino acids, leaving you with no nutritional disadvantage compared to an animal-based protein.

Best vegan protein for athletes: Battle Ready Fuel Vegan Protein

Thanks to the combination of hemp and pea protein, Battle Ready boasts an impressive array of amino acids to boost post-workout recovery. On top of that, it comes with additional supplements like betaine to improve your power output, making it great for athletes in sports that demand power and speed. 

Best vegan protein for weight loss: Transparent Labs Organic Vegan Protein

For weight loss, you want protein that provides a complete amino acid profile with no added sugar. Transparent Labs knocks it out of the park on this front, delivering a great vegan-friendly protein powder that uses calorie-free stevia as a source of sweetness instead of sugar.

Who should buy vegan protein powder?

If you are on a vegan diet, it can be tricky to get enough protein from a variety of sources unless you are a very skilled cook. Unlike animal sources of protein, like beef, chicken, or dairy, vegan foods tend not to have a balanced amino acid profile.

As such, it can be tough to get all of the essential amino acids on a regular basis, particularly if you have high protein needs, unless you’re constantly rotating your protein sources across foods like corn, beans and legumes, and tofu.

While not all vegan protein powder products contain a full range of all of the essential amino acids, by outsourcing some of your amino acid needs to a consistent source from the protein powder, you can adjust the rest of your diet to cover the few missing amino acids.

Some (though not all) vegan protein powders take care of this for you by using multiple plant-based protein sources to deliver a complete essential amino acid profile.

Vegan protein powders are nearly essential for athletes and others who have high protein turnover, as a vegan diet can make it tough to get the very concentrated protein delivery that an omnivore could get from eggs, fish, or other protein-dense foods.

Again, while it is possible to eat a protein-focused vegan diet without supplementing, taking a vegan protein powder can make it a lot easier to get the protein you need, for example right after finishing a workout at the gym.

How we ranked

To rate the best vegan protein powders on the market, we first aggregated a list of all of the options that were 100% vegan. Then, among all the products out there, we narrowed the field by looking for protein powders that used the best plant-based protein sources with the highest concentration of protein (as a percentage of total weight) and the best, broad-spectrum amino acid profile.

The highest-quality vegan protein sources are soy and pea protein, so we eliminated all protein powders that did not contain at least one of these two sources of protein. That left us with two broad categories of protein powders: pure single-ingredient protein powders, like Naked Pea, and blends that included multiple sources of protein, which might include rice protein, hemp protein powder, and chia seeds.

Depending on your supplementation goals, either one of these categories might be a good fit for you. Pure protein products tend to have a higher concentration of protein per gram, but blends have a better amino acid profile and can offer additional benefits. For these reasons, we rated products from each category with slightly separate criteria.

For single-source vegan protein products, we used purity as the metric: did the protein come from a non-GMO or organic source? Was there independent lab testing for purity? Is the packaging engineered to keep out oxygen and preserve the integrity of the amino acids?

These were the kinds of questions we asked when rating these protein powders. We had high standards for purity and quality of ingredients, so we picked only the very best from these products.

For multi-ingredient vegan protein powders, we looked at the range of protein sources, plus other beneficial ingredients like fiber.

We also kept an eye on flavoring: these protein powders should taste good, but not use too much added sugar. Since using plant-based flavoring is important to many vegans and vegetarians, we had a preference for protein powders that used ingredients like stevia as opposed to artificial sweeteners.

After rating single-source and multi-ingredient protein powders separately, we pooled our results. Most of the products that made the final rankings were from the multi-ingredient category, thanks to the strength of their diverse amino acid profile and the opportunity to provide fiber and other useful extras, but several pure pea protein powders made the list nonetheless.

These protein powders represent the best options out there for vegans, vegetarians, and anyone else who wants a top quality plant-based protein.

Benefits

A wide range of people can benefit from vegan protein powder, not just strict vegans. Vegan protein is derived entirely from plant sources and is useful not just for vegetarians and vegans, but for people looking for a greater variety in their amino acid profiles.

The primary reasons most people use vegan protein are obvious–they don’t consume animal products, for health, environmental, or ethical reasons. So, most popular protein products like whey and casein protein are out of the question.

There are ancillary benefits associated with vegan protein powders, too: they don’t have the dairy allergens that whey and casein protein powders have, and they also have zero lactose content.

While most people who are lactose intolerant can handle whey protein without any trouble, seeing as it’s less than one percent lactose by weight (1), some people who are exceptionally sensitive, or who want to keep their total lactose consumption as close to zero as possible, can benefit from a vegan protein powder.

Clearly, the benefits of protein as a whole apply to vegan protein powder in particular. In short, consuming a protein supplement on a regular basis can help you gain muscle (2), lose fat (3), preserve lean mass while losing weight (4), and even increase your bone strength (5).

But, beyond that, what do the specific benefits of vegan protein powder look like? One key component to help answer this question is the amino acid profile of a particular protein source.

Amino acids are the basic building blocks of all of the different kinds of proteins in the cells in your body, and foods containing different protein sources have a different ratio of amino acids.

Some amino acids are essential–you can’t live without them, and your body can’t synthesize them from other amino acids. There are a total of twenty different amino acids that your body uses, and nine of these are the essential amino acids (6).

Fortunately, all of the heavy-hitting vegan protein powder sources contain all nine essential amino acids. These include pea protein, hemp protein, and chia protein.

Though they contain these proteins in different ratios, combining multiple sources can provide a robust amino acid profile that will fill all your dietary needs.

When it comes to what kind of protein is “best,” animal proteins tend to be superior to vegetable proteins, according to a 2004 scientific article by Jay R. Hoffman and Michael J. Falvo at the College of New Jersey (7).

They reviewed the benefits of a variety of protein sources, and recommended casein, a dairy-derived protein, as the best single source of protein. However, the news isn’t all bad for vegan protein powder lovers. By combining protein from different vegetable sources, you can match the same benefits as an animal-based protein supplement.

So, is there one kind of vegan protein better than another? Fortunately, nutritionists have studied this very intently, and have come up with a metric called the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score.

This metric uses the digestibility of cow’s milk (which is rapidly and easily digested, as long as you aren’t lactose intolerant) as the reference for protein digestion.

Different protein sources are ranked as a decimal, with 1.0 representing absorption equal to cow’s milk, and smaller numbers representing fractions of that–so 0.5 would mean a protein source is absorbed only half as well as cow’s milk.

Soy and pea protein are the best-absorbed vegan forms of protein. Among the best vegan protein sources are soy protein (1.0), pea protein isolate (0.89), with rice protein and hemp protein performing worse, but still above 0.5 (8, 9). Chia seed protein is a pretty new commercial concept, so there isn’t much good info out there its amino acid score.

What this means is that you should shoot to have at least some of your vegan protein come from one of the high quality sources: soy or pea protein.

Side Effects

Protein, as one of the three major macronutrients in your diet, doesn’t have much in the way of side effects. Especially with vegan protein powders–these products avoid the common commercial contaminants that can cause food allergies in some people.

Supplement companies know that many of their vegan protein powder customers are choosing their products to avoid allergenic contaminants like wheat and dairy. Soy is one moderately common allergen that can be associated with food allergies, so do be aware of cross-contamination.

Labels that claim they are “soy free” or “gluten free” have to pass strict purity standards to make that claim, so if you see that on the label, you’re safe. The thing to watch out for is phrases like “processed in a facility that also processes eggs, dairy, tree nuts…”

This means that the company is using the same equipment to package different products, so there is a decent chance that there will be allergens from the other products that the company produces, so if you have special food sensitivities, you do need to be aware of this.

In some flavored products, there are potential side effects associated with sweetening agents. A few products on the market include sugar alcohols, which can cause gastrointestinal side effects when consumed in high doses (10).

However, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever encounter this problem unless you are extremely sensitive or are consuming a tremendous amount of flavored protein powder on a daily basis.

Recommended Dosage

Protein is an extraordinarily well-studied nutrient, and recommendations for dosage are down to a science. For athletes trying to build muscle, the scientific literature recommends consuming 1.3-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day, divided up into at least three meals of equal protein content.

People who are restricting their dietary intake to lose weight might even bump this up to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day in order to maintain lean body mass while dropping fat mass (11).

For endurance athletes and for less active people, protein needs are more on the order of 1.0 grams per kilogram of body mass (12).

One important thing to keep in mind is that even the most highly pure protein powders are not 100% protein. They’re usually more like 80-90%. If the blend includes a lot of flavoring agents, superfood powders, and the like, the protein content may be even lower. Check the nutrition label so you can do the math on your protein powder of choice.

If, for example, you weigh 180 pounds (82 kilograms) and you have a protein powder that contains 20 grams of protein per 24 gram scoop, you can use these numbers to find out how much actual protein you need per day.

If you are trying to lose fat mass while maintaining lean body mass, you’d need up to 164 grams of protein per day.

Now, hopefully all of this isn’t going to come from your protein powder, so you’ll have to take the rest of your diet into account. Once you’ve estimated how much protein the rest of your diet contains (you don’t need to be precise, a rough guess will do) perhaps you find you still need 70 grams of protein. This would be 3.5 scoops of your protein powder.

FAQ

Q: Why should you use vegan protein powder?

A: Vegan protein powders are great if you can’t get a good quantity of protein in your diet as a vegetarian or vegan.

They are also surprisingly popular among regular people who eat a normal diet (i.e. omnivores) who have dairy allergies or severe lactose intolerance and can’t consume the most popular forms of protein powder (casein and whey protein), which are both dairy-based.

Rotating through a wide variety of amino acid sources can get tiring for vegans and vegetarians, and many high-protein vegan foods (such as beans) are also high in fiber, which makes them hard to consume in large amounts.

As such, vegan weight lifters, athletes, and bodybuilders tend to rely on protein powder even more heavily than their omnivore counterparts.

Q: What is the healthiest vegan protein powder?

A: If your focus is to get a vegan protein powder that is as healthy as possible, you want to look for a single source plant based protein. In our research team’s rankings, we found that pure pea protein had the best balance of amino acids and purity.

We particularly liked Naked Pea, Bulk Supplements, and Now Sports’ versions of pea protein. These products have a slight edge over the competition, but in the grand scheme of your overall diet, any high quality vegan protein powder is going to be very healthy compared to the kinds of protein sources you’d see in a typical Western diet, like corn-fed, high-fat beef.

Q: Is vegan protein powder good for you?

A: Yes, vegan protein powder offers many of the same benefits as animal protein but without the allergens of dairy. Vegan protein powders can help amplify the strengths and ameliorate some of the classic weaknesses of a vegan diet (namely, the tendency of vegans to have lower than average protein intake).

While not every vegan or vegetarian needs to take a vegan protein powder, you’ll quickly find that they can be incredibly useful if you are an athlete, or if you want to beef up (no pun intended) your daily green drink and turn it into a protein shake. Since vegan diets tend to be lower in protein to begin with, there’s more upside to adding a vegan protein powder to a vegan diet.

Q: Do you need vegan protein powder?

A: Plenty of vegans get along just fine without taking protein powder. However, if you are active, and especially if you are an athlete, you might want to invest in a vegan protein powder.

It is theoretically possible to maintain a high protein diet as a vegan, but the reality is that many vegans aren’t successful at this endeavour without supplementation.

One study, for example, found that a substantial proportion of the male vegans in their study had only “marginally adequate” protein intake (14).

Moreover, their urinary excretion of the amino acid taurine was extremely low compared to non-vegans. While these findings don’t necessarily mean that vegans are worse off, it does suggest that vegans with high protein needs may want to consider a vegan protein powder.

Q: What vegan foods are high in protein?

A: The most popular vegan foods that are high in protein are all soy or lentil-based. These include tofu, tempeh, edamame, nutritional yeast, lentils, chickpeas, and beans.

Other sources, like some cereal grains, contain relatively high levels of protein, too. The protein content of vegan foods is not enough, though; you need to know the amino acid content.

It takes some careful planning to make sure the vegan foods that you eat contain all nine essential amino acids on a regular basis.

If all you do is eat the same vegan protein source every day, you’ll eventually start to suffer the negative effects of an amino acid imbalance. Hence the need for a constantly rotating selection of sources of vegan foods rich in protein.

Q: What is a good vegan protein powder for bodybuilding?

A: For bodybuilding, you want an ultra-pure vegan protein source. Balance in amino acids is actually not all that important, since a vegan bodybuilder is likely to be on a very high protein diet to begin with, so meeting minimum amino acid levels across the board is less likely to be an issue.

For this application, we recommend one of the pure pea protein products in our rankings, like Bulk Supplements, Naked Pea, or Now Sports Pea Protein.

These offer the highest amount of protein per unit mass, and are not cut with any flavoring agents, fiber, or other ingredients.

If you are looking for something you can mix up directly with water, try Orgain Organic Plant-Based Protein or the Vega All-In-One Shake. While these products add a marginal amount of carbohydrates and fiber, they have the added benefit of being pretty tasty with nothing but tap water added.

Q: What is a good vegan protein powder for weight loss?

A: For weight loss, you want a vegan protein powder that has a balance of amino acids so you can use it as a meal replacement.

On top of that, some fiber is useful to get an extra appetite suppressant effect from the dietary fiber. Among the products our research team reviewed, some of the best vegan protein powders for weight loss include Battle Ready Fuel, Garden of Life Raw Protein and Greens, and Vega All-In-One Shake.

All of these products include multiple different sources of protein, and thus a wide range of amino acids. They all also include nice bonuses like dietary fiber or vitamins and minerals, making them easily functionable as meal replacement shakes.

Q: What should you mix with vegan protein powder?

A: Some vegan protein powders are made to be mixed with plain water and still taste decent. These tend to be multi-ingredient vegan protein powders that use flavoring agents like stevia and anti-caking ingredients like lecithin to result in a smooth solution that avoids the bland, chalky taste of plain protein.

If pure protein is what you are shooting for, you can mix vegan protein powder with your favorite milk substitute, like almond milk, flax milk (incidentally, a great source of vegan omega 3s), coconut milk, or rice milk.

Q: Is there a difference between vegan protein powder and plant-based protein powder?

A: Functionally, no, there is no difference between a vegan protein powder and a plant-based protein powder. By definition, all plant-based protein powders must be vegan (after all, if it is not plant based, it has to be animal-based).

Different brands may advertise certain products as either vegan or plant-based to appeal to slightly different markets, but if you look closely, you’ll find that all vegan protein powders are plant based, and vice versa.

Q: How can you make vegan protein powder less gritty?

A: Vegan protein powder can be gritty for a few reasons. The first is simply not mixing up the product enough. Try a wire whisk, or using a blender—sometimes, pure protein powders, by virtue of not containing any emulsifiers, can clump up into a gritty consistency.

If more mixing doesn’t work, you can try a different vegan protein powder. Look for one that uses soy lecithin or another emulsifier to make blending easier.

Alternatively, the problem might be the protein powder itself: certain sources of vegan protein powder are a lot grittier than others. Hemp protein, for example, is very high in fiber (which is great for health), but gives it a gritty consistency. Soy protein, on the other hand, is a lot smoother.

Related articles

Recap

Vegan protein doesn’t need to mean suboptimal nutrition. By choosing a vegan protein supplement with a complete amino acid profile and good digestibility, you can get the same benefits as you’d get from a high-quality animal protein.

The best vegan protein sources are soy and pea protein powders, so make sure at least some of your vegan protein intake comes from these sources.

By using scientifically-validated guidelines for selecting your protein dosage per day and selecting the right supplement, you can set yourself up for achieving your personal health goals.

For Alpha XR‘s #1 vegan protein recommendation, click here.

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John Davis

John Davis is a Minneapolis-based health and fitness writer with over 7 years of experience researching the science of high performance athletics, long-term health, nutrition, and wellness. As a trained scientist, he digs deep into the medical, nutritional, and epidemiological literature to uncover the keys to healthy living through better nutrition.
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