There are a lot of myths surrounding vegan diets and proteins, especially with respect to the quality and quantity of nutrients. While it is true that vegan protein is not as complete as animal protein, there are exceptions like quinoa and amaranth. But does every vegan need a protein supplement?

The only supplement that is hard to get for vegans is vitamin B12. The problem is that you live a busy life and without a varied diet it is easy to develop a protein deficiency. In that case a vegan protein supplement is a crucial part of maintaining good health and muscle mass.

Contents

Key facts

  • A vegan protein supplement is recommended for vegan athletes who train long and hard. Additionally, they can be used as dietary compliments for people with incomplete or unbalanced diets.
  • Vegetable proteins are of poorer nutritional value than animal ones because they are usually lacking in one or more amino acids. These absent amino acids are called “limiters”. Every vegetable group (cereals, legumes, dried druits) has different limiting amino acids.
  • Supplements with vegan protein are usually made from a pea protein base, or from rice or soy. Pea protein is widely used because it is high in BCAA (branched amino acids), which aid the development of muscle mass.

Ranking: The best vegan protein supplements on the market

Finding a high quality vegan protein supplement with good nutritional value and a nice taste is not an easy task. Sometimes the nutritional value is lacking, while other times it’s excellent, but it comes with an terrible flavour. To avoid disappointment, below are some of the best vegan protein supplements on the market.

No. 1: Kalzen Naturals, Chocolate-Flavoured Vegan Plant Based Protein Powder (840g)

Every 34.15 grams of Kalzen Natural’s chocolate-flavoured vegan plant based protein powder yields 25 grams of complete protein. Made from high quality blend of pea, pumpkin seed, whole grain brown rice, chia seed, and quinoa proteins, it is dairy and lactose free (unlike traditional whey proteins). It also contains no artificial flavours or sweeteners and is made in a peanut and gluten-free facility.

It comes with over 4 grams of naturally-occurring BCAAs per serving. This product is available in both chocolate and vanilla bean flavour, making it a vegan protein that is easy to ingest.

No. 2: Manitoba Harvest, Hemp Yeah! Balanced Unsweetened Protein + Fibre Powder 454 grams

Manitoba Harvest’s Hemp Yeah vegan protein powder contains 15 grams of protein and 8 grams of fibre in every serving. It has just one simple ingredient: hemp protein powder, and it is certified non-GMO, vegan, and is free of dairy. This is a great powder to mix with berries and other fruits, to make a great-tasting non-dairy, vegan beverage.

Great to make in the morning or before the gym, this simple, effective vegan protein is the go-to for many vegans with active, healthy lifestyles. This product is also B-corp certified, and is made using renewable energy.

No. 3: Naked Pea, 100% Pea Protein Isolate 2270g

The only ingredient in Naked Pea’s 100% pure pea protein isolate is yellow peas, nothing else is added. There are no sweeteners, colours, GMOs, soy, or gluten in this product. Each serving contains 27g of Protein, 2g of Sugar, 2g of Carbs, 120 Calories, and 5.7g of BCAAs.

This is a great powder to add to protein shakes before or during training to maximize those vegan gains. A great option for vegans who are intent on giving their body its daily protein requirements.

No. 4: Vega Essentials, Vanilla Nutritional Shake Mix (617g)

Made with pure plant protein ingredients, each container has 17 to 18 servings (depending on the flavour you choose). It contains at least 25 percent of 13 of your complete daily vitamin and mineral required intake, omega 3s, and 16 percent of your daily dietary fibre. This product is gluten free and certified vegan.

Leafy greens, peas, and algaes are used to make Vega Essentials’ Vanilla Nutritional Shake. There are no artificial flavours, colours, or sweeteners in this product.

No. 5: Vega All in One Plant Based Berry Flavoured Protein Powder (848g)

Vega’s all in one powder contains 20 grams of complete vegan protein per serving as well as six servings of greens. It also contains 50 percent of your daily required intake of vitamins and minerals from vegetables, making it a great choice for both protein and general well-being.

This is a non-GMO product, low-glycemic, gluten-free and made without the use of soy or dairy ingredients. This powder also comes in chocolate, vanilla chai, mocha, and coconut almond flavours as well, making this both an incredibly healthy and great-tasting supplement.

Shopping guide: Everything you need to know about vegan protein supplements

Vegan protein supplements often have a great amino acid profile. While they are often designed with vegan athletes in mind, non vegans or vegetarians will also benefit from these supplements. In the following section you will find out which vegan protein you should choose and how to get the most out of these products.

vegan protein1

Each day more people decide to eat a vegan diet (Source: Subbotina: 26015845/ 123rf.com)

What is a vegan protein supplement exactly?

Vegan protein supplements are made with the best possible vegetable protein sources. The most commonly used ingredients include soy, amaranth, hemp, rice, or peas. Generally the raw material is pressed in order to extract the oils, and the remaining material is dried and ground to create the powder.

Vegan protein supplements can be made using just one protein source (soy, hemp, rice, peas, or pumpkin seeds), or combine various sources. The ingredients are usually organic and use natural flavourings and colourings.

vegan protein2

Vegan food comes with a lot of health benefits (Source: Kolpakova: 38616874/ 123rf.com)

What is the role of protein in the human body?

Proteins are nutrients whose most recognized function is structural, which is to say, they offer support, resistance and elasticity to you body tissues (skin, tendons, muscles). Proteins also make up part of your digestive enzymes, hormones, and antibodies.

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Proteins support the transfer of substances, like oxygen.

What is the nutritional make-up of vegan protein?

The protein amount in these kinds of supplements varies based on the ingredients used. That is why each brand might contain different protein amounts displayed in the nutritional information. However, a good vegan protein supplement will contain:

  • 50-86% protein, sources of amino acids.
  • 1-10% carbohydrates
  • 1-11% fats
  • 4-13% dietary fibre
  • With respect to energy, a recommended portion size of vegan protein will have between 20-30 grams, and 100 to 130 calories.
vegan protein3

Many vegan proteins are made with peas (Source: Kostman: 41256287/123rf.com)

As you might expect, the nutritional makeup of different vegan proteins is highly variable. That is why it is important to read the nutritional information and, ideally, talk to a nutritionist before taking any supplement. Higher protein content doesn’t always mean better quality.

When should you take a vegan protein?

Vegan protein supplements are designed to provide vegan athletes with a higher amount of protein (quantity and quality), helping improve muscle mass. While typical vegan food can also give you all the necessary proteins, supplements are easier to take and metabolize.

Non-vegan athletes can sometimes have an intolerance of milk-based proteins and experience swelling, flatulence, or diarrhea following consumption. Vegan proteins are useful in these instances. Some older adults may also prefer these supplements as their source of protein.

““[protein in powder form is] an easy and convenient source of complete, high-quality protein.”

What does it mean if a protein has a good amino acid profile?

There is a standard protein, or FAO protein, whose amino acid profile best meets human needs. If a given supplements profile is similar to that of the FAO, it is a good option. The following table will describe the essential amino acids of this main protein.

Essential amino acid Milligram per each gram of standard protein
Isoleucine (branched) 2.8
Leucine (branched) 6.6
Valine (branched) 3.5
Methionine + cisteine 2.5
Lysine 5.8
Tryptophan 1.1
Threonine 3.4
Phenylalanine + tyrosine 6.3

How to choose a good vegan protein?

It is recommended that a supplement has at least 50% protein, but as previously mentioned, more protein does not always correspond with a better product. The most important aspect is the amino acid profile, which forms the constituent parts of the proteins. Essential amino acids are those that the human body cannot produce on its own.

When a protein contains all the essential and non-essential amino acids, you say that it is “complete” or of “high biological value.” To increase muscle mass, there are three essential branched (BCAA) amino acids that are especially important. These are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

vegan protein4

There area a lot of sources of vegan protein (Sources: Naumenko: 64449148/ 123rf.com)

To give an example, a pure pea vegan protein supplement can contain more than 80 percent protein, but lack methionine, which is an essential amino acid. On the other hand, a mix of pea, rice and hemp that only contains 65 percent protein, might contain ALL of the amino acids, including methionine and the branched ones.

Does taking a protein supplement guarantee increased muscle mass?

No. a protein supplement only ensures that all of the amino acids necessary to create muscle-building proteins are available in sufficient quantity during synthesis. However, without physical exercise creating strain on the muscle fibres, it will not produce an increase in muscle mass (hypertrophy).

Furthermore, if you train your muscles (e.g. by lifting weights), but don’t take in enough protein, the existing muscle will break down. It is also important to keep in mind that carbohydrates are vital for maintaining sufficient levels of glycogen, the fuel used by muscle cells.

Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.”

Why are BCAAs (branched proteins) so important to athletes?

Although all amino acids are necessary to form new proteins, the branched ones (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are particularly important for athletes. BCAAs aid recovery following intense physical exercise and mitigate the destruction of muscle protein.

BCAAs promote muscle gain by releasing the growth hormone and insulin, both associated with the anabolic process. In this case, proteins built from amino acids. In any case, you shouldn’t overuse supplements because they can compromise your cardiovascular health.

vegan protein5

Vegan food can also be high in protein (Source: Maridav: 39027334/ 123rf.com)

Are vegan protein supplements only for vegans?

No. Many athletes with an omnivorous diet can’t handle whey protein because it bothers their digestive systems and they decide instead to supplement with a vegetable protein. People allergic to milk-based proteins often find soy protein a great source of amino acids.

The elderly can also have protein deficiencies and supplements can help them solve this problem. Lactose intolerance is also common in older adults, and whey protein can give them diarrhea and flatulence problems.

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Did you know that vegetable protein is the easiest to absorb? 

What are the differences between vegan protein and whey protein?

Firstly, their origin. Whey is obtained from the cream of cow milk, while vegan protein is derived from seeds, legumes, or cereals. Additionally, whey protein is richer in branched amino acids (BCAA), dissolves easier, and has a nicer texture than vegetable protein supplements.

Vegan protein usually contains 100 percent organic ingredients, including colouring and flavouring. Whey protein typically has a lot of artificial additives. Vegan supplements are great for people who are lactose intolerant and/or who are allergic to lactose.

Whey protein Vegan protein
Origin Animal (cow milk) Vegetables (legumes, seeds, cereals)
Flavour Available plain or in various flavours (strawberry, vanilla, chocolate) Available plain or vanilla, banana, chocolate, and others. Natural flavours are not very popular, especially pea protein
Texture Foamy, creamy (when dilute in water) It can get lumpy or develop a sandy texture in water. Soy protein has a nicer texture
Solubility High. Medium
Amino acid profile Complete. Complete when mixed with a diverse range of vegetable proteins, hemp, or soy. Pure rice or pea protein is not complete
Contents of BCAA (branched amino acids) Superior. It has branched amino acids, but less than whey protein
Absorption Excellent. Its protein is absorbed more than 90 %. Absorption percentage varies. It is less than whey because vegan protein usually has fibre, which affects bioavailability
Digestive tolerance An excess can act like a laxative or cause flatulence. Lactose causes digestive problems in people who are intolerant. Generally very well tolerated
Allergens Milk-based protein. Soy protein

What are the differences between vegan protein bars and vegan protein powder?

Vegan protein bars are generally more filling than vegan protein powder. The latter is dissolved in water or other liquids that are digested faster than with solid foods. Protein bars are also more convenient and can be eaten anywhere – another advantage.

In terms of digestibility, powdered vegan protein requires almost no digestion and absorbs quickly. Conversely, protein bars can take 2 to 3 hours to digest, based on their ingredients. The following table will lay out some of the differences between the two.

Vegan protein bar Powdered vegan protein
Flavour Delicious and very popular Some taste good, while others have an odd natural flavour
Type of consumption Ready to consume Must be mixed with either a liquid, or another solid before consumin
Fullness level High Moderate
Digestibility Requires more digestion time Easy to digest and absorbs rapidly

Does vegan protein powder help you lose weight?

No, it doesn’t prompt the use of fat as energy, something that is often advertised with these products. The only advantage is that protein powder helps to slightly increase feelings of fullness, thus reducing your appetite thanks to the protein fibre. It has a mild effect.

How should vegan protein powder be consumed?

Neutral flavoured vegan protein can be mixed into milkshakes, soups, sandwiches, or waffles. Those with added flavouring can be simply mixed with water. In general, 30 grams of powder should be mixed into 250-300 milliliters of liquid. It’s best to fill your glass with liquid first and then mix in the power, stirring well.

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Garbonzo bean protein is very popular (Source: Handmadepictures: 37427625/ 123rf.com)

When is the best time of day to consume vegan protein?

The best time is an hour before physical activity, or 30 minutes to an hour after finishing. It is important not to wait too long after exercising to consume vegan protein, so that you get the metabolic benefits, and more of the nutrients are absorbed.

Can a vegan protein shake replace a meal?

No, shakes are only meant to be snacks and cool-down drinks after exercise. The main meals of the day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) should include other foods that contain carbs, fibre, soluble fat, minerals, vitamins, as well as protein.

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Remember that no supplement can take the place of a balanced diet.

Are there any warnings or adverse effects associated with vegan protein?

When the 20-40 gram daily dose is adhered to there are usually no adverse effects. If you consume protein in excess it can cause long term problems with the liver and kidney systems, since these organs are in charge of metabolizing proteins and their byproducts, respectively. As the saying goes, everything in moderation.

Furthermore, the abuse of BCAA (branched amino acids) has been associated with cardiovascular disease, as well as headaches and dizziness. With respect to allergens, people with soy protein allergies should avoid supplements that contain legumes.

Andrés Arce

“Exceeding the recommended serving size (in grams) may adversely affect the kidneys and liver, which are tasked with metabolizing this macronutrient.”

What type of vegan protein supplements are there and which is the best one for me?

Vegan protein supplements can be divided into two main groups: protein mixes and pure proteins. This doesn’t just affect their composition, but also the texture and taste. Throughout this guide you will have have noted their differences. Below you will find some nuances with respect to their amino acid profiles

  • Protein mixes: The most common mix is pea, rice, and hemp, and they come in great flavours. They are excellent options because while peas lack methionine and rice lysine, the mix makes sure you get both amino acids. Hemp seed, on the other hand, has a complete amino acid profile.
  • Pure proteins: The most common protein sources in vegan supplements are pea, soy, rice, and hemp. Pure pea, rice, and hemp usually come in their natural flavours, while soy comes in a range of flavours (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, banana).

Soy and hemp contain all of the essential and non-essential amino acids, while pea lacks methionine and rice lysine. Soy supplements dissolve easily in water and have a nice taste and texture. Hemp tastes nutty.

Pure pea protein milkshakes with its natural flavouring are not very popular when just mixed in water, but go well with vegetable drinks (oatmeal or almond), cacao, and cinnamon. Pure rice protein tastes neutral.

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Did you know that peas and soy are the vegan proteins highest in BCAA (valine, leucine, and isoleucine)?

Shopping guide

As has been demonstrated throughout this guide, there are many differences in taste, solubility, and amino acid content to be found in vegan protein supplements. Below it will go over the basic shopper’s criteria you should keep in mind to get the best product possible

  • Taste
  • Solubility and texture
  • Allergens
  • BCAA protein content

Taste

Vegan protein supplements with added flavours are often better because they are easier to mix with water and ready for consumption faster. Neutral or natural flavours are better mixed with juices, shakes, soups, and sandwiches. Pea protein, which has an odd natural flavour, also comes in neutral flavours.

Solubility and texture

Vegan soy protein powders dissolve easily in water for a smooth texture and foamy milkshake. The other proteins can be thick, grainy, or sandy and don’t make good milkshakes. It’s a good idea to use electric mixers or blenders to ensure proper dissolution.

Allergens

Vegan protein powders are usually allergen, lactose, and gluten free. That being said, anyone with dietary allergies, including people with celiac disease, should always look for a guarantee that a product is free of these ingredients. People with soy protein allergies should avoid it altogether.

Protein content and BCAA

A good vegan protein supplement should contain more than 50 percent protein, with some containing up to 86 percent. Another important aspect that ensures muscle growth and recovery after intense physical activity is the branched amino acid content, which should be approximately

  • Leucine: 2.43 grams per 30 gram portion
  • Isoleucine: 1. 56 grams per 30 gram portion
  • Valine: 1.6 grams per 30 gram portion.

Summary

Vegan protein supplements are capable of having as complete an amino acid profile as whey, and there is a wide range of flavours, brands, and mixes. The most common ingredients are soy, pea, hemp, and rice, which are sold as pure proteins or as part of a mix.

These products are used in order to provide all of the necessary amino acids, both in quantity and quality, to help grow muscle mass. In this article you have been provided with all of the information you need to choose and use vegan protein supplements correctly.

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(Feature image source: Handmadepictures: 37427625/ 123rf.com)

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