Vegan Protein Powders can be a useful option for athletes, vegetarians, vegans, flexitarians. Anyone lactose intolerant and those wanting to cut back on dairy or animal sourced proteins will also want to consider vegan protein powders

Use of Plant-based protein supplements is expected to rise at an annual rate of 6.5% owing to increasing popularity among consumers.

Vegan Protein Powder come from various base sources including soy, peas, hemp, wheat, rice, quinoa, canola, cranberry, pumpkin, potato, flax, and oat.

Some of these bases lack a few essential amino acids and thus are often blended together to provide complete foods containing all the essential proteins.

Vegan Protein Powders come from many sources and each may vary in its quality and quantity so it is important to know what you are getting in a tub of vegan protein powder and clean labeling can help you do this.

Clean Label helps you decide what you put in your body

Clean label can mean two things. As a generic term it describes people’s desire for the products they consume to show a detailed and accurate contents list including any allergens so they can make informed choices about what they put in their bodies. Many manufacturers have responded to this by improving the way they provide nutritional information on their products

The organization takes this further and believes that it is what is NOT on the label that is most important. Here’s their mission statement:

“At Clean Label Project, we believe that sometimes what’s NOT on a label is what’s most important. That’s why we created the Clean Label Project Certification Program- to provide high performing brands an opportunity to communicate their commitment to ingredient quality AND to provide consumers assurance that the product has been independently tested and certified to be low in industrial and environmental contaminants.”

Clean Label run a certification project for Protein supplements, you can visit them here

Vegan Protein Supplements Come from Many Sources

Popular source include Soy, Pea Rice, Hemp, and Spirula. According to a market report of sales by The two most popular in terms of sales volume are pea and soy with rice in third place

Here’s the current market share of each source

Soy 66%
Pea 18%
Rice 6%
Hemp 3%
Spirula 2%
Other 6%

It’s perfectly possible for vegans and vegetarians to get the protein they need from their diet without using supplements but it needs careful planning and the ingredients needed may not always be readily available or affordable.

For Vegan athletes with their increased protein needs the problem is even greater

Supplements can be a great way to bridge the protein gap, especially when you first get started and until you find the balanced diet that meets your requirements without the need for supplements.

Even then supplements are a useful and convenient backstop for hard training days

There are three ways you can consume protein supplements

Vegan Protein Powders

Vegan Protein Powders are the dominant supplement with 68% market share in 2017. Powdered protein supplements are used by gym professionals, elite athletes, and casual exercisers as they are easy to consume and innovative products target specific functions such as muscle repair, weight loss, energy balance, and satiety.

Protein Powers come in two forms:

Base Powders: For example raw pea or rice protein which you can add to foods and smoothies. These tend to cost less and offer more flexibility.

Shake Powders:  These are  blends of different protein sources which gain the advantages of having more than one protein source.  The combination of pea and brown rice protein has been shown to provide the highest quality protein which includes all essential amino acids.

They also contain sweeteners and flavorings so you just add these to water in a glass or shaker bottle and they are ready to go.

Vegan Protein Bars

The bars segment is growing fast due to the ever-increasing pace of life and demand for healthier “on-the-go” snacking options. Protein bars are the smallest segment and are the most convenient for on the go snacking.

Vegan Ready to Drink supplements

Ready-to-Drink (RTD) supplements are pre-formulated drinks that are easy to consume without the requirement of further mixing or preparation. RTD Protein Supplements are becoming very popular with sales growing at 8% a year and can be consumed pre-workout, post-workout, or on the go.

Protein ready to drink are the most convenient and produced to taste good. The issue with RTD is that it is usually highly  processed products with many additives and preservatives.

What You Need to Know About Vegan Protein Powder sources

Brown Rice Protein Powders

Summary: Hypo-allergenic, gluten-free, neutral taste, economical. 100% plant-based. May be derived from genetically modified rice.

Brown Rice Protein is 100% plant based, gluten-free, low in carbs and fat and easily digested. It is high in many essential amino acids, but is low in lysine.  A vegan protein powder derived from only brown rice may not be ideal, but, when combined with pea protein, it becomes a protein powerhouse. Protein made from whole grain brown rice also offers the benefits of vitamins, fiber, folate, and amino acids found in the whole grain.

Pea Protein Powders

Summary: No saturated fat or cholesterol, highly digestible, hypo-allergenic, economical. Rich in lysine, arginine and glutamine. 100% plant-based.

Pea Protein is made from yellow split peas, a high fiber legume that is fat free, cholesterol free, gluten-free and easily digestible. Pea protein contains all amino acids but is low in methionine, which can be found in rice protein. Pea protein is popular as it is allergen-friendly for those suffering from common food allergens such as dairy, wheat, soy, and egg while still aiding in weight loss and muscle building, important as we age.

Look for a brand made from organic, Non-GMO peas Pea protein is lysine rich and contains an impressive amount of branched chain amino acids

Soy Protein Powders

Summary: May have benefits for cardiovascular disease, contains some anti-nutrients, may be derived from genetically modified soy. 100% plant-based.

Protein derived from soy beans, has been a popular plant-based protein source because it contains all the essential amino acids which makes it a complete protein.

Very similar to non vegan casein and whey animal source proteins, soy protein stimulates muscle repair after exercise and also helps prevent age-related muscle loss.

Soy protein also contains isoflavones that have been shown to potentially reduce the risk of some cancers and cardiovascular disease.

The majority of soy (89%) is genetically modified, so only eat organic soy if you want to avoid GMOs. There are also some well documented negative health affects you can Google.

Soy is a major contributor to the worlds deforestation.

Hemp Protein Powders

Summary: Provides omega-3 fats, most forms provide fibre, free of trypsin inhibitors, can get in raw form, high in arginine and histidine. 100% plant-based.

Hemp Protein offers is a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids something lacking in other vegan protein powder sources, however with this comes a higher fat content.

Hemp protein also contains all essential amino acids but is a lower protein quality than other sources of vegan protein because of it’s lower bioavailability.

bioavailability is the proportion of a drug or other substance which enters the circulation when introduced into the body and so is able to have an active effect. One way to measure this is to use the Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score, or PDCAAS. Pea protein has a PDCAAS of 85% Hemp protein only scores around 51% percent.

Tips on Choosing the Right Vegan Protein Powder for Athletes

Make sure you take a close look at the Nutrition Facts:  What may seem like a comparable brand of vegan protein on the label, can be concealing some big differences in the Nutrition Facts.

Scoop Size/Serving Size: A 32 gram scoop provides 21 grams of protein in one brand, but a 39 gram scoop is required of another brand and 62 grams in another to similar amount of protein.

Protein Source: Make sure the first ingredients are the protein source (ideally organic pea protein and organic brown rice protein) and not fillers or sweeteners.

Leucine is the star amino acid: When it comes to muscle repair and slowing age-related muscle loss, so this is one amino acid you’ll want to ensure is in (even added to) your protein powder, especially if you are active.

Added Sugar/Carbohydrates: Look for amount and source of sweeteners added

Added ingredients: Added fruits, vegetables, minerals & vitamins make a great addition, ingredients you can’t pronounce or fillers, not so much.

Price Per Serving: Compare your price per serving, not price per container as serving size, and protein in each serving will vary.

Taste: Taste will vary among brands. Find one you enjoy the taste of.  Add 1/2 a banana or 1/2 a cup of fruit for natural flavour and sweeteners and blend with unsweetened almond or rice milk.

Protein Blend: Choose vegan protein powders that use a blend of protein source to ensure you are getting all essential amino acids and high quality vegan protein.

Essential Amino Acids and their roles

Protein is made up of Amino acids which are the building blocks of life.

When proteins are digested or broken down, amino acids are producs. The human body uses amino acids to make proteins to help the body:

  • Break down food
  • Grow
  • Repair body tissue
  • Perform many other body functions
  • Amino acids can also be used as a source of energy by the body.

Amino acids are classified into three groups:

  • Essential amino acids
  • Nonessential amino acids
  • Conditional amino acids

ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS: Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body. As a result, they must come from food.

NONESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS: Nonessential means that our bodies produce an amino acid, even if we do not get it from the food we eat.

CONDITIONAL AMINO ACIDS: Conditional amino acids are usually not essential, except in times of illness and stress.

These are the Essential Amino Acids that your Body can’t produce and so must be consumed in your diet


Formation of Hemolglobin: Prevents muscle wasting in debilitated individuals


Promotes healing of skin and broken bones, reduces muscle protein breakdown

Leucine is the star amino acid when it comes to muscle repair and slowing age-related muscle loss, so this is one amino acid you’ll want to ensure is in (or added to) your protein supplement, especially if you are active.


Influences brain uptake of other neurotransmitter precursors (tryptophan, phenylalanine and tyrosine).


Production of red and white blood cells; treatment of anemia.


Inhibits viruses; treatment of herpes simplex, Lysine and Vitamin C together form L-carnitine. A biochemical that enable muscle tissue to use oxygen more efficiently, delaying fatigue.


Increases the antioxidant levels (glutathione) reduces blood cholesterol levels.


Production of collagen, precursor of tyrosine; enhances learning, memory, mood and alertness.


Prevents fatty build up in the liver; Amino detoxifiers


Prevents fatty build up in the liver; precursor of key neurotransmitter serotonin which has a calming affect.

Protein Extraction Methods

Protein concentrates

Concentration is a high heat drying process and acid extraction to lessen the whole food source into a concentrated protein powder. It’s reasonably priced.

During the processing other impurities can be concentrated with the protein (e.g., lactose, fat, cholesterol).

Concentrates end up being about 60 – 70 percent protein by weight.

Protein isolates

With isolated protein, the idea is to separate out a majority of the protein from the original food. This is accomplished through an alcohol wash, water wash, or ionization technique.

Each method has a different cost. Water is the least expensive and ionization is the most expensive.

After the isolate is created it goes through a filtration process. At this point, virtually everything but the protein has been eliminated. Minimal carbohydrate, fat, fibre and phytochemicals are left.

Isolated protein is about 90 – 95 percent protein by weight.

Protein hydrolysates (hydrolyzed)

Hydrolyzed protein is created by adding water to protein polymers and breaking them into miniature groups of protein called peptides. The groups will range in size from 2 to 5 amino acids.

This is done to enhance absorption. Hydrolysis is essentially pre-digestion.

Hydrolyzed protein is expensive to produce.

Ion-exchange protein

Ions are atoms or molecules containing charge-bearing groups.

Ion exchanging separates protein molecules from other fractions in the food by taking advantage of electrical charges. This is the industry standard for milk protein processing.

Microfiltration, cross microfiltration, ultrafiltration

These are powerful filtration processes that remove contaminants from the concentrated protein component by passage through a membrane. They are similar to the reverse osmosis processes used in water purification.