Vegan Protein Powder: Types and Benefits

Vegan protein powder

Verywell / Amelia Manley

If you’re looking to increase your protein intake, there are many protein powder options available. Although the ideal way to eat protein is through whole foods, such as meat, seafood, poultry, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Some people may have dietary restrictions, follow a plant-based or vegan diet, or may want other non-animal based protein options. 

Fortunately, there are many vegan protein powders and plant-based protein powders available for anyone looking to increase their protein intake. Protein powders are versatile and can be added to smoothies for an easy and filling breakfast.

They also can be added to yogurt, oatmeal, baked goods, or even sauces. Here is what you need to know about different vegan protein powders including tips on how to find the right one for you.

Hemp Protein

Hemp protein powder comes from the hemp seed. Hemp powder is a complete protein because it has all nine essential amino acids. Not only is it a good protein source, hemp powder is good for the heart with omega-3 fatty acids. It also has plenty of fiber as well as important minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, and iron.  

Hemp powder has a nutty or earthy flavor profile. Some brands add additional flavors, such as chocolate. Hemp protein powder is versatile and can be blended into smoothies or sprinkled into oatmeal, yogurt, pancake batter. It also can be added to baked goods for an extra protein boost. But you'll want to think twice about mixing or stirring hemp protein into liquids as it can have a sandy texture.

Rich in Fiber

Fiber is an important part of a balanced diet. It also is beneficial in maintaining healthy bacteria in the gut, aids with blood sugar, keeps you filling full longer, and helps you have regular bowel movements.

Hemp protein is generally safe but it’s possible some people may experience side effects. Additionally, some people may be allergic to hemp. If so, avoid this vegan protein. Hemp protein contains fats and should be stored in the fridge once opened to minimize the powder from turning rancid.

Who Should Consider Hemp Protein

If you want to increase your protein and fiber intake, hemp powder can be a good option because many brands have the same amount of protein as fiber. However, it’s important to add more fiber to your diet slowly because too much fiber too quickly can lead to digestive issues, such as cramping, abdominal bloating, or gas.

Pea Protein

Pea Protein powder is made from yellow split peas and contains all nine essential amino acids and is considered a complete protein. Typically, pea protein powder has an earthy, mild flavor. Some brands sell this protein powder in flavored varieties so if you want the protein benefits without tasting the pea flavor, opt for this option.

Contains Iron

Pea protein powders have a lot of iron. In general, plant-based foods that contain iron aren't absorbed by the body as easily as iron in animal food sources, though.

You can offset this fact by combining pea protein with foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus, cruciferous vegetables, strawberries, and tomatoes to help increase iron absorption. Or you can take or a vitamin C supplement, along with pea protein powder. 

Builds Muscle

Eating pea protein and participating in exercise  programs has shown an increase in building muscle mass. During a 12-week double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled study, men who took pea protein while participating in resistance training gained muscle mass that was comparable to taking whey protein.

Another study concluded that taking whey protein or pea protein while doing high intensity functional training helped increase muscle gain, body composition and strength. Pea protein powder is a good option for many people but if you have an allergy or intolerance to peas, then you’ll want to choose another vegan protein powder. 

Who Should Consider Pea Protein

Pea protein can be a good choice for people who want to ensure they are eating a complete protein. Other vegan protein powders may not contain complete proteins and require you to ensure you are getting amino acids from other foods to form a complete protein.

Brown Rice Protein

Brown rice protein powder is derived from, well, you guessed it, brown rice. Brown rice contains all nine essential amino acids but because it is low in lysine it’s not considered a complete protein.  Brown rice protein has a nutty flavor.

Some brands will let brown rice soak in water for a length of time so it has time to sprout and ferment for increased nutrition. Germinating brown rice increases the availability of nutrients, including fatty acids while reducing anti-nutrients, including tannins and phytates.

One study conducted on 24 college-aged men during an 8-week period showed that rice protein may be similar in effectiveness to whey protein when combined with exercise training. The study showed they had leaner body mass, increased strength, and a decrease in fat mass.

Brown rice can be a good protein powder for most people. But if you are allergic to brown rice or have an intolerance, then it should be avoided. 

Who Should Consider Brown Rice Protein

If you want to build muscle mass and decrease fat mass, brown rice protein is a good option. One study showed that brown rice protein has similar effects as taking whey protein. 

Soy Protein

Soy protein is not only rich in protein, but it's also a complete protein since it has all nine essential amino acids. The body needs essential amino acids but can’t make them on its own and must attain them through food. Soy protein also contains fiber as well as vitamins and minerals including calcium, iron, zinc, and B vitamins.

May Reduce Cardiovascular Disease

Soy contains isoflavone, an antioxidant that can influence oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is when antioxidants and free radicals in the body are unbalanced.

Soy protein can also reduce hypertension and reduce blood pressure. More research is needed to understand the full effect of soy protein and cardiovascular health.

Builds Muscle

Soy protein has been shown to help build muscle. Soy protein is rich in BCAA, Branded Chain Amino Acids. BCAA is beneficial for muscle growth.

Concerns About Soy

Phytoestrogen is found in some plants, such as soy and is similar in function and structure to estrogen. There are different types of phytoestrogen and one of the most researched is isoflavones, which are found in soy. In the past, there have been concerns that phytoestrogens in soy may have negative effects for men in relation to testosterone and estrogen levels.

But one study showed that neither isoflavones or soy protein had a negative impact on men’s reproductive health. In a more recent report that reviewed 38 different clinical trials on the effect of soy protein and isoflavones on men, all studies concluded that isoflavones or soy protein had no effect on testosterone or estrogen in men.

There have also been concerns about soy protein consumption being linked to breast cancer and those who have the BRCA gene. One clinical trial showed that people who ate a lot of soy protein reduced their chances of getting breast cancer.

Additionally one medical review indicates that numerous studies conclude that soy protein doesn’t increase chances for breast cancer. And, studies in Asian women have shown that consuming lots of soy protein at a young age and through adolescence actually helps reduce the chances of breast cancer. However, consuming soy protein later in life may not provide this benefit.

Based on these studies, there is no need to avoid soy protein. However, some people will want to avoid soy if they have allergies or an intolerance. Always talk to a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian before consuming soy protein powder. They can review your medical history and help you determine what is right for you.

Who Should Consider Soy Protein

Soy protein is a great option if you want a complete protein or a protein to help build muscle mass. You also should discuss soy protein with a healthcare provider if you have any medical conditions. Soy can exacerbate some medical conditions.

Protein Blends

There is also an option to purchase a protein blend, which is a combination of different vegan or plant-based proteins. Reading the nutrition label and ingredients list is key to understanding what proteins are in the blend. The ingredient that is listed first is the biggest by volume.

For example, if it’s a protein blend with three different types of proteins, the first protein listed is what it will have the most of and the last ingredient listed contains the smallest amount. Choose a protein powder that has minimal ingredient. If you are unsure about the product, consult a healthcare professional, preferably a registered dietitian.

Limit artificial sweeteners as they may cause gastrointestinal issues in large amounts. Artificial colors are generally safe to consume and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but if you have any adverse reactions consider opting out of these. Some brands also may add flavors to mask the flavor of the vegan protein. In some cases, these added ingredients may be something you are allergic to or a substance you want to limit in your diet. 

Sometimes, artificial colors are added to a food or supplement to provide a uniform color and make it more enticing; but food dyes and coloring aren’t beneficial or necessary and can even be harmful in children with ADHD.

A Word From Verywell 

Vegan protein powders are an alternative option for people who are seeking additional boosts of protein in their diet. There are several types of vegan and plant-based protein powders available that you can mix into smoothies, shakes, oatmeal, yogurt, sauces, and baked goods to increase your protein intake.

Many powders contain other beneficial minerals, vitamins, fats, and fiber which are important for a balanced diet. Speak to a healthcare provider or registered dietitian before adding a vegan protein powder to your diet and ask them any questions you may have regarding the benefits of vegan protein powders.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is vegan protein powder better than whey?

    Vegan protein powder isn’t necessarily better than an animal-derived based protein, such as whey. But some studies have shown that some types of vegan protein powders, such as brown rice, have similar results to whey protein when combined with exercise training programs.

  • What is in vegan protein powder?

    A vegan protein powder is derived from plant foods instead of animal-based foods. A vegan protein powder can be made from hemp seeds, brown rice, peas, soy, and other plant-based foods that contain high amounts of protein.

  • Can you build muscle with vegan protein powder?

    Studies have shown that people who have consumed vegan protein powder while training have built muscle and increased their muscle mass. The type of vegan protein powder and the amount and type of exercise can influence the results.

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By Lauren David
Lauren David is a Chilean-American Freelance writer. Her work has been published in a variety of publications including Greatist, The Healthy, The Kitchn, Mindbodygreen, Reader's Digest, and more.