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It’s well-known that protein is an essential nutrient, crucial for maintaining healthy and strong muscles and bones. It plays a role in your looks, too, a key component for healthy skin, hair, and nails. But contrary to what many people might think, you can get your daily dose of protein from sources other than steak and eggs. There are plenty of plant-based protein sources, which are the stars of the show in vegan protein powders. While protein powders in general (vegan or not) shouldn’t be considered a direct replacement for whole foods, they can be a great supplement to a healthy diet. “When you’re in a time crunch or you need to boost your protein content because you’re an avid athlete, protein powders can come in handy,” explains registered dietitian Tory Stroker.
So, why should you consider opting for a vegan formula over a traditional whey-based protein powder (even if you don’t follow a vegan diet)? “Plant-based protein has been shown to have higher bioavailability than animal protein sources,” says celebrity nutritionist Kimberly Snyder, who is also a member of the Byrdie Beauty & Wellness Review Board. “A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the body can more efficiently absorb certain plant proteins in comparison to animal proteins.”
Basically, vegan protein is easier for our bodies to digest, absorb, and use, not to mention that it also has a ton of added nutrients—think vitamins, enzymes, and fibers, she adds. When picking a powder, ideally you’ll want one that combines different sources of protein. One plant-based protein source doesn’t always contain all the essential amino acids you need; by combining sources you ensure you’re getting a complete protein, points out Stroker. Other important criteria: A simple ingredient list, and little or no artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols (which can cause digestive distress), she adds.
Ready to pick up the best vegan protein powders? Check out these expert-approved options.
Best Overall: Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein (Unflavored)
One of Stroker’s go-to's, she lauds the simple ingredient list and whopping 22 grams of protein per serving, derived from a blend of peas, brown rice, amaranth sprout, quinoa, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and garbanzo seeds.
“It has a smooth texture, good for adding to smoothies or shakes,” she adds. This unflavored option is stevia-free, Stoker’s personal choice, though it also comes in chocolate, vanilla, and vanilla chai flavors. It’s a winner for Alana Kessler, MS, RD, too, who also gives it big points for the high amount of protein.
Best Value: Tone it Up Plant-Based Protein Powder
There’s both pumpkin seed and pea protein in this affordable powder; pea protein is generally well-digested and contains all essential amino acids, so that’s a plus, says Stroker. Kessler also likes that it uses pea protein and notes that it has a pleasant texture as well, not always the case with vegan protein powders.
It’s sweetened with stevia and monk fruit, and although some people may be sensitive to the taste of those, they won’t affect blood sugar, Stroker adds. (Though she doesn’t love that the formula uses guar and acacia gums as thickeners.)
Best for Athletes: Vega Sport Premium Protein
This formula boasts the highest amount of protein of any of these powders, 30 grams in each scoop. Snyder calls this a “superior product,” and adds that she also likes that it’s non-GMO. Along with the ultra-high protein content, this also has ingredients—tart cherry, turmeric extract—to help with muscle recovery post-workout.
Best On-the-Go: Four Sigmatic Plant-Based Protein Packets
“I find the taste of this one quite palatable and non-chalky. It has some medicinal mushrooms, yet offers a fairly robust 18 grams of protein per serving,” says Snyder. (To get specific, there are five different types of mushrooms, as well as adaptogens ashwagandha and eleuthero to help combat stress and support stamina. Yes, please.) Not to mention that the convenient, single-serve packets are easy to keep on hand and mix up with your milk of choice or water whenever you need a quick protein fix.
Best for Minimalists: Vega Protein Made Simple
Stroker recommends choosing protein powders with, “the fewest ingredients you can find,” and this one fits the bill. It contains just four to eight ingredients, depending on which of the four flavors you choose (options such as dark chocolate, vanilla, strawberry banana, and caramel toffee). It does contain a small amount of cane sugar for sweetness, but, unlike many artificial sweeteners, “your body knows exactly what to do with this and it can give you an extra boost of energy,” she says.
Best Splurge: The Beauty Chef Body Inner Beauty Chocolate Matcha Powder
“I love the ingredients in this powder,” says Kessler. It has complete protein from pea and brown rice, as well as nutrient-dense, fibrous, and anti-inflammatory properties.” It’s pricey for sure but does boast a long list of good-for-you ingredients. Stroker just points out to be cautious with this formula if you’re not already eating a diet high in fiber. “Many of these ingredients seem to be fiber-rich. Depending on what someone’s fiber intake is, that could be a shock to the system and cause some GI distress.”
Best Pre-Workout: Metagenics Perfect Protein Pea & Rice
Kessler recommends this as an effective option before a workout, calling out the high-quality blend of pea and rice protein that packs 20 grams of protein per serving. More specifically, that pea protein contains a 9% concentration of an amino acid known as leucine, which is key for muscle building, she says. On top of all of that, “this also contains 3.5 grams of BCAAs, branch chain amino acids, to make it a complete protein source.”
Best Hemp Protein: Bare Organics Raw Organic Hemp Protein Powder
“Hemp is a plant that hasn’t been subjected to genetic modification. It’s extraordinarily hearty, so it doesn’t require farmers to use pesticides, making it a wonderful, safe source of protein,” explains Snyder. This powder is just straight-up ground hemp seeds, so yes, you’ll want to ensure you’re getting other plant-based protein elsewhere in your diet to complete things, but this is an easy way to add a quick boost of protein throughout your diet.
Try mixing it in with yogurt or oatmeal, or even adding it into baked goods recipes. The other benefit to hemp? It has tons of fiber, there’s 23% of your daily intake in just one serving of this powder.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. An avid worker-outer, she uses vegan protein powders regularly to amp up her daily green smoothies.
Meet the Expert
Tory Stroker, MS, RD, CDN is a non-diet Registered Dietitian and training to become a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. She is the founder of Tory Stroker Nutrition, LLC, a private practice empowering women to break free from obsessing over food, ditch the diet, and take steps to heal their body image.
Meet the Expert
Meet the Expert
Alana Kessler, MS, RD, is a functional and holistic nutrition and wellness expert. A registered dietician and yogi, she seeks to change the way people view food, our bodies, and movement with her 360-degree lifestyle program Be Well, which offers 1:1 personalized sessions and programming for mindful eating, private yoga, healing through nutrition and body acceptance.