Not all protein powder is created equal, and that’s especially true for Vegan protein powder. In this article, I’ll show you the primary differences between animal protein and plant-based protein, including their amino acid composition, digestibility, and absorption rate. I’ll also recommend what I consider to be the best vegan protein powders for supplementing a vegan diet or for building lean muscle mass – depending on what your goals are.
Evolution of Plant-Based Diets
From an evolutionary perspective, the human diet has consisted of both plant and animal based food and was primarily influenced by where our ancestors lived. Plants, such as vegetables, nuts, and seeds have always been an essential part of human history. But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that humans started rejecting the non-human exploitation of animals. That’s when Veganism was born.
Considering that the human body wasn’t made to thrive on an exclusively plant-based diet, Vegans had to get creative to fulfill their bodies’ nutritional needs. Particularly athletes were looking for ways to get sufficient quality protein into their bodies to grow lean muscle mass. That’s where natural protein powders and supplements can help.
Types of Vegan Protein Powder
There are numerous types of plant-based protein powders on the market, and some are healthier than others.
Recommended Types of Protein
The two types of plant-based protein supplements I recommend are:
- Pea Protein
- Rice Protein
Each of these two types of proteins offers a unique amino acid profile and bioavailability, which makes them ideal candidates for mixing.
In other words, instead of taking one or the other, I’d recommend mixing both types of protein to get the most complete mix of essential and non-essential amino acids. As a side benefit, you’ll make the protein available to your body over an extended period due to the different rate of digestion of both proteins.
For instance, rice protein has an intermediate absorption rate (with the exception of Leucine), while pea protein has a slower absorption rate.
Not Recommended Types of Protein
I recommend staying away from the following types of protein – despite the popularity of some of them:
- Soy protein – Soy contains high amounts of naturally unhealthy or manufacturing-induced compounds, such as trypsin inhibitors, isoflavonoids, and nitrites. Plus, Soy Protein Isolate (SPI) is often low in nutritional potency due to high-temperature processing.
- Hemp Protein – The problem with Hemp Protein is not rooted in unhealthy compounds but in the fact that it contains less protein per serving than Pea or Rice protein. Plus, Hemp Protein has a lower bioavailability, which means the body can use less of it.
Plant Protein vs. Milk Protein
The primary differences between plant-based protein and the most popular animal protein (Whey) are their respective amino acid composition, bioavailability, and absorbability.
Whey, which is one of the two main milk proteins (Casein is the other), is arguably the king of proteins for many reasons, including:
- The human body absorbs Whey incredibly fast
- The body can use most of the protein
- Whey has a complete amino acid profile
Every type and subtype of protein has a different absorption rate and bio-availability, but in general, plant-based proteins have a few disadvantages in those areas. That means the body takes longer to absorb most vegan protein and it can’t use all of it.
That’s why it’s important to supplement with different types of protein. Case in point, Ample Meal, the maker of my favorite meal replacement drinks, uses a combination of Pea and Rice protein in their Vegan formula for precisely that reason.
Best Vegan Protein Powders
If you search for “vegan protein powder” you’ll literally find hundreds of options, each claiming to be the best and healthiest choice. But if you peel away the marketing claims and carefully look at the list of ingredients, you’ll end up with only a handful of options. The list gets even smaller if you narrow down your search to Pea and Rice protein.
My favorite choices don’t contain any “extra” ingredients, such as artificial flavors, sweeteners, sugars or fillers and they were carefully processed to retain the maximum amount of nutritional value.
Do Vitamins PerfectPea
Do Vitamins makes PerfectPea from organic peas farmed in the United States and Canada.
You can pick up a 17.6oz (500g) container for $19.95 on Amazon.
Naked Nutrition Naked Rice
Naked Nutrition makes Naked Rice using organic sprouted brown rice protein, without any artificial sweeteners or flavors. Additionally, the product is third-party tested for heavy metals and melamine.
You can pick up a 5 lb container of Naked Rice for $74.99 on nkdnutrition.com.
Naked Nutrition Naked Pea
Naked Nutrition makes Naked Pea by extracting the soluble pea protein from yellow-split peas. That process removes any starches or fibers, thus making the final product purer.
Similar to Do Vitamins, Naked Nutrition uses only peas farmed in the US and Canada.
You can pick up a 5 lb container of Naked Pea for $54.99 on nkdnutrition.com
Vegan Protein Powder Pros and Cons
Maintaining a healthy vegan diet can be challenging, but you can overcome these challenges with the right supplements. By reading this article, I hope you gained a basic understanding of the differences between various types of protein so you can apply this knowledge to your dietary lifestyle.
About Michael Kummer
Michael is an Austrian IT Executive and blogger who lives in Atlanta, GA with his Costa Rican wife and two trilingual kids. He is a fan of the Paleo diet and enjoys traveling. When not working, he spends time with his family or in a CrossFit box. You can follow Michael on Twitter and Instagram.