Protein is a mandatory nutrient for living. Protein gives nearly every tissue in your body its structure, including your hair, nails, bones, and muscles. Protein can also be used as an energy source.
Sufficient protein is required to repair and build muscle and bone, fuel enzymes that help you with digestion, blood clotting and muscle contraction, and feed the hormones that keep every organ in your body communicating.
Those in the world of weight lifting and muscle building know protein is also critical for energy, muscle growth and weight loss.
When most people think of protein they think of red meat, chicken and fish, but we can get a lot of protein from plants too. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you probably know more about protein than most of the meat-eating population.
In nature, vegans find quality protein in legumes, soy, hemp, wheat, nuts, seeds and even some vegetables. So the myth that vegans can’t get adequate protein from a vegan diet is just that—a myth.
However, vegans, just like meat-eaters, have busy lives. Preparing three well-balanced protein-rich meals per day isn’t always an option. It’s even more difficult to source protein from whole foods if you’re cutting calories to lose weight and you don’t want to lose muscle.
Having an easily available source of vegan-friendly powdered protein to mix up a quick vegan protein shake is helpful. Vegan protein shakes offer a concentrated amount of protein in a convenient, low-calorie package. With vegan protein powder, you can meet your daily needs, even if you’re busy or cutting calories.
The vegan protein shake market is finally catching up to the animal-based protein market, and vegan-friendly protein powder is now widely available. If you’re vegan, you have a lot of vegan protein shake options to choose from.
But not all vegan protein shakes are equal. Faced with so many vegan protein powder options, you have to do your homework.
For example, it’s not only the amount of protein per serving that matters, but the protein source and how the protein was processed. Not every source of protein is equally digestible. More is not better if your body can’t utilize what’s on the label.
In this article we’ll talk about protein powder, protein shakes, and why some are better than others. Plus, we provide a lineup of the top vegan protein shakes for 2022.
Table of Contents
Protein Shake Formats
What is Vegan Protein Powder Made From?
What are the Benefits of Vegan Protein Powder?
Most Common Vegan Protein Shake Ingredients
How to Choose the Best Vegan Protein Shake
Top Vegan Protein Shake Options for 2022
The Best Overall Vegan Protein Shake for 2022
Why is Fortagen the Best Vegan-Friendly Protein Shake
Ready to Try the Best Vegan Protein Shake
Protein Shake Formats #
The first step in choosing the best vegan protein shake is understanding the types of protein powders available and what makes them different.
When you first enter the world of vegan protein shakes and powders, the terminology can be confusing. Protein powders, whether they’re animal-based or made from plant-based protein, come in three common forms.
These three forms include:
Protein Concentrates #
Protein concentrates are produced by extracting protein from whole food using heat and acid or enzymes. They typically yield 60-80% protein and 20-40% fat and carbs. Whey protein powder is the most common form.
Protein Isolates #
Protein isolates require a secondary filtering process to remove additional fat and carbs, yielding a more highly concentrated protein powder. Protein isolate powders contain around 90-95% protein.
Protein Hydrolysates #
Protein hydrolysate powders go one step further by adding additional heat, acid, or enzymes to break the bonds between amino acids. The result is a protein powder that’s more quickly absorbed by your body and muscles. The problem with hydrolysates, especially in the case of whey protein, is that they raise the body’s insulin level faster than other forms. This is not ideal if your goal is to burn fat.1
What is Vegan Protein Powder Made From? #
Vegan protein powders extract protein from either nuts, grains, seeds, or beans.
In the past, vegan powders were mostly limited to soy, which is problematic for some due to soy’s high concentration of isoflavones, which closely mimic estrogen in the body. Today, vegan protein shakes come from various protein sources, including pea, hemp, brown rice, and quinoa. Some vegan protein shakes offer a combination of ingredients and source additional protein from chia seeds, sunflower, and buckwheat.
With all vegan protein powders, you’ll typically have the choice between isolate or concentrate formats.
As noted, protein isolates involve more processing to deliver more protein per scoop, while concentrate isn’t as processed but tends to be slightly lower in protein per serving.
Vegan bodybuilders looking to maximize gains will likely choose a protein isolate for a few extra grams of post-workout protein, minus excess carbs and fat.
What are the Benefits of Vegan Protein Powder? #
When you choose the highest quality vegan protein powder, you’ll get a complete source of protein that contains every essential amino acid (EAA) your body needs.
Amino acids are the organic compounds that combine to make protein. Essential amino acids are those your body needs to source from your diet because you cannot synthesize them on your own. They play a critical role in muscle growth and recovery.
Pea, hemp, quinoa, and soy protein powders are all complete protein sources, meaning they contain within them each of the essential amino acids. They may not, however, contain these EAAs in the exact ratio your body needs.
Most Common Vegan Protein Shake Ingredients #
Pea Protein #
Pea protein is made from high protein yielding pea varieties like yellow split peas.
Just a quarter-cup serving of unflavored pea protein powder packs around 21 grams of protein, depending on the brand. However, like other legumes, pea protein is low in the essential amino acid methionine.2
Pea protein does provide a good amount of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). These 3 EAAs, leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are important for fueling working muscles and stimulating your body to make muscle protein.1
One 12-week study looked at 161 young adult men eating 25 grams or about 1 ounce of pea protein powder twice a day, including right after weight training. The weakest in the group had a 20% increase in bicep muscle thickness, compared to only 8% in the placebo group.
The study also showed that muscle gains experienced with pea protein were similar to those of people consuming whey protein.
Other studies suggest pea protein may promote feelings of fullness as well as lowering blood pressure.2
Summary: Pea protein fails to deliver EAAs in the exact ratio your body needs, but it’s rich in BCAAs, and studies find it as effective as whey for muscle building. It may also help you feel full and lower your blood pressure.
Hemp Protein #
Hemp protein is derived from the seeds of cannabis plants which have been bred to contain minimal amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This means you won’t get high from hemp protein.
A quarter-cup serving of unflavored hemp protein powder contains around 12 grams of protein and 108 calories, depending on the brand. Hemp protein powder is also a great source of fiber, iron, zinc, magnesium, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)—the plant form of omega-3 fat.
Hemp is low in the essential amino acid lysine. So while it qualifies as a complete protein, it doesn’t supply enough of each EAA to function on its own. You can fill the lysine gap by eating legumes or quinoa.3
Test-tube research also suggests hemp seed protein may have blood-pressure-lowering compounds, but its effects have yet to be tested in people.
Summary: Hemp protein powder provides moderate levels of protein per serving. It’s low in the amino acid lysine but packs a lot of fiber, iron, zinc, magnesium, and ALA omega-3 fat.
Pumpkin Seed Protein #
In their whole form, pumpkin seeds are high in protein and healthy fat. In powder form, most of the fat is removed, reducing calories.
A quarter-cup serving of unflavored pumpkin seed protein powder provides around 20 grams of protein, depending on the brand. However, it’s too low in the essential amino acids threonine and lysine to qualify as a complete protein.6
Despite not being a complete protein, pumpkin seed protein is highly nutritious, packing high amounts of magnesium, zinc, iron, and other minerals.
Only a few studies have been done on the health benefits of pumpkin seed protein, but there’s evidence it may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In one study, rats with liver disease were given pumpkin seed protein as part of a standard diet and certain markers of liver health improved, compared to rats given casein (milk) protein.
Equally promising, the rats eating pumpkin seed protein experienced a 22% decrease in “bad” LDL cholesterol and up to a 48% increase in antioxidant activity in their blood, compared to the casein-fed rats.
Summary: Although low in essential amino acids threonine and lysine, pumpkin seed protein powder is highly nutritious. Its beneficial compounds show promise for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Brown Rice Protein #
Brown rice protein powder is one of the most common and inexpensive vegan protein shake powders available.
A quarter-cup serving of unflavored brown rice protein powder has about 20 grams of protein, depending on the brand. It’s low in the essential amino acid lysine, so it’s not a complete protein but does provide plenty of BCAAs.
A preliminary study suggests brown rice protein powder may be as good as whey protein at supporting muscle growth when consumed post weight training.
The 8-week study had young men consume 48 grams of rice protein powder immediately after weight training three days a week. They showed a 12% increase in bicep muscle thickness, which was the same for men consuming the same amount of whey protein powder.4
One criticism of rice products is the potential for contamination with the heavy metal arsenic. If you use brown rice protein it’s important to choose a brand that tests for arsenic levels.
Summary: Although not considered a complete protein, brown rice protein powder is a good source of BCAAs and may be as effective as whey protein in supporting muscle growth when weight training. Make sure to choose a brand that tests for arsenic contamination.
Soy Protein #
Soy protein is one of the few plant proteins considered a complete protein. It’s also high in BCAAs, which play a role in muscle repair and growth.
A quarter-cup serving of soy protein isolate powder contains 22 grams of protein, depending on the brand.
Soy protein has fallen out of favor in recent years. Not only do many people have soy allergies, but there are concerns about potential negative health impacts, such as breast cancer. Studies on soy isolate plant compounds conflict. Some say these compounds have protective qualities, while others say they might lead to cancer.
There’s also consumer confusion regarding genetic modification. Most soy in the United States is genetically modified (GMO). There are, however, a few brands of non-GMO soy protein powders available if you shop around.
Summary: Soy protein powder is one of the few complete protein sources. It may help lower cholesterol levels. Due to safety concerns, soy has lost its place at the top of most popular vegan protein shake choices.
Sunflower Seed Protein #
Sunflower seed protein isolate is a relatively new plant-based protein option.
A quarter-cup serving of sunflower seed protein powder contains about 13 grams of protein, depending on the brand.
Like other seed-based protein powders, it’s low in the essential amino acid lysine. However, it’s a good source of all other essential amino acids. To make up for its lysine gap, sunflower seed protein is sometimes paired with quinoa protein powder.
To date, there are no studies comparing the health effects of sunflower seed protein with other isolated plant protein sources.
Summary: Sunflower seed protein provides a good amount of BCAAs. It’s low in total protein per serving and is low in lysine. It should be combined with other complete plant-based vegan protein options if you want a complete vegan protein shake.
Chia Protein #
Chia seeds come from a plant found in South America. Today chia seeds are a popular dietary addition to smoothies, porridges, and baked goods. Chia seed protein powder has emerged as a vegan protein shake option, too.
A quarter-cup serving of chia protein powder has around 10 grams of protein, depending on the brand. Like other seed-sourced proteins, it’s low in the essential amino acid lysine.
The powdered form of chia seeds is said to have enhanced digestibility. In a test-tube study, protein digestibility of the raw seeds was only 29%, compared to 80% for chia powder.
Summary: Chia seed protein is nutritious but not a complete protein. The protein per serving is low compared to other vegan protein options. The powdered form of chia seeds may be substantially more digestible than the whole seed form.
Plant Protein Blends #
Plant-based proteins are often combined and sold as blends. These blends frequently have added flavor and sweeteners.
The biggest advantage of blending vegan protein is that when combined, the product is more likely to provide optimal levels of essential amino acids.
For example, pea protein is often combined with rice protein. Pea protein provides the lysine rice lacks, while rice protein makes up for pea’s low methionine supply.
Quinoa protein is a favorite vegan protein addition because of its complete protein profile.
Other trends in the vegan protein shake world include the addition of enzymes to help digestion and fermentation.
Sprouting and fermentation increase the amount of beneficial plant compounds, vitamins, and minerals available. It may also improve digestion by helping to break down anti-nutrients that can interfere with the absorption of amino acids, minerals, and other nutrients.5
Summary: Many vegan protein powders come in blends to provide all essential amino acids. Some blends have added flavor and sweeteners, so make sure to read the labels if fat loss is your goal.
How to Choose the Best Vegan Protein Shake #
To choose the best vegan protein shake, you’ll need some criteria to guide you. The products below were each selected based on the following criteria:
- Quality of ingredients
- Lack of additives, fillers, preservatives, and artificial flavors
- Use of third-party testing
- Adherence to manufacturing quality standards
Pricing Guide #
- $ = under $1 per serving
- $$ = $1 to $2.50 per serving
- $$$ = Over $2.50 per serving
Top Vegan Protein Shake Options for 2022 #
Garden of Life Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder #
Nutrition per serving ( 1 scoop / 33g )
- Protein: 22 grams
- Calories: 130
- Carbs: 5 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
- Fat: 2.5 grams
This vegan protein shake blend combines over a dozen different plant-based proteins and is made without soy.
It features protein sourced primarily from peas, sprouted navy beans, sprouted lentil beans, sprouted garbanzo beans, and cranberry seeds.
It’s certified organic and NSF Certified for Sport, meaning it has undergone third-party testing to ensure it does not contain unsafe levels of contaminants or substances prohibited for athletes by the US Anti-Doping Agency.
KOS Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder #
Nutrition per serving ( 2 scoops / 39g )
- Protein: 20 grams
- Calories: 170
- Carbs: 9 grams
- Sugar: 2 grams
- Fat: 6 grams
This organic vegan protein shake powder has a smooth chocolatey flavor infused with organic cacao, organic coconut milk, and monk fruit.
Each serving contains 20 grams of protein sourced from a blend of pea protein, flax seeds, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds.
This vegan protein shake powder is free of gluten, dairy, soy, artificial sweeteners, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Orgain Simple Organic Plant Protein Powder #
Nutrition per serving ( 2 scoops / 38g )
- Protein: 20 grams
- Calories: 150
- Carbs: 11 grams
- Sugar: 6 grams
- Fat: 3.5 grams
This vegan protein shake comes in vanilla, chocolate, and peanut butter flavors.
The 20 grams of protein per serving is sourced from chia seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and golden peas.
It’s non-GMO, certified vegan, and free of dairy, gluten, lactose, and soy.
Naked Pea Premium Pea Protein Powder #
Nutrition per serving ( 2 scoops / 30g )
- Protein: 27 grams
- Calories: 120
- Carbs: 2 grams
- Sugar: 2 grams
- Fat: 0.5 grams
This vegan protein shake powder is good for those looking for a simple, vegan protein shake powder made without artificial flavors, sweeteners, and colors.
The vegan protein shake powder is sourced exclusively from raw yellow peas.
It’s certified vegan and gluten-free and is produced using environmentally friendly farming practices. It’s also certified by Informed-Choice, a quality assurance program that tests sports supplements to ensure they’re free of impurities, contaminants, and banned substances.
Iron Vegan Athlete’s Gainer #
Nutrition per serving ( 2 scoops / 190g )
- Protein: 45 grams
- Calories: 720
- Carbs: 120 grams
- Sugar: 1 grams
- Fat: 8 grams
With 720 calories per serving, it’s not surprising this vegan protein shake is specifically designed to help promote weight gain.
The vegan protein shake blend consists of fermented pea and organic brown rice protein, sprouted whole grains, organic greens, and organic coconut oil.
The protein shake powder is also vegan, gluten-free, and certified by Informed-Sport to ensure purity and quality.
The Best Overall Vegan Protein Shake for 2022 #
Nutrition per serving ( 1 scoop )
- Protein: 50 grams
- Calories: 720
- Carbs: 0 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
Fortagen tops our list for the best vegan protein shake in 2022. Fortagen is the ultimate muscle-building protein, crushing the competition at 50 grams of protein per serving. It’s also the ultimate fasting protein powder because it’s low in calories.
In addition, Fortagen is ferment ed, a far more efficiently extracted protein than isolates, concentrates, or hydrolysates. Fermentation makes protein bioavailable, more gut-friendly, and low in calories.
And unlike our other top picks, Fortagen has been specifically engineered to offer the perfect essential amino acid profile. This means EAAs are presented in the precise ratio your body uses to build muscle.
Why is Fortagen the Best Vegan-Friendly Protein Shake? #
Fortagen was created to fill the gaps in the vegan protein shake market. More than a meal replacement or means to reach your minimum daily protein requirements, Fortagen helps vegans build lean muscle and promotes a quicker post-workout recovery. Vegans, just like meat-eaters, now have access to a protein shake they can use to get stronger.
A Perfect Amino Acid Profile #
Fortagen outperforms most vegan protein shake options because it’s designed to provide the exact amino acid profile your body needs, in the perfect ratio. Most vegan protein shake options lack one or more of the essential amino acids, or come loaded with nonessential amino acids your body already has a surplus of.
It’s only when EAAs are delivered in the optimal ratio that the body can make the best use of them. In fact, when EAAs aren’t optimized, your body may even borrow from muscle to help utilize EAAs you’re consuming in excess.6
Superior Bioavailability #
When it comes to the impact of different proteins, bioavailability is one of the most important metrics to consider. Fortagen is digested in under 30 minutes, while other vegan protein shake options can take up to 6 hours.
Easy on Your Digestive System #
Intestinal irritation to plant-based protein powders is one of the most common complaints. Seeds and legumes, if not fermented, can lead to bloating, gas, and discomfort. Fortagen is pre-digested through the fermentation process, resulting in smaller, more gut-friendly particle sizes.
Protein Shake with Minimal Calories #
Many vegan protein shake powders come packed with calories and added sweeteners. It’s not uncommon to see a vegan protein powder with 120 or more calories per scoop.
If you’re on a calorie-restricted diet or if you’re intermittent fasting, typical calorie-packed vegan protein powders will hinder your progress. Fortagen has the lowest calories per serving at just four calories.
Insulin Response #
Fortagen is a sugar-free powder that will not trigger an insulin response. Your energy remains balanced, and if you’re fasting, you’ll have a powerful tool to keep you from breaking your fast. For those trying to lose weight without sacrificing muscle, having a zero-carb/zero-sugar vegan protein powder with high protein per serving makes the journey a lot more feasible.
Faster Recovery Time #
Fortagen is designed for increased protein synthesis post-workout. The reality is Fortagen has cracked the code on the perfect essential amino acid profile code. EAAs offset muscular and systemic fatigue that hinder muscle gains, but only when delivered in the right combination.
A 2017 study7 showed that supplementing with essential amino acids outperformed passive recovery and rest after varied and exhaustive exercises. Another 2018 study8 showed EAA supplementation delayed fatigue, improved endurance capacity, and prevented muscle failure compared to a placebo.
Protein Shake for Muscle Gain and Weight Loss #
If your goal is to lose weight, following a calorie-restricted diet is a must. Ideally, you will keep your muscles while shedding the excess fat. However, maintaining or gaining muscle requires a minimum of .7-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
If you are looking to build muscle solely from whole plant protein sources, you will need to consume a lot of food. A vegan protein powder can help you get the same amount of protein, if not more, without the added calories and carbs.
A 2012 weight loss study9 showed that participants who received EAA supplements lost more fat and less lean muscle tissue than those using meal replacement shakes. Another study found EAA supplementation has a promising therapeutic effect10 in treating obesity.