Rewind to just a few years ago, and most people had never even heard of plant based protein powders.

Whilst you could walk into your local supplement store to find the shelves stocked with countless animal and dairy based protein powders; vegan options were considered far too ‘niche’ for the mainstream. At best, you’d be lucky to find an overpriced soy protein powder tucked away in a corner somewhere.

But in recent years, vegan protein powders have seen a surge in popularity thanks to the growing awareness of the health benefits of a plant based diet. Combine this with the decline in popularity of dairy based products (such as whey protein), and it’s no surprise to see so many people making the switch to a plant based protein.

How do you find a great vegan protein?

Here’s what you should be looking for when choosing a plant based protein powder:

What is the protein source?

There are countless sources of vegan protein powders available today. So which one should you choose?

Scan the shelves of any health food store, and you’ll find vegan protein powders made from hemp, pea, soy, rice, pumpkin seed, chia seed, even sunflower seed. Each come with their own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to weigh up which option best suits your goals.

Soy, for instance, is very cheap and has a high protein content (usually around 80%). However, there are concerns about the negative health implications of soy, including it’s potential to cause hormonal imbalances in both men and women1,2,3.

Pea protein also has an impressive protein content of up to 83%, but it does not have a complete amino acid profile. See step 2 for more information about complete vs incomplete proteins.

Hemp protein does contain a complete amino acid profile, and it also has additional nutrients such as iron, magnesium, and essential fatty acids. However, the protein content is pretty low compared to other protein powders at around 47% protein content.

There are also concerns about rice protein, which can be difficult to digest and potentially carrying high levels of heavy metals. To avoid this, I recommend choosing an organic, sprouted rice protein.

Grams of protein per serving and is it complete?

Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are found in all of the foods we eat.

If a food contains all of the ‘essential’ amino acids, then this food is considered a ‘complete’ protein. Most plant based source of protein are ‘incomplete’, meaning that they don’t contain all the essential amino acids needed for growth and repair.

If your plant based protein powder is incomplete, it won’t give your muscles all the building blocks they need to grow stronger after your workout. It is for this reason we strongly recommend looking for a plant protein blend, which contains multiple sources of plant protein to make a complete amino acid profile.

Pea protein and rice protein, for instance, are both incomplete proteins. But when you bring them together, you get a complete protein. This is why pea and rice is one of the most popular combinations in the world of plant based protein powders.

Hemp protein is one of the only exceptions in the world of plant proteins, as it does contain a complete amino acid profile. This is why hemp protein is a suitable choice for post workout recovery; either on it’s own, or used to bolster the amino acid profile of another plant protein.

If you are unsure whether your protein powder is complete, ask the manufacturer for the amino acid profile. In order for it to be complete it must contain the nine essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Note: When choosing a protein powder, shoot for a total protein content of between 20 – 25 grams per serving. This is the optimum level with which to acheive maximum protein synthesis4 in a drug free user. Protein synthesis will not be enhanced above 25g, providing the user is not assisted by anabolics, so more protein does not always mean better.

Has the protein been heated?

 

Many plant based proteins are processed using heat, largely because this is the cheapest way to make protein powders.

However, excess heat can denature the amino acids found in protein powder and make them difficult to absorb.

Two of the essential amino acids, lysine and tryptophan, are denatured at temperatures above 110F4. When denatured amino acids are consumed, they can’t carry out their roles within the body efficiently.

Heated protein powders may be cheaper, but they certainly don’t represent value for money if they are not being absorbed properly. This is why I always recommend looking out for the words ‘raw’ and ‘cold processed’ on the label.

How does it taste?

Last but not least, we need to consider the taste element! No matter how nutritious a protein powder, if it tastes like wallpaper paste you won’t want to drink it. To save your tastebuds and your wallet, we’ve tried and tested the leading brands of vegan protein powder on the market and compiled our feedback in our recommendations below.

Which Products Have We Tested?

To help you find the right vegan protein powder for you, we’ve compared 10 of the most popular vegan proteins, which are available on the UK high street or can be delivered to UK addresses.

We chose products to ensure a wide variety of protein sources, to suit a wide variety of budgets and fitness goals. They are listed here in order of descending test scores.

Please note that test scores are a percentage of a maximum score of 60 points.

Click to view the detailed scoresheet

We compared these proteins on various categories: rating them from 10 to 1 for their taste, mixability, ingredient quality, and digestibility. These scores were based both on our own experiences with the products along with real user data and reviews.

We also compared the cost per serving and protein content per serving. Each of these scores were also given a rating of 10 to 1 to factor into our overall comparison.

All of these factors were then added up to create our total score and percentage out of 60, which you will find in the column furthest to the right.

The detailed break down can be viewed by clicking on the table.

aaguru-vegan-protein-comparison-table

 

Vegan Protein

test score

PERFORM Raw Plant Protein

**BEST PREMIUM PROTEIN

**BEST TASTING PROTEIN

**BEST ALL ROUNDER

our verdict

Total Score: 78%

PERFORM has an excellent protein content with a complete amino acid profile, an extra superfood mix and high levels of plant-based BCAAs. Both flavours (Madagascan Vanilla & Raw Cacao) taste  leasant and mix very well. Best ingredients list with four different protein sources, turmeric extract, himalayan salt and natural flavours. Excellent digestibility thanks to the raw protein complex and digestive enzyme blend. With the second highest price point in the test it is not cheap, but you pay for what you get. No added sugar, No artificial ingredients, Non GMO, No herbicides or pesticides.Registered with The Vegan Society and made in a certified organic facility in the UK.

78%

Sunwarrior Warrior Blend

**BEST UNFLAVOURED PROTEIN

our verdict

Total Score: 68%

Good taste, smoother texture than most. Great ingredients list with no artificial thickeners, flavours or bulking agents. Has a lower protein content than most but excellent digestibility. Cold processed. Amino acid profile is ok, it is a complete protein but the levels of BCAA are low in comparison to other protein powders.

68%

Bulk Powders Complete Vegan Blend

**BEST BUDGET PROTEIN

our verdict

Total Score: 67%

Slightly more expensive than MyProtein, but definitely an improvement too. Tastes good, is sweetened with stevia so has less of a chemically taste. The chocolate peanut taste was our favourite. Smoother texture but still a little chalky. Great amino acid profile. Digestibility was ok, some users still reporting difficulty. All in all, a solid choice for tighter budgets.

67%

Neat Nutrition Vegan Protein

our verdict

Total Score: 57%

A great tasting and ultra smooth protein powder. High protein content. But digestibility was very poor due to the xanthan gum. The amino acid profile wasn’t great, high levels of pea protein and low levels of hemp mean that some essential amino acids are lacking. Overpriced for the ingredients list.

57%

Vega Sport Performance Protein

our verdict

Total Score: 50%

Very high protein content at 30g per serving. But large scoop size means to achieve this protein content means poor value for money at over £2.20 per serving. Taste was enjoyable, but the texture too grainy. Impressive ingredients list and amino acid profile. Digestibility was poor, with many users reporting bloating.

50%

MyProtein Vegan Blend

our verdict

Total Score: 50%

A decent vegan protein for those on a tight budget. Cheap cost per serving and a big pouch means this one won’t break the bank. Solid amino acid profile thanks to the combination of pea, hemp and rice. Taste was pleasant, albeit rather artificial tasting, likely due to the flavourings and sucralose. The mixability was poor, with some users complaining that it is too grainy. Some users also reported difficulty digesting this protein, which we also found ourselves. This is likely because this protein is heat treated rather than cold processed like some of the others in our comparison.

50%

Pulsin Raw Hemp Protein

**BEST SINGLE INGREDIENT PROTEIN

our verdict

Total Score: 48%

A good single ingredient option for smoothies and shakes. Tastes awful on it’s own, but so do most single ingredient proteins. Lowest protein content but impressive levels of essential fatty acids, fibre, iron and magnesium. Raw and ultra easy to digest. Good value for money. Serving size can be easily increased if required.

48%

That Protein Chocolate Brown Rice Protein

our verdict

Total Score: 47%

Simple, honest ingredient list. Patronising ‘eat clean’ label on the front of the pack. Seems cheap, but the small pouch means that the cost per serving is actually high. Digestibility is great, however, low protein content at just 12 grams per serving. Probably more suited to smoothies than post workout shakes.

47%

Reflex Nutrition Vegan Protein

our verdict

Total Score: 47%

High initial cost but 53 servings per tub actually makes this reasonable value for money. Can also be purchased at a discount at other retailers. Good taste and mixability. But protein content is poor and amino acid profile is incomplete as only one source of protein (pea) is used. Poor digestibility. Ingredients list packed with artificial flavours and thickeners.

47%

Sci-MX Pro V-Gain

our verdict

Total Score: 40%

Excellent value for money in terms of protein grams per pound spent. Highest protein content per serving (although also a notably higher scoop size). Solid amino acid profile with high levels of BCAAs. But packed out with thickeners, corn starch, soy protein and artificial flavourings mean that this protein scores lowest for ingredient quality. Taste and mixability poor. If high protein content is your only goal, this is a great option.

40%

Once our comparison was complete, we grouped the protein powders into categories and decided on the following winners:

Best Budget Protein

If you’re on a tight budget, it can be tempting to go for a cheap soy or rice protein powder. However, based on the reasons we mentioned above, we do not think these protein powders represent good value for money due to the potential negative health impacts.

When searching for a budget protein powder we wanted to find a product that had a high protein content at a relatively low cost. It also had to have a complete amino acid profile to ensure it was suitable for post workout recovery.

bulkpowders-complete-vegan-blendWe eventually narrowed our search down to two products: MyProtein Vegan Blend, and Bulk Powders Complete Vegan Blend. Nutritionally speaking, it was almost impossible to split them. Both contained 22 grams of protein per scoop, each with a complete amino acid profile. Bulk Powders was slightly higher in carbs and total calories, so this is something to keep in mind depending on your goals.

Both tasted reasonably good, however Bulk Powders did have a smoother texture. We found the MyProtein blend a little grainy. Bulk Powders is also sweetened with stevia, as opposed to the MyProtein blend which is sweetened with sucralose, of which there are potential health concerns.

It is for this reason that we crown BulkPowders Complete Vegan Blend the best budget protein powder. At £19.99 for a one kilo pouch, it certainly won’t break the bank.

Best Premium Protein

If you’re after a more high end protein powder, it’s important to know what you are looking for. A higher price tag doesn’t necessarily equate to a higher quality protein powder!

After studying the more premium end of the protein powder market, there were only two products that really justified their high price tag. These were Sunwarrior Warrior Blend and PERFORM Raw Plant Protein.

The first and most obvious benefit to both of these protein powders is that they are both raw. Raw protein powders means more nutrients, easier digestion, and as we mentioned earlier, and more balanced amino acid profile.

perform-vegan-protein-blendBoth of these protein powders are complete proteins. However, PERFORM does contain 25g of protein per scoop, compared to only 19g per scoop in Sunwarrior. Further, PERFORM also contains 6 grams of BCAAs, which are key amino acids when it comes to muscle building.

PERFORM also takes it further when it comes to additional ingredients. The addition of turmeric extract helps improve recovery after workouts, the digestive enzymes mean that it is absorbed much more easily. It boasts a “Superfood Protein Complex” consisting of cold pressed hemp protein, spirulina and cracked cell-wall chlorella. Finally, PERFORM contains Himalayan Salt which provides key electrolyte support, particularly effective if you have a high sweat rate.

Both PERFORM and Sunwarrior Warrior Blend are 100% natural, non GMO, and sweetened only with stevia. PERFORM edges it when it comes to taste, but we’ll come onto that later.

Best Unflavoured Protein

sun-warrior-unflavoured-protein-powderIf you’re looking for an unflavoured protein powder, Sunwarrior Warrior Blend is a great bet. It has a smooth texture compared to other plant proteins, making it ideal for post workout smoothies and shakes. Neat Nutrition Vegan Protein also has a good taste, but at £34.99 for a basic unflavoured vegan protein it was hard to justify this being the overall winner.

Best Single Ingredient Protein

pulsin-hemp-proeinIf you want a simple, single ingredient protein, we recommend going for a cold pressed hemp protein. It may not pack the protein punch of pea and rice, but it does contain a complete amino acid profile which is all important for that post workout recovery. Hemp is also rich in key minerals, essential fatty acids, and is relatively cheap too.

Pulsin’s Raw Hemp Protein gets our vote in this category.

Best Tasting Protein

After trying hundreds of vegan protein blends for taste, we experienced delicious protein powders, terrible protein powders, and everthing in between! Unfortunately, most of them were closer to the ‘terrible’ category than they were to the ‘delicious’ one.

In general, it’s much harder to find a great tasting plant protein than it is to find a great tasting whey protein. But they are out there – you’ve just got to know where to look.

That Protein’s Chocolate Protein has a nice rich chocolate taste, but is a little grainy. Vega Performance Protein had a smoother texture, but the chocolate flavour wasn’t as pronounced. The chocolate version of PERFORM combined the best of both worlds, with a delicious smooth texture and a well rounded chocolate flavour.

We also enjoyed Neat Nutrition’s Chocolate Flavour Protein, which had the bext mixability and was as smooth as many whey proteins. However this is likely due to the presence of xanthan gum, which may cause digestive upset in some people, so tread carefully. This protein powder also had a great well rounded chocolate flavour.

perform-vegan-protein-blendFor something more fruity, check out Sunwarrior’s Berry Protein. This is a particularly refreshing change from the usual chocolate and vanilla flavours. If you do want to stick with a safer option, Madagascan Vanilla PERFORM wins the vote thanks to it’s versatility.

Bulk Powders Vegan Blend chocolate peanut flavour is another one to check out, particularly if you like to blend your shake with banana and almond milk. This flavour combination is one of the best we have tried and we would definitely recommend it for those on a budget.

Overall though, our vote for the best tasting protein powder goes to PERFORM. Both flavours are delicious, the texture is ultra smooth, and there’s no earthy aftertaste. Which brings us nicely onto our final category…

Best All Rounder

Thanks to the exceptionally high protein content, the highly impressive amino acid profile, the squeaky clean ingredients list and the delicious taste, PERFORM gets our vote as the best all rounder when it comes to protein powders. If you can afford it, we highly recommend making the investment.

Notable runners up include Sunwarrior Warrior Blend, Bulk Powders Vegan Blend, Pulsin Hemp Protein and MyProtein Vegan Blend. Remember that our opinion is not definitive, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find out what works best for you!