Many individuals are under the impression that plant-based protein powders are inferior to animal-based protein powders for athletic recovery and building lean muscle mass.
This is due to the myth that vegan protein powders are not “complete.” Or in other words, they do not contain all nine essential amino acids.
These essential amino acids, particularly Isoleucine, Leucine, and Valine (which are considered Branch Chain Amino Acids or “BCAAs,”) serve a vital function for athletic recovery and muscle growth.
Looking back ten years, it was very difficult to find a non-soy plant-based protein powder that contained these critical components. However, over the last few years, there has been a conscious effort from supplement companies to develop complete protein powder blends that are 100% vegan and rich with amino acids.
Now, it’s pretty easy to find a complete plant-based protein powder that contains BCAAs and other recovery-boosting ingredients. And as a result, many elite athletes are leveraging the benefits of vegan protein supplementation over animal-based proteins.
Before we get into reviewing the top plant-based protein powders for athletes, first let’s take a quick look at the benefits of opting for vegan proteins over animal proteins.
Benefits of Vegan Protein Powder
When it comes to athletic performance and recovery, there are three reasons why the right vegan protein powders win.
1. Accelerates Recovery
Plant-based proteins have a higher rate of nutrient absorption compared to animal proteins, particular the case with protein concentrates (versus protein isolates.) This can help to accelerate recovery after exertion.
Additionally, because consuming a more plant-based diet tends to be lower in cholesterol and saturated fats, one’s cardiovascular and heart health can improve. Not only is this advantageous for endurance, but a strong cardiovascular system lends itself to quicker recovery times.
2. Reduces Inflammation
Certain animal protein products have been shown to cause swelling and inflammation. This is especially common with heavy use of whey and dairy-based proteins.
Opting for a plant-based alternative can help improve joint mobility and has even been shown to help minimize arthritic symptoms – for instance, one of the products reviewed below has turmeric and tart cherry, both of which have anti-inflammatory properties.
3. Improves Digestion
Most vegan protein powders naturally improve digestion because they contain higher levels of healthy fibers. This is particularly the case with seed and legume-based proteins, such as hemp, chia, and pea.
Healthy digestion is beneficial for any athlete who seeks to train better, as it’s hard to maximize training sessions while feeling heavy or bloated. Experiencing poor digestion also can lead to weakened immune functioning.
In essence, you can have all the same benefits as animal proteins, and more, by using the right plant-based blend. Today you can find a number of great options that cater to world-class professionals and weekend warriors alike.
Top Plant-based Protein Powders for Athletes
No doubt, there are a number of great protein supplements available that would suffice for high-level athletes. These are three that I’ve found to rise above the rest in terms of protein quality, nutritional co-factors, and taste.
1. Vega Sport Performance Protein
With the exception of a few outliers, the general consensus among Amazon reviews for Vega Sport Performance Protein is that it taste pretty good. Having tried the Vanilla and Chocolate flavors, I can attest that it taste awesome. The protein powder is highly concentrated and mixes well into just about anything with no signs of clumping or chalkiness.
Having alluded to this vegan protein powder above, Vega Sport Performance has recovery-enhancing properties like turmeric and black pepper extract, bromelain, tart cherry, and probiotics (1 Billion CFU/Serving). It’s also one of the vegan supplements with L-Glutamine, in which studies have shown minimizes breakdown of muscle and improve protein metabolism.
Vega Sport Performance Protein comes packed with 30 grams of premium plant-based protein per scoop. It has organic pumpkin seed protein, organic sunflower seed protein, alfalfa protein, and pea protein. Its amino acid profile is also very rich, offering 6 grams of BCAAs.
In addition to my favorite, Vanilla, you can get Berry, Chocolate, and Mocha.
2. MRM Veggie Elite
Taking the win for taste and texture (in my subjective opinion,) is MRM Veggie Elite. Like the latter top pick, MRM Veggie Elite is highly-concentrated so the protein powder mixes well with minimal clumping. Free of any chalky or gritty texture, it’s one of the smoothest and best tasting vegan protein powders.
A modest 32 gram serving offers 24 grams of protein (compared to a 41 gram serving scoop with Vega Sport,) so it’s very comparable. And while the amino acid profile isn’t quite as rich as Vega Sport, it still contains a solid amount of BCAAs. It also has zero sugar, so it’s paleo and ketogenic-friendly.
MRM Veggie Elite offers a quality combination of plant-based proteins, along with digestive enzymes to further enhance recovery. It’s also one of the most affordably priced options, providing a huge performance bang for the buck. As such, MRM Veggie Elite is my go-to protein powder.
3. Amazing Grass Protein Superfood
Amazing Grass Protein Superfood comes in three flavors: Original, Vanilla, and Peanut Butter Chocolate. Having tried each of them, all are on-point. The Original is one of the best tasting “unflavored” protein powders with its stealth, neutral-tasting presence. And the Peanut Butter Chocolate is decadent and delicious.
With 20 grams of protein per serving, Amazing Grass Protein Superfood provides a complete blend of organic pea, hemp, chia, and quinoa. It also hosts the brand’s alkalizing “Green Food Blend” dense with organic wheat grass, alfalfa, barley grass, spinach, spirulina, chlorella, and broccoli. Further promoting recovery, the blend also contains organic acai, banana, beet, goji, pineapple, sweet potato, raspberry, and rose hips.
The nutritional profile for this product is slightly different in that it contains 7 grams of fat and 4 grams of sugar. Deriving from healthy, organic plant-based sources, this differentiation is to be embraced, especially among athletes.
The only downside to Amazing Grass Protein Superfood is knowing its amino acid profile. Given the complexity of its ingredients, I would have to imagine it’s worthy for most athletes. However, for the hard-core bodybuilders, this may be a dealbreaker.
There are definitely many more great product to choose from. To read the complete review of each protein powder and for other vegan protein powder reviews, check these out here.
Do you have any favorite plant-based protein powders? Let us know in the comments below.