The best protein powders for vegetarians

Walk into any wellness store or vitamin aisle, and the options are seemingly endless. The path to finding the right protein powder can be daunting, and often involves a lot of questions: Do I want a complete protein? How do I choose the right flavor? How much should I take? What types of fitness goals am I working toward?

These are just the basics for anyone, but if you’re a vegetarian, you know better than anyone that there are additional rounds of criteria to consider before you can make a decision. While following a vegetarian diet does already narrow down protein powder options, there are still plenty of decisions to make, including where you want your protein to come from. Similar to choosing between seitan and tofu, there’s a whole range of plant-based sources to choose from when it comes to protein powder. Here’s a bit more information on the plant-based protein options out there, and the questions to ask to find the right protein powder to supplement your vegetarian diet.

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Whether you’re looking to get more toned, build lean muscle, or lose weight, you might be asking yourself why following the same fitness routines as everyone else might be giving you different results. Our bodies are unique and respond differently to activity, but the amount of protein in your diet can also be a factor.

Protein is essential for our bodies: it makes up the majority of our hair and nails and is used to build and repair tissue in the body, as well as support healthy bones and muscles. Most people are able to get enough high-quality protein through foods like chicken, turkey, fish, beef but protein sources for vegetarians and vegans are slightly more limited. That said, veganism and vegetarianism are increasingly popular, and there’s no reason eating a plant-based diet should prevent you from meeting your health and fitness goals. Here’s where protein powder, which can help you add an extra dose of protein to your diet, comes in. Supplementing with protein powder is an easy way to help make sure you’re getting all the protein you need, but choosing a powder can be hard, so here are the questions you should be asking.

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Five key questions for vegetarians to ask when choosing a protein powder

1. What's the supply chain?

For many vegetarians, when it comes to food this question is at the top of the list. Before buying a protein powder, make sure you know where it was produced and how it was sourced to guarantee you have all the necessary background information on the ingredients you’ll be putting into your body.

Follow up questions:

  • Is it produced in a facility that also produces animal products?
  • Do the company and facility behave ethically?
  • Are the ingredients themselves high quality?

2. Does the protein powder adhere to other dietary restrictions?

Many vegetarians also adhere to other kinds of special diets, whether that’s a gluten-free diet, a keto diet, or a soy-free diet, so it’s important to know which types of powder will work for you, depending on your personal needs. Casein and whey proteins would not work for a dairy-free diet, for example, since both contain dairy.

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3. Is it a complete protein powder?

A “complete protein” is one that contains all nine essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. These 9 amino acids are the ones we get through diet, since our bodies can’t produce them on their own.

Many vegetarian protein powders that use just one source of protein, like lentils or brown rice, are incomplete proteins. There are plenty of plant based powders that can provide you with complete protein, most of which combine a few different protein sources, like peas and pumpkin seeds.

Unless you’re looking for a specific type of protein (like collagen), you should look for a protein powder that’s a complete protein, so you can make sure you’re giving your body all the essential amino acids it needs.

Follow up questions:

  • If you are looking for a specific kind of incomplete protein, what are the health and fitness goals you’re looking to support with your protein supplement?

How many grams of protein are in the protein powder?

This question comes in two parts, since in order to know how many grams of protein you’ll want to consume, you have to identify how much protein you need first. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein, in other words the minimum amount of protein you should consume in order to stay healthy, is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. But even with this guideline, calculating how much protein you need can get tricky, since it not only varies by gender and body weight, but also depending on how much you exercise. The average sedentary man typically needs about 56 grams per day while the average sedentary woman needs only about 46 grams per day.

To take the guesswork out of protein, the USDA released a handy calculator to help determine how much protein you need personally. You can use this estimation, and think about how much protein you currently get through your diet, to get a sense of how much supplementation you may need.

What flavors are available for vegetarian protein powder?

In addition to plain or unflavored options, protein powder usually comes in two standard flavors: chocolate and vanilla. While some people prefer unflavored protein powders, which can be mixed more seamlessly into different drinks, flavored powders can be a great way to make protein shakes into more of a decadent treat. Before you commit to an entire tub of one flavor, make sure to try it out first, so you know ahead of time that you like it –– you don’t want to buy something that will just end up sitting in your pantry!

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There’s no question that protein is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet, and while the best way to get it is through food, it can be tough on a vegetarian diet. Lentils, nuts and tempeh are all great plant based protein sources, but may not be enough to rely on every day. Adding protein powder to your regular diet can help you control the exact amount of protein you consume, and all in the meals you already love. No matter what your health and fitness goals are, getting enough protein shouldn’t have to be a challenge.