We’ve picked out the best plant-based protein powders for athletes, all of which are vegan, high-quality options and many are also certified organic. In this article we’ve also included our guide to using plant-based protein powder for runners and endurance athletes, including the benefits and how and when to use it.
Contrary to popular belief, protein powders are not just for body-builders and muscle building – they can be a key component of an effective post-workout recovery strategy for runners, including ultra marathon runners, as well as other endurance athletes, to help with muscle repair after running and strength training.
You also don’t have to be a vegan or even vegetarian to use plant-based protein powders for your nutrition and recovery shakes rather than whey protein versions. Many people prefer the taste and health benefits of protein shakes and smoothies made using plant-based powders rather than milk-based options – and, of course, if your lactose-intolerant then you’ll want to make sure your recovery shakes are dairy-free.
Keep reading to see our top vegan protein powder recommendations, or click here to read our guide for more advice before choosing which one is best for you.
Best Plant Based Protein Powders for Athletes – Quick Links
- Best Overall – Taste, Ingredients, Purity, Texture
- Best Organic – High-Quality Organic Plant Protein Blend
- Best For Restoring Energy Levels – Rebuild After Intense Endurance Efforts
- Best Tasting – Ideal for Mixing in Smoothies or Alone
- Best for Muscle Repair – The Highest Amount of Plant Protein Per Serving
- Best Flavorless – Plant Protein Without the Usual Chocolate or Vanilla Flavor
- A GUIDE TO CHOOSING The Right Vegan Protein Powder For You
Best Overall Plant-Based Protein Powder
1. Plant Works Nutrition (Editor’s Choice Award)
Plant Works Nutrition is, in my opinion, the best plant-based protein powder for runners and athletes who also work on their strength at the gym. This protein powder is my favorite in terms of taste and purity.
We first discovered it at the Hood to Coast Pacific City relay event in Oregon when we were given some to try at the finish line. [By the way, if you haven’t done a Hood to Coast event before, DO IT!]
Each serving of Plantworks protein has 20 grams of plant-based protein from Pea, Mushroom, Pumpkin, and Rice proteins. It contains 0g of sugar and 7g of fiber, the ingredients are non-GMO, as well as being dairy, soy and gluten-free. It is also mixed with adaptogens and super herbs to help improve your recovery times. Plant Power baby!
- Primary plant protein: Blend of pea, mushroom, pumpkin and rice
- Servings per container/bag: 15
- Serving size: 2 scoops (45g)
- Grams of protein per serving: 20
- The verdict: Great-tasting, blend of plant-proteins and a super-smooth texture
Best Organic Plant Protein
2. Organifi Complete Protein (All-in-one mix)
Organifi Complete Protein includes plant protein and also superfood meal ingredients which means it can be used as a complete fully-balanced organic meal, your daily multivitamin, and 20 grams of protein all in one easy-to-mix shake.
I’m often hungry after intense exercise, so drinking a plant-based protein powder that combines a healthy superfood meal that keeps me full for long enough until my next meal is a huge time saver.
This could be the ultimate recovery powder for those who run during their work lunch break as you won’t have to spend time buying/eating food in the traditional manner. It makes for a nice healthy breakfast option too. Because of its multi-use purpose and additional superfood ingredients, Orgainifi Complete Protein is our favorite organic plant-based protein powder.
The superfood ingredients included are pea protein, quinoa, pumpkin seed, coconut, vanilla bean, monk fruit, real whole food vitamins, and digestion soothing enzymes. It’s also dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, USDA Organic, and 100% vegan.
- Primary plant protein: Blend (details above) including superfoods
- Servings per container/bag: 30
- Serving size: 1 scoop (39g)
- Grams of protein per serving: 20
- The verdict: Quite possibly the perfect organic plant protein and superfood smoothie blend.
Although cheaper when bought at organifishop.com with our coupon code, it’s also available at Amazon
Best For Restoring Energy Levels
3. Tailwind Nutrition Rebuild
The protein in Tailwind Nutrition Rebuild Recovery shake is mostly organic rice protein supplemented with amino acids to make the protein complete. Rebuild recovery also has added carbohydrates, some healthy fats from coconut milk, and just the right amount of electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium) for endurance athletes. All ingredients are vegan, soy-free, Non-GMO and gluten-free.
Tailwind specializes in sports nutrition for ultra-endurance athletes, and has developed this plant-based blend specifically to help you recover after intense endurance efforts where you may feel sore and low on energy.
Tailwind Rebuild repairs muscles efficiently, restores energy fast, and generally makes you feel better sooner, which is down to the added carbohydrates and healthy fats as well as the rebuilding effect of the protein ingredients.
It comes in ‘single-serve’ stick packs or in 32 oz packs for $38.99 which provide 15 servings, a great way to reduce packaging waste. The ‘single-serve’ sticks are however a convenient way of taking your recovery drink to work or the gym, and at around $3 a stick, it isn’t too expensive.
- Primary plant protein: Rice
- Servings per container/bag: 15
- Serving size: 2 scoops (61g)
- Grams of protein per serving: 11
- The verdict: A great choice if you feel wiped out after intensive endurance training.
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Best Tasting Plant-Based Protein
4. PBFit + Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Powder
PBFit + Protein powder uses mostly pea protein, but has a really nice taste of chocolate peanut butter flavor because it contains a large amount of peanut flour (and also cacao powder), I love peanuts!
This protein powder comes in two varieties, whey protein, and vegan plant-based protein, but we have only tried the plant-based vegan version (make sure you buy the right one!). It packs in 20g of protein per serving which mixes well with oat milk and almond milk in particular. To make things even easier, just mix with water, that’s how we generally take it.
PBfit PLUS Vegan contains Organic Pea Protein, Organic Peanut Flour, Organic Erythritol, Organic Coconut Palm Sugar, Organic Cacao Powder, and Natural Flavor. Simple ingredients are why I love all the powders on this list!
- Primary plant protein: Pea, Peanut
- Servings per container/bag: 10
- Serving size: 3 scoops (44g)
- Grams of protein per serving: 20
- The verdict: Chocolate PBfit Plus’ subtle chocolate peanut butter flavor means the taste mixes well with smoothies, shakes, oatmeal, pancakes, etc.
Best Plant Protein for Muscle Repair
5. Vega Sport Premium Protein
With each serving of Vega Sport Premium Protein you get 30 grams of plant-based protein (the most on this list), BCAAs, 2 billion CFU of probiotics (bacillus coagulans), and tart cherry to support recovery.
Vega Sport Premium Protein includes pea protein, organic pumpkin seed protein, organic sunflower seed, and alfalfa with other sport-specific ingredients like tart cherry, turmeric extract. It’s also gluten-free, non-GMO, and certified vegan, with no artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners.
This Vega Protein powder is also NSF certified, which is great to know if you’re a competitive athlete, and we love that the company is also a certified B-Corp, which means that they are committed to meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
- Primary plant protein: Pea, Pumpkin Seed, Sunflower Seed
- Servings per container/bag: 20
- Serving size: 1 scoop (44g)
- Grams of protein per serving: 30g
- The verdict: If you’re looking for ‘bang for your buck’ when it comes to grams of vegan protein to help build muscle, NSF-certified Vega comes in top at 30g per serving
1 new from $43.99
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Best Flavorless Vegan Protein Powder
6. KOS Unflavored Protein Powder
If you’re looking for a clean protein powder that isn’t flavored with the usual chocolate or vanilla tastes, then give this KOS unflavored plant-based protein powder a try. It’s obviously not really ‘flavorless’, it has a taste to it, but it’s more natural and less sweet than other alternatives, so a good choice if you want to mix it with dairy-free milks for shakes, or in smoothies without having a chocolate or vanilla flavor as part of that mix.
This powder is naturally vegan as well being as USDA Organic and keto-friendly (according to the Paleo Foundation), soy and gluten-free. This is a complete protein blend made up of Pea, Flax Seed, Quinoa, Pumpkin Seed & Chia Seed proteins, plus additional essential vitamins and minerals.
- Primary plant protein: Pea, flax seed, quinoa, pumpkin seed and chia seed
- Servings per container/bag: 20
- Serving size: 2 scoops (34g)
- Grams of protein per serving: 20
- The verdict: Great option for an unsweetened, unflavored clean organic protein powder.
Guide to Plant-Based Protein Powders for Athletes
It can be difficult to choose a protein powder to help with post-workout recovery as well as everyday nutrition or even muscle-building when there is so much information and choice out there, especially if you want to find a good quality non-whey protein powder with no animal products.
- Why use protein shakes for recovery
- Plant vs whey protein
- How to choose vegan protein powder
- Types of plant-based protein powders
- How and when to use protein shakes
Why we use protein shakes for recovery
Protein is largely responsible for repairing and building muscle mass.
During your long run, speed session, hill-reps or strength training at the gym you’re actually creating microscopic tears to your existing muscle. Muscle mass increases as those muscles are repaired (thanks to protein), making you stronger than you were before your exercise. It’s the protein that we eat that gets broken down into amino acids that give us the nutrients needed to repair these damages, and so drinking protein shakes after a workout can help those repairs more quickly and efficiently.
The faster you’re able to recover, the more running you can do, which ultimately is the goal when training to become a better, faster, and stronger runner with minimal risk of overtraining injuries.
I use protein powders much more regularly during training blocks for races because this is when I’m training most intensely, and need to recover much faster. Plant-based protein should therefore be considered by any endurance athlete looking to improve their performance as part of a well-rounded training plan, particularly if, like us, you are a trail or ultra runner.
Why choose plant-based rather than whey protein
Whey protein is one of the main proteins found in cow’s milk and is highly processed before it makes its way to your recovery shake blend.
The main motivation most of us have for choosing dairy free protein powders is as part of a bigger picture choice to reduce or eliminate dairy from our diets, either as part of a wider lifestyle change to eating plant-based or going vegan, or because many people are lactose-intolerant.
As part of living a cleaner, plant-based lifestyle, we also seek to minimize the amount of processed food we consume, so we can understand exactly what we are eating, where it came from, how it was made and what nutritional value it promises.
You don’t have to have any of these reasons to take vegan protein powder, however. It has other benefits over whey protein while still offering good quality proteins to aid with strength and recovery from running and other workouts. Plant-based proteins tend to be lower in calories and fat than animal proteins, as well as being higher in fiber and essential nutrients, and their ingredients are more environmentally sustainable, so in our opinion, they are the healthiest type of protein powder for us, and the environment.
How to choose the best vegan protein powder for you
As with any packaged food, it is important to read the label carefully when choosing a protein powder, because even dairy-free powders marketed as being ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’ may have additives that are undesirable. Many manufacturers will be very quick to tell you what their product does NOT have, for example, that it’s ‘sugar-free’ but omit to make it obvious that while there is no sugar, they’ve added a lot of other sweeteners or artificial flavors.
The plant-based protein powders on this list are widely regarded as being great quality choices for anyone looking for vegan alternatives to whey protein, or simply some healthy, clean ways to take on post-run and workout recovery nutrients, and we’ve highlighted some of the key ingredients and features in each review above.
The amount of protein per serving is likely to be the first thing most people are going to want to check, especially if you are looking to maximize the amount of protein you are getting from your recovery shake. When it comes to plant-based protein powders it’s worth noting that serving sizes and quantity (grams) of protein per serving can vary significantly between different brands of plant protein, depending on the type of protein and the blend, although 20g per serving is pretty typical, the range tends to be between 10-30g.
I definitely suggest also reading the label and full ingredients lists for each product to ensure you know everything that’s in them to work out which one is right for you.
Other things to check for
Is it Organic? Ensure that if having organic protein powder is important to you, the one you choose is certified organic. It’s also checking for other information about the source of the ingredients, such as whether the ingredients are Non-GMO, and what type of plant the protein is made from (more on the different types of plant proteins below).
Check for accreditations – for example, the Vega Protein option on this list is NSF certified, which may be important to you if you compete as an athlete.
Consider the level of sugars and sweeteners – these aren’t necessarily bad things in moderation, however, if you have a strong preference for a sweetener-free and low sugar protein powder then it pays to read the labels carefully.
Taste and flavor – how does the protein powder get its flavor? Is it ‘flavorless’ or does it have added flavors such as chocolate or vanilla? Flavor is also a personal preference and can also be linked to the amount of sugar or sweeteners in your powder’s blend. Flavorless protein powder could be the best choice if you plan to mix it into a smoothie blend, but could be overly earthy or nutty to mix simply with water and be enjoyed.
Types of plant-based protein powders
Without going into too much detail, proteins are made up of 20 amino acids, and the human body is able to create only 11 of them. The remaining 9 amino acids, referred to as the essential amino acids, can only come from your diet.
There are quite a few complete protein plant-based foods that contain all 9 of these essential amino acids while others may only contain a few of them (this is one reason why a varied diet is so important).
Some examples of plant-based whole foods with all 9 essential amino acids are quinoa, buckwheat, soy, rice, beans, hemp seeds and chia seeds. Unless made with one of these plant proteins (which is uncommon), plant-based protein powders are typically made from a blend of different plant proteins in order to provide a complete protein source.
The most common plant proteins used for making vegan powders are:
- Pea protein
- Brown rice
- Hemp protein
- Pumpkin seed
- Sunflower seed
Although less common, Flax, Quinoa, and Chia are also included in some of the plant protein powders on our list. You can also find protein powders made from soy, however as this has often come from GMO sources and there are some health concerns around consuming too much soy in your diet this is not a recommended main source of healthy plant-based protein.
How and when to use protein powder
If you’re wondering when is best to drink protein shakes, it’s generally recommended that protein is consumed within the first hour of finishing a workout, intense run or race. We have also heard that it’s recommended that women should have protein within 30 minutes, while men have a 60-minute window for optimal muscle repair.
Either way, our simple rule is to have a vegan protein shake as soon as possible after an intensive workout, whether that ends up being 15 minutes or two hours later, there should still be some benefit as you replenish the protein and other depleted nutrients into your body.
It’s also worth noting that we don’t have protein shakes after every run, only the ones where we’ve really worked – the long runs, the intense tempo runs or the hill or speed interval training sessions. You could have a protein shake after other runs, too, however it may not be necessary if it was a shorter or easy session, and it can get expensive having that many shakes if you run frequently!
What to mix it with
Most powder manufacturers will offer suggestions and recommendations for what works best to mix with their product. Generally we use either water or a plant-based milk such as oat milk if making a plant protein shake.
Making smoothies with vegan protein powder
A smoothie is a great way to mix your protein powder with other natural ingredients such as fruit. A recovery smoothie can become an entire meal replacement in itself (especially if you use a plant protein like the Orgain option above that has plenty of added nutrients).
See the list
Now you’ve read our guide to finding the best plant-based protein powder for you, click here to jump back up to see our top recommendations.