Understanding Plant-Based Protein Powders

Written by: Brilliant Staff

Fact checked by: Kelsey Butler, RDN

Understanding Plant-Based Protein Powders

Plant-based protein powders have become increasingly popular as more people adopt vegetarian, vegan, or flexitarian diets. 

Made from plants, these powders can help supplement protein intake for those avoiding animal products. However, understanding the differences between various plant proteins can get confusing with so many available options. 

This article will break down the basics of plant-based protein powders, their nutritional profiles, and how to pick the right one for your needs.

What Are Plant-Based Protein Powders?

Plant-based protein powders are supplements made by extracting protein from various plant sources. Some common types include the following:

  • Soy protein isolate, which is extracted from soybeans.
  • Pea protein isolate, which is extracted from yellow split peas.
  • Rice protein, which is extracted from rice.
  • Hemp protein, which is extracted from hemp seeds.
  • Pumpkin seed protein, which is extracted from pumpkin seeds.

The plants undergo processing to isolate the protein into a fine powder form that can be easily mixed into liquids or foods. This processing often involves grinding, filtering, and drying the plants to end up with a concentrated protein powder.

Unlike animal-derived proteins like whey or casein, plant proteins are "incomplete," meaning they lack certain essential amino acids. However, combining different plant proteins can create a complete protein profile. Often, you’ll find plant-based protein blends, which combine different types of plant-based powders to create complete proteins.

Benefits of Plant-Based Protein Powders

Some benefits of using plant-based protein powders include the following:

  • Suitable for vegetarian/vegan diets: They provide high-quality protein from plants for those avoiding animal products.
  • Lactose-free: They are a good option for those with dairy sensitivities.
  • Cholesterol-free: Plant proteins do not contain dietary cholesterol.
  • Environmentally sustainable: The powders require fewer resources than animal agriculture.
  • Digestibility: Some find plant proteins more manageable to digest than animal proteins.
  • Versatility: They can be added to smoothies, baked goods, oatmeal, etc.

Potential Drawbacks

Some drawbacks to consider include the following:

  • Lower protein content: Plant-based protein powders are typically less protein-dense per scoop than whey or casein. You may need to use more powder to meet your protein needs.
  • Amino acid balance: Most individual plant proteins lack certain amino acids, so plant-based protein blends are ideal.
  • Absorption: Plant proteins are less digestible than animal proteins like egg or milk proteins.
  • Flavor: Some plant proteins have intense flavors that some find unappealing. Masking flavors may be needed.

Incorporating Plant Proteins Into Your Diet

Here are some tips for how you can add plant protein powders to your regular diet and nutrition routine.

  • Smoothies: Blend with fruit, veggies, and nut milk to effortlessly boost a typical smoothie’s protein content.
  • Overnight oats: Mix into overnight oats with nuts, seeds, and fruit.
  • Baked goods: Add to muffins, protein bars, and protein balls for extra nutrition.
  • Pancakes/waffles: Whisk into batter to increase protein.
  • Protein puddings: Mix with chia seeds, peanut butter, cocoa powder, etc.
  • Protein shakes: These are an excellent post-workout option that is blended with nut milk and fruit.

You should aim for about 10 to 15 grams of protein per meal to meet daily recommendations. However, if you exercise frequently or have more muscle mass, it may be appropriate to aim for 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal.

If you find that you're not meeting personal requirements, supplementing with plant-based protein powders is an effective solution to meet your goals. 

Comparing Different Plant Protein Powder Options

With so many plant proteins now available, here is how some of the significant types compare nutritionally:

Protein Source

Protein per Scoop



Leucine Content

Soy protein





Pea protein





Rice protein





Hemp protein





Pumpkin seed protein





Soy and pea protein concentrates/isolates have the highest protein content by volume. Hemp protein is lower in protein.

Carb content is lowest in soy, pea, and rice proteins and higher in hemp protein. Fat is highest in hemp protein but negligible in pea and rice proteins.

Leucine is an amino acid key for muscle protein synthesis. The highest amounts are present in soy protein powders.

When selecting a plant-based protein powder, consider your nutritional needs and diet preferences. 

Combining a soy or pea protein with a hemp or rice protein can provide a complete amino acid profile. Speak to a registered dietitian or healthcare professional if you need help finding the right plant protein supplements for your goals.

The Bottom Line

Plant-based protein powders can be a nutritious option for those looking to increase protein intake from vegetarian sources. With a wide range of options now available, you can mix and match different plant proteins to meet your nutritional needs and preferences. Look for proteins that are third-party tested for purity and quality. 

As always, speak to your healthcare provider before introducing any new supplements into your routine. Moderation and variety are key when incorporating these supplements into a balanced diet.


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