How to get enough protein on a plant-based diet? Here are the best vegan protein powders and food combining tips nutritionists recommend

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Getting your daily dose of protein isn’t always straightforward - especially if you’re on a plant-based diet. Protein only keeps you feeling fuller, but is also key for so many processes, including muscle repair and growth, helping to make hormones and enzymes and  being key for bone health.

Animal proteins - meat, eggs and dairy – provide so-called ‘complete proteins’, nine essential amino acids that we need from our diet in one handy package. The plant world, however, offers only very few of these complete packages, so while plants contain plenty of proteins, they're generally referred to as 'incomplete'. “It means vegans have to work harder to gather the full complement of amino acids from a variety of ‘incomplete’ plant proteins,” says nutritionist Charlotte Faure Green.

Plant-based eaters not only need to consume a good variety of plants to get all the amino acids, but they need to eat A LOT of them to get their daily protein quota (recommendations range from 50g-100g per day - more on exactly how much protein you need below). For comparison, a large egg contains 6g of protein while a 100g chicken breast contains 29g and 100g of salmon offers 22g. Contrast that with plant sources such as 100g of tofu containing 8g and 100g of quinoa offering just 4.4g of protein, and you can see the difference.  Vegan protein powders can be a really helpful adjunct, as they combine your amino acids for you from across the plant spectrum and help you reach your daily protein quotient.

They can also be a good choice if you are not vegan but are allergic or intolerant to lactose or dairy as many standard protein powders contain whey or casein, which are derived from milk.

We asked the country’s top nutritionists for the best ways for vegans and those on a plant-based diet to get their protein, from advice on the best foods to combine to giving us their vegan protein powder recommendations.

How much protein do you need every day?

There's some disagreement about what the optimum protein intake should be.  The recommended daily allowance to prevent protein deficiency in a sedentary adult is 0.8g per kg of your body weight, so if you weigh 65 kilos you need 52g. But this is a very personal thing, says nutritionist Daniel O'Shaughnessy and depends on your "activity level, sex, and also depending on if pregnant.” Age and weight can determine your protein needs as well.

If you're moderately active, go for 1.3g per kilo of body weight (ie 85g if you weigh 65 kilos), says nutrition therapist and health writer Ian Marber. If you're very active, you need 1.65g (107g). Nutritionist Ify Akpuaka recommends 1.2g - 1.6g per kilo of body weight, noting that in mid-life we experience muscle loss so a good amount of protein combined with weight-bearing exercise to maintain strength and metabolism is key ( "muscles are more metabolically active than fat tissue"). 

Don’t overdo it, however: “Excessive protein consumption, especially from supplements, can put strain on the kidneys,” says Faure Green. Two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is the upper limit for men.

Where do vegan protein powders fit in? Most deliver 20 to 25g of plant protein per serving, making them a good base for getting adequate protein in during the day,  combined with food, says O'Shaughnessy.  “You can easily get a good protein intake from taking a vegan protein powder in a smoothie for breakfast (add chia seeds for extra protein), eating a lentil salad for lunch and a tofu stir fry for dinner.”

Akpuaka likes adding seeds to everything as an easy way to meet your daily protein needs, pointing out they all have different amino acid profiles, with pumpkin seeds being particularly high in protein overall.

Are there any complete plant proteins?

Quinoa, soy and hemp seeds are complete proteins, says O’Shaughnessy, as they contain all nine amino acids in adequate amounts. However, they all have one amino acid that’s referred to as a ‘limiting amino acid’, meaning that it appears at such a low level that it lets the side down - so they’re not quite as complete as animal proteins. Because of this, these ‘complete’ plant proteins are technically referred to as ‘near-complete proteins’. It just emphasises how important it is to eat a wide variety of plant sources every day.

What are the best plant proteins?

Legumes, pulses, soy, seeds, nuts, certain algae and grains are the plant sources you need to get your protein. O’Shaughnessy singles out these favourites:

  • “Beans (like black beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans), lentils, and chickpeas are excellent sources of protein and fibre, while green peas and split peas are high in protein and can be used in soups and salads or blended into spreads.”
  • “Made from soybeans, both tofu and tempeh are versatile and protein-rich.”
  • “Almonds, peanuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and buckwheat (actually a seed) are not only rich in protein but also contain healthy fats and other vital nutrients.”
  • “Quinoa is actually a seed but is prepared and eaten similarly to a grain and is complete in its amino acid profile.”
  • “The blue-green algae spirulina is considered a [near] complete protein source and is a powerhouse of nutrients. Unfortunately, it’s not the tastiest so you can’t eat all that much of it.”

What are the best plant protein meal combinations?

With so few complete plant proteins, the trick is to combine the different sources to create meals that collectively provide many or all of the necessary amino acids. There are plenty of great complementary combos, says O’Shaughnessy, who singles out lentils and almonds, chickpeas and sesame seeds (as in hummus with tahini), black beans and pumpkin seeds, peas and hemp seeds, beans and nuts, and tofu and cashews. But, he reiterates, it’s important to eat as wide a variety of these combos as possible to get enough of all the amino acids.

Personal trainer and nutrition coach Rachael Sacerdoti suggests the following ‘plant protein-perfect’ meals:

  • Rice and beans

“Pairing legumes like beans and lentils with grains such as rice and barley creates a powerful synergy of complete protein. Think comforting dishes like beans and rice, or lentil soup with bread.”

  • A peanut butter sandwich

“Mixing legumes with seeds or nuts is a winning complete protein combination that is less weird than it sounds: it means peanut butter on whole-grain bread, a lentil salad with sunflower seeds, or lentil and quinoa-stuffed red peppers.”

  • Stir-fries

“Pair tofu or tempeh with grains or seeds for a fulfilling combination: try tofu stir-fry with brown rice or a tempeh sandwich on whole-grain bread.”

Nutritionist’s choices: the best vegan protein powders

Simply add to a smoothie or yoghurt for breakfast, or drink as a shake.

Protein Works Vegan Protein, £23.99 for 16 servings, 25g protein per serving

Chosen by nutritionist Ian Marber

“This is a good blend (pumpkin, sunflower, pea, brown rice and soy) that’s low in sugar, with 25g of protein per 30g serving, and it is cheaper than many other brands who have no business charging so much! Chocolate Silk is my favourite flavour.”

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Wyldsson Earthchamp Nutritional Vegan Protein, £26.99 for 28.5 servings, 20g protein per serving

Chosen by nutritionist Daniel O’Shaughnessy

“This is good value for money, not too sweet and with a solid protein blend. There are no unfavourable ingredients but it has added nutrients such as baobab. Delivers 20g of protein per serving.”

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Form Pureblend Protein, £26 for 26 servings, 15g protein per serving

Chosen by nutritionist Charlotte Faure Green

“I recommend this to clients as it has no artificial flavours and sweeteners, just plant-based protein isolates from organic peas, brown rice and pumpkin seeds.”

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Nuzest Clean Lean Protein, £36 for 20 servings, 25g protein per serving

Chosen by fertility and IVF nutritionist Charlotte Grand and nutritionist Ify Apuaka 

“I love this protein powder because it's made only from golden peas with no fillers, preservatives or emulsifiers. It contains all nine essential amino acids and is easy to digest, " says Grand. "Just Natural is my favourite flavour because it doesn't contain sweetener, it mixes well and is flavourless, making it easy to incorporate into both sweet and savoury recipes .”

Adds IFy Apuaka: “Nuzest conducts robust testing to make sure products are safe and free from major allergens like gluten and dairy, pesticides and heavy metals. Their vegan protein powders are tasty (there are six flavours using natural flavourings and stevia sweetener) and easy to digest, and each 25g serving contains all nine essential amino acids.”

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Wild Nutrition Food-Grown Organic Protein and Superfood Powder, £42 for 14 servings, 16g protein per serving

Chosen by nutritionist Lola Ross

“This powder is really well formulated - providing 16g of protein per 25g daily serving so (depending on age) you’re already achieving more than a third of your daily protein requirements with your morning smoothie. The pea and rice proteins taste good and are well-digested - a plus if you experience sensitive digestion. The concentrated greens and immune and brain-strengthening lion’s mane and chaga mushrooms help replenish your body and mind with vital nutrients, and the use of coconut sugar and beetroot powder for sweetness (over sugar alternatives like stevia) means there’s nothing in here that people can’t tolerate.”

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Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein, £46.99 for 20 servings, 22g protein per serving

Chosen by Adam Enaz, personal trainer, nutritionist and NHS diabetes expert

“With multiple plant protein sources such as pea, sprouted brown rice, and amaranth, this blend delivers a complete array of amino acids, including essential ones like leucine, often hailed as the king of amino acids. Studies have shown that sufficient leucine is crucial for maximising how much muscle you build in response to exercise, making it a really interesting nutrient for athletes and fitness enthusiasts.”

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Sunwarrior Classic Plus Protein Powder, £32.98 for 15 servings

Chosen by nutritionist Rachael Sacerdoti

“This has a blend of high-quality plant-based sources such as peas, brown rice, and quinoa and the most luxurious texture with no unwanted grittiness. A typical serving has 16g of protein and the brand has a wide variety of flavours. It’s sweetened with stevia but free from common allergens like soy and dairy so should be easy on the stomach.”.

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