It is a tough world out there when it comes to protein powders, especially vegan ones. Until recently, most were gritty, like swallowing legume- or grass-flavoured sand at their worst. Now there are plenty of good brands to choose from, and here are some of my tried-and-tested options.
If you decide to try others, be sure to choose a blend of veggie proteins for the most complete source. If it contains less than 17g of protein and/or over 18g of carbs per serving, don’t bother.
General Protein Guidelines
If you are active, and especially if you are in training or very athletic, aim to consume at least 0.3g but more like 0.5-0.8g of protein per pound of body weight.
For example, an active 65kg female/143lbs should target 0.5-0.6g of protein for her mass, which is 72-86g of protein per day. The consensus is that we can only process 20g or so of protein at a time. So space your consumption out during the day, with pure hemp protein best consumed at night because it behaves like casein protein found in dairy, which facilitates recovery.
When to Consume
My routine is to work out within an hour or two of waking, with a liquid protein breakfast on training days 30-60 minutes after I get up. Some people cannot exercise with anything in their stomach, while others need real food. See what works for you, but the fitness world is in agreement (a rare bird) on stoking the fire with something to burn in your body before you work out Otherwise, you could do a completely fasted training if you practice intermittent fasting.
If you prefer real food, pre-workout is the time to consume your complex carbs, such as a green smoothie, oatmeal, banana, peanut or almond butter on sprouted bread. Best to consume your protein-rich meal or shake within one hour after your workout. This is known as the nutritional window of opportunity when you need food and your body wants it. So FEED IT!
12 Plant Protein Powders Reviewed
I tried 12 different plant proteins, all consumed with just water, and give you my best effort, no ad, honest review. Overall score is a combined grading of performance (protein content and nutrition), taste and texture. *I did not receive any endorsements, this is not a product push. The selection was based on what was available to me in the span of a month between, L.A., Amsterdam and San Diego, CA.
A note on Stevia vs. Au Naturale
Stevia is everywhere, so we have to get used to it when it comes to fitness and vegan protein shakes—unless you go the flavorless “natural” route, which brings me back to the beginning of this post and the legume sand box in your mouth. Some people really don’t like stevia. I find in moderation, in the right balance, it is OK, which you’ll see in my reviews below..
Reviews from Left to Right
1. RenewLife Skinny Gut in Natural Vanilla – Score: 10/10 Protein Source: Pea, Hemp, Spinach & Kale (yes, greens have protein) In taste, texture and nutrition, this is the winner. The vanilla flavour is lovely, the texture is creamy on its own with just water, so with plant mylk would be amazing. It was one of the highest protein shakes per serving (20g) of all the ones I tried, on par with PUREGREEN, only exceeded by VEGA Sport at 25g per serving, but has a whole lot of other goodies like a fruit & veggie antioxidant blend and probiotics. It has some greens, but no grasses (which I find to taste too healthy, even for me). 0g of sugar and just 13g of Carbs, this is a powerhouse. Add 1/3 a banana and a handful of spinach and you have a mini meal.
2. VEGA Sport Protein in Vanilla & Chocolate – Score: 9/10
Protein Source: Pea, SaviSeed, Sprouted Brown Rice, Alfalfa
Great blend of protein, flexible for all-round consumption. I tried both flavours and though this is one of the most popular brands out there, with the highest protein content of all the shakes reviewed (25g for chocolate and 26g for vanilla), this is not a favorite for me because of the stevia(way too sharp). Texture is okay, and I prefer the vanilla flavour. Nutritionally, it is really great with low carbs (6g) and cals (135cals) but lacks the added probiotics and things I like about RenewLife. However, VEGA has the greatest variety of supplements and vegan training boosters, and is one of the few brands that offers samples. So try it and if you like it, then this is a good option.
3. Amazing Meal in Vanilla Chai – Score: 6.5/10
Protein Source: Quinoa, Pumpkin Seed, Brown Rice Protein, Hemp
Taste is good: the vanilla flavour is mild and just sweet enough, not overpowering. I could not taste any “chai” elements though, however that could have been the grassy notes (wheatgrass, kale, barley and alfalfa). I am not too fond of those, but they are not overly pronounced in this green blend. Texture is smooth. Nutritionally however, you need 1 and 1/2 packets (or a double scoop, which means more expensive) to get the protein you want in a shake. Single serving is only 11g protein with 9g of carbs, which is why I give it a lower score. .
4. GOOD Hemp Protein – Score: 8/10
Protein Source: Pure Hemp
This is my favorite hemp protein because the flavour profile is pretty mild. Hemp may generally take some getting used to, but is not at all grassy—somewhat green tasting, but not that sharp wheatgrass taste. It blends well. As mentioned, hemp alone is better post-workout, in the evenings and for recovery. Hemp is one of the few complete vegan protein sources, but only yields about 11-13g of protein per serving. This one is cheap and cheerful, but perhaps a con for those who want higher single-dose protein or the “multivitamin” style fix in a shake. It is no frills, no flavouring, no additives or boosters, but a good staple to keep on hand and goes great with cacao, another high vegan protein source. A cacao spoon with spinach can make up to 20g of protein for a good protein blend. Here <hyperlink to the cacao hemp smoothie> is a recipe for that!
5. Enjoy Natural Protein Blend Cacao – Score: 7/10
Protein Source: Pea Isolate and Cacao
It is hard to go wrong with cacao. Chocolate makes everything better. This one is cacao and isolated pea protein, generally one of the cheapest you can get in vegan options and that most closely resembles whey protein in performance. Texture-wise, this shake falls under the gritty category for me. Nutritionally it is a good option, with 17.3g of protein and very low carb at 2.1g per serving, however I give it a lower score based on texture. The flavour is not my favorite, either.
6-8. Sun Warrior, Warrior Blend in Vanilla, Chocolate & Natural – Score: 6.5/10
Protein Source: Pea and Hemp
This is a good blend of protein and can be used pre-, during and post-workout because of it. Protein is 17g and carbs are low per serving as well, at 4g. However, it’s a gritty one where the pea flavor is on the strong side (vaguely legume-y) and the stevia is too sharp for me. For a long time, it was the only one I could get, so I tried all the flavours. Natural is way too bean/pea/grit in taste, but you don’t have the stevia issue and you can flavour with fruit. However, when I am trying to cut or slim down, I eat less fruit so the Natural version just sat on my shelf forever (it might even still be there). Chocolate was okay, but Vanilla is the best of this brand.
9. Whole Foods: FIT PROTEIN in Vanilla Cinnamon – Score: 7/10
Protein Source: Pea, Cranberry, Hemp
This is a great blend of protein sources, making it flexible to consume. The texture was creamy but the cinnamon was too pronounced. It is not grassy or grainy like Sun Warrior. Nutritionally, it gives you 17g of protein and low-carb at 4g per serving, but the stevia was too sharp for me, which is why I gave it a lower score.
10. Whole Foods: Nutritional Shake in Vanilla Caramel – Score: 8/10
Protein Source: Pea, Hemp and Brown Rice
This was one of the tastiest! Great texture too. But it is more of a maintenance (not cutting or post-workout optimal) or meal replacement or best consumed together with a meal, as it has lower protein (15g) and higher carbs (10g) than the rest. You can easily add 1-2 handfuls of spinach or kale to get the missing protein and still have a tasty shake, but in terms of performance, it wasn’t the winner. I like that it has probiotics and a digestive enzyme blend, some healthy fats from chia and flax. For meal replacement, I would give it a 9/10 but for weight loss and performance, I would give it a 8/10.
11. PUREGREEN Protein 2.0 in Chocolate – Score: 8/10
Protein Source: Yellow Pea, Alfalfa, Rice, Cacao & Spirulina
The other highest protein content mix of the whole bunch, alongside RenewLife with 20g per serving. The blend makes it flexible for consumption and despite being super GREEN, this was the least nasty grass-tasting green protein I tried. The cacao is soft and kind of reminds me of Ovomaltine from my childhood living in Switzerland, not a bad reference. The sugar helps: it has evaporated cane juice and 5.79g of sugar, and higher calories as a result (147cals per serving whereas the others are between 90-130cals). If you are watching your sugars, take note of that.
12. TerraSana Hemp Protein – Score: 6/10
Protein Source: Pure Hemp
This is my back-up protein when I am too lazy to order more or forgot to go to the store, because it is available at the conventional grocery store (Albert Heijn) here in Amsterdam in the bio or organic section. It is pretty green tasting, with no additives or flavours (pro or con, depending on your view) but this one does not really blend or mask itself well or taste as good as GOOD Hemp to me. In terms of protein per serving (25-30g scoop) you get about 11-13g of protein, which is not great. I blend mine with cacao and spinach to boost this and create a healthy mini meal.
Bon appétit and happy training!