For a long time, fitness pros thought the only way to do protein powder was whey—but vegan protein powders are on the up. Here's why you should give plant protein a scoop.
Why Pick Vegan or Plant-Based Protein Powder?
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When you first think about protein powder, you might picture a super-jacked dude guzzling down shakes of raw eggs and thick whey protein with a name like "TRIPLE X MASS 3000." The truth is, protein powder isn't going to turn you into The Hulk overnight (and neither will lifting heavy, for that matter). Plus, it isn't all hyperprocessed with terrifying ingredient labels, and conventional whey isn't the only choice. (FYI: Here's the list of all the different types of protein.)
You can also get protein from plants, and it's a pretty solid option because it uses fewer resources than most animal-based proteins do. Why? It's more easily extracted, which means minimal processing, says Kim McDevitt, M.P.H., R.D., a plant-based "flexitarian" and Vega National Educator. Plant-based protein also tends to be easily digestible—no lactose issues here—and because it's, well, protein, it's going to help build lean muscle and support muscle repair and recovery after your workout.
But do you really need protein powder? "I'm a huge proponent of eating real foods, but sometimes that's just not possible," says McDevitt. "This is like the next best thing to eating whole foods—a protein powder that's so minimally processed and doesn't have a lot of those fillers and additives in it."
There's just one problem: If you're used to the milkiness of whey protein or want a protein powder that tastes like Nesquik Chocolate Milk, switching to plant proteins might be more difficult. There are plenty of options out there, but not all of them taste great. That's why we rounded up a selection of the best vegan and plant-based protein powders that will make sipping your post-workout shake a delight, not a chore.
Photo: Rachaphak / Shutterstock.com
Vega Protein & Greens
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Vega offers a gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free protein powder with double the benefits: One serving of their Protein & Greens is loaded with 20g of multi-source plant protein (pea, hemp, and brown rice), plus two servings of greens (alfalfa, spinach, broccoli, and kale). That's right—you can get your greens in without having to dump cups of bitter leaves in the blender and then try to figure out a way to cover up the taste. Plus, it comes in flavors like vanilla, chocolate, berry, and tropical that taste so good, you'll want them for breakfast, post-workout, and dessert.
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Aloha Protein is an organic, vegan, gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free protein powder that's naturally sweetened with coconut sugar, vanilla bean, and monk fruit extract. You probably wouldn't even notice, though, seeing as the chocolate and vanilla flavors are so dang good you might not realize it's protein powder. But McDevitt says this one's a good fit because it has a complete amino acid profile. "Multi-source protein powder options are best because the more types of plant protein you combine, the higher that amino acid profile is," says McDevitt. "A higher profile basically means you're going to get a more optimal level of amino acids, which will create useful proteins for your body." So look for labels that list multiple sources of plants, like Aloha's blend of pumpkin seed, pea, and hemp protein.
Arbonne Essentials Vegan Protein Shake Mix
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This is the ultimate plant-based protein for someone who wants to add an extra hit of protein in the most no-nonsense way possible. With just three ingredients—pea protein, rice protein, and cranberry protein—you won't find added flavors, sugars, fillers, or scary ingredients. One serving of Arbonne's vegan protein powder has 10 grams of protein, but for a bigger boost you can just go for a double scoop.
Photo: Arbonne Essentials
Plant Fusion Complete Plant Protein
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Plant Fusion protein has a complete amino acid profile, as well as 4.5g of branched chain amino acids (BCAA). "BCAAs are the ones that really matter for people who are working out," says McDevitt. "When we eat those, they help rebuild and repair our muscles. But you have to get a certain amount—ideally 4g or more in a serving." And since this protein powder has 21g of protein, is free of all major allergens, and contains a blend of enzymes for easy digestion, you might as well go on and grab a big scoop (we really like the Chocolate Raspberry and Cookies and Cream flavors, naturally).
AlkaMind Organic Daily Protein
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This powder (made with pea, hemp, and sacha inchi protein) not only contains a flaxseed, chia, quinoa, amaranth, and millet blend, but also 900mg of coconut oil powder per serving—making this a superfood lover's dream. It comes in both a Vanilla Coconut and Creamy Chocolate flavor, so you can throw it in a sweet and tropical smoothie, or whip up something chocolaty for dessert.
Photo: Live Live & Organic
OWYN Protein Powder
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Former professional athletes and husband-wife duo Kathryn Moos and Jeff Mroz noticed that a lot of performance protein powders were filled with additives and lacked a complete nutritional profile. That's why they decide to create OWYN (Only What You Need), a dairy-free, allergen-friendly, plant-based protein powder created from a blend of pea, organic pumpkin seed, and organic flaxseed to deliver all nine essential amino acids without any added junk. Their formula doesn't include any stevia, sugar alcohols, GMOs, or anything artificial. Even without these additives, the proteins (mixed with water or milk) still come out super creamy and naturally sweet. Their flavors—Smooth Vanilla, Dark Chocolate, Strawberry Banana, Matcha, and Cold Brew (made with Peruvian coffee—drool!)—each clock in about 20 grams of protein, 500mg of omega-3s, and a full serving of organic greens. (That's all with less than 5 grams of sugar and only 150 calories, BTW.)
TB12 Plant-based Protein
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If it's good enough to power football legend Tom Brady (and fit into the crazy-strict diet he and Gisele follow), then you know it's gotta be good. This plant-based protein powder—which offers 24 grams of protein with an impressive 0 grams of sugar—is made with a refreshingly short list of ingredients: Pea protein, salt, guar gum, reb-A (stevia), natural flavors, and monk fruit extract. (The chocolate flavor has cocoa processed with alkali as well.) If you're sensitive to the taste of the sweeteners stevia or monk fruit, you may want to skip mixing this one with water or milk, but blending it into a smoothie should taste just fine.
Amazing Grass Protein + Kale
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It's honestly confusing how supplement company Amazing Grass fit both 20 grams of protein and one full serving of leafy greens in one scoop of vegan protein powder that tastes so good. (All three flavors—vanilla, chocolate, and honey roasted peanut—are equally smooth and delicious, promise.) And that's not all: They also managed to sneak in some barley grass, wheat grass, alfalfa, quinoa, and chia as well. Stevia hater? Good news: This stuff is sweetened with organic cane sugar and monk fruit extract instead, with just 5 grams of sugar.
Photo: Amazing Grass
ZEGO Pure Protein
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If you don't mind a more natural taste in return for an ultra-clean product, ZEGO is the brand for you. The San Fran-based startup is pioneering a full-transparency model for their products when it comes to allergen, gluten, and contamination testing.
(Reality check: Dietary supplements, including protein powder, aren't fully regulated by the FDA. While most companies have good intentions, a 2018 study found that a huge percentage of protein powders are contaminated with lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, or BPA—and plant-based protein powders were some of the worst offenders.)
ZEGO's pure protein is made strictly from ground sacha inchi seeds, and is purity tested for glyphosate, over 400 agricultural chemicals, and heavy metals, like lead and arsenic. You can access the test results for any of their products on the company's website or by scanning the QR "T-CODE" on any package. The taste is slightly nutty (like sacha inchi seeds!) and the powder is easy on digestion while providing a complete amino acid profile.
Your Super Muscle Power Vegan Protein Powder
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Don't be fooled—this vegan protein powder isn't just a source of protein. This mix from Your Super contains pea and rice proteins, maca, lucuma (a Peruvian fruit), and banana powder for the ideal dose of post-workout protein, carbs, and energizing superfoods. The slightly sweet neutral taste will blend easily into smoothies or taste just fine mixed with the plant-based milk of your choice. Prefer chocolate? Mix with their decadent chocolate lover mix, which is made of cacao powder, carob, coconut, and chia.
Photo: Your Super