Best vegan protein powder 2021: Keep fit with dairy-free protein powder

Best vegan protein powder 2021: Keep fit with dairy-free protein powder
© Provided by Live Science Best vegan protein powder: Woman making a protein shake

The best vegan protein powder is a great way to increase protein intake, but with so many to choose from, how do you know what’s right for you? With many of us switching to a plant-based or a dairy-free diet, there are multiple brands offering the product – but what should you take into consideration when it comes to choosing the best vegan protein powder for you?

If you’re working out a lot you may need more protein than the average person, so the first thing is to calculate how much of the best protein powder you actually need. Leila Dehghan, MD, MSc (Nutr), ANutr, a doctor turned plant-based nutritionist who works with athletes explains, “Engaging in physical activity increases our protein requirement and depending on the type of exercise we need 1.2-2g of protein per kg bodyweight per day.”

Many of us, on a plant-based diet, would assume that we’re not getting enough protein in our diets, but that may not be the case, Dr Dehghan told Live Science, “Studies have consistently shown that we are all consuming more protein than required, and that applies both to vegans and non-vegans.”

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And consuming the best protein powders can increase our intake, “Anybody who exercises needs to ensure they consume enough calories to meet their increased daily energy requirement, and this way they will inevitably increase their protein intake. Most professional athletes consider protein powders a convenient way to meet their high protein requirements.”

Vegan and non-vegan protein powders are made from different types of protein. Vegan protein powder comes from sources such as pea, rice and soy. Meanwhile, most non-vegan protein powders are made from whey, a protein found in cow’s milk that’s extracted during cheese and yogurt production.

However, there are some ingredients we should all try to avoid, says Dr Dehghan. “Protein powders can contain a range of harmful ingredients: heavy metals such as arsenic, lead or cadmium, bisphenol-A, pesticides, added sugar and artificial flavorings. It is best to contact the companies and ask them for a detailed list of the ingredients to avoid the above-mentioned contaminants since many may not list all of the ingredients on the packaging.”

Best vegan protein powder

Huel, better known for its plant-based meal replacement powders, has branched out into flavored products and nutritionally balanced snacks, including this impressive protein powder, which pulls off the rare feat of achieving excellent flavor and texture in a plant-based product alongside a complete nutrition package.

It’s not intended as a meal replacement or for your sole source of nutrition, as it has a lower calorie and carbohydrate profile than would be recommended for a complete meal, but nevertheless it is a nutritionally complete high protein snack. Using pea, faba pea and hemp seed as its protein source, it contains all 26 recommended vitamins and minerals and meets the UK and EU recommendations for macro- and micronutrients.

There are a few potential issues. There’s a minimum order of two tubs, and it doesn’t come in sample sizes, which might make you reluctant to commit to a particular flavor. It claims that the tubs are recyclable, though not every area will recycle this kind of tub, and it doesn’t have the sustainability credentials of some vegan protein powders.

This protein powder is designed by vegan nutritionists and made with a blend of five different types of protein.

This protein powder actually delivers the largest helping of protein of all, coming in at a punchy 25.1g per serving. Be aware that one of those protein sources is soy, which Dr Dehghan recommends but which is also a common allergen.

It isn’t the easiest vegan protein powder to blend – you really need a metal spiral or a blender to get a smooth consistency – and it’s definitely designed for those with a sweet tooth. Strict vegans and vegetarians should note that The Protein Works also produces products such as whey protein and fish oils.

Anyone who competes in athletic events will know how important it is not to take any banned substances, either deliberately or inadvertently. 

With this protein powder you can be confident that you’ll not breach any doping regulations. All batches are screened for banned substances on the Informed Sport program.

The flavor and texture are pretty good, although it’s a pity it only comes in chocolate and banana flavor – a wider choice, including vanilla, would be welcome, and it only comes in one size (although the pouch arguably makes it more environmentally friendly than a tub). Strict vegans may have some reservations about purchasing from a manufacturer that also produces non-vegan products, including whey products and fish oils.

Bulk is a reliable manufacturer of good value protein powder, and the vegan version is no exception. 

Made up of five different protein sources, it provides a chunky 23g of protein per serving, although with a carbohydrate content a little higher than some others at 5.5g. It comes in a dizzying array of flavors, plus an unflavored version, and includes digestive enzymes in an otherwise reassuringly small list of ingredients. Vegans and vegetarians should be aware that Bulk also produces products such as beef jerky, fish jerky and fish oils.

Where it falls down, in our opinion and that of many, is in the flavor. The stevia flavor is rather overpowering and it’s extremely sweet, but without much depth of flavor (although many reviewers enjoy the taste). As with quite a few of the other vegan protein powders, it is made by a manufacturer that makes non-vegan products, although that presumably is one of the reasons they can keep the cost down.

MyProtein is known for its reliable products that offer no-frills value for money. Its vegan protein powder fits this bill. 

Made in a wide range of flavors (admittedly, not as many as the bewildering 40+ flavors that its whey protein comes in, but still more than most of its vegan counterparts), it provides a hefty 22g of protein per serving, for just 110 calories.

As you’d expect with a value product, it’s not as natural as some of the more expensive vegan protein powders. It contains processed ingredients such as high-oleic sunflower oil, xanthan gum and sucralose, and strict vegans and vegetarians should know that MyProtein also produces products such as beef biltong, hydrolyzed beef protein and fish oils.

The flavors aren’t to everyone’s taste – we found the chocolate flavor to be very unchocolatey, although it did mix well. 

Innermost Health takes a holistic approach to its products – it claims to use science, research and “best practices from Ayurvedic and Asian medicine” in crafting its products. 

This plant-based protein powder ticks those boxes, combining an exceptionally high 31g of protein per serving with immune-supporting ingredients such as glutamine and medicinal mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, reishi and cordyceps). It does have a slightly higher calorie count than most of the other vegan protein powders with 150 calories per serving.

There’s a strong emphasis on natural and non-GMO ingredients, but the protein powder is sweetened with sucralose, an artificial sweetener, and vegans and vegetarians should be aware that some of their products, such as the collagen peptides, are not vegetarian.

We found the flavor pleasant, though we were aware of a slightly unusual underlying flavor, perhaps due to the unusual list of ingredients, and it mixed well. 

This protein powder ticks most boxes when it comes to protein powders. 

Made by a giant in the industry, Optimum Nutrition, it is Informed Choice and Vegan Society certified, so you can be sure of the ingredients, and it delivers 24g of protein per serving. The flavor and texture are pretty good, but it’s a pity it only comes in two flavors, chocolate and vanilla.

The downside for vegetarians and vegans is that Optimum Nutrition also makes whey products and sells fish oils, so it’s not a vegan company. Its plant-based eco-credentials are further marred by the fact that it only comes in a plastic tub with a plastic scoop.

Note: this is a review of the UK version of the protein powder. The US recipe is different. A review of the US version will follow.

There’s much to love about this protein powder. 

Packing a powerful protein punch from high quality, plant-based proteins, it also tastes pretty good. The texture is smooth, it’s easy to mix and the flavors are fun (though some plain ones might be nice for more traditional types, and it’s too sweet for some tastes). The addition of curcumin to combat inflammation is a nice touch.

Vegans can rest assured that it comes from a business only selling plant-based products (even the omega oils are vegan). It’s not cheap, but most flavors are available in smaller sample sizes, and you are getting a product that is kind to the environment in every way (there’s no plastic scoop and the packaging is 100% plastic-free and compostable).

It’s not surprising it’s won awards. Reviewers are enthusiastic about the protein to calorie ratio and the flavors. It’s not to everybody’s taste – there are grumbles from some about the flavor, powdery texture and excessive sweetness.

There’s a bit of a trade-off with this protein powder. 

While three out of the four flavors come in at under 100 calories, so it may appeal to anyone watching their caloric intake (and see Dr Dehghan’s comments on this, above), the flip-side is that the protein content is a little lower than in most.

Vegans will appreciate the purely plant-based ethos and product range of Misfits. Better still, the packaging is biodegradable and even the ink used is eco-friendly. Misfits works with Climate Partner to offset its emissions and aims to be plastic-free by 2022. This protein powder isn’t the cheapest, and it’s only available in one size – another trade-off.

If all you want is a reliable, pure source of GMO-free protein and you’re not interested in fancy flavors, this is the product for you. 

Made from just one ingredient – pea protein – it nevertheless delivers an impressive list of nutrients. Athletes will be pleased to learn that it is Informed Sport-approved so you don’t need to worry about accidentally consuming a banned substance.

There’s no denying it doesn’t taste wonderful – there’s a distinct taste of pea, and the texture is grainy – but at the same time it’s neutral enough to mix with other ingredients without obscuring their flavors too much. It’s disappointing that the distinctive orange tub doesn’t appear to be recyclable.

Reviews are predictably mixed, although it earns 4.4 stars of 5 on Amazon. There are complaints about the taste and texture, and some queries about quality control, with suggestions that some batches are better than others. Its fans point out the value for money and ease of digestion.

How to choose the best vegan protein powder for you

If Black Friday has spurred you into investing in an exercise bike deal or even a treadmill deal, making sure you get enough protein into your diet is important – especially if you’re keen on gaining muscle.

When choosing the best vegan protein powder for you, concentrate on the best protein source that works for your body. Dr Dehghan recommends getting your protein from natural food sources such as hemp seeds or tofu, but goes on to add, “if someone is looking for a protein powder, I’d recommend soy protein and if they’re allergic to soy, then pea protein is a good choice.”

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Don’t assume that the best vegan protein powder is the one with the highest levels of protein per calorie – Dr Dehghan warns that this approach can be counterproductive. “If we don’t increase our caloric intake to meet the increased demand during exercise, any excess protein will be utilized as fuel and not for muscle synthesis. This is why increasing calorie intake should be top priority for anybody who’s engaging in physical activity, even before deciding on protein shakes.”

You should also take the balance between protein, carbohydrates, and fat into consideration. “The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends that we set carbohydrates at 45-65%, fats at 20-35%, protein at 10-15% of total energy intake,” advises Dr Dehghan. 

One of the common complaints of vegan protein powders is how they taste and their texture – which can be grainy on the tongue. The reason, explains Dr Dehghan, is the fiber in plants. “The more processed and refined they are the less grainy, however, that would make them less healthy. If you want to eliminate the gritty/grainy texture, I recommend using a blender to mix your protein shake. Adding plant milk or plant yogurt instead of water helps too. Additionally, you can enhance the flavor by blending in peanut butter, a banana or any fruit you enjoy.”

The benefits of using vegan protein powder

How much protein you need will depend on your body weight – so it differs for all of us, especially if you’re working out regularly. The average is 0.75g of protein per kg of body weight, rising to 1-1.2g in the over-65s and 1.2-2g for the very physically active.

So, where should you start, if you want to increase your protein intake? “The easy way to increase your protein intake is to start with regular food,” says Dr Dehghan. “You can easily increase your protein intake by just adding hemp seeds, tofu or any other protein source to your smoothies or meals.”

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If you’re looking to supplement your protein intake Dehghan recommends soy and pea proteins. “Both have been around for a long time and most studies use soy or pea protein powders to compare with whey protein. Another one of my favorites is protein powders that use a combination of different protein sources, for example, pea and brown rice.”

Does it matter what time of day you consume your protein? There’s a lot of debate around the subject, but Dehghan said the main thing is getting enough in your diet, along with your required calories. “As the sports dietitian Dan Benardot says, we humans are energy-first systems, meaning that if we don’t increase our caloric intake to meet the increased demand during exercise, any excess protein will be utilized as fuel and not for muscle synthesis. This is why increasing calorie intake should be top priority for anybody who’s engaging in physical activity, even before deciding on protein shakes.”

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