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

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

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It can be hard to know which is the best vegan protein powder for you, especially when more and more people are turning to a plant-based diet. Fortunately, we’re starting to see a rise in dairy-free protein powders, but how can you tell which product is best for you? 

What the experts say

Leila Dehghan told Live Science, “Most adults require 0.75g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. People over 65 need slightly more, about 1-1.2g protein per kg bodyweight in order to maintain body mass.” 

The first thing to figure out is how much of the best protein powder you actually need. According to Leila Dehghan, MD, MSc (Nutr), ANutr, a doctor turned plant-based nutritionist who works with athletes, “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.”

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Although this sounds like a lot, you shouldn’t assume that getting enough protein will be a struggle on a plant-based diet. As 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. 

“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.”

The main difference between vegan and non-vegan protein powders is the source of protein. Non-vegan protein powders tend to be made from whey, a protein found in cow’s milk, extracted during cheese and yogurt production. Vegan protein powder relies on plant sources for protein such as soy, pea and rice.

There are some ingredients that you should avoid, says Dr Dehghan. “Protein powders can contain a range of harmful ingredients: heavy metals like 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

(Image credit: Huel)

Huel Protein Powder

Best vegan protein powder for complete nutrition


Protein per serving: 20g

Carbs per serving: 3.1g

Calories per serving: 105kcal

Protein source: Pea, faba pea and hemp seed

Sweetener: Sucralose

Available flavors: Vanilla fudge, banana milkshake, chocolate fudge brownie, strawberries and cream, salted caramel, unflavored

Reasons to buy

+Highly nutritious +Good taste 

Reasons to avoid

-Minimum order of two tubs -Tubs not always recyclable 

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.

What users say

Reviewers are impressed with the taste – “by far the best tasting protein drink I’ve tried,” says one reviewer. The main objection in the reviews is the price, especially when compared to non-plant-based protein powders. At the same time they mostly acknowledge that the nutritional profile and ingredients are of a quality that justifies the price.

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.

(Image credit: The Protein Works)

The Protein Works Vegan Protein

Best vegan protein for protein vs. calorie content


Protein per serving: 25.1g

Carbs per serving: 0.6g

Calories per serving: 110kcal

Protein source: Soy protein isolate, pea protein isolate, pumpkin seed, sunflower, brown rice

Sweetener: Sucralose

Available flavors: Choc mint brownie, choc peanut cookie, chocolate silk, cookies’n’cream, millionaire’s shortbread, salted caramel, strawberries’n’cream, vanilla crème, unflavored

Reasons to buy

+High protein content +Low carb 

Reasons to avoid

-Not suitable for anyone with a soy allergy -Too sweet for some 

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

What users say

It scores 4.2 stars of 5 on Amazon overall. However, one reviewer rates the flavor as “insanely terrible”. At the other end of the scale, a fan says, “I’ve tried a few plant based protein shakes and they’ve all tasted like old carpet. I was expecting similar with this one though I was hoping it might at least be new carpet flavor but OMG it tastes great. “

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.

(Image credit: Maximuscle)

Maximuscle Plant Max Vegan Protein Powder

Best vegan protein powder for competitive athletes


Protein per serving: 20g

Carbs per serving: 0.8g

Calories per serving: 108kcal

Protein source: Pea protein isolate, brown rice

Sweetener: Sucralose

Available flavors: Chocolate, banana fudge

Reasons to buy

+Screened for banned substances +Palatable flavor and texture 

Reasons to avoid

-Only two flavors available -Made by non-vegan manufacturer 

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

What users say

In reviews on Amazon it scores 4.1 of 5. Some reviewers note that it’s expensive compared with other vegan protein powders. As another points out, however, “There are cheaper vegan protein supplements out there, but the ones I’ve checked out tend to compromise on the quality, they often ‘pad out’ their mixes… In many respects, you get what you pay for.”

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.

(Image credit: Amazon)

Bulk Vegan Protein Powder

Best vegan protein powder on a budget


Protein per serving: 23g

Carbs per serving: 5.5g

Calories per serving: 131kcal

Protein source: Pea Protein Isolate, Brown Rice Protein, Pumpkin Seed Protein, Flaxseed Powder, Quinoa Flour

Sweetener: Stevia

Available flavors: Apple strudel, banana caramel, caramel latte, chocolate mint, chocolate peanut, peanut butter, strawberry, vanilla, white chocolate coconut, unflavored

Reasons to buy

+Good value +Large choice of flavors 

Reasons to avoid

-Taste and texture not the best 

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

What users say

Overall, reviewers are pretty enthusiastic, awarding it 4.1 stars of 5 overall. Fans praise it for not including artificial ingredients, especially sweeteners, and many find it delicious. Critics of the flavor are inventive in their descriptions. “It tastes like green peas in coffee”, and “more chemical latte than caramel latte”, say two reviewers about the caramel latte flavor. 

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.

(Image credit: Amazon)

MyProtein Vegan Protein Blend

Best no-frills vegan protein powder


Protein per serving: 22g

Carbs per serving: 4.1g

Calories per serving: 10kcal

Protein source: Pea Protein Isolate, fava bean isolate

Sweetener: Sucralose

Available flavors: Banana, cacao orange, carrot cake, chocolate peanut caramel, chocolate salted caramel, coffee and walnut, ruby chocolate, strawberry, turmeric latte, vanilla, white chocolate raspberry, unflavored

Reasons to buy

+Good value for money +Large range of flavors 

Reasons to avoid

-Flavors not universally popular -Some artificial ingredients 

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

What users say

It scores 4.2 of 5 on Amazon (although a less enthusiastic 3.25 on the MyProtein site) has many fans. “Really, REALLY tasty”, raves one reviewer. Not everyone is convinced. “The ingredients are all good, high protein, low carbs, sugar and fat. Now for the taste. First of all it tastes nothing like any chocolate I have ever tasted before. I can’t work out if the flavor you get is perfume, soap or crushed up vitamins.”

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. 

(Image credit: Innermost)

Innermost The Health Protein

Best vegan protein powder for immune support


Protein per serving: 31g

Carbs per serving: 2.5g

Calories per serving: 150kcal

Protein source: pea and brown rice

Sweetener: Sucralose

Available flavors: Smooth chocolate, creamy vanilla

Reasons to buy

+High protein content+Immune-supporting ingredients 

Reasons to avoid

-Expensive -Only two flavors 

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. 

What users say

It scores an impressive 5 stars on the Innermost website, with most reviewers giving glowing feedback on the taste, praising its “delicious, creamy taste”. One reviewer was disappointed with the vanilla flavor, saying they struggled to taste the vanilla and could taste the peas and brown rice, but most are positive about the flavors.

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. 

(Image credit: Amazon)

Optimum Nutrition GoldStandard 100% Plant Based Protein Powder

Best all-rounder vegan protein powder


Protein per serving: 24g

Carbs per serving: 4.2g (chocolate) / 5.2g (vanilla)

Calories per serving: 143 (chocolate) / 144 (vanilla) kcal

Protein source: pea and rice

Sweetener: Sucralose

Available flavors: Chocolate, vanilla

Reasons to buy

+Good flavor +Informed Choice certified 

Reasons to avoid

-Only available in two flavors  -Only available in hard plastic tub with scoop 

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

What users say

Some reviewers criticize it as being overly sweet and sickly, but most praise it for being one of the best-tasting vegan protein powders out there. “Not overly sweet which you find with other protein shakes, mixes really well so it’s not grainy and doesn’t clump together on the bottom/side.”

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.

(Image credit: Amazon)

Form Performance Protein

Best vegan protein powder for sustainability


Protein per serving: 30g

Carbs per serving: 2g

Calories per serving: 150kcal

Protein source: Organic pea, brown rice, pumpkin seed

Sweetener: Stevia, thaumatin

Available flavors: Chocolate peanut, tiramisu, vanilla, banoffee, chocolate hazelnut

Reasons to buy

+High in protein +Sustainable ingredients and packaging 

Reasons to avoid

-Expensive -Few plain flavors 

There’s much to love about this protein powder. 

What users say

Most of the reviews can be summed up in the words of this reviewer: “The taste is great, it is a quality product with added extras like probiotics, it has responsible eco packaging and whilst it is pricier than others on the market, all of the before mentioned make this worth it.”

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.

(Image credit: Amazon)

Misfits Vegan Protein Powder

Best low calorie vegan protein powder


Protein per serving: 17g (chocolate) / 16.6g (salted caramel and vanilla) / 20.1g (cookies & cream)

Carbs per serving: 1g (chocolate) / 1.5g (salted caramel, cookies & cream) / 1.6g (vanilla)

Calories per serving: 93kcal (salted caramel, vanilla) / 95kcal (chocolate) / 113 (cookies & cream)

Protein source: Pea, organic sunflower

Sweetener: Stevia

Available flavors: Chocolate, salted caramel, vanilla, cookies & cream

Reasons to buy

+Lower calorie than most +Plant-based manufacturer 

Reasons to avoid

-Too sweet for some -Lower protein content than most 

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

What users say

It has a slightly underwhelming 3.9 stars of 5 on Amazon. Although plenty of happy customers love the flavors, some find it too sweet (which was our experience). “I REALLY wanted to like something about these but unfortunately the taste was really artificial and the texture like eating wet sand”, laments one. 

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.

(Image credit: Amazon)

Now Sports Pea Protein Powder

Best unflavored vegan protein powder


Protein per serving: 24g

Carbs per serving: 1g

Calories per serving: 120kcal

Protein source: pea

Sweetener: None

Available flavors: N/A

Reasons to buy

+Pure, single ingredient +Informed Sport approved 

Reasons to avoid

-Tub not recyclable -Noticeable pea flavor 

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. 

What users say

One reviewer sums it up: “NOW makes no pretenses or attempts to mask or enhance the pea taste or gritty texture. This is a large quantity of a base nutrient at a very attractive price. Does it deliver on the nutrition of pea protein? Yes. Are you getting it for a fraction of the cost of other designer pea proteins? Yup.”

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

No matter whether you’ve just picked up a good exercise bike deal or a shiny new treadmill deal, being able to adequately fuel your workouts is vitally important. 

When choosing the best vegan protein powder for you, start by looking at what the protein source is. Although Dr Dehghan recommends consuming protein from natural food sources such as hemp seeds or tofu, “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. 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 are those protein powders that use a combination of different protein sources, for example pea and brown rice.”

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.”

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What about the balance between protein, carbohydrates and fat? “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 biggest issues with vegan protein powders is taste and texture – they can be very grainy. 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 a plant milk or a 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

When figuring out how much protein you need in your diet, the starting point is your body weight. Remember that your protein requirements will vary according to your age and levels of physical activity. Most adults need 0.75g of protein per kg of body weight, rising to 1-1.2g in the over-65s and 1.2-2g in the very physically active.

If you need to increase your protein intake, 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 with a protein powder, look at the protein source. “I’d recommend soy protein and if they’re allergic to soy, then pea protein is a good choice,” says Dehghan. “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 are those protein powders that use a combination of different protein sources, for example pea and brown rice.”

There’s a lot of debate over the best time of day to use a protein powder, but Dehghan says that the most important thing is to ensure you’re getting enough calories overall. “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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