Buying Guide for Protein Powders
Why buy protein powder?
Adding protein powder to your diet is one of the most effective ways to increase the amount of protein you consume easily. Tossing a scoop of protein powder into food or drink is quick and efficient, and it can be added to almost anything you consume, from smoothies to oatmeal and baked goods. Many protein powders, such as whey protein, contain animal products. Still, thankfully for vegetarians and vegans who require a protein supplement, there are plenty of great vegan protein powders on the market to choose from. Vegan and non-vegan protein powders alike will aid recovery after intense workouts, promote muscle growth, and even serve as a handy meal replacement for those undertaking a weight loss journey.
What should you look for in protein powder?
- Protein Content and Source: Considering a protein powder’s total protein content per serving will help you reach your dietary goals and likely add muscle, but this won’t tell the whole story about a product’s effectiveness. A product’s protein source is equally important since not all proteins are absorbed quickly or effectively. If you’re after a vegan protein supplement, keep an eye out for proteins sourced from sprouts, hemp, and brown rice since these sources feature great bioavailability. Peas and pumpkins are also great vegan protein sources, but soy protein should largely be avoided.
- Added Ingredients: Many protein powders include ingredients such as creatine and other workout supplements to aid muscle performance and recovery. However, before utilizing such products, it’s best to read up on what they do and how they’re sourced, especially if you’re after a vegetarian or vegan product. While vegan-friendly creatine options are available that are not sourced from animal products, BCAAs should typically be avoided. For most, finding a product with fewer ingredients is preferable to one with artificial flavors and additives.
- Flavor: Let’s face it, protein powder will never be part of a gourmet meal. However, if you choose a product that passes the taste test, you will be more likely to use it regularly and thereby benefit significantly from its use versus a product that has amazing dietary potential and a rancid taste. For this reason, we only selected items for this guide that are known for having a variety of likable flavors.
Is it worth it to buy an organic, non-GMO protein powder?
While this factor may be more important to some people, purchasing organic, non-GMO products is a great way to support brands that take environmental issues just as seriously as animal welfare. Additionally, purchasing products made without the use of fertilizers and pesticides is known to have proven health benefits that are hard to pass up.
Our Picks for the Best Protein Powders
Isopure Unflavored Vegan Protein Powder
Featuring plenty of protein with minimal carbs and sugar, this plant-based protein powder is perfect for those who want something unflavored.
Pros: This unflavored protein powder packs a good amount of protein per serving, especially given how low its carbohydrate, cholesterol, fat, and sugar content is; it has only 2 grams of carbs, 1.5 grams of fat, and no cholesterol or sugar, compared to 20 grams of protein per serving. Available in both whey or plant-based forms, there’s a choice for vegetarians and vegans. It’s also free of the most common allergens. The plant-based version contains no dairy or eggs and is gluten-free and soy-free. There are four ingredients, none of which are artificial sweeteners or sugar. And since it’s unflavored, you can use it in a wider range of smoothies or foods—it’ll work equally well with a citrus-based smoothie as it will with a vanilla-flavored one.
Cons: While this protein powder is unflavored, that doesn’t mean it’s tasteless. There may still be a bit of an odd aftertaste, especially if you opt for the whey version. And though it’s free of most common allergens, it contains some soy, so anyone allergic will have to look elsewhere.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a clean protein powder without unnecessary additives and flavorings, this powder from Isopure is it. It’ll meet most dietary requirements, and since there are no artificial sweeteners or the usual high-sugar content that comes from flavorings like chocolate or vanilla, this unflavored protein powder is a no-brainer.
Orgain Organic Plant Protein Powder
This USDA organic protein powder provides 21 grams of protein per serving with only five net carbs and no artificial ingredients or added sugar.
Pros: This offering from Orgain is easy to mix and even easier to drink, thanks to its understated chocolate flavor that is neither too sweet nor bland. This vegan protein powder impresses as a budget-friendly post-workout drink thanks to its relatively high protein content and minimal carbs. It’s also one of the few affordable sugar-free options that doesn’t have to be doctored up too much to be drinkable, making it an excellent budget-savvy choice.
Cons: While this is still one of the best affordable vegan protein powders out there in terms of price per ounce, it only contains around 20 servings per container. Thus, you’ll have to repurchase more often.
Bottom Line: At this price point, vegan protein powders tend to falter both in terms of taste and nutritional content, but luckily isn’t the case for this product. Due to Orgain’s clean ingredients, it makes an excellent meal replacement as well as a post-workout beverage.
Garden of Life Raw Organic Meal
If you're seeking a drinkable vegan meal replacement that actually fills you up, this is a fantastic choice.
Pros: Featuring a fairly robust offering of vitamins and minerals and a formula that fills you up better than other vegan meal replacements, Garden of Life Raw Organic Meal has much to offer. This is especially true given its effectiveness at staving off hunger despite its low carbohydrate content. Additionally, this meal replacement tastes pretty good when mixed with water, so you won’t have to defeat the purpose of replacing a meal by adding sugary mixers like bananas and peanut butter.
Cons: This is not the easiest mixing protein powder on the market; however, this issue can be fixed (somewhat) by mixing with a shaker bottle or entirely if you employ an actual blender.
Bottom Line: For those undertaking a weight loss journey or simply too busy to eat a nutritious vegan lunch on busy workdays, this is a great product to help you make it to dinner time. While it’s not the most pleasant consistency-wise, it has you covered in terms of nutritional value and taste, which is much more important when regularly used as a meal replacement.
KOS Organic Plant Protein, Chocolate Flavor
Featuring a delicious taste and easy-to-digest formula, this protein powder is great for replacing meals or a post-workout drink.
Pros: If you’re seeking a vegan protein powder that can be used effectively as a post-workout shake or meal replacement option, this will be your most delicious option, especially for chocolate lovers. It also packs a fair amount of vitamins (including lots of Vitamin E) and is filling enough to satiate your hunger for a while if you need to skip a meal. However, it’s also easy to digest and won’t leave you feeling bloated after a full serving.
Cons: This protein powder has a higher calorie count than most, which is why it excels as a meal replacement but should be closely scrutinized if it’s a serious part of your weight loss plans.
Bottom Line: KOS Organic Plant Protein has a lot to offer regarding clean ingredients and an unbeatable taste. Let’s face it, plant-based protein options are not known for tasting good, and this fact alone has been enough to make many people give up on vegan protein powders. This product might just get you back on the bandwagon if this describes you.
Vega Sport Premium Protein Powder
Featuring a high protein and calorie count, this protein powder is made to combat an overactive metabolism.
Pros: If an overactive metabolism is holding you back from your fitness goals, this product’s high protein is just what the doctor ordered. At 30 grams of protein per single scoop serving, this Vega Store plant-based protein powder is an incredible option for bulking whether you are a vegan or not. Additionally, it’s available in a wider range of different flavors—you can choose between chocolate, vanilla, mocha, berry, and peanut butter. No matter which flavor you pick, there are 4.36 pounds of protein powder in a single jar. This amounts to about 45 servings per purchase (assuming you stick to the single scoop serving), so you won’t go through this protein powder as quickly as others.
Cons: This product is definitely on the pricey side, even accounting for the high quantity of protein powder you receive. Additionally, it has a relatively high sodium content compared to many other protein powders.
Bottom Line: If you’re buying a protein supplement for bulking, it will usually leave something to be desired in terms of overall nutrition if you read the nutrition facts carefully. However, those seeking to gain weight and muscle mass will have difficulty finding a better option than this.
With so many options, picking out a protein powder may seem complicated. However, if you take an inventory of your lifestyle, nutrition goals, fitness goals, and other needs, finding the right protein solution for your life shouldn’t be too hard. Even if you compromise in one way or another, remember that you can make up for it by maximizing your workouts and prioritizing a healthy diet.