With more people making the switch to a plant-based diet for ethical, environmental or health reasons, the range of vegan protein supplements has rapidly expanded in recent years.
We tested the most popular protein powders on the market, and asked our nutritionist for her tips on how to include them in your diet safely. Scroll down the page to see her advice.
Once you’ve researched whether a protein supplement is right for you, discover which protein bars are best. You might also enjoy our review of the best vegan protein bars.
Best protein powders 2020
The Protein Works vegan double chocolate Wondershake
Grams of protein per serving: 21g per 25g serving
Calories per serving: 89 kcals
Type of protein: pea protein isolate, soy protein isolate, hemp protein, brown rice protein
Type of sweetener: sucralose
Best all round vegan protein powder
Marketed as a game-changing vegan protein shake to rival whey protein powders, we had high expectations for this product from The Protein Works. Packing a pleasing 21g protein per 25g serving, it’s also impressively low in calories.
Did it live up to the hype in the taste test? By and large, yes it did. It has a very chocolatey flavour that was sweet enough to taste like a dessert without being sickly. There’s an ever so slightly floury aftertaste – a very common pitfall of vegan protein powders – but it didn’t spoil the experience. The powder mixes really well, even in a shaker, and isn’t chalky or grainy.
The final plus point is the value for money – each shake costs around £1. The tub that it comes in is rather nice too. A big thumbs up.
Plant Supplements Vegan CBD Protein Chocolate
Grams of protein per serving: 26.9g per 38g serving
Calories per serving: 114 kcals
Type of protein: pea protein
Type of sweetener: stevia, xylitol
Best on-trend vegan protein powder
Followers of the latest fitness trends may want to try this plant-based powder, offering 8mg CBD per scoop. CBD is short for cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic compound found in the cannabis plant, reported by some to have a range of health and wellness benefits.
It mixed well with water to a smooth, thick consistency with no grittiness, which can be an issue with some plant-based protein powders. The flavour is quite sweet and, although a slight bitter aftertaste was present, was still very drinkable. Each 1kg packet provides 26 servings and costs £39, working out at £1.50 per shake. It’s vegan, soya-free, sugar-free and low in fat, too.
Available from Plant Supplements (£39)
Motion Nutrition peanut butter protein shake
Grams of protein per serving: 17g per 25g serving
Calories per serving: 97 kcals
Type of protein: peanut flour, yellow pea protein, raw pumpkin seed protein, hemp seed protein
Type of sweetener: none
Best unsweetened vegan protein powder
The ingredients list on this powder is reassuringly short and recognisable. It’s a blend of four different organic protein sources – fat-reduced peanut flour, yellow pea protein, raw pumpkin seed protein and hemp seed protein – with no sugars, sweeteners, additives or flavourings. As a bonus, peanuts and pumpkin seeds are a good source of typtophan – an amino acid that helps our brain produce melatonin, a hormone that’s linked to sleep.
This powder had a lovely roasted peanut flavour, and paired beautifully with almond milk and banana, which added a touch of sweetness and creaminess. When it was mixed just with water it was thinner, and as it’s unsweetened, it has a very natural and earthy taste, but was still palatable. As a side note – the packaging doesn’t specify how much liquid to use per 25g serving, so we experimented and found 250ml liquid was the right amount to produce a nice smooth shake. We didn’t test it out, but the packaging suggests adding to pancake batter – and it would likely be a welcome addition to a bowl of porridge, too.
A 300g box contains 12 x 25g single-serve sachets and costs £23.99, coming out at £1.99 per shake. It’s also gluten-free.
Vega Essentials Protein chocolate
Grams of protein per serving: 22g protein per 36g serving
Calories per serving: 145 kcals
Type of protein: pea protein, flaxseed powder, hemp protein, quinoa powder
Type of sweetener: steviol glycosides
Best vegan protein powder for added nutritional extras
This protein powder really packs a nutritional punch, incorporating a fruit and vegetable powder including kale, broccoli, carrot, spinach, apple, blueberry and even UV treated mushrooms. As a result, the blend is high in 16 essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium. It’s also high in fibre and a source of omega 3 fats. Plus, it’s gluten-free.
With all those ingredients, you might expect a rather (ahem) unusual taste, but we found it had a tasty milk chocolate flavour that was lovely to drink. It does require a good old shake to incorporate all the powder (think of it as an extra arm workout), but once it’s mixed, it’s nice and smooth – and we had no problems at all when we used the blender.
Free Soul Vegan Protein Blend vanilla
Grams of protein per serving: 20g protein per 30g serving
Calories per serving: 118kcals
Type of protein: pea protein isolate, white hemp protein
Type of sweetener: steviol glycosides
Best vegan protein powder for women’s health
More than just a protein shake, this product is formulated specifically to support women’s nutritional needs, providing several key vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, iron, calcium and vitamin B12. Free Soul also include a few extra ingredients so you get more bang for your buck – including Peruvian maca, ginseng, guarana and L-Carnitine.
It was also the best tasting vanilla powder in the test, with a very subtle, natural flavour that’s not too sweet, and pairs well with a banana. It did taste a little bit floury but not in an unpleasant way – it was reminiscent of cake batter, which is no bad thing.
It’s pretty good value-for-money too, with 20 servings in a 600g packet, costing £24 – £1.20 per shake.
Liberto Dark Chocolate & Sour Cherry
Grams of protein per serving: 21.7g protein per 40g serving
Calories per serving: 150 kcals
Type of protein: pea protein, milled flax seed, milled chia seed
Type of sweetener: coconut palm sugar
Best gourmet vegan protein powder
If you’re after a full-flavoured protein powder with minimal processed ingredients, this is a great choice. Delivering 21.7g protein per 40g serving, it’s also high in omega 3 ALA fatty acids from chia and flax, along with maca, prebiotics and probiotics – with over 1 billion live cultures per serving. It ticks a lot of boxes, being organic, gluten-free, soya-free and high in fibre.
The real strong point of this powder is the taste – it has a very bold sour cherry flavour with a rich dark chocolate base. It also mixed easily to a nice smooth consistency, even just with water in the shaker, and has minimal grittiness or chalkiness. Like the others, it does have a slight floury aftertaste but overall, it’s thoroughly enjoyable to drink.
This product is the highest in sugar out of all of those featured, at 3.34g per serving, but it’s a great option for those who want to avoid artificial sweeteners without sacrificing on taste.
It’s also one of the most expensive that we tested, with seven servings in each 280g packet, costing £14.99 – coming out at £2.14 a pop.
Nuzest Clean Lean Protein Coffee Coconut & MCTs
Grams of protein per serving: 18.2g per 25g serving
Calories per serving: 106 kcals
Type of protein: pea protein isolate
Type of sweetener: steviol glycosides
Best vegan protein powder for a morning pick-me-up
Coffee fans – this might be the protein powder for you. It’s gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, lectin-free, non-GMO, and contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) – a type of fat-based supplement popular among athletes and body builders, and said to be more easily digested than the longer-chain fatty acids found in other foods.
The powder has quite a strong coconut flavour and a more subtle coffee kick, making it a perfect option after a morning workout. It dissolves nicely, isn’t gritty at all and had no lumps, even when mixed briskly by hand in the shaker. When mixed with water it’s on the thin side, but can easily be thickened up by mixing with almond milk instead.
Protein health advice
How to use protein supplements safely
Dietary supplements such as protein bars should be consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet, and not used as a substitute for whole food.
Nutritionist Kerry Torrens explains, ‘Protein supplements, such as powders, are highly processed and lack the micronutrients and other beneficial nutrients of whole, natural food. We should all aim to achieve our protein requirements from a well-balanced diet, but for short-term use or in certain circumstances, protein supplementation may be considered.’
It’s important to remember that powders a concentrated source of energy and can be high in sugar, carbohydrates and fats. Consider your individual health and fitness goals, your personal dietary requirements and your reason for including protein powders in your diet when deciding which product to buy and how often to drink them.
Who could benefit from using a protein supplement?
If you’re regularly getting enough protein from your diet, adding a supplement might not make a noticeable difference to your health. However, those who are either unable to regularly eat enough protein due to decreased appetite or illness, or who have increased protein needs as a result of high-intensity exercise might benefit from taking a supplement.
Kerry explains, ‘One example, which is probably not an obvious one, is the elderly. This group often has a greater need for protein, but a lower appetite. Increasing protein intake in a form that is palatable and suits their lowered appetite may be effective in protecting against muscle loss. That said, in this group other aspects, such as kidney health and osteoporosis, need to be considered and monitored – it’s worth checking with a GP that protein supplements are safe and suitable for each individual.’
Who shouldn’t take protein supplements?
Children shouldn’t take protein supplements unless directed by a dietitian. The NHS advises that consuming too much protein in the long term is linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis, and may worsen existing kidney problems. Some people find protein shakes difficult to digest – it’s best to include them gradually into your diet, and see how you get on. Although allergens should be stated on the label, anyone with allergies should be cautious about using a new supplement, as there is an obvious risk of cross-contamination in factories. Those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or being treated for existing medical conditions should consult their GP before starting new supplements.
Is it possible to take too much protein?
Yes. The Department of Health advises adults to avoid consuming more than twice the recommended daily intake of protein (55g for men and 45g for women). Always read the label of any protein supplement carefully, stick to the recommended serving size, and be mindful of other protein sources in your diet. If you’re concerned that you might be consuming too much protein, speak to your GP.
How to choose a protein powder
Choosing a suitable protein powder will depend on your personal requirements and goals. For example, if you’re looking to gain weight or build muscle, you might want to consider a ‘mass-gainer’ product that is higher in calories and carbohydrates. Look for a product to fit your dietary requirements and double-check allergen labelling on the packet.
Make sure that you buy from a reputable company, ideally based in Europe, as those that are based outside of Europe may not pass the same safety standards as those within. If you’re in any doubt about the safety of a product, speak to your pharmacist or GP.
What we looked for in protein powder
Taste and texture: is the flavour pleasant? Is the texture palatable?
Type of protein: pea, brown rice, hemp, peanut, soya, or another plant-based protein?
Nutrient profile: how much protein per serving? What about calories, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates and sugars?
Type of sweetener: does it contain sugars, artificial sweetener or neither?
Dietary requirements: vegan, gluten-free, soy-free?
Value for money: how does it compare to others on a cost-per-shake basis?
All powders were taste tested on the same day, with notes made according to the testing criteria. We included samples from a range of manufacturers with differing nutritional information, protein types and price points for this review.
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This review was last updated in December 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.