It is a tough world out there when it comes to protein powders, especially vegan ones. They can be gritty, like swallowing legume or grass flavoured sand at their worst, and until recently, the cast was a dire group of this sort. Now there are plenty of good brands to choose from. If you go outside these reviewed options, be sure to choose a blend of veggie protein for the most complete source, if it is less than 17g of protein and/or over 18g of carbs per serving, don’t bother.
Spoiler: RenewLife Skinny Gut in Vanilla Wins! Several worthy contenders though, so read on.
General Protein Guidelines
If you are active, and especially if you are in training or very athletic, aim to consume at least 0.3g but more like 0.5-0.8g of protein per pound of body weight. For example, an active 65kg female/143lbs should target 0.5-0.6g of protein for her mass, which is 72-86g of protein per day. There is a consensus that we can only process 20g of protein at a time, which I tend to agree with, so space your consumption out during the day, with pure hemp protein best consumed at night for recovery (it behaves like casein protein in the body, as in cottage cheese).
When to Consume
My routine is to work out within an hour or two of waking, with a liquid protein breakfast on training days 30-60mins after I get up. Some people cannot exercise with anything in their stomach, others need real food. See what works for you, but the fitness world agreement (a rare bird) is to stoke the fire before you workout with something to burn in your body.
If you prefer real food, pre-workout is the time to consume your complex carbs, green smoothie, oatmeal, banana, peanut or almond butter on sprouted bread. Best to consume your protein rich meal or shake directly after (within one hour) of your workout. This is known as the nutritional window of opportunity when you need it and your body wants it, so FEED IT!
The Protein Powders
In Part 1, I told you I tried 12 different plant proteins and would give you my best effort and honest review, here goes. Overall score is a combined grading of performance (protein content and nutrition), taste and texture. *I did not receive any endorsements, this is not a product push, the selection was based on what was available to me in 3 cities over a month between, L.A., Amsterdam and San Diego, CA. All consumed with just water.
Stevia vs. Au Naturale
Stevia is everywhere, so we have to get used to it when it comes to fitness and vegan protein shakes unless you go the flavorless “Natural” route, which brings me back to the beginning of this post, with the legume sand box in your mouth. Some people really don’t like stevia. I find in moderation, in the right balance, it is OK and I provide some comments to that element below.
Reviews from Left to Right
1. RenewLife Skinny Gut in Natural Vanilla – Score: 10/10
Protein Source: Pea, Hemp, Spinach & Kale (yes, greens have protein)
Review: Taste, texture and nutrition winner. The vanilla flavour is lovely, the texture is creamy on its own with just water, so with plant milk would be amazing. It was one of the highest protein shakes per serving (20g) of all the ones I tried, on par with PUREGREEN, only exceeded by VEGA Sport at 25g per serving but has a whole lot of other goodies too like a fruit & veggie antioxidant blend and probiotics. It has some greens, but no grasses (which I find to taste too healthy, even for me). 0g of sugar and just 13g of Carbs, this is a powerhouse. Add 1/3 a banana and a handful of spinach and you have a mini meal.
2. VEGA Sport Protein in Vanilla & Chocolate – Score: 9/10
Protein Source: Pea, SaviSeed, Sprouted Brown Rice, Alfalfa
Review: Great blend of protein, flexible for all-round consumption. I tried both flavours and though this is one of the most popular brands out there, with the highest protein content of all the shakes reviewed (25g for chocolate and 26g for vanilla), this is not a favorite for me because of the stevia, way too sharp. Texture is ok and I prefer the vanilla. Nutritionally, it is really great with low carbs (6g) and cals (135cals) but does not have the added probiotics and things I like about RenewLife. VEGA has the greatest variety of supplements and vegan training boosters however, and as a bonus this is one of the few brands that offers samples, so try it and if you like it then this is a good option.
3. Amazing Meal in Vanilla Chai – Score: 6.5/10
Protein Source: Quinoa, Pumpkin Seed, Brown Rice Protein, Hemp
Review: Taste is good, the vanilla flavour is mild and just sweet enough, not overpowering. I could not taste any “chai” elements though, however that could have been the grassy notes, which I am not too fond of but are not overly pronounced in this green blend. Texture is smooth. But nutritionally, you need 1 and 1/2 packets (or double scoop, which means more expensive) to get the protein you need in a shake. Single serving is only 11g protein with 9g of carbs, which is why I give it a lower score, also on the grasses (wheatgrass, kale, barley and alfalfa).
4. GOOD Hemp Protein – Score: 8/10
Protein Source: Pure Hemp
Review: This is my favorite hemp protein because the flavour profile is pretty mild (for hemp, which may take some getting used to, but is not at all grassy, maybe green but not that sharp wheatgrass taste) and it blends well. As mentioned, hemp alone is better post workout, in the evenings and for recovery. Hemp is one of the few complete vegan protein sources but only about 11-13g of protein per serving. This one is cheap and cheerful, but perhaps a con for those who want higher single dose protein or the “multivitamin” fix in a shake. It is no frills, no flavouring, no additives or boosters, but a good staple to keep on hand and goes great with cacao, another high vegan protein source, this with spinach can make up to 20g of protein and creates a good protein blend. More on that another time…
5. Enjoy Natural Protein Blend Cacao – Score: 7/10
Protein Source: Pea Isolate and Cacao
Review: It is hard to go wrong with cacao. Chocolate makes basically everything better. This one is cacao and isolated pea protein base, one of the cheapest you can get in vegan options generally and most closely resembles whey protein in performance. This shake falls under the gritty category for me. Nutritionally it is a good option, with 17.3g of protein and very low carb at 2.1g per serving, however I give it a lower score based on texture, flavour is not my favorite.
6-8. Sun Warrior, Warrior Blend in Vanilla, Chocolate & Natural – Score: 6.5/10
Protein Source: Pea and Hemp
Review: This a good blend of protein and can be used pre, during and post-workout because of it. Protein is 17g and carbs are low per serving as well, at 4g however it’s a gritty one, where the pea flavor is on the strong side (vaguely legume-y) and the stevia is a bit too sharp for me. For a long time, it was the only one I could get and I tried all the flavours. Natural is way too bean/pea/grit but you don’t have the stevia issue and you can flavour with fruit, but when I am trying to cut or slim down, I eat less fruit so the Natural version just sat on my shelf, forever. Maybe still there….Chocolate was OK, but Vanilla is the best of this brand.
9. Whole Foods: FIT PROTEIN in Vanilla Cinnamon – Score: 7/10
Protein Source: Pea, Cranberry, Hemp
Review: This is a great blend of protein sources, making it also flexible to consume. The texture was good, creamy but the cinnamon was bit too pronounced. Nutritionally, 17g of protein and low-carb at 4g per serving, but the stevia was way to sharp for me which is why I gave it a lower score but it was not grassy or grainy like Sun Warrior.
10. Whole Foods: Nutritional Shake in Vanilla Caramel – Score: 8/10
Protein Source: Pea, Hemp and Brown Rice
Review: This was one of the tastiest! Great texture too. But, it is more of a maintenance (not cutting or post workout optimal) or meal replacement as it has lower protein (15g) and higher carbs (10g) than the rest, but not offensively so, you can easily add 1-2 handfuls of spinach to get the missing protein and still have a tasty shake, but as we are reviewing performance protein…I also liked that it has probiotics and digestive enzyme blend and some healthy fats from chia and flax. For meal replacement, I would give it a 9/10 but for weight loss and performance, I would give it the 8/10 as noted above.
11. PUREGREEN Protein 2.0 in Chocolate – Score: 8/10
Protein Source: Yellow Pea, Alfalfa, Rice, Cacao & Spirulina
Review: The other highest protein content mix of the whole bunch, alongside RenewLife with 20g per serving. The blend makes it flexible for consumption and despite being super GREEN, this was the least nasty grass tasting green protein I tried. The cacao is soft and kind of reminded me of Ovomaltine from my childhood a little, not a bad reference. The sugar helps, it has evaporated cane juice and 5.79g of sugar and higher calories as a result (147cals per serving whereas the others are between 90-130cals), so if you are watching your sugars, take note of that.
12. TerraSana Hemp Protein – Score: 6/10
Protein Source: Pure Hemp
Review: This is my back-up protein when I am too lazy to order more or forgot to go to the store because it is available here in Amsterdam at the conventional grocery store (Albert Heijn) in the “bio” or organic section. It is pretty green tasting, no additives or flavours (pro or con, depending on your view) but this one does not really blend or mask itself well or taste as good as the GOOD Hemp brand above to me. In terms of protein per serving (25-30g scoop) you get about 11-13g of protein, not great but I blend with cacao and spinach to boost this and create a healthy mini meal.
Bon Appétit and Happy Training!