When it comes to protein powders, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. With so many choices and flavours to choose from – each with its own list of rather unfamiliar ingredients – it’s hard to know which is the right one for you (and actually tastes OK, too).
The first thing you need to decide is whether you want an animal or plant-based protein powder. Of course, this comes down mainly to dietary preference.
If you opt for an animal-based protein powder, you’ll likely be recommended whey protein (which comes from cow’s milk). But if you want a plant-based protein, you’ll need to look for “vegan” on the label – or powders made from pea protein.
The debate around which is best (and whether vegan protein shakes are as effective as regular ones) is a topic for another day – but the best vegan protein powders seem to be the ones composed of a variety of protein sources, from pea and rice to hemp and algae.
Next, you need to choose a flavour – and you’ll be surprised by how many different options there are out there, from chocolate and vanilla to toffee and coffee.
Personally, we tend to prefer to disguise the often chalky texture of protein with as many ingredients as possible – and whizz up a protein shake with milk or yogurt, oats, frozen berries, bananas and even a little bit of peanut butter in a blender. Or, if we’re feeling fancy, we’ll bake with unflavoured protein to make protein-packed flapjack or banana bread.
For this taste test, we tried some of the leading vegan protein powders with just water, as per packet instructions. They were all tested primarily for flavour, with nutritional information taken into account. For the best results, we’d still recommend blending protein into a fruit smoothie, but if you’re in a rush straight out the gym and you’ve only got a water bottle to hand, they’re ideal for that post workout boost.
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If you’re looking for a completely personalised take on nutrition then it doesn’t get better than Nutri-Genetix (NGX) – the world’s first genetically personalised nutrition shake, tailored to your own DNA.
After a super quick and easy swab test (inside the cheek), we sent off our DNA and then received a personalised blend of NGX “bodyfuel” based on our own genetic make-up. You’re also given a very detailed report of your results – explaining how you metabolise and process different nutrients. Turns out we have reduced levels of vitamin B12, who knew?
Each serving contains up to 27g of plant protein and 30 essential nutrients, including iron, omega-3, vitamin B complex and vitamin D. The best part? It’s unflavoured, so it’s much more versatile – and you can get specific flavour add-ons (we tried the antioxidant packed super berry), so it actually tastes delicious too.
Innermost health protein
Award-winning wellness brand Innermost is all about creating targeted and specific solutions for different health and fitness goals. It’s developed protein especially for building muscle, weight loss, performance and for wellbeing.
We tried the health protein which claims to “boost your health, immune system, and support muscle repair”. Using a combination of pea and brown rice protein, it’s filled with all of the good stuff (and none of the bad). Each serving includes an impressive 31g of protein and contains all the essential amino acids your body needs for repair, recovery and muscle development. But we do recommend mixing this into porridge or smoothies, as the aftertaste can be quite bitter when just mixed with water.
Launched in January 2021, Indi supplements were designed to address the nutrition gaps in typical Western diets. Similar to Innermost, it’s created four plant-based blends aimed at targeting different woes – body, mind, tone and build.
We tested the build supplement which is aimed at repairing and growing muscle. Containing 23g of plant protein per serving, with added ingredients such as montmorency cherry, cocoa extract and coconut water to reduce muscle soreness, speed up recovery and rehydrate by replenishing lost electrolytes, this is perfect for after exercise.
We particularly loved the recyclable cylinder packaging with colourful stripes outlining the exact proportions of the ingredients – so you can see there’s no added sugar, artificial flavours, preservatives or bulking agents. Despite mixing two heaped scoops with 250ml of water (as per the instructions) we did find this a tad on the watery side. So again, we’d recommend mixing in a smoothie.
NUA vegan protein
NUA – which stands for “nothing unnecessary added” – is a brand new protein company that makes great-tasting products that blend well while only using seven simple ingredients.
Using a mix of pea protein and hemp, each serving contains 35g of protein, and includes natural flavouring and sweeteners such as xylitol, sunflower lecithin, xanthan gum and stevia.
Out of all the chocolate vegan protein powders we tested, this was probably the nicest and had the most “chocolately” flavour. The best way to describe it is like hot chocolate, but cold.
Bulk vegan protein powder
Bulk – formerly known as Bulk Powders – is already a household name among gym goers, in fact, it’s arguably one of the most popular nutrition brands in the UK thanks to having athlete ambassadors such as Anthony Joshua on its roster. The bulk whey isolate 90 is often applauded for providing maximum gains. But does its vegan offering measure up?
Loaded with 23g of protein per serving, bulk’s plant-based protein blend includes pea protein, brown rice protein, pumpkin protein, flaxseed powder and quinoa flour. It’s also soya and gluten free. But what lets it down is its somewhat gritty texture.
Unfortunately, the sweet vanilla flavour tested here didn’t really do much for our taste buds either. But we did find it one of the easiest on the stomach, possibly thanks to the additional “digezyme” – a popular blend of five digestive enzymes which help you break down the protein.
Form performance nutrition
Form’s performance protein is a little on the sweeter side (which is a plus for us). Combining wholesome ingredients including organic pea protein, brown rice and hemp protein, it’s designed to support the growth and maintenance of muscle mass. And with 30g of protein per serving – plus a complete amino acid profile and additional probiotics to help boost the immune system – it marks highly on nutrition.
We tested out the tiramisu flavour (it also comes in vanilla and chocolate peanut) and blended with just water, we found it surprisingly smooth. The flavour isn’t far off an iced coffee or frappe – so if you like coffee, you’ll find this enjoyable enough. But mix it in with almond milk – plus a banana and a large teaspoon of nut butter – and then you have a tasty treat that ticks all the boxes.
Neat Nutrition vegan protein
Neat nutrition looks nothing like the oversized barrels of powder that have gained popularity in the past – and we loved the minimalist brown-paper packaging. But we know not to judge a book by its cover.
Made from a blend of pea protein and hemp protein to deliver 26g of protein per serving, this powder didn’t have much flavouring – so we’d describe it as smooth and not overpowering, and ideal to whizz up into a smoothie.
Neat has lots of recipe ideas and suggestions on its website so try adding this vegan powder with cauliflower, frozen blueberries, frozen strawberries, banana, spinach and milk to create a five-a-day creamy blueberry milkshake (with a dollop of protein).
Tribe cocoa shake
In terms of nutrition, Tribe’s shakes optimise both pea and rice protein, aiming to support recovery. With 20g of protein per portion, it’s the lowest offering on this list, so perhaps not the best option for serious muscle-building. But it does provide a complete amino acid profile while being dairy and refined-sugar free – so no nasties here.
There are three flavours in the range – we tried the cocoa and sea salt and the flavour is very subtle. So subtle, in fact, it barely tastes of anything. The upside? The weak flavour makes it ideal for cooking: protein pancakes, homemade protein balls and fruit shakes will all be cleaner using Tribe vegan protein powder.
The verdict: Vegan protein shakes
If price wasn’t an issue, the NGX bodyfuel with its personalised nutrition is definitely the most impressive vegan protein powder currently out there. We loved the fact that it’s optimised especially for you and targets everything your body personally needs. The downside is that unless you want to set up a regular delivery, it will cost you a pretty £134.98 for a one-off DNA test and bodyfuel. So, if you’re not ready to commit to a monthly delivery just yet, then we’d recommend opting for Nua – with a creamy texture, it tastes great, there’s no cheap ingredients or fillers and packs a massive 35g protein punch.
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