Athlete's Guide to Plant-Based Protein Powders

Athlete's Guide to Plant-Based Protein Powders

Which is the best plant-based protein powder for athletes? The most affordable, best tasting, lowest in sugar, and does it contain high quality ingredients? I compared 14 different brands of plant-based protein powders for this review, including all the ones I was asked about most on my Instagram story poll a few weeks back. I also wanted a second opinion, so I had my assistant taste test with me.

A few weeks ago I reviewed whey protein powders. For years, whey has been known as the gold standard of protein powders. It’s a complete protein, rich in BCAAs specifically leucine, and quickly absorbed and digested. However, plant-based protein powders that contain a blend of sources such as pea, soy, brown rice, or hemp will still provide adequate BCAAs and are a viable option for athletes that avoid dairy. Plant-based protein powders often have enzymes added to help increase the rate of absorption and digestion. Here’s a more thorough review of the protein and amino acid content of different plant-based protein isolates.

The FDA does not regulate supplements so you must always use caution when using them. Athletes should only use products that go through third party certification, such as NSF certified for sport or Informed Sport. Required for athletes to assure they aren't taking any illegal supplements; this certification assures what's listed on the package is what's actually in the product. Even if you aren't in collegiate or professional sports, I still highly recommend seeking out a protein with this certification. Why? Because it's constantly going through rigorous testing to make sure it's legit. 7 of the 14 in this article are safe for athletes. If you don’t see your protein powder mentioned here, check this list of certified products here or check with your dietitian to assure you’re using a safe product. As a vegetarian, I am personally a big fan of hemp protein and hemp seeds. However, I do not advise drug-tested athletes to consume products containing hemp (this also goes for CBD) to avoid any chance of testing positive for trace amounts of THC.

This review is not sponsored in any way. I was not paid by these brands or compensated for this review.

Each plant-based protein powder was ranked with a scoring system of 1-5. 1 being poor, 5 being excellent, and we took the average of our two scores. These scores were given based on:

  • Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? Y/N

  • Quality of Ingredients (1-5)

  • Cost $$

  • Flavor (1-5)

  • Texture (1-5)

  • Would I buy this again? Y/N


Vega Sport

Vega has several different plant-based options – Vega One, Vega Sport, Protein & Greens. For the sake of wanting as many certified for sport products as possible on this list, we are reviewing the ‘Sport’ version.

Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? Yes.

Quality of Ingredients: 5. The base is pea protein, followed by sunflower seed protein, pumpkin seed protein, alfalfa protein, tart cherry, beet root powder for color, stevia leaf extract, sea salt, xanthan gum, probiotics, bromelain (an enzyme in pineapple), turmeric extract, and black pepper extract (aids in absorption of turmeric). It contains 2.4g of leucine per serving. I also like to see it contain 30% DV iron, 20% calcium, and 370mg of potassium.

Cost: $42.49 for 30 oz. container (45 servings so $0.94/serving)

Flavor: 5 (I tried Vanilla Sport, Protein & Greens Caramel, and Vega One Natural)

Texture: 4.5

Would I buy this again? Yes. This is one of the most affordable option for athletes. I also tried a few other flavors, the protein & greens in caramel and the Vega One in natural and liked all of them. The caramel and vanilla are very sweet on their own.


Garden of Life

Garden of Life has a few different plant-based options. For the sake of wanting as many certified for sport products as possible on this list, we are reviewing the ‘Sport’ version.

Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? Yes. Both. Also sells a grass-fed whey version.

Quality of Ingredients: 5. This product contains high quality ingredients. Plant-based proteins are often looked down upon for having lower leucine (BCAA) content, but this actually contains 2.5g of leucine per serving thanks to a blend of different quality protein sources. The protein blend is pea, navy bean, lentils, garbanzo bean, and cranberry. Flavors are from cacao, carob, sea salt, and stevia leaf extract. Also added is turmeric and tart cherry which provide anti-inflammatory benefit. One scoop (22g) is 15g protein.

Cost: $43.96 for 30 oz. container (38 servings so $1.16/serving)

Flavor: 4

Texture: 4

Would I buy this again? Yes.


OWYN

Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? Yes

Quality of Ingredients: 4. They recommend 2 scoops (36g) per serving to consume 20g of protein, and it only contains 1.7g of leucine for 2 scoops. It does contain added sugar (4 grams from cane sugar) otherwise their ingredient list is great – a blend of pea protein, pumpkin and chia, zucchini, spinach, broccoli, kale, flaxseed, salt, monk fruit extract, seaweed, and probiotics.

Cost: $27.99 for 1 lb. container (14 servings so $1.99/serving)

Flavor: 3.5

Texture: 4

Would I buy this again? Maybe. The ingredients are good, and the flavor was pretty good mixed into a smoothie but it just wasn’t my favorite. That’s honestly just personal preference, others may really enjoy the flavor.


Orgain

Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? Considered food product (therefore regulated by FDA). Also sells whey version.

Quality of Ingredients: 3. Their protein is a blend of pea, brown rice, and chia, followed by creamer (acacia gum, high oleic oil, inulin, rice dextin, rice bran extract, rosemary extract). This also contains erythritol (sugar alcohol), natural flavors, sea salt, stevia, and several gums – xanthan gum, acacia gum, and guar gum. Two scoops (46g) contains 21g of protein.   

Cost: $30 for 2 lb. container (20 servings so $1.50/serving)

Flavor: 3.5

Texture: 4

Would I buy this again? Probably not. The texture wasn’t bad (probably due to all the gums to thicken) but it was way too sweet and something just tasted off, likely the combination of sugar alcohols and stevia that I didn’t care for. There are other protein powders available for the same price or cheaper with higher quality ingredients.


NOW Sports Organic Pea Protein

Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? Yes, Informed Sport. Also sells whey version.

Quality of Ingredients: 5. They have several different plant-based protein powders, I just selected the pea protein version for this review. For one serving (23g) it’s 12g of protein and contains 1g of leucine. If only using a pea protein, I recommend doubling up to get 24g of protein and 2g of leucine. The ingredients are very simple – pea protein isolate, sugar (3g), vanilla flavor, natural flavor, and stevia leaf extract.

Cost: $32.99 for 1.5 lb. container (30 servings so $1.10/serving)

Flavor/Texture: Did not get to taste test this product.

Would I buy this again? Hard to say since I didn’t taste test the product, but based on very minimal ingredients and the price I would say yes! 


Momentous AbsoluteZero Plant-Based

Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? Yes. Both. Also sells grass fed whey version.

Quality of Ingredients: 5. Their protein blend is pea protein isolate and rice protein, followed by cocoa, MCT oil, cane sugar (2g), natural flavors, guar gum, sunflower lecithin, salt, potassium, and high purity steviol glycosides. One scoop (37g) contains 20g of protein and 1.97g of leucine.

Cost: $55 for 1.35 lb. container (20 servings so $2.75/serving)

Flavor: 5

Texture: 5

Would I buy this again? Yes. Probably one of the best tasting in our opinion. The only downfall for athletes would be the price. Having both certifications (NSF and Informed Sport) is expensive for companies, so that in combination with quality ingredients is likely cause for the higher price tag.  


Ladder

Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? Yes. Both. Also sells grass fed whey version.

Quality of Ingredients: 4. The protein blend in this product is pea protein and organic pumpkin protein. To follow are natural flavors, cane sugar (2g), salt, high purity steviol glycosides, silica and thickener blend (guar gum, xanthan gum, and carrageenan). Also contains an enzyme and probiotic blend. For heavy or salty sweaters that need to replace electrolytes after hard training sessions, the 450mg of sodium in each scoop is definitely beneficial. But for everyday exercisers who maybe aren’t training as long or sweating as much, this is a ton of sodium for one scoop of protein powder. The chocolate flavor has 510mg of sodium.

Cost: $75 ($60 if subscribe) for 30 servings ($2.50/serving)

Flavor/Texture: 4

Would I buy this again? I like the fact it’s a certified for sport product, and the flavor is good. But the high sodium content could be an issue for everyday exercisers not looking to consume 500mg in a single serving, and the price tag is definitely a con for athletes on a budget.


Manitoba Harvest Hemp Yeah

Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? No

Quality of Ingredients: 5. This is as simple as it gets. Just organic powdered hemp. They have an unflavored, chocolate and vanilla. The two flavors are sweetened with coconut sugar and organic vanilla or cocoa.

Cost: $19.79 for 1 lb. container (16 servings so $1.23/serving)

Flavor: 4 (the unflavored doesn’t really taste like anything, can blend into smoothies very easily)

Texture: 1 (for sure would need to blend it into a smoothie. Mixed by itself with water it’s very grainy)  

Would I buy this again? Yes, as long as I’m mixing it into smoothies (would never use on it’s own…pretty terrible texture). I actually personally use the unflavored version of this often, and a similar version of this from Nutiva. I always blend it into smoothies. However, I do not recommend this to drug-tested athletes as it is not NSF Certified for Sport and obviously contains hemp.


Sunwarrior Warrior Blend

Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? No

Quality of Ingredients: 5. The protein blend is made from pea, hemp, and goji berries and whole ground coconut. This is for the natural flavor. Their flavors (vanilla, chocolate, mocha, berry) are sweetened with stevia. This one actually contains 2.6g of leucine per serving, and 27g of protein (for 37g serving).   

Cost: $23.99 for 13 oz. container (15 servings so $1.60/serving)

Flavor: Natural flavor 4, vanilla flavor 1

Texture: 4  

Would I buy this again? I liked the natural flavor and it had good texture, good overall flavor, would be very easy to blend this into a smoothie without having an overpowering sweet taste. The vanilla on the other hand was way too sweet and I didn’t like it at all, but I’m also not a fan of how stevia tastes. I also do not recommend this to drug-tested athletes as it is not NSF Certified for Sport and obviously contains hemp.


Arbonne Protein Shake Mix

Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? No. They do have a line called Phytosport, which are Informed Sport and BSCG tested (banned substance control group) but it does not include a protein powder, and this testing does not apply to all of their products.

Quality of Ingredients: 3.5. For one scoop (21g) it contains 10g of protein – which is a blend of pea, cranberry, and rice. Two scoops (42g) is the recommended serving size to get 20g of protein. Other ingredients include cane sugar (9g added sugar) and multiple food additives in the form of gums and starches - such as gum acacia, guar gum, xanthan gum, modified tapioca starch, and rice starch (maltodextrin). Also sweetened with stevia leaf extract. 

Cost: $77 for bag (30 servings so $2.57/serving)

Flavor: 3.5

Texture: 4

Would I buy this again? No. The taste was okay but way too sweet, definitely not worth $70/month. There are several more affordable options with similar, if not better, ingredients overall. It’s also not NSF certified for sport or informed sport certified, so I would not recommend to drug-tested athletes.


Nuzest

Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? No.

Quality of Ingredients: 5. Very simple ingredients. Their unflavored is just pea protein isolate. Their flavors (such as chocolate, vanilla, coffee, strawberry) contain natural strawberry, chocolate, or vanilla flavor, and thaumatin (a natural sweetener). The downfall is with only one type of protein (pea) and not a blend, you’re not getting as large of a BCAA profile (only up to 1.7g leucine).

Cost: $84.95 for 35 oz. container (40 servings so $2.12/serving)

Flavor/Texture: Did not get to taste test this product.

Would I buy this again? Hard to say since I didn’t taste test the product, but probably not. I do like the minimal ingredients, but I would prefer a blend of different plant-based protein sources and the price isn’t that great considering it isn’t NSF certified for sport or informed sport.


Aloha

Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? No.

Quality of Ingredients:  5. The protein is a blend of pea, pumpkin seed, and hemp. Other ingredients include cinnamon, Madagascar vanilla, apple juice powder, xanthan gum, sea salt, monk fruit extract, coconut cream, coconut sugar, and vanilla bean.

Cost: $23 for tin (15 servings so $1.53/serving)

Flavor: 4

Texture: 2

Would I buy this again? This contains a great blend of protein, good ingredients, and sold at an affordable price. It is not NSF certified for sport or informed sport, and it does contain hemp. I personally wouldn’t buy it again because I didn’t like the texture, but it might taste better in a smoothie.


Tone It Up

Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? No.

Quality of Ingredients: 5. The protein is a blend of pea protein isolate and organic pumpkin seed. Sweetened with monk fruit extract natural flavors and sea salt. One scoop contains 15g of protein (23g), 1g fiber, and 260mg sodium.

Cost: $23.99 for 11 oz. container (14 servings so $1.71/serving)

Flavor/Texture: Did not get to taste test this product.

Would I buy this again? Hard to say since I didn’t taste test the product, but based on very minimal ingredients and the price I would say yes! Like the last 5 above, this protein is also not NSF certified for sport or informed sport.


Amazing Grass Protein Superfood

Is it NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport? No.

Quality of Ingredients:  5. This one contains high quality ingredients, a protein blend of quinoa, hemp, chia, pea, a ‘green food blend’ with spirulina, wheat grass, spinach, a fruit and veggie blend of raspberries, beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, acai, and vanilla flavor and stevia. One scoop (31g) contains 20 g of protein and 4g of fiber. The green color really threw me off, but it surprisingly doesn’t taste as grassy as you would assume. Even though it’s great that it contains all these wonderful fruits and veggies, remember these are in very small amounts. 4 grams of fiber is what you’d consume in just 1/2 cup of fresh raspberries. So this powder definitely doesn’t replace whole fruits and veggies. But it would be great to pack with you when traveling with limited access to fresh produce!

Cost: $24.99 for 12 oz. container (11 servings so $2.27/serving)

Flavor: 4. I tried the pure vanilla flavor

Texture: 3.5. Grainy, but this was when mixed with water. It could taste better in a smoothie.

Would I buy this again? Probably not a full container, but I might buy individual packets when in a bind/traveling. I really like the ingredients and variety in protein sources. This protein is not NSF certified for sport or informed sport.


Here are the top 3 plant-based protein powders I would recommend to athletes based on being NSF Certified for Sport/Informed Sport Certified, cost, ingredients, and overall taste.

Vega Sport

Garden of Life

Momentous