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Protein is essential to our daily lives, especially if you’re working out and trying to live a healthy lifestyle. It can help you lose weight on a diet or in the gym when you’re building muscle. However, it is quite difficult to get the required amount of protein with a regular diet. Protein shakes are an easy and convenient way to build up your protein levels and get that boost — no grill needed.
While protein powder is just fine, you might also want to keep premade shakes on hand. They’re an easier on-the-go option with no mixing involved.
There are two common types of protein shakes: whey-based and plant-based. We’ve tested many protein shakes for taste and nutritional value to help you determine which ones are worth your money.
If protein powders are more up your alley, these are some of our favorites for mixing at home.
Owyn, pronounced “oh-win,” stands for Only What You Need and is a plant-based protein shake that is non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free. And besides gluten and dairy, it’s also free of the rest of the top eight allergens like soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish or shellfish. I first tried Owyn about a year ago and was pleasantly surprised by the flavor and quality of the beverage. I tried it again recently and dark chocolate is still one of my favorite flavors, because it tastes like a chocolate dessert without having a lot of sugar or the bad aftertaste some protein beverages can have.
If you’re vegan, then you know you have to put in a little more effort to meet your protein requirements. Owyn’s standard protein shakes have 20 grams of protein, but it also has a line of Pro Elite High Protein Shakes, which have 35 grams of protein per bottle. These are a good option if you’re looking for a midday snack or when you need a quick protein source after a workout. I’m lactose intolerant and can have a sensitive stomach when trying new supplements, but I had no issues with Owyn. It should be a safe choice if you’re sensitive to dairy or have gluten or nut allergies.
- Creamy and full-bodied flavor
- No bad aftertaste
- Variety of flavors
- It’s expensive for a 12-pack online or on Amazon
- There aren’t as many flavor options under the Pro Elite High Protein line
Editor’s note, Aug. 1, 2022: Premier Protein’s parent company Lyons Magnus voluntarily recalled some lots of its chocolate, vanilla and cafe latte cartons. See the details of the recall.
Premier Protein has made itself a household name and is probably one of the most popular brands you’ll see on store shelves. This shake is whey-based and contains 30 grams of protein per serving. If you are sensitive to whey protein, I would opt for a plant-based protein shake or powder instead. I didn’t have any gastric issues when I tested Premier Protein, but I could see someone with a more acute case of lactose intolerance or someone sensitive to certain artificial sweeteners potentially experiencing some discomfort.
My favorite flavor from this line was chocolate peanut butter protein shake because it tastes like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in liquid form. The flavor profile tastes rich enough that you feel like you’re drinking a sugar-packed dessert, but in reality, it has only one gram of sugar.
I’ve used Premier Protein as a protein shake to hold me over in between meals, and it gets the job done thanks to its protein profile.
- Various flavor options
- Quick way to get protein while on the go
- Tastes like dessert
- Artificial sweeteners could potentially upset some stomachs
- The carton’s construction could be more durable
If you’re looking for a plant-based protein shake that has a smooth profile, is creamy and flavorful, then you’ll love Ripple’s protein shakes. It’s available in vanilla, chocolate and coffee flavors and features 20 grams of protein per bottle. Ripple’s vegan protein comes from pea protein, and compared to other plant-based proteins on this list is slightly higher in calories (200 calories per serving) and sugar (9 grams per serving).
I tried each of the flavors Ripple has available and I was pleased with the way the brand managed to make an on-the-go plant-based shake that doesn’t have a gritty texture or lingering aftertaste. Even some plant-based powders I’ve tried in the past had a less-impressive profile than the shakes Ripple has to offer. The sweetener used in this shake is derived from monk fruit, which surprised me because I wouldn’t have known had I not read the nutritional label. I’ve tried other products that include the same sweetener and it’s more detectable.
I would love to see Ripple expand its plant-based shake selection by adding ones that have extra protein and new flavors. Even though it’s more of a challenge to have high-protein options with plant-based protein, it’s still possible as Huel has figured out how to do it.
- Flavors are creamy and rich
- Perfect on the go
- Available through third-party retailers
- Only three flavors available
- Sugar is a little high side for a protein shake
Other protein shakes we tried
Editor’s note, Aug. 11, 2022: Kate Farms parent company Lyons Magnus voluntarily recalled some of its pediatric, standard beverages and nutrition shakes. See the details of the recall.
Kate Farms uses organic yellow pea protein in its plant-based shakes that are free of gluten, soy, dairy and artificial sweeteners. I loved how creamy and delicious these protein shakes were. They’re higher in calories (330 calories), which isn’t a problem since it’s considered a meal replacement beverage, not just a protein shake. This product almost made the best list, but it fell short in one important area: It only has 16 grams of protein per serving compared to the other plant-based brands, which have at least 20 grams of protein. If Kate Farms reworked its formula to include 20 grams or more of protein, it would’ve easily made the best list.
Orgain Organic Nutrition Shake
I’m familiar with Orgain’s plant-based protein powders because I’ve had them in the past. However I had never tried its shakes before, and they fell short for me. I really wanted to like them, but they had an aftertaste that their powders normally don’t have, and even the creamy chocolate fudge flavor (that I usually like) didn’t taste the same to me. If it were up to me, I’d stick to Orgain in powder form and mix it with my dairy-free milk of choice as I normally do.
Iconic Life Protein Drink
This whey-based protein shake was not a hit for me as I could not get past the artificial taste. I often enjoy vanilla flavors, but I was not a fan of this version of vanilla protein. The chocolate flavor was slightly better, but ultimately the mix of sweeteners was not the right fit for me.
How we picked
Flavor: We taste-tested to see if the flavor reminded us of the flavor profile. We also made sure there wasn’t a bad aftertaste.
Ingredients: We looked at ingredients to see if they include additional minerals and nutrients to support the protein profile. We also checked for questionable additives.
Grams of protein: We made sure that the products had at least 20 grams of protein per serving.
Side effects: We observed whether gastrointestinal issues arose, because they can be a potential side effect to consuming supplements with whey or artificial sugars.
Factors to consider
- Make sure to read the ingredient label — especially if you have lactose intolerance.
- Some protein shakes are sold as a pack or individually depending on where you buy them.
- Whey concentrate and whey isolate commonly make up whey-based proteins. The difference is in the way they are processed, with whey isolate having more protein but less fat and carbs. Plant-based protein main ingredients tend to be a mix of pea, brown rice, hemp, pumpkin seeds or soy.
Protein shake FAQs
What should you look for when shopping for protein shakes?
The US Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate supplements, such as protein shakes, but a good way to make sure you’re getting a quality protein powder is by checking which brands are tested by third-party companies. These include NSF International or Informed Choice certifications.
Are whey-based protein shakes better than plant-based ones?
Whey-based protein is isolated from whey and contains lactose. It is considered the gold standard for muscle growth because it is a complete protein, meaning it has all nine essential amino acids. Plant-based protein is only considered a complete protein if it is made up of soy. However there are many plant-based shakes made up of peas, hemp and pumpkin that, when combined, form a complete protein with all essential amino acids and branched-chain amino acids. With plant-based shakes, avoid ones that have added sugars or fillers. Also be mindful of any allergies or sensitivities to specific ingredients.
Do you even need protein shakes?
It’s important to remember that supplements are intended to support a balanced diet and should not be used as a substitute for real food. You don’t need to drink protein shakes if you are getting enough protein throughout the day. However, they’re helpful if you need an on-the-go option to meet your protein quota.
Are there any negative side effects from drinking protein shakes?
If you’re lactose intolerant or sensitive to dairy, whey-based protein shakes may not be the best choice because they can upset your stomach. Additionally, some protein shakes may contain artificial sweeteners or ingredients that may also cause bloating or other gastrointestinal issues, so it’s important to read the nutrition labels first.