The 7 Best Tasting Protein Shakes of 2021, According to a Dietitian

Supplement your diet with one of these delicious and effective options

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Ready-to-drink protein shakes and high-quality protein powders are a convenient option for boosting your nutrition intake, especially for people who are always on the go. Finding a great tasting option can be a challenge, as many of the protein shakes and powders on the market contain tons of added sugar, artificial additives, or undesirable hydrogenated oils. It’s important to check the label to know exactly what is in your protein shake.

On days when you’re unable to consume a balanced meal or snack, you may want to consider sipping a protein shake—either pre-mixed or blended with your favorite smoothie recipe—to improve energy and boost satiety. That said, it’s best to think of these as a back-up when you’re strapped for time and healthy options rather than a daily supplement or meal replacement.

Here, our top picks for the best-tasting protein shakes:

Best Overall: OWYN Only What You Need 100% Vegan Plant-Based Protein Shakes | Cold Brew Coffee

OWYN

Finding a protein shake that tastes good without excessive calories or sweeteners can be challenging. OWYN's Plant-Based Protein Shakes are a low-sugar option, with only 4 grams of sugar and a whopping 20 grams of protein. OWYN, short for Only What You Need, combines pea protein, organic pumpkin seed protein, and organic flax oil to create their proprietary protein blend. This ready-to-drink protein shake is 100 percent certified vegan and requires no refrigeration before you open it, so it’s great to take on the go to work, while hiking, or anywhere you need to refuel along the way.

The incredibly versatile drink takes the top pick because of its clean ingredients and delicious flavors that appeal to a wide range of people from vegan to omnivore, and everywhere in between. It comes in four delicious flavors, including Chocolate, Cookies N Cream, Strawberry Banana, and Vanilla. If you have allergies, OWYN is likely safe for you too as it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, and tree nut-free.

Best Budget: Sunwarrior Classic Vegan Sprouted Brown Rice Protein Powder

Sunwarrior Classic Vegan Sprouted Brown Rice Protein Powder

A great-tasting protein drink doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but if you’re looking to build muscle and recover more quickly, you might feel pressured to plunk down a decent chunk of change for an expensive pre-mixed protein beverage. For the best bang for your buck, consider choosing a tasty protein powder that can create multiple servings.

Sunwarrior’s Classic Protein is a clean and simple organic brown rice protein powder made up of only five ingredients: brown rice, vanilla flavor, guar gum, stevia extract, and ancient sea salt. One scoop provides 20 grams of protein with 100 calories and zero added sugar. The plant-based powder blends well into your favorite beverage and comes in three delicious flavors, including vanilla, chocolate, and natural.

Best Vanilla: Vega Protein Nutritional Shake Chocolate

Vega Protein Nutritional Shake Chocolate

With a creamy vanilla taste, a super clean ingredient list, and impressive nutritional stats, Vega Protein's Ready to Drink Vegan Protein Shake takes the top pick among vanilla protein drinks. Made with real, plant-based food ingredients, Vega is committed to providing a superior product with no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. The Certified Vegan shake offers 20 grams of protein from a blend of organic pea, sunflower seed, and pumpkin seed proteins.

Each ready-to-go bottle contains 170 calories, with only 7 grams of sugar. You'll also get 25 percent of your daily value of eight essential vitamins and minerals in each serving, all derived from veggies, greens, and plant-based proteins. The convenient four-pack also comes in a chocolate flavor, and it is great to stash in the fridge before bringing with you on the go. For those with allergies, the drink is free of dairy, soy, and gluten.

Best Chocolate: Garden of Life Certified Organic Grass Fed Whey Protein Powder Chocolate

Garden of Life Certified Organic Grass Fed Whey Protein Powder Chocolate

Chocolate is one of the most popular protein shake flavors. The rich taste makes your shake more appealing and helps you get your chocolate fix without the extra sugar, calories, and fat of regular chocolate. Every protein powder manufacturer strives to perfect their chocolate flavor, and Garden of Life has become a strong contender in creating the perfect chocolate protein.

The brand uses Certified Fair Trade Organic Cacao to create a rich, indulgent chocolate flavor. With great taste and impeccable nutritional stats, Garden of Life's Certified USDA Organic (rBST and rBGH-free), Non-GMO Project Verified product is a top choice. The whey powder provides ample protein in addition to BCAAs and probiotics, for a good value. The powder is easy to blend with your favorite beverage to create an indulgent, chocolatey, protein-rich shake.

The Garden of Life whey is sourced from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows, and is American Humane Certified. Each serving provides 21 grams of protein, 2 grams of sugar, 120 calories, and 4.7 grams of BCAAs. The product also contains 2 billion CFU of probiotics and comes in four additional flavors, including chocolate peanut butter, lightly sweet, strawberry, and vanilla.

Best Lactose-Free: Koia Ready To Drink Plant Protein Shake Vanilla Bean

Koia Ready To Drink Plant Protein Shake Vanilla Bean

If dairy products cause you discomfort in any way, it may be worth your while to try a lactose-free protein shake. This way, you can get your protein fix without uncomfortable side effects. Made with almonds and a unique blend of brown rice, pea, and chickpea protein, Koia Protein is a creamy ready-to-drink beverage that's 100 percent lactose and gluten-free.

Each 12-ounce drink provides 18 grams of plant-based protein with only 4 grams of sugar. With 190 nutrition-packed calories, the drink is perfect as a breakfast on-the-go, a quick snack, or a post-workout beverage.

Note that Koia Protein is perishable and requires refrigeration. The versatile product is delicious on its own but also works well as an alternative to coffee creamer or as a base for smoothies. It's also vegan, kosher, non-GMO, and soy-free.

Best Low-Sugar: ICONIC Low Carb High Protein Drinks

ICONIC Low Carb High Protein Drinks

Typical pre-made and powdered protein beverages contain tons of added sugar or tummy-troubling artificial sweeteners. Iconic Protein's Vanilla Bean Grass-Fed Protein Drink contains an impressively low 3 grams of sugar per bottle and is sweetened with a mix of agave, monk fruit, and stevia. It comes in five flavors including Café Au Lait, Chocolate Truffle, Coconut Matcha, Golden Milk, and Vanilla Bean.

The BPA-free bottle is easy to toss into your bag for a quick and filling snack on the run. Each drink contains 20 grams of grass-fed milk protein with 4 grams of fiber, 130 calories, and only 4 grams of net carbs. The sustainably farmed products are free of lactose, gluten, soy, GMOs, and carrageenan.

Best Stevia-Free: ALOHA Organic Plant Based Protein Shake

ALOHA Organic Plant Based Protein Shake

When looking for a great-tasting protein drink, you may notice that many drinks use stevia as an alternative to more processed artificial sweeteners. Although stevia is a better choice than sweeteners like sucralose, some people experience side effects such as bloating, gas, or nausea when they consume it. A great alternative is monk fruit, which also sweetens products without extra sugar and calories. ALOHA's Protein Drink uses both organic coconut sugar and monk fruit to create a deliciously sweet vegan drink that contains 18 grams of plant-based protein and organic MCT oil from coconut.

Made from a mix of organic pea and brown rice proteins, the plant-based drink provides easily digested protein that will give you an extra boost. It comes in three crave-worthy flavors, including coconut, chocolate sea salt, and vanilla. The UDSA Organic beverage is also gluten-free, soy-free, and dairy-free.

Final Verdict

OWYN Ready-to-Drink Protein Shakes (view at Amazon) are the best overall pick in terms of taste, nutrition, and convenience. If you're looking for something less expensive and in a powder form, Sunwarrior Classic Protein (view at Amazon) comes in a variety of great flavors and blends well into your favorite beverage.

What to Look for in a Protein Shake

Flavor:

Protein shakes and powders come in a wide range of flavors from chocolate and vanilla to golden mylk and banana. Depending on the ingredients, some may taste more chalky or artificial than others, even if the sweetener is technically plant-based. Always try to choose a product with natural flavor and no artificial ingredients.

Type:

Protein shakes, both pre-made and powdered, can come from a variety of animal and plant-based protein sources, including whey, pea, brown rice, and hemp. Depending on your goals, consider choosing a product that contains the best protein to meet your needs. For example, whey is a top pick for athletes, whereas pea and hemp are excellent choices for vegans or those who can't tolerate dairy.   

Macronutrient breakdown:

One of the appeals of a protein shake is that it often comes with ingredients other than protein. Look for powders that also have a balance of carbohydrates, fat, and fiber. Try to avoid products with added sugar. Consider choosing a shake that contains additional beneficial ingredients including added greens, BCAAs, digestive enzymes, or probiotics.

FAQs

How many protein shakes can I have each day?

Protein shakes are one way to incorporate additional macro and micronutrients into your diet. They are best consumed as part of a balanced diet, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and protein.

Recommended daily intake of protein shakes depends on individualized nutritional needs. For example, a high-endurance athlete may require a higher daily intake of protein and calories and therefore, they may want to incorporate more protein shakes in their diet to meet their needs. You should consider your daily intake goals for protein and calories to determine the quantity of protein shakes to consume.

Are protein shakes good for weight loss?

Protein shakes can support weight loss but must be considered within the context of the diet in its entirety. Effective weight loss plans consider the overall nutrition value of the diet as well as macronutrient intake, including protein and overall calorie intake. Whether protein shakes serve as meal replacements or snacks, they should be incorporated into a balanced diet, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and protein. 

Drinking calories in the form of a shake versus eating calories may result in suboptimal satiety levels, which can lead to compensatory overeating come your next meal. Additionally, many protein shakes contain a significant amount of calories and added sugars, so it’s important to ensure you are not consuming excess calories and sugar through shakes when trying to lose weight.

Try swapping in a home-made protein smoothie for breakfast with one serving each of protein powder, fruit, leafy greens, and unsweetened nut milk—you’ll get the added benefits of fiber, antioxidants, and protein to keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Can protein shakes help you gain muscle mass?

Adequate dietary protein intake is essential for optimal muscle protein synthesis. Protein shakes are one way to increase your daily protein intake, but they are not necessary for gaining muscle mass. Incorporating protein at each meal through animal and plant-based proteins should be considered. The American College of Sports Medicine estimates the requirements for strength trainers at 1.6 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight per day (about 0.8 grams per pound) and may require an intake of up to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.

Some evidence suggests that protein supplementation before and/or after endurance or resistance training may enhance muscle recovery and rebuilding. Incorporating a shake with one-serving of protein powder, fruit (try banana), and milk or plant-based milk alternative may help to replenish carbohydrates and electrolytes lost through exercise and support muscle recovery post-workout.

When should I drink a protein shake?

Depending on the protein shake's nutrition profile, it can serve as a meal replacement or a supplemental snack. Consider your daily routine and overall dietary intake to determine when a protein shake may fit best into your diet. For example, a protein shake may be a good option for an on-the-go breakfast if you don’t have time to prepare a meal. If you practice resistance or endurance training, some evidence suggests that protein supplementation before and/or after training may enhance muscle recovery and rebuilding.

What Experts Say

"A great snack packs a punch with a mix of carbs for energy and protein to keep you full. In a perfect world, that combination would be nuts and an apple or greek yogurt and fruit. The reality is sometimes you need a quick and easy alternative like a ready-to-drink plant-based beverage, or simply a peptide or amino acid-based protein powder blended with whatever drink you have on hand."—Lauren Cohen, MS, RD, LDN

Why Trust Verywell Fit?

A personal note on my recommendations written above. As a dietitian, I am careful to recommend supplements, including protein beverages and powders. I spent years volunteering, interning, and working in a clinical setting where various ready-to-drink protein supplements were recommended to patients to increase protein and caloric intake.

Many of those supplements contain sub-par ingredients such as corn maltodextrin, vegetable oils, and soy protein isolate, and I had trouble ethically recommending those protein supplements. However, there are many great protein drink options on the market today, as shown by the products above.

I believe the ready-to-drink and powder protein supplements in the round-up are made by trusted brands that I would feel comfortable recommending to my clients, friends, and family. The supplements are superior in quality and taste when compared to typical protein drinks on the market. Eliza Savage, MS, RD, CDN

Anne Cook Carroll, MS, RD, contributed to the FAQs.

How We Select Supplements

Our team works hard to be transparent about why we recommend certain supplements; you can read more about our dietary supplement methodology here

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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