The Best-Tasting Protein Shakes, According to a Dietitian

OWYN 100% Vegan Plant-Based Protein Shake is our top pick

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Protein shakes can be a convenient way to boost your protein intake, especially if you have increased protein needs and are unable to meet them from food alone. Pre-mixed shakes serve as an easy on-the-go snack, while protein powders can be added to smoothies with fruits, vegetables and healthy fats for a balanced breakfast option. Protein shakes, particularly ones that contain all essential amino acids, may also be a good option to aid in muscle recovery after strenuous workouts.

In general, it’s best to think of protein shakes as a back-up when you’re strapped for time and healthy options rather than a daily supplement or meal replacement. Lauren Cohen, MS, RD, LDN says, "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."

Flavor preferences are highly individualized, but there are many options on the market to suit your dietary needs and tastebuds. When selecting our top list of best tasting protein shakes, we considered taste, type of protein (including both animal and plant-based options), quality of ingredients, and overall nutritional content. We prioritized protein shakes flavored with natural sources like spices, cocoa, and vanilla extract.

Verywell Fit Approved Best-Tasting Protein Shakes

Always speak with a healthcare professional before adding a supplement to your routine to ensure that the supplement is appropriate for your individual needs and which dosage to take.

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

OWYN

 Courtesy of The Vitamin Shoppe

What do buyers say? 83% of 7,900+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.

OWYN Ready-to-Drink Protein Shakes top our list with a delicious coffee taste and 20 grams of plant-based protein powder, containing all essential amino acids. 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 delicious flavors that suit a wide range of diets 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 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

Courtesy of Amazon

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

Garden of Life Certified Organic Grass Fed Whey Protein Powder Chocolate

Amazon

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 added 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. 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

Courtesy of Amazon

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

Courtesy of Amazon

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

Courtesy of Amazon

When looking for a great-tasting protein drink, you may notice that many drinks use stevia as an alternative to artificial sweeteners. Although stevia can be a substitute for sweeteners like sucralose, some people experience side effects such as bloating, gas, or nausea when they consume it. However, more research is needed. 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 milk and banana. Depending on the ingredients, some may taste more chalky or artificial than others, even if the sweetener is technically plant-based.

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

Many protein shakes include other ingredients along with 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • 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 strength 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. If you are unsure of your needs, consult with a registered dietician.

  • 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. If you're a performance or endurance athlete, simply drinking these shakes may not be optimal because of the lack of carbohydrates. If you're trying to lose weight, consider protein shakes that are high in protein and low in added sugars.

    Try swapping in a homemade protein smoothie for breakfast with one serving each of protein powder, fruit, leafy greens, and unsweetened cow's milk or fortified soy milk—you’ll get the added benefits of fiber, antioxidants, and protein to keep you feeling fuller for longer. If your workout is longer than 60-90 minutes, you may want to consider using chocolate cow's milk or soy milk for the added carbohydrates or add fruits high in carbohydrates for refueling post-exercise.

  • 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 2.2 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.

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.

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

4 Sources
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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  2. Cleveland Clinic. Sugar Substitutes & Non-Nutritive Sweeteners.

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  4. Cintineo HP, Arent MA, Antonio J, Arent SM. Effects of protein supplementation on performance and recovery in resistance and endurance trainingFront Nutr. 2018;5:83. doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00083

By Eliza Savage, MS, RD, CDN
Eliza Savage, MS, RD is the Associate Editorial Director at Verywell Fit, a registered dietitian, and a published author. She is also a fitness enthusiast who has completed 2 full marathons and more than 25 half marathons.