‘I Tried Drinking Plant-Based Protein Shakes After Every Workout—Here’s What Happened’

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Even as a fitness editor, I’ve never been one to drink protein shakes for several reasons: One, I usually work out after work, around 8 or 9 p.m., which means I don’t eat dinner until close to 10 and the last thing I need is extra calories before a late meal. Two, I’m not very good at food prepping, even if it’s just blending water or almond milk with dust (call me lazy). And three, I’m dairy-free, and many protein powders contain whey—a byproduct of cheese or milk’s casein—as their main source of protein.

But over the past few months, I’ve noticed a growing trend: Plant-based protein is the latest fad in exercise fuel.  

In fact, since January, I’ve received at least seven different brands of vegan protein powders on my desk, many from companies that once focused on whey. Each promise real, superfood ingredients, exceptional taste, and upward of 20 to 30 grams of protein, mostly from peas. Intrigued, I decided to give one a shot to see if the hip drinks would do anything for my strength-training routine.

After a dutiful comparison of ingredients, I chose to go with Vega, which many consider the OG of vegan protein powders (it’s been around for several years). Some of the other brands contained carrageenan, a possible inflammatory, which I try to avoid. I also liked that Vega had big tubs as well as ready-to-drink mini cartons, so I could grab my shake on the go if needed (again, #lazy).

At first, I was completely turned off by the taste. The chocolate formula reminded me of the old-school SlimFast shake but with more grittiness and a lingering taste of artificial sweetener. (Vega uses stevia leaf extract for sweetness.) I drank about a third of my shake and spilled the rest down the drain. I tried the vanilla the next day and was much happier—while I could taste the green base (kale, spinach, green algae, broccoli, etc.), it reminded me of a watered-down smoothie: clean and refreshing. After five-ish days, I got used to the flavor and even looked forward to it.

On days I had a workout event in the morning, I’d sip on half a shake before the sesh and finish the rest after. Perhaps it was a placebo effect, but I found that I was a bit more awake on those days. I had more verve in my legs for cycling, more power in my core and arms for boxing. I don’t know if it was the fact that I had “food” in my stomach to keep me going, or if taking the time to make a drink gave me more time to really wake up, but the difference was palpable. My Flywheel TorqBoard said so.

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