Protein powder and other supplements can be controversial. Some see them as a useful tool to aid in meeting nutritional goals, or in recovering or prepping for workouts, while others doubt their efficacy. Adding to the complication is that most protein powders are whey (dairy) based; there is an alternative for vegans and anyone who avoids dairy with Vega supplements!
We were sent two Vega products to review, the Vega Clean Protein (chocolate flavor) and Vega Clean Energy (berry flavor). They also threw in some other goodies, including a truly awesome shaker cup, a miniature speaker, and a squishy toy football (not pictured because my toddler immediately stole it). The “Clean Energy” is designed as a pre-workout or mid-workout drink, as it contains caffeine, salt, and electrolytes, while the Clean Protein is an after workout supplement to help recover and rebuild your muscles.
Let’s start with the Clean Energy. I normally work out at home between 5 and 6 in the morning. As a result, I don’t generally eat anything pre-workout, and I usually just sip water as needed. The Clean Energy powder mixed up into a flavorful drink, but it was a bit too powerful for me to drink in a rush, so I used it in place of my normal water during my workout. It’s definitely sweet, though not as sweet as Gatorade or other “sports drinks”. The caffeine boost in Clean Energy comes from black and green tea, and I think the bitterness of the teas balances out the sweetness from the fruit flavors and Stevia extract. It’s not something I would reach for daily, though, and there’s two reasons for that: one, as I said I usually roll out of bed and work out, so I’m not used to a blast of flavor and carbs first thing in the morning, and two, one scoop is 100 calories, which is good for a sports drink, but if I’m not in dire need of caffeine or electrolytes it’s wasted calories.
The Clean Energy drink did come in handy last weekend though; we went strawberry picking in the morning, and the heat really zapped my wife’s energy. Before we ran some afternoon errands, I had her drink a shaker bottle of Clean Energy, and it definitely helped boost her. My guess is that it was a combination of the caffeine and rehydration was what worked, but Sarah confirmed it definitely was a more enjoyable taste than Gatorade. It’s also worth noting that I did make hers a bit more diluted than the recipe on the container, which helped cut the sweetness without destroying the flavors. Clean Energy is $19.99 for a tub of 15 servings, which works out to around $1.33 per scoop. That makes it cheaper AND tastier than Gatorade!
Vega Clean Protein uses pea, pumpkin, hemp, and alfalfa protein, so it’s like a salad! Except not at all…please don’t replace real vegetables with Vega. In all seriousness, that combination nets you 25g of protein and 130 calories per scoop. That’s a decent amount of protein for not a lot of calories, especially if you only mix it with water. Obviously, the calorie count can creep up if you choose to mix it with milk instead, or add fruits or yogurt to make it a thicker smoothie. I was really concerned about just mixing Vega with water, because my only prior experience with hemp protein was not great. I am blanking on the brand name, but all I remember is that it did not blend at all; even when I ran it through the blender, if I didn’t drink the whole smoothie right away I had a thick layer of hemp protein sludge at the bottom.
Thankfully, Vega mixes easily and thoroughly, and even when I mixed it the night before I didn’t have a cupful of high school chemistry sludge assignment in my fridge. I did struggle a bit with the flavor of straight Vega though. It was a bit too sweet for me, especially in the aftertaste, and my guess is that it’s the Stevia extract. When I diluted it with soy milk it wasn’t nearly as powerful, and I found that my favorite way to enjoy Vega was actually to mix it with my favorite non-vegan protein powder (Quest multi-purpose), which gave me the thickness of a Quest shake with the sweetness and slightly lighter texture of Vega.
Texture and thickness were the two things that really stuck out for me about Vega. Quest uses a mix of whey protein and casein, which is probably why it tends to get very thick and almost fluffy, especially if it’s run through the blender or shaken and left to sit overnight in the fridge. Vega, on the other hand, tends to be a lot thinner in consistency, and isn’t quite as thick when you drink it. Those differences were there whether I shook it up with water or soy milk, or if I blended it with other ingredients.
Speaking of blending and ingredients, I did a bit of experimenting with Vega. My favorite way to drink protein shakes is to toss protein powder, leftover coffee, soy creamer, and a few ice cubes in the blender. Vega did great with this recipe, creating a drink that was vaguely frappacino-esque, but without the sugar and fat. Since my usual protein powder is unflavored, it felt extra decadent to use chocolate Vega! Similarly, it did quite well when I simply did milk and fruit, though, as I said above, the smoothies definitely ran to the thinner side. I had less luck baking with Vega, though it’s hard to say if that was because of Vega or because no matter how many recipes I try, black beans will never go well with brownies. For the record, I was willing to eat my creation, but I can’t discuss Sarah’s reaction because this is a family website. Suffice it to say, she’s banned me from ever trying that recipe again!
A note on protein powders: I looked up Vega on Labdoor, because I am not a chemist and therefore defer to the experts as far as analyzing the specific health claims of protein powders. According to Labdoor, Vega’s powder measures up quite well chemically; the protein claims match up, and there are no heavy metals or red-flag ingredients. This is an important endorsement, because supplements like protein powder aren’t regulated by the FDA, so you always want to make sure that what you think you’re buying and what you are buying actually align, and that there’s nothing hinky or suspicious about the origins of your powder. Labdoor did note their sample measured higher on fat and sodium than the label, but they also detected less sugar. More importantly, the protein component rated as highly accurate, and they noted the specific mix of protein sources provided fiber as well as protein. Overall, they gave Vega an A rating. You can sign up for free to read Labdoor’s reports on many brands of supplements, and I highly recommend doing so anytime you’re shopping for a protein powder, vitamins, or any other questionably-regulated substance.
As I mentioned above, Vega sent a bottle to go along with the powders; specifically, it’s a Vega-branded PerfectShaker bottle, and it is phenomenal! I’ve tossed powder and liquid into it a number of times, and within a few shakes everything mixes nicely. It’s far more efficient than my prior attempts at mixing without a blender, which mostly consisted of me whisking my drink together.
The only issue I ran into was an order of operations one, in that it mixed far easier if I did liquid first, powder second. Putting powder in first meant there was always a tiny bit clinging to the bottom that wouldn’t quite mix (though if I made the drink the night before, time would eventually dissolve the leftover powder pockets). The shaker mechanism is fairly simple-there’s a rod in the middle with a whisk-like coil of metal that slides up and down as you shake, mixing the powder and liquid. The rod and whisker can be removed for easy cleaning, and I had no issues drinking with them in the bottle. The flip top is quite solid and sealed tight. I transported the bottle to and from work many times, tossing it all over my car and had no leaks.
In the end, I would rank Vega as a very good protein choice if you need vegan (or simply dairy free) protein powder. I didn’t love the sweet aftertaste, but that’s purely personal preference, and I felt that as far as overall quality of flavor, mixability, ability to satiate me, and the calories to protein ratio, Vega matched up quite well against Quest, my usual brand. Would I reach for Vega over a whey-based protein powder? It depends. Not because Vega isn’t great, but because I have no health reason to avoid using whey protein. Also, Vega is on the pricey side for protein powder. 15 servings is $34.99; in comparison, I just bought a huge 4lb jug of Optimum Nutrition protein powder for $39.99 at Costco, and that will get me around 50 servings! It’s a bit of an unfair challenge, since Vega is using plant protein, which isn’t necessarily as easy to manufacture as whey. Vega does seem to be in-line to maybe slightly pricier than Orgain, one of the other big vegan protein choices. I’ve seen Vega at my local Costco, so a bit of bargain hunting could turn up some deals and help cut the sticker shock.
Personally, I think I will keep Vega around for the types of franken-smoothies I made the other day, with one part Vega and one part unflavored Quest. Vega brought the flavor, Quest brought the texture, and combining the two removed the sweet aftertaste. Plus I think I have Sarah hooked on the Clean Energy powder after it revitalized her on a hot day!
There’s an absolutely overwhelming amount of options out there for protein powders and workout supplements, but if you’re interested in vegan protein, or simply want a supplement made with ingredients you can understand, check out Vega’s offerings!
Source: Manufacturer provided review samples
What I Liked: Clean Energy provided a definite boost on a hot day; powders mixed easily and cleanly; high level of protein in the Clean Protein; stayed blended; uses a variety of plant-based protein sources; ingredient list isn’t difficult to understand.
What Needs Improvement: Tends to be a thinner texture than whey protein shakes; sweet aftertaste can be strong; pricier than non-vegan protein options.