Protein Powder Substitutes: 7 High-Protein, Plant-Based Options

Protein powder substitute: excited kid looking at Nowadays chicken nuggets

When you think about sources of protein, particularly as it relates to a workout, you most likely think about protein powders and protein shakes. With hundreds, if not thousands, of different protein powders available on the market, they’re an easy way to get a significant amount of protein into a single meal. But they aren’t the only game in town.

As it turns out, there are plenty of plant-based protein powder substitutes that are far more exciting than a few tablespoons of powder. Join us as we share some tasty, high-protein alternatives as well as a quick rundown on how much protein you need and what to keep in mind if you do use protein powders.

How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

Before we get into protein powder substitutes, we need to address the question that virtually every plant-based eater gets: How do you get enough protein? And what type of protein do you eat? And what about complete protein? (OK, that was three questions.)

The reality is that so many foods contain protein — it’s simply that many of us don’t think of them in that regard. For example, broccoli contains about 3 grams of protein per one-cup serving, and one cup of cooked spinach contains 5.35 grams of protein

If you look at whole grains, brown rice contains 5 grams of protein per one-cup serving, and quinoa has 8 grams of protein per cup (though technically, quinoa is a seed). Quinoa also happens to be a complete protein, which means it contains all 9 essential amino acids. Other plant protein sources of complete protein include buckwheat and hemp seeds.

When you add up the amount of protein in all the foods you eat in a single day, it’s probably quite a bit more than you might think.

Aside from the type of protein, it helps to know that not every person has the same protein needs. Protein intake depends on factors including weight, activity level, and age. 

As a general guideline, you need about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So if you weigh 120 pounds, you would need a minimum of 43.5 grams of protein on any given day. If you’re an athlete, that number will go up. 

Use these numbers as a baseline to determine your unique protein intake needs, and speak to a nutritionist or your doctor before making major changes to your diet. 

A Quick Word About Protein Powder

Protein powder substitute: person holding a scoop of protein powder

Protein powder is a popular choice for protein intake and for good reason. It squeezes a large amount of protein into a single serving, with some protein powders offering as many as 23 grams of protein in a single serving. Many animal-based protein powders get their protein content from whey protein powder, collagen, lactose, egg white protein, and casein.

However, if you want plant-based options, look for plant protein in the form of pea protein, hemp protein, rice protein (especially brown rice), legumes, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and nuts. 

Just keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t approve dietary supplements like protein powder, so it’s important to look for brands that use third-party testing. This is where an organization outside of the company tests the product to ensure its safety.

Also, look out for additives, hidden sweeteners, and high carbs, which can thwart your efforts to make better food choices. 

Plant-Based Power: 7 Protein Powder Substitutes

OK, now it’s time for the good stuff. As mentioned, there are many protein powder substitutions for you to enjoy. As a bonus, many of them come along with an impressive number of health benefits. Here are seven ideas to help you power your day in a tasty, high-protein way.

1. Nowadays Nuggets

Person dipping a piece of Nowadays chicken nugget into a bowl of sauce

Sure, it’s easy to take a scoop of protein powder, blend it up with some peanut butter and make a protein shake. But it’s just as easy to throw some Nowadays nuggets in the oven for 20 minutes and give yourself a whopping 13 grams of protein in just one serving. 

Our non-GMO pea protein is the star of the show, but there are other honorable mentions. For instance, Nowadays nuggets are free of cholesterol, trans fats, and saturated fat. They’re also 100% plant-based, which means no dairy, no eggs, and no animal byproducts. Instead, they’re made with 7 simple ingredients and offer 62mg of calcium and 456mg of potassium in each serving.

Did we mention the taste? Juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside, these nuggets are perfect for a high-protein post-workout snack or any time of day. Enjoy them on their own with some amazing dipping sauces or transform them into a weeknight meal with our recipes for nugget pot pie or chicken teriyaki.

2. Seeds: Hemp Seeds, Chia Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds 

Beyond protein shakes and nuggets, consider adding hemp seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and other seeds into your diet. Three tablespoons of hemp seeds contain almost 10 grams of protein. Pumpkin seeds have 10 grams of protein in a fourth-cup serving, and two tablespoons of chia seeds yield 4 grams of protein

It’s easy to sprinkle these seeds on top of a salad or yogurt , but you can use them to make a variety of other high-protein bites. Try them in vegan pancakes, chocolate chia seed pudding, or tasty seed crackers. Go ahead and get seedy with it!

3. Legumes: Lentils and Beans

It’s no secret that legumes like lentils and beans contain a lot of protein. Aside from being a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and other essential nutrients, lentils contain a whopping 17.9 grams of protein per cup. 

Chickpeas boast many of the same health benefits, and they have about 14.5 grams of protein per one-cup serving. Black beans round things out in the middle with 16 grams of protein per one-cup serving. 

A great way to get beans into your diet is to make hummus and serve it with some protein-packed lentil chips or beta carotene-rich carrots (or even some Nowadays nuggets!). You could also make easy black bean burgers — keep them in the fridge and have them on hand whenever you need dinner in a pinch. 

4. Nuts: Almonds, Cashews, Hazelnuts

Nuts are another great way to increase your protein intake without resorting to a protein shake. Enjoy a spoonful of almond or cashew butter as-is or slather it onto a piece of dark chocolate for a satisfying dose of protein. 

You could even try the latest nut trends, like pili nuts out of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. All nuts pack a serious protein punch, averaging around 12 to 24 grams of protein per cup, depending on the nut. Most nuts also tend to be a good source of magnesium and are naturally gluten-free and low in carbohydrates

5. Plant-Based Yogurt

Greek yogurt is a popular protein-packed option , but there are plenty of amazing high-protein, plant-based yogurts. Forager cashew yogurt contains 3 grams of protein per 150-gram serving, and almond-based Kite Hill yogurt contains 4 grams of protein per 150-gram serving. 

You can easily increase the protein content of this protein powder substitute by sprinkling in some nuts or seeds.

6. Brown Rice, Quinoa, Wild Rice

As noted above, brown rice yields a surprising amount of protein per serving, coming in at 5 grams of protein per one-cup serving. Wild rice yields an impressive 4 grams of protein per 100 gram serving, and you already know that quinoa contains a mighty 8 grams of protein per cup. 

You can easily make yourself a bowl of rice or quinoa and top it with some of your favorite protein-packed veggies, but did you know you can also use rice or quinoa in place of oats to make oatmeal? That’s right, you can up your protein intake with a warm bowl of quinoa “oatmeal” or brown rice breakfast porridge.

7. Soy Protein: Tofu, Tempeh, Soy Beans 

Whether it’s in the form of tofu or tempeh, foods made from soybeans are a complete protein, containing all of the essential amino acids. Tofu contains about 17 grams of protein per 100-gram serving, as do soybeans (aka edamame). Tempeh, a blend of fermented soybeans, contains 31 grams of protein per one-cup serving. 

If you’re not sure how to work with these foods, use them in place of meat: sauté chopped tofu or tempeh in a stir fry or crumble it into tacos or burritos. You could also marinate the entire piece, grill it, and eat it like a steak or chicken breast.

Protein Powder Substitutes: The Possibilities Are Endless

As you can see, finding a protein powder substitute is not as challenging as you might have thought. Not only can you increase the amount of protein in your diet but you can also mix up the types of protein you’re consuming.

Nowadays nuggets are an especially easy (and delicious) alternative to protein powder since there are so many ways to enjoy them. But when you want to go beyond nuggets, go nuts. Literally. Have some nuts, nut butter, and seeds. Make some bean burgers or a bean salad. Enjoy high-protein plant-based yogurt. Marinate tofu or tempeh and serve with plenty of veggies. There are endless possibilities — and not one requires a heaping tablespoon of powder!

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