Protein Power! 5 High Protein Milk Alternatives We Love

In 2013, Larissa and I became lacto-ovo vegetarians, meaning we cut out the meat but still ate some eggs and dairy. 

While cow’s milk was still on the table, I came to realize that it never really agreed with my stomach (meaning I was probably lactose-intolerant) and Larissa started to suspect that her obsession with dairy milk was fueling her diabetes. 

And so began our quest for high-protein milk alternatives. In this article, we discuss:

  • What are high-protein milk alternatives?
  • How much protein do you need? 
  • Which vegan milk alternative is highest in protein
  • What plant-based milk is the best for protein shakes and smoothies
  • Environmental Impacts
  • 5 high protein milk alternatives we recommend

You can listen to us discuss high-protein milk alternatives here on the podcast or read on for the main points. 

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What Are High Protein Milk Alternatives?

Back in 2013, when Larissa and I first embarked on our vegetarian journey, our milk aisle choices were honestly pretty sparse. It was basically soy milk or bust. But hey, soy milk is no slouch! Not only did it blend perfectly into our morning cereal, but it also packs a protein punch (about 8 grams of protein per cup) that almost mimics that of traditional cow’s milk.

Since then, the plant-based milk landscape has expanded dramatically. Today, you’ll find a plethora of milk alternatives crafted from various plant sources, and many of these options have a high protein content without all the cholesterol. 

soy milk in a bowl surrounded by soy beans

The Expanded Dairy-Free Roster

Gone are the days when soy milk was your only plant-based milk option. The landscape has expanded tremendously, offering a diverse range of choices that go well beyond the trusty soy. 

Here are a few:

  • Almond Milk
  • Oat Milk
  • Hemp Milk
  • Pea Milk 
  • Cashew Milk
  • Coconut Milk
  • Flax Milk
  • Rice Milk
  • Macadamia Nut Milk
  • Hazelnut Milk
  • Quinoa Milk
  • Walnut Milk
  • Pistachio Milk
  • Banana Milk
  • Sunflower Seed Milk
  • Tigernut Milk
  • Sesame Milk
  • Pumpkin Seed Milk
  • Chickpea Milk
  • Spelt Milk
  • Barley Milk

How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

Ah, yes, the infamous question we’ve all heard a gazillion times: “But where do you get your protein?” Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or someone just trying to reduce your meat consumption (reducetarian), this question pops up so often, it could be a bingo square. But before we even go down that rabbit hole, let’s first tackle how much protein we actually need in our diets.

brown nuts on white ceramic bowls

The Golden Number: It’s Not One-Size-Fits-All

Protein isn’t just a fad; it’s one of the essential macronutrients we need for various bodily functions—think muscle repair, hormone synthesis, and even immune support. The general guideline set by the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) suggests about 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. But wait, it’s not that simple. This number can vary depending on factors like age, activity level, and overall health.

Beyond Just Numbers: Quality Over Quantity

We’re not just looking for grams of protein; we’re looking for quality sources. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, come in various essential and non-essential forms. Plant-based proteins like hemp seeds and pea protein usually offer a more diverse amino acid profile, providing what’s often referred to as ‘complete protein.

Individual Needs and Goals

If you’re someone who’s more active, you might require a higher protein intake to support muscle growth and repair. And for those with specific health conditions or dietary needs, the protein quota might be different. Always consult a healthcare provider for personalized advice tailored to your own unique needs.

Balancing Act: Don’t Neglect Other Nutrients

While we’re on the subject, remember that protein isn’t the only macronutrient you need. Carbs and fats are also essential, so make sure you’re striking a balanced diet. Many high-protein milk alternatives come fortified with additional nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12, making it easier for you to get a more balanced nutrient intake.

Which Vegan Milk Alternative is Highest in Protein?

Now that we’ve covered how much protein you actually need. Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty—sorting through the plant-based milk options to find out which one is the true protein champion.

3 high protein milk alternatives

The Reigning Champ of High Protein Milk Alternatives: Soy Milk

No surprises here, soy milk has been the go-to plant milk for protein for years. It’s not just a nostalgia pick for those of us who remember the limited choices back in the day. Soy milk packs around 6-8 grams of protein per cup, which is pretty comparable to cow’s milk.

The Contender: Pea Milk

If you’re intrigued by the newcomer on the block, let me introduce you to pea milk—specifically, Ripple pea milk. With a whopping 8 grams of protein per cup, it’s giving soy milk a run for its money. Bonus points: it has a creamier texture that makes it feel like a treat.

The Underdog: Hemp Milk

Don’t sleep on hemp milk. Not only is it nutty and delicious, but it also packs about 5 grams of protein per cup. On top of that, it’s an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. So, you’re getting more bang for your nutritional buck.

Honorable Mentions

Almond milk and oat milk are crowd favorites, but when it comes to protein, they’re a bit lighter. Expect around 1-2 grams of protein per cup. However, if you’re blending these into a protein-packed smoothie with other high-protein ingredients, they can certainly hold their own.

*Per one cup serving
*Data may vary by brand

What Plant-Based Milk Is Best for Protein Shakes and Smoothies?

We’ve talked a lot about protein but let’s now discuss which non-dairy milk works best in your protein shakes and smoothies. You’ve got your protein powder (my FAVE is NUZEST), a bunch of ripe bananas, a handful of kale (or maybe spinach if you’re not feeling quite that brave), and… now what? What’s the best liquid gold to pour into that blender to not only give you a protein boost but also make your shake or smoothie utterly delicious? Fear not, we’ve got you covered.

clear drinking glass with a smoothie made from high protein milk alternatives

The Smooth Operator: Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is your go-to for adding that tropical flair to your shakes. While not exactly a protein powerhouse with around 0.5 grams per cup, its rich, creamy texture will make your smoothie feel more like a Piña colada. Just don’t forget we’re aiming for a healthy lifestyle here!

For the Gym Rats: Pea Milk

Remember our protein champ, Ripple’s pea milk? It’s not just for your cereal. Its high protein content and creamy texture make it a stellar addition to post-workout shakes. Mix in some plant-based protein powder, and you’ve got yourself a muscle-repairing elixir.

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Nutty by Nature: Almond Milk

If you’re looking for a lower-calorie option without sacrificing flavor, almond milk is a solid pick. It’s not the most protein-rich (about 1-2 grams per cup), but it blends well and lends a subtle, nutty flavor to your shakes and smoothies.

Your Daily Greens: Hemp Milk

Hemp milk may be the underdog in the protein arena, but it shines in the blender. Its earthy, nutty flavor pairs incredibly well with green veggies like spinach and kale, turning your smoothie into a nutrient-dense powerhouse.

Home Sweet Home: Oat Milk

I like to think of oat milk as the “comfort” milk. My mom made some AWESOME oatmeal when I was a kid so oats have always been a favorite of mine.  Oat milk adds a lovely natural sweetness and creamy texture to your beverages. While its protein content is moderate, around 2-4 grams per cup, it’s a perfect match for fruit-based smoothies.

Environmental Impact? Check!

Now that we’ve discussed the nutritional benefits of high-protein milk alternatives, let’s turn to the planet. Being eco-conscious isn’t just a trend for us; it’s a way of life. And if you’re on the same page, you’ll appreciate that most plant-based milks are more sustainable options compared to traditional cow’s milk. Here’s why.

Less Water Usage

When it comes to water conservation, plant-based milks usually win hands down. For example, almond and oat milk production requires significantly less water than dairy farming. Though almonds have gotten some bad press for water usage, it’s worth noting that modern almond farming techniques are becoming more water-efficient. Plus, oats are pretty thrifty when it comes to water consumption.

Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Not only do plant-based milks consume less water, but they also generally produce fewer greenhouse gasses. This is a big deal in the fight against climate change. Dairy farming, with its need for feed production, manure management, and the methane cows naturally emit, can be a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, the carbon footprint for plant-based milk production is usually much lower, particularly when you look at options like oat and hemp milk.

planet earth first

Less Land Use

Agriculture takes up a lot of land, and dairy farming is no exception. Switching to a plant-based milk alternative can contribute to less land degradation and deforestation. Plant-based crops like oats and hemp can be grown in more sustainable, less resource-intensive ways, thus lessening their environmental impact.

Ethical Farming Practices

Many plant-based milks come from farms that adopt ethical and sustainable farming practices, which often include non-GMO crops and organic farming methods.

So the next time you reach for that carton of plant-based milk, know that it’s not just a healthy choice for you but also a step in the right direction for our planet. Cheers to that!

5 High Protein Milk Alternatives We Recommend

So let’s get to some of our favorite vegan milk brands:

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