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Best Protein Powder on the Market: 2024 Review

February 15, 2024

Best Protein Powder Article By Robor Fitness

Navigating the maze of protein powders on the market can be a daunting task. How do you choose the best protein powder when the options seem endless? Our team, with a decade of experience and over 50 varieties of protein powders tested, is here to guide you through this complex landscape.

It's amazing how far protein powder has evolved over the last ten years. Gone are the days of bland tastes and poor mixability. Today's powders are not only tastier but also boast superior ingredients and smoother textures. However, the burning question remains: which protein powder reigns supreme?

The truth is, there's no universal answer. The best protein powder for you depends on your unique dietary needs and preferences. Whether you're a carnivore, a vegan, or someone seeking to steer clear of artificial additives, your perfect match is out there.

That's why we've rigorously tested and handpicked the top protein powders in various categories. Our goal? To help you find the protein powder that aligns seamlessly with your lifestyle and fitness objectives.

Stay tuned as we unveil our top picks that cater to every taste and dietary preference.

 

Best Protein Powder at a Glance

Before we proceed to the detailed reviews, let's take a quick glance at our top picks in each category. This comparison table provides a snapshot of what each protein powder offers, helping you make an informed decision at a glance.

Category

Product Name

Caloric Content (kcal/serving)

Our Ratings

Sweeteners/Flavors

Best Overall

Legion Whey+

110

9.6/10

Natural, non-artificial

Best Whey Isolate

Dymatize Iso100

120

9/10

Artificial

Cheapest Muscle Milk 140 8/10 Artificial

Best Without Artificial Sweeteners

Legion Whey +

110

9.5/10

Natural, non-artificial

Best Without Stevia

Opportuniteas

120

8.5/10

Natural, non-artificial

Best Vegan

Promix

130

9/10

No artificial flavors

Best Organic

Orgain

150

8.8/10

Natural

Best Lactose-Free

Transparent Labs

150

8.6/10

No artificial flavors

Best for Building Muscle

Dymatize - Super Mass Gainer

≤1310

8/10

Artificial

 

This table serves as a quick reference guide to help you zoom in on the product that best suits your dietary needs and fitness goals. Read on for more detailed insights into each of these top-notch protein powders.

 

Best Overall: Legion Whey+

 Legion Whey+ Chocolate Flavour

 

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Key Features

  • Serving size: 1 scoop (29 grams)
  • Protein per serving: 22 grams (76%)
  • Price per serving: $1.90
  • Carbs: 3 grams
  • Fats: 0 grams
  • Suitable for vegans: No

We chose Legion Whey+ as our best overall protein powder for several compelling reasons. Firstly, its commitment to purity and quality is unmatched. Each scoop delivers a potent dose of pure whey protein isolate sourced from grass-fed, hormone-free cows in Ireland. This meticulous sourcing ensures that every serving is not just packed with protein but also free from unwanted additives, making it ideal for health-conscious individuals.

Behind this standout product is Mike Mathews, an international bestselling fitness author and co-founder of Legion Athletics. His dedication to creating a supplement line that rises above the industry's typical hype and flash is evident in Whey+. It's not just another protein powder; it's a reflection of a commitment to superior quality and ethical sourcing.

Whey+ stands out for its impressive protein concentration, with each serving boasting 22 grams of protein with minimal carbs and fats. This lean composition is perfect for those looking to build and maintain muscle without the extra calories. The lack of artificial ingredients and its non-GMO, lactose-free, and sugar-free formula make it a top pick for those on low-carb diets.

Whey+ excels in supporting muscle growth and recovery thanks to its rich content of essential amino acids and BCAAs. This makes it a powerhouse for fitness enthusiasts aiming to achieve their goals efficiently.

Lastly, the taste and mixability of Whey+ can't go unmentioned. It blends smoothly with water or your favorite milk, making it a delicious and hassle-free addition to your fitness routine. The commitment to natural and healthy ingredients ensures that you're nourishing your body with the best, while the excellent protein content per serving makes it an all-around winner for anyone serious about their fitness and health.

 

Pros:

  • Third-party tested
  • High-quality whey protein isolate from grass-fed cows
  • Free from hormones, antibiotics, and unnecessary additives
  • Non-GMO, lactose-free, and sugar-free, suitable for low-carb diets
  • Rich in essential amino acids and BCAAs for muscle growth and recovery
  • Excellent taste and mixability for easy consumption
  • Ethical sourcing and commitment to purity

 

Cons:

  • Not suitable for vegans
  • Higher cost per serving compared to some other options

 

Best Whey Isolate Protein Powder: Dymatize ISO100

Dymatize Iso100 Whey Protein Powder

 

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Key Features

  • Serving size: 1 scoop (30 grams)
  • Protein per serving: 25 grams (83%)
  • Price per serving: $1.05
  • Carbs: 2 grams
  • Fats: 1 gram
  • Suitable for vegans: No

Dymatize ISO100 stands out in the whey isolate protein powder category for its exceptional nutritional profile and dedication to quality. This scientifically formulated product boasts 25 grams of high-quality protein per serving, derived from a combination of hydrolyzed and isolate whey protein.

Notably, part of this whey protein isolate is hydrolyzed, which enhances its absorption rate and ensures it's easy to digest. By filtering out excess lactose, fats, carbs, and cholesterol, ISO100 caters to those who are meticulous about what goes into their bodies.

One of the most striking features of ISO100 is its amino acid profile. Each serving packs a substantial 11.7 grams of Essential Amino Acids (EAAs), including a significant 5.5 grams of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). This composition is vital for muscle support, aiding in both recovery and growth, a feature we found particularly impressive during our tests.

ISO100 is not just about its protein and amino acids; it's also remarkably lean in terms of calorie content. Each serving contains 110 calories, making it a suitable option for those following specific diets like low-carb or calorie restricted diets. This low-calorie count does not compromise on taste, as evident in their diverse flavor range including options like Fruity Pebbles, Gourmet Vanilla, and Chocolate Peanut Butter.

Furthermore, ISO100's commitment to safety and quality is underscored by its Informed Choice certification. This ensures regular testing for banned substances, providing peace of mind, especially for competitive athletes.

 

Pros:

  • High-quality hydrolyzed whey protein isolate
  • Rich in EAAs and BCAAs for muscle support
  • Low in calories, carbs, and fats
  • Diverse flavor options for varied tastes
  • Informed Choice certified, ensuring no banned substances
  • Excellent for low-calorie diets
  • 83% high-quality protein per serving

 

Cons:

  • Not suitable for vegans
  • It may contain artificial flavors in certain variants

 

Cheapest Protein Powder: Muscle Milk

Muscle Milk Protein Powder

 

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Key Features

  • Serving size: 34 grams
  • Protein per serving: 25 grams (65%)
  • Price per serving: $0.82
  • Carbs: 3 grams
  • Fats: 2 grams
  • Suitable for vegans: No

It was essential to include Muscle Milk in our list, particularly for those on a budget seeking quality protein. Muscle Milk 100% Whey Protein Powder stands out as the cheapest protein powder, offering 25 grams of high-quality protein per serving. Its affordability doesn't compromise the protein content, making it a great choice for your chosen protein shake.

Muscle Milk's commitment to quality is further demonstrated by its NSF Certification for Sport, ensuring it's free from substances banned by most major athletic organizations (7). This adds a layer of trust, particularly for athletes who undergo rigorous testing.

One of the aspects we appreciate about Muscle Milk is its ease of use. It dissolves smoothly in water, making it a hassle-free addition to your diet, whether in a shaker bottle or mixed into your favorite recipes for a protein boost. This versatility is a big plus, as you don’t always get this with the cheaper alternatives.

Our experience and market knowledge suggest that Muscle Milk is among the most affordable options available, making it an excellent choice for those looking to supplement their protein intake without breaking the bank. The chocolate flavor we tested was satisfying, and with only 2 grams of sugar per serving, it’s a guilt-free way to enjoy a chocolatey treat while supporting your fitness goals.

 

Pros:

  • Affordable, offering great value for money
  • NSF Certified for Sport, ensuring safety and quality
  • Easy to mix and versatile for use in recipes
  • Low in sugar, with only 2 grams per serving
  • Satisfying chocolate flavor

 

Cons:

  • Unsuitable for vegans
  • The product contains sucralose which some people try to avoid
  • Lower protein % compared to the other shakes in our list
  • Lower quality protein compared to others in our list

 

Best Protein Powder Without Artificial Sweeteners: Legion Whey+

Legion Whey+ Protein Powder

 

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Key Features

  • Serving size: 1 scoop (29 grams)
  • Protein per serving: 22 grams (76%)
  • Price per serving: $1.90
  • Carbs: 3 grams
  • Fats: 0 grams
  • Suitable for vegans: No

We know what you're thinking: Legion Whey+ already topped our list as the best overall. But let's talk about why it also deserves the spotlight as the best protein powder without artificial sweeteners. In our quest for honest and transparent recommendations, Legion Whey+ stands out again, this time for its natural formulation.

Many people prefer to avoid artificial sweeteners due to concerns about adverse health effects or personal sensitivities. Artificial sweeteners, though calorie-free, can sometimes cause digestive discomfort or be less desirable for those aiming for a more natural diet. Legion Whey+ addresses these concerns head-on by eschewing artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors.

During our testing, the chocolate flavor of Legion Whey+ impressed us with its rich and natural taste. This is a significant feat, considering the absence of artificial sweeteners, which are often used to enhance flavor in protein powders. The natural flavoring not only makes it a healthier choice but also provides a more authentic taste experience.

Legion Whey+'s commitment to natural ingredients extends beyond just sweeteners. The protein is sourced from grass-fed cows, ensuring high quality and nutritional value. The 22 grams of protein per serving, along with minimal carbs and fats, make it an excellent choice for anyone looking to supplement their protein intake without artificial additives.

 

Pros:

  • Free from artificial sweeteners, flavors, and colors
  • Variety of natural flavors, including a rich chocolate taste
  • NSF-Certified and produced in an FDA-inspected facility, ensuring quality and safety
  • Lab tested for potency and purity, guaranteeing label accuracy
  • Sourced from grass-fed cows, enhancing the quality of protein
  • Suitable for a range of diets due to its low carb and fat content

 

Cons:

  • Higher price point compared to some alternatives
  • Not vegan-friendly

 

Best Protein Powder Without Stevia: Opportuniteas

Opportuniteas Protein Powder

 

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Key Features

  • Serving size: 30 grams
  • Protein per serving: 20 grams (66%)
  • Price per serving: $2.13
  • Carbs: 9 grams
  • Fats: 1 gram
  • Suitable for vegans: No

Opportuniteas stands out as the best choice for those seeking a protein powder without Stevia. In our search for a protein powder that avoids this common sweetener, Opportuniteas caught our attention with its commitment to natural, real food ingredients. The premium chocolate flavor of this protein powder is a real treat, derived from high-quality foods rather than artificial additives.

The product's primary ingredients include grass-fed whey protein and organic cacao, which combine to create a taste reminiscent of rich chocolate milk. Its sweet flavor comes from organic cane sugar, providing a natural sweetness without the use of Stevia. This blend of carefully chosen ingredients not only tastes great but also mixes well in a variety of recipes, whether you're making a smoothie, shake, or using it in baking.

One of the key benefits we noticed with Opportuniteas is its digestibility. The simple, natural ingredient list minimizes the risk of an upset stomach, making it a great option for those with sensitive digestion. Additionally, the 20 grams of protein per serving can significantly boost your daily protein intake and help to satisfy your appetite, aiding in recovery and muscle gains.

Opportuniteas' commitment to avoiding artificial ingredients extends beyond Stevia. The brand prides itself on using pasture-raised, grass-fed whey protein isolate combined with rich organic cacao, organic cane sugar, and a hint of Himalayan salt. This blend not only ensures great taste but also aligns with health-conscious dietary preferences, making it a top choice for those avoiding artificial sweeteners and Stevia in their protein powder.

 

Pros:

  • Free from artificial ingredients and Stevia
  • Natural sweetening with organic cane sugar
  • Premium chocolate flavor from real food ingredients
  • Contains grass-fed whey protein and organic cacao
  • Easy to digest, suitable for sensitive stomachs
  • Versatile for various recipes, not just shakes

 

Cons:

  • Higher carb content compared to some other protein powders
  • Not vegan-friendly
  • Higher price point compared to other whey protein shakes

 

Best Vegan Protein Powder: Promix

Promix Vegan Protein Powder

 

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Key Features

  • Serving size: 32 grams
  • Protein per serving: 25 grams (78%)
  • Price per serving: $1.31
  • Carbs: 3 grams
  • Fats: 2 grams
  • Suitable for vegans: Yes

For those on a plant-based journey, finding a protein powder that fits the vegan bill while still delivering on taste and nutrition can be a tall order. Promix Vegan Protein Powder rises to this challenge, offering an exceptional product that caters to the specific needs of vegans. Made from organic Canadian yellow peas, it provides a high-quality, bioavailable source of protein that is both effective and ethical.

The chocolate flavor we tried was not just palatable but genuinely enjoyable, a testament to its quality ingredient list that includes organic raw cacao and natural sweetening from monk fruit. With 25 grams of protein and 5.2 grams of BCAAs per serving, it's more than just a protein supplement; it's a muscle recovery and building aid. The inclusion of 200% of the daily value of Vitamin B12 in every serving is a thoughtful touch, addressing a common nutritional gap in vegan diets.

Promix's commitment to clean, whole food-based ingredients and its avoidance of common allergens and harmful additives make it a standout choice. It's a protein powder that doesn't just meet the basic requirements of being vegan but exceeds expectations in taste, nutritional value, and ethical production. For vegans and even non-vegans looking for a clean protein source, Promix is a choice you can feel good about.

 

Pros:

  • High-quality vegan protein from organic Canadian yellow peas
  • Rich in protein and BCAAs for muscle support
  • Includes 200% daily value of Vitamin B12 per serving
  • Free from common allergens and harmful additives
  • Natural sweetening with monk fruit, no artificial sweeteners
  • Available in delicious flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and unflavored

 

Cons:

  • It may not suit those who prefer whey-based proteins
  • Limited flavor options beyond the standard varieties

 

Related: The Best Vegan Supplements for Building Muscle

 

Best Organic Protein Powder: Orgain

Orgain Organic Protein Powder

 

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Key Features

  • Serving size: 46 grams
  • Protein per serving: 21 grams (45%)
  • Price per serving: $1.74
  • Carbs: 15 grams
  • Fats: 4 grams
  • Suitable for vegans: Yes

This is our second vegan-friendly recommendation, but Orgain distinguishes itself as the best organic protein powder. Its commitment to organic, plant-based ingredients sets it apart in a crowded market. Orgain’s vanilla bean protein powder, a blend of organic pea, brown rice, and chia seeds, offers a wholesome 21 grams of protein per serving.

Orgain's dedication to clean, organic ingredients is evident. It's USDA organic, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, lactose-free, soy-free, non-GMO, and kosher. Additionally, it's free from carrageenan and artificial ingredients, making it a safe choice for a wide range of dietary needs and preferences.

One aspect we particularly appreciate about Orgain is its versatility. It mixes well with water and milk or can be creatively incorporated into various recipes, providing a nutritious and flavorful boost to your meals or snacks. At 15 grams per serving, the carbohydrate count is higher than most protein shakes but its organic dietary fiber helps you feel less guilty.

Ideal for busy lifestyles, this protein powder is not only suitable for adults but also a convenient option for older children. Whether used for meal replacement, smoothie enhancement, muscle recovery, or pre/post-workout nutrition, Orgain offers organic, health-conscious nutrition that caters to the whole family.

The comprehensive nutritional profile, combined with the ethical sourcing of ingredients, truly makes Orgain stand out as the best in its category for organic protein powders.

 

Pros:

  • Organic plant-based protein from pea, brown rice, and chia seeds
  • Suitable for vegans and free from major allergens
  • No added sugar
  • USDA organic, non-GMO, and kosher certified
  • Versatile for use in shakes, baking, and snacks
  • Family-friendly, suitable for adults and older children

 

Cons:

  • Higher in carbs compared to some other protein powders
  • It may not suit those preferring a higher protein-to-carb ratio
  • Lower protein % compared to other alternatives

 

Best Lactose-Free Protein Powder: Transparent Labs

Transparent Labs Protein Powder

 

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Key Features

  • Serving size: 33 grams
  • Protein per serving: 28 grams (84%)
  • Price per serving: $2.00
  • Carbs: 1 gram
  • Fats: 0.5 grams
  • Suitable for vegans: No

Designed with digestive health in mind, Transparent Labs' protein powder addresses common digestive issues such as bloating and gas, making it a comfortable choice for increasing your protein intake. This lactose-free option stands out in our selection for its digestibility and high protein content.

Transparent Labs Whey Protein Isolate, sourced from 100% grass-fed American dairy cattle, provides a remarkable 28 grams of protein per serving. This is ideal for those who need a substantial protein boost without the discomfort often associated with higher dairy intake. The protein powder is naturally flavored and free from artificial sweeteners, food dyes, gluten, and preservatives, aligning with a clean eating approach.

What sets this product apart is its commitment to purity and muscle-building efficiency. Each serving contains all nine essential amino acids, ensuring a balanced contribution to muscle protein synthesis, crucial for fitness enthusiasts focused on muscle growth and recovery.

The powder’s ease of mixing and lightness on the stomach enhances its appeal, especially for those who have experienced digestive discomfort with other protein supplements. Transparent Labs proves that you can achieve high protein intake for muscle building and recovery without compromising on digestive health or ingredient quality.

 

Pros:

  • Lactose-free, suitable for those with lactose intolerance
  • Free from artificial sweeteners, gluten, and preservatives
  • Contains all nine essential amino acids
  • Easy to digest, minimizing bloating and gas

 

Cons:

  • Limited flavor options are available
  • Not suitable for vegans

 

Best Protein Powder for Building Muscle: Dymatize

Dymatize Mass Gainer Protein Shake

 

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Key Features

  • Serving size: 335 grams
  • Protein per serving: 52 grams (15%)
  • Price per serving: $3.99
  • Carbs: 245 grams
  • Fats: 11 grams
  • Suitable for vegans: No

Last in our review, but certainly not least in performance, Dymatize stands out as the best protein powder for building muscle. This product is a powerhouse, offering a whopping 52 grams of protein per serving, derived from a blend of fast, medium, and slow-digesting proteins. This variety ensures a sustained release of amino acids, essential for muscle support and growth.

One of the most impressive features of Dymatize is its rich content of BCAAs - 10.7 grams, including 5.1 grams of Leucine. These amino acids are key building blocks for muscle protein synthesis, making this protein powder an ideal choice for those looking to enhance their muscle mass significantly.

In addition to its high protein content, Dymatize delivers a substantial calorie boost with 1310 calories and 245 grams of carbs per serving, tailored for the hardest gainers. This composition is perfect for those who struggle to consume enough calories through their regular diet to support muscle growth.

The inclusion of 17 vitamins and minerals in Dymatize ensures that it's not just about muscle growth but also balanced nutrition and recovery support. While its high calorie and carb content make it a specialized choice, for those with serious muscle-building goals, Dymatize is the ultimate supplement to fuel your gains and support your training efforts.

 

Pros:

  • Exceptionally high protein content with 52 grams per serving
  • Rich in BCAAs, including Leucine, for muscle synthesis
  • Comprehensive blend of fast, medium, and slow-digesting proteins
  • Convenient way of getting a large number of calories(1310 per serving) and carbs into the diet which is required to build mass
  • Includes 17 vitamins and minerals for balanced nutrition and recovery
  • Ideal for those struggling to gain muscle mass

 

Cons:

  • Not vegan-friendly
  • Large serving size might be overwhelming for some, it’s not the easiest shake to drink
  • Will need a large shaker to accommodate the huge serving size
  • It can become quite sickly due to the high-calorie count
  • Unlike your standard protein drink, it takes a while to drink

 

 

What Makes a Good Protein Powder – Our Testing Process

There are a lot of variables that go into what makes a good protein powder. We considered each of the following factors to decide which protein powders made our list. Some factors were more weighted than others (i.e., Protein content was more important than mixability), but each was given a score out of 10 to calculate the best protein powders on the market.

Here's a breakdown of the key factors we considered:

 

Protein Content

At the heart of any protein powder evaluation is its protein content. We scrutinized how much protein each serving delivers, a crucial factor for those looking to supplement their diet or enhance muscle recovery after workouts.

We assessed the percentage of the serving that is pure protein. For whey concentrate, anything over 70% is considered good. Whey isolate should ideally be over 80%, and for the highly refined whey hydrolysate, over 90% protein content is the benchmark of excellence.

Protein content of different types of protein powder

This metric isn't just a number; it's an indicator of how effectively the protein powder can meet your nutritional and fitness goals.

You can find the protein content % in the “Key Features” section for each of the recommended protein powders.

 

Protein Quality

The quality of protein in powders is another crucial factor we assessed. This quality hinges on the types of amino acids present and their bioavailability. Proteins are composed of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscles, including nine essential amino acids (EAAs) that our bodies can't produce. These must be obtained through our diet.

A "complete" protein contains all nine EAAs. Among these, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are critical for muscle protein synthesis, making them especially important in protein powders. The digestibility and ease with which our bodies can use these amino acids are also key factors in assessing protein quality.

Scientific measures such as the “Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score” (PDCAAS) and “Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score” (DIAAS) help gauge the bioavailability of protein sources (1). Generally, animal-based proteins like whey and casein rank high in bioavailability compared to plant-based sources like soy, peas, and rice.

For those opting for plant-based protein powders, it's essential to ensure they contain all nine essential amino acids, making them complete protein sources. This completeness is crucial for maximizing muscle and whole-body protein synthesis.

 

Overall Ingredients Quality

When assessing the overall quality of ingredients in protein powders, we adhere to the principle that less is often more. A shorter ingredient list typically indicates a purer, higher-quality product.

While both natural and artificial flavorings can be acceptable, natural options are generally preferred for their health benefits. However, this doesn't mean artificial flavorings need to be completely off the table. It's about finding a balance and aligning with personal dietary preferences.

An important consideration is whether the product has undergone third-party testing. Since the FDA doesn't regulate protein powders, third-party testing becomes crucial to verify that the product contains what its label claims. This testing ensures the integrity and safety of the powder.

Athletes, especially those subject to drug testing, should opt for sport-certified protein powders. These are tested rigorously and bear NSF-Certified for Sport or Informed-Sport logos, ensuring they're free from banned substances. Even non-athletes can benefit from choosing such certified products, as it's a mark of high quality and safety.

In summary, the ideal protein powder should have minimal and necessary ingredients, potentially with a preference for natural flavorings. It should be free from unnecessary fillers and additives, and third-party certification adds a layer of trust and assurance, especially for competitive athletes.

 

Calories From Carbs and Fats

When selecting a whey protein shake, the primary goal is to find a supplement that's high in protein but low in carbohydrates and fats. The most effective protein powders manage to minimize the content of carbs, sugars, and fats. A quality protein shake typically contains less than 2 grams of sugar per serving, aligning with the aim of offering high protein with minimal extra calories.

However, it's important to note that if you choose a protein powder free from artificial flavorings or stevia, it might have a higher sugar content. This is because manufacturers often use natural sweeteners, like honey, to enhance the flavor. While these natural sweeteners might increase the sugar content, they are often preferred for their health benefits and natural origin.

An exception to this low-carb, low-fat rule is when you're opting for mass gainers or meal replacements. These types of shakes are intentionally rich in carbohydrates and fats to provide a more substantial, calorie-dense nutrition profile. They cater to different dietary goals, such as weight gain or providing a fuller meal alternative.

 

Flavor

The importance of flavor in protein powders cannot be overstated. After all, no one wants to regularly consume a supplement that doesn't taste good. This was a lesson I learned firsthand about eight years ago. I received an unflavored pouch of protein powder by accident from a manufacturer. Although they promptly agreed to send me the chocolate flavor I had originally ordered, I decided not to waste the unflavored protein.

My experience with that unflavored protein was memorable, to say the least. Mixing it with water and trying it, I found it downright vile. Despite this, I persevered for a week, drinking it without any added flavors – a decision driven more by laziness than anything else. Eventually, I couldn't continue, and the remainder of the protein powder just sat unused in my cupboard until it expired.

This experience highlights a crucial aspect of protein powders: flavor is key. It can be the deciding factor between a product that becomes a staple in your dietary regimen and one that gets abandoned in the back of a cupboard.

 

Mixability

Mixability of different protein powders

Mixability is a fundamental aspect of a good protein powder. It's all about how easily the powder blends into liquids without forming lumps. No one enjoys a protein shake that's more like a chunky soup than a smooth beverage.

A high-quality protein powder should dissolve effortlessly in water or milk, ensuring a smooth, enjoyable drinking experience. This quality not only speaks to the convenience of preparation but also significantly affects the overall enjoyment and palatability of the protein shake.

A lumpy shake can be a major deterrent to regular consumption, undermining the very purpose of supplementing with protein.

 

Digestibility

Digestibility is a crucial factor in selecting the right protein powder. It's essential to choose a product that's easy on the stomach and doesn't cause any discomfort or upset. A simple ingredient list often translates to better digestibility, minimizing the risk of stomach issues.

From our research, certain additives in protein powders can potentially cause digestive problems. These include probiotics and prebiotics, digestive enzymes, sugar alcohols, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame or acesulfame-K. If you've experienced digestive issues with protein powders in the past, steer clear of products containing these ingredients.

Regarding protein types, whey protein is generally well-regarded for its high digestibility and absorption rate. However, for those who are lactose intolerant, whey and casein might not be the best choices. Despite most lactose being removed during processing, the trace amounts remaining can still cause issues for individuals with high lactose sensitivity. In such cases, exploring lactose-free or plant-based protein options could be a more stomach-friendly approach.

 

Cost

Graph showing a cost comparison of the best protein powders

Everyone has a budget, and sticking to that budget is important. Before beginning the search for the right protein powder, it's crucial to have a clear idea of your budget. This approach helps in eliminating options that are beyond your financial reach.

When it comes to the cost-effectiveness of protein powders, they often emerge as a financially savvy choice for incorporating protein into your diet. Compared to the cost of obtaining protein from food sources, protein powders can sometimes be nearly 50% cheaper. This affordability is a significant factor for many, especially when considering regular use.

In our list, the prices range from $0.86 to $2.00 per serving. Generally, there's a correlation between price and the quality of ingredients, although this isn't a hard and fast rule.

When compiling our recommendations, we factored in cost as the final element, ensuring that we didn't compromise on quality, effectiveness, and suitability for different dietary needs and preferences while still offering options for various budgets.

 

Different Types Of Protein Powder

Whey Protein

Whey protein, a popular choice among fitness enthusiasts, originates from milk. During the process of making cheese, whey is separated from the curds. This whey is then processed into a powder form, creating the whey protein supplements commonly found on the market. Packed with essential amino acids, it's highly regarded for its nutritional value and effectiveness in muscle building and recovery.

Whey protein comes in three primary forms, each with its distinct processing method and nutritional profile:

 

Whey Concentrate

Whey concentrate is the most common form of whey protein. It undergoes minimal processing, retaining a significant amount of nutrients found naturally in whey. This form typically contains a lower percentage of protein by weight (about 70-80%) compared to other forms and includes more fats and lactose. Its less-refined nature often gives it a more appealing taste and texture, making it a popular choice for those new to protein supplements.

 

Whey Isolate

Whey isolate goes through a more intensive filtration process, resulting in a higher protein content (around 80%) by weight. This form is lower in fats and lactose, making it a preferable option for those with lactose sensitivity or those seeking a leaner protein source. Due to its higher protein concentration and lower lactose content, whey isolate is often chosen by athletes and individuals aiming for weight loss or muscle building with minimal calorie intake.

 

Whey Hydrolysate

Whey hydrolysate, also known as hydrolyzed whey, is pre-digested through partial hydrolysis, a process that breaks down the protein into smaller segments, making it the easiest form of whey to digest.

This form is typically used in medical protein supplements and infant formulas due to its enhanced digestibility and reduced allergen potential. Its rapid absorption rate makes it an ideal choice for post-workout recovery. However, it can be more expensive than the other forms of whey protein due to the additional processing involved.

 

Casein Protein

Casein protein, like whey, is also derived from milk. It constitutes approximately 80% of the protein content in cow's milk, with whey making up the remaining 20%. Casein is unique due to its slow digestion rate, which makes it an excellent choice for sustained protein release over an extended period.

This slow-release characteristic of casein makes it particularly beneficial for providing a steady supply of amino acids to the muscles. It's often consumed before bed or during periods when you won't be eating for a while, as it helps prevent muscle breakdown and supports recovery while you sleep or fast. The slow absorption rate of casein can be attributed to its ability to form a gel-like consistency in the stomach, which results in a gradual release of amino acids into the bloodstream.

Casein's distinct properties make it a complementary protein source to the faster-absorbing whey protein. It's ideal for those looking to maintain muscle mass and improve recovery, particularly when there's going to be a long gap between protein intake.

 

Egg-White Protein

Egg-white protein powder is exactly what it sounds like – a protein supplement derived primarily from the whites of eggs. This type of protein powder is an excellent alternative for those who want to avoid dairy-based protein sources like whey and casein. Egg whites are a natural source of high-quality protein, known for their rich content of essential amino acids.

Egg-white protein is made by processing dehydrated egg whites into powder form. It's a popular choice among those who are lactose intolerant or have allergies to dairy products. Additionally, it's favored by many who prefer a more natural source of protein without the inclusion of dairy.

This type of protein is known for its high bioavailability, meaning the body can easily and efficiently utilize the protein it provides. It's also relatively low in fat and carbohydrates, making it a lean source of protein that's excellent for muscle building and maintenance.

The versatility and nutritional profile of egg-white protein make it a valuable option for a wide range of fitness enthusiasts, from bodybuilders to those simply looking to maintain a healthy diet.

 

Vegan Protein Powders

Vegan protein powders are excellent non-dairy alternatives, catering specifically to those who follow a plant-based diet or are unable to consume milk proteins due to dietary restrictions. These powders are derived entirely from plant sources and are free from any animal-based ingredients, making them suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

Different types of vegan protein powders come from various plant sources, each offering unique nutritional benefits. They're a convenient way to ensure adequate protein intake, especially for those who might find it challenging to meet their protein needs through diet alone. Here's a list of the common and some less popular types of vegan protein powders:

  • Soy Protein: Derived from soybeans, this protein is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids. It's one of the most popular vegan protein sources due to its high protein content and close resemblance to animal-based proteins in terms of amino acid profile.
  • Pea Protein: Made from yellow split peas, pea protein is rich in BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) and is a great hypoallergenic protein source. It's often praised for its ability to aid muscle growth and recovery.
  • Hemp Protein: Sourced from hemp seeds, hemp protein is not only rich in protein but also contains essential fatty acids and fiber. It's known for its easy digestibility and is a great option for those looking for a more whole-food-based protein powder.
  • Brown Rice Protein: Extracted from brown rice, this protein is often chosen for its hypoallergenic properties and is a good option for those with sensitivities to other protein sources.

Lesser-known vegan protein powders include the following:

  • Pumpkin Seed Protein
  • Lentil Protein
  • Sunflower Protein.

These alternative vegan proteins are gaining popularity due to their unique nutritional profiles and are a testament to the growing variety and inclusivity of protein supplements in catering to diverse dietary needs.

 

Meal Replacements

Meal replacement shakes, as their name implies, are designed to substitute a traditional meal. These shakes are distinct from your standard protein shakes, as they are formulated to provide a more comprehensive nutritional profile. This includes not just protein but also a balanced mix of carbohydrates and fats, emulating the caloric and nutrient content you would find in a typical meal.

Unlike protein-focused supplements that primarily aim to aid muscle repair and growth, meal replacements are created with the goal of overall nutritional fulfillment. They are typically nutrient-dense, ensuring that they provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals in addition to macronutrients. This makes them an ideal choice for people who are short on time or need a convenient meal option that doesn't compromise on nutritional value.

Meal replacements are a practical solution for those looking to manage their weight (2), as they offer controlled portion sizes and a balanced nutrient intake. They are especially beneficial for individuals who are on the go and find it challenging to prepare balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day.

 

Mass Gainers

Mass gainers are specialized shakes designed with the primary goal of adding extra calories to your diet, similar in concept to meal replacement shakes but with a distinct focus on calorie density. These products are particularly useful for those looking to build muscle mass, as research (3) indicates that being in a calorie surplus—consuming more calories than you burn—is essential for muscle growth.

A common issue among individuals who train rigorously but fail to see muscle gains is a lack of sufficient caloric intake. Despite a well-structured training regimen and healthy eating, muscle development can only be improved if the diet provides enough calories to support muscle growth. Mass gainers step in to fill this gap, offering a convenient and efficient way to increase daily calorie intake significantly.

Some mass gainer shakes can provide upwards of 1000+ calories per serving. These high-calorie counts are instrumental in creating the calorie surplus necessary for building muscle. For individuals struggling to consume enough food to meet their caloric needs, especially those with high metabolic rates or intense training schedules, mass gainers can be an effective solution to ensure adequate calorie consumption for muscle development.

 

How to Use Protein Powder

When Should I Consume Protein Powder?

Protein powder serves as a convenient method to incorporate more protein into your diet, a crucial macronutrient for muscle building. Given its role, protein powder can be consumed at any time during the day to help meet your daily protein requirements.

The flexibility of protein powder is one of its greatest advantages. For instance, if you find yourself at work where eating a full meal isn't feasible, a protein shake can be a great alternative. Similarly, during times when you're on the move, like driving, and can't stop for a meal, substituting with a shake is a practical solution. When eating a regular meal isn't convenient, a protein shake can fill in, ensuring you don't miss out on essential protein intake.

Another popular and effective time for consuming a protein shake is post-workout. During exercise, your muscles undergo stress and experience microscopic tears. Consuming a protein shake, especially one with a fast-absorbing protein like whey, can be beneficial in initiating the muscle recovery and rebuilding process. The quick absorption helps in delivering the necessary nutrients to the muscles when they are most receptive, aiding in effective muscle repair and growth.

 

How Much Protein Powder Should I Have?

Determining the right amount of protein powder to consume hinges on your individual protein needs, particularly if your goal is muscle-building. Research suggests that consuming between 0.75 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is optimal for muscle growth (4). Protein, made up of amino acids, acts as the fundamental building block for muscle. Not consuming enough protein can lead to suboptimal muscle development.

A protein shake offers a convenient way to help meet these daily protein targets. However, it's important to assess your current dietary protein intake before adding a protein shake. If you are already achieving the recommended intake of 0.75 to 1 gram per pound of body weight through your diet, an additional protein shake might not be necessary. In fact, a 2018 study indicated that exceeding this intake by adding a protein shake did not significantly impact muscle strength and size (5).

For those who are not meeting their protein requirements through diet alone, incorporating up to two protein shakes daily can be beneficial. We generally recommend starting with one shake per day. This addition can provide a substantial protein boost to help you reach the crucial protein intake levels for effective muscle growth and recovery.

 

Who Should Use Protein Powder?

Protein powder is a versatile supplement that can benefit a wide range of individuals, not just athletes or bodybuilders. Essentially, anyone looking to increase their protein intake can consider using protein powder. It's a practical solution for easily adding more protein to your diet.

Athletes and bodybuilders, due to their intense training regimens, often have higher protein requirements compared to the average person. For them, protein powder is a convenient and efficient way to meet these elevated protein needs, aiding in muscle recovery and growth.

For those following a vegan diet, meeting protein requirements can be challenging. Plant-based foods generally contain less protein compared to animal-based products, and achieving adequate protein intake might require consuming large quantities of food. In such scenarios, a vegan protein supplement can be incredibly useful in ensuring sufficient daily protein intake without the need to consume excessive amounts of food.

Lastly, individuals who are on a fat-loss diet may find protein powder beneficial. Research (6) suggests that a higher-protein diet can be advantageous when trying to lose fat. Since it might be challenging to obtain all the necessary protein from food sources alone while on a calorie-restricted diet, a protein shake can help bridge this gap. It provides a low-calorie, high-protein option to support dieting efforts without compromising on nutritional needs.

 

The Final Say

In wrapping up our comprehensive journey through the world of protein powders, it's clear that finding the right one can be a game-changer for your fitness and health goals. From the muscle-building prowess of Dymatize to the pure, organic goodness of Orgain, there's a blend out there that fits perfectly into your lifestyle and dietary needs.

Whether you're a gym enthusiast or just someone looking to add a healthy edge to your nutrition, these protein powders offer a blend of quality, taste, and nutritional value that stands out in 2024's crowded market.

As you make your choice, consider not just the flavor or the price but also the quality of ingredients, your dietary requirements, and your fitness objectives. The right protein powder can be a powerful ally in your journey towards your fitness objectives.

So, go ahead, make an informed choice, and let your chosen protein powder elevate your nutrition game to the next level!

 

References:

  1. Rutherfurd, S. M., Fanning, A. C., Miller, B., & Moughan, P. J. (2015). Protein Digestibility-Corrected amino acid scores and digestible indispensable amino acid scores differentially describe protein quality in growing male rats. Journal of Nutrition, 145(2), 372–379. https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.114.195438
  2. Maston, G., Franklin, J., Gibson, A. A., Manson, E., Hocking, S., Sainsbury, A., & Markovic, T. (2020). Attitudes and Approaches to Use of Meal Replacement Products among Healthcare Professionals in Management of Excess Weight. Behavioral Sciences, 10(9), 136. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs10090136
  3. Iraki, J., Fitschen, P. J., Espinar, S., & Helms, E. R. (2019b). Nutrition Recommendations for Bodybuilders in the Off-Season: A Narrative review. Sports, 7(7), 154. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports7070154
  4. Iraki, J., Fitschen, P. J., Espinar, S., & Helms, E. R. (2019c). Nutrition Recommendations for Bodybuilders in the Off-Season: A Narrative review. Sports, 7(7), 154. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports7070154
  5. Morton, R. W., Murphy, K. L., McKellar, S. R., Schöenfeld, B. J., Henselmans, M., Helms, E. R., Aragon, A. A., Devries, M. C., Banfield, L., Krieger, J., & Phillips, S. M. (2017). A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52(6), 376–384. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608
  6. Helms, E. R., Aragon, A. A., & Fitschen, P. J. (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
  7. Understand the prohibited list | Athletics Integrity Unit. (n.d.). https://www.athleticsintegrity.org/know-the-rules/understand-the-prohibited-list#:~:text=Those%20substances%20banned%20at%20all,%2C%20marijuana%2C%20narcotics%20and%20glucocorticosteroids.

Thomas D
Thomas D

Author

Thomas is a dedicated fitness enthusiast with over 12 years of experience in the gym. As a level 2 qualified gym instructor, he combines his passion for working out and nutrition to help others achieve their fitness goals. Thomas stays up to date with the latest fitness research and follows the work of top experts in the field. With a balance of textbook knowledge and real-life experience, he provides practical guidance to help others reach their full potential.



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