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Published Sep. 6, 2021

Some muscle loss is inevitable as we age, but strength training and proper nutrition can help. Protein powders optimize nutrition by supporting muscle repair and growth with essential amino acids. Most people require 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day. However, if you’re active or an athlete, that amount may not be enough for your muscles to repair and rebuild themselves in between workouts. The best protein powders fill the gap between your diet and the protein your body needs to maintain and build more muscle. 

The best protein powders offer complete protein that contains all of the essential amino acids your body needs to maintain your muscles. However, to get the results you want, you have to pick a protein powder designed to meet your goals. The protein source and added nutrients can affect what the powder can do for you. Some powders feature only plant-based proteins, while others contain added branch-chained amino acids (BCAAs) for quick absorption, muscle repair, and weight gain. 

Our list features some of the best protein powders based on different needs. We’ve also provided a guide to help you determine what kind of protein powder will help you reach your health and fitness goals.  

How We Picked These Products

Methodology

I’ve researched and written in the health and fitness industry for five years. Protein powders are among the products I’ve covered several times. When covering nutrition products with ingredients that aren’t federally regulated, I check medical studies so I can provide accurate information and warnings about potential hazards.

  • Safety: Supplements are largely unregulated, with claims that are often unsubstantiated. The studies that look into their effects can have conflicting information, too. I searched for formulas that have proven safe over time. However, I included any warnings about ingredients that could pose potential issues.
  • Ingredient Quality: Protein sources have different levels of protein in them. Higher quality protein sources like WPI and casein are noted in the descriptions to help you make an informed choice. Certified organic products were also more likely to get on the list because they had to go through third-party testing. 
  • Flavor and Texture: Protein powders don’t taste like a milkshake. I looked for varieties that offered a few flavor options.
  • Additional Nutrients: BCAAs, creatine, vitamins, and minerals are all potential bonuses to your health and factored into the powders that made the list.
  • Value: Supplements get pricey, and one that looks like a good deal could turn out to be a money eater if a serving requires heaping scoops of powder. You’ll pay more for purer, finer ingredients, but I avoided products with overinflated prices.

The Best Protein Powders: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Overall: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder

Nutrient Dense

This protein powder features the purest form of whey protein and provides 24 grams of protein per serving plus naturally occurring BCAAs. Optimum Nutrition

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Why It Made The Cut: This Optimum Nutrition formula provides 24 grams of high-quality, pure whey protein, and mixes well to create an easily-digestible drink.

Specs: 

  • 15-20 flavors (depending on vendor)
  • 24 grams protein per serving
  • Comes in range of sizes
Pros:Cons:
  • Whey protein isolate as main protein source
  • Some flavors contain added sugars
  • Comes in small and bulk sizes
  • Quick dissolving for easier prep
  • The Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder (ON) provides a powerful boost with the purest form of whey protein. Whey protein isolate (WPI) contains approximately 90 to 95 percent protein because it’s processed to remove a majority of the fat and lactose in the milk from which it’s derived. Its lower lactose content can sometimes work for people who are lactose intolerant or sensitive to milk products. (However, if you have a milk allergy, do not use whey or casein protein powder of any kind.)

    The WPI in the ON formula provides 24 grams of protein. Protein isn’t the only nutritive value of ON. Each serving offers 5.5 grams of BCAAs. BCAAs are composed of valine, leucine, and isoleucine, which the body uses to support the building and repairing of muscle. The ON formula also contains 3 grams of carbs and only 1 gram of added sugar. The protein density keeps the calories down while still providing the fuel to feed muscle growth.

    ON comes in 20 flavor options. However, you need to check the nutritional value of each flavor, as flavor differences can change the ingredients. Some flavors contain plant-based proteins and/or feature differing amounts of carbs and sugars. Based on your fitness goals, keep a close eye on those additional nutrients, which can add calories that you may or may not want.

    Best for Weight Loss: Garden of Life Raw Organic Fit Powder

    Complete and Organic

    Garden of Life provides complete protein and skips sugar for a low-calorie, nutrient-dense supplement Garden of Life

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    Why It Made The Cut: The Garden of Life formula acts as a complete protein source while leaving out the sugars that add empty calories.

    Specs:

    • 4 flavors
    • 28 grams of protein from peas, sprouted grains, seeds, and legumes
    • 4 size options, including bulk
    Pros:Cons:
  • Complete protein source (contains all essential amino acids)
  • Limited flavor selection
  • Certified USDA organic
  • Poor taste, i.e. thick and gritty
  • Less than 1 gram of sugar and no added sugars
  • Contains additional probiotics and 9 grams of fiber
  • Garden of Life Raw Organic Fit Powder features 28 grams of plant-based protein from peas, seeds, legumes, and sprouted grains. Together, these proteins create a complete protein source, which means it contains all of the essential amino acids in a single source. (Essential amino acids are those your body cannot synthesize itself and, therefore, must get from your diet.) 

    Less fat and sugar are the two biggest reasons this formula works well for weight loss or control. While plant-based proteins aren’t superior to whey or casein (animal proteins), they do contain less fat. This Garden of Life formula only contains naturally occurring sugar and less than 1 gram per serving at that. 

    The high protein content also mixes well with 9 grams of fiber in each serving. Fiber helps your body feel fuller, curbing your appetite. If you’re concerned about exposure to unknown chemicals in your food or supplements, this particular formula is certified USDA organic. That means that each individual ingredient was grown and harvested organically. 

    While Garden of Life can help your weight loss, it’s somewhat limited in the flavors it offers. Those flavors are not the most palatable either. Some people find it thick and gritty. If you’re on the weight loss track, using this formula along with healthy add-ins like bananas or berries can increase the nutritional value and improve the taste. 

    Best for Building Muscle Mass: Dymatize Super Mass Gainer Protein Powder

    Building Powerful Bulk

    Dymatize provides nutrient-dense calories to increase intake even when output is high.
    Dymatize

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    Why It Made The Cut: The Dymatize protein powder made the list for its nutrient-dense, high-calorie formula, which provides vitamins, minerals, and BCAAs along with protein and calories.

    Specs:

    • 3 flavors
    • 52 grams protein per serving
    • 2 sizes, both bulk
    Pros:Cons:
  • Includes fast and slow-digesting proteins
  • Amount of powder needed per serving
  • Single serving provides 10.7 grams of BCAAs
  • High sugar content
  • High nutrition content, including creatine
  • The Dymatize Super Mass Gainer Protein Powderis truly designed to pack on muscle-filled pounds. It contains two protein sources—whey and casein.They’re derived from milk, making them complete proteins. However, whey provides a quickly absorbed protein source, while casein offers long-term access to amino acids. When they’re used together, as in this formula, it helps you feel fuller longer and helps maintain muscle mass while feeding muscles in the growth phase.  

    This formula includes 10.7 grams of muscle-repairing and -building BCAAs. However, it’s in a high enough concentration that you need to be cognizant of how it affects your moods. High BCAA supplementation has been linked, though not directly, to mood changes.  

    Dymatize uses creatine in this formula as well. Creatine fuels muscle contraction, so you can work harder for longer. That helps to increase muscle strength and mass. Then, of course, there’s the high carb content, which fulfills the most basic rules of building muscle and gaining weight—putting in more calories than you use.  

    The downsides of this formula are the large amounts of powder needed per serving and the sugar content. It includes a whopping 1,280 calories per serving and 23 grams of sugar. This is a great formula for packing on weight and building muscle, but make sure you’re burning enough calories to justify that high-calorie content.

    Best for Vegans: Naked Pea Protein Powder

    Pea Power

    Naked Pea keeps this powder free of everything except pea protein, which is easily digested and free from harmful chemicals and heavy metals. NAKED nutrition

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    Why It Made The Cut: Plant-based proteins typically contain more chemicals and heavy metals than animal-based proteins. Naked Pea uses a single protein source that’s free of heavy metals and provides the test results to prove it.

    Specs: 

    • 3 flavors
    • 27 grams of protein per serving
    • 1 container size
    Pros:Cons:
  • Free of gluten, dairy, lactose, added sugar, soy, carrageenan, and artificial ingredients
  • Poor, inconsistent taste
  • Certified USDA organic
  • Processed in China
  • Third-party tested on a regular basis
  • Openly provides heavy metal testing results
  • Naked Pea Protein Powder takes protein down to the very basics by containing a single ingredient—pea protein. Vegans and vegetarians, even if they’re not looking to enhance their performance or physique, often need extra protein. The Naked Pea formula goes for purity and nutrition, providing 27 grams of protein with no added sugars, making it an excellent choice. Pea protein is also easily digested, so there’s generally less bloating than with other protein sources. 

    Naked Pea also gets bonus points for transparency. You have to be careful when buying plant-based supplements. Farming practices can sometimes cause high levels of heavy metals and other unwanted substances in the soil where the ingredients are grown. Those substances then get into the plants and, eventually, the protein powder.  But Naked Pea provides access to their heavy metal testing on their website, so you can see the heavy metal content.

    This powder is also certified USDA organic and certified by the Informed Choice Trusted by Sport. This last certification requires that the supplement be submitted for monthly testing to look for banned substances. That extra assurance allows athletes to use Naked Pea without it affecting their eligibility status in school or professional competitions.

    Best Value: Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Protein Powder

    Affordable Quality

    Body Fortress features 30 grams of whey protein along with a heavy dose of BCAAs at a price that will keep your budget intact.
    Body Fortress

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    Why It Made The Cut: Body Fortress is committed to providing nutritious supplements at a price most people can afford. They successfully do so with a formula made for feeding muscles for faster, more effective repair.

    Specs:

    • 6 flavors
    • 60 grams of protein from whey protein concentrate and isolate
    • 2 size options
    Pros:Cons:
  • 12 grams of BCAAs
  • Requires 2 scoops per serving
  • Includes creatine
  • Gluten- and aspartame-free
  • Palatable flavors
  • Protein powders aren’t known for their smooth, delicious flavors. However, as far as powders go, the Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Protein Powder does well on texture and flavor. It combines WPI with whey protein concentrate. Whey protein concentrate isn’t as protein-filled as WPI, but the combination of the two keeps the protein content high while lowering the price of the powder. This formula also contains creatine and BCAAs for muscle repair and building. Watch for any mood changes since the high BCAA content can alter serotonin levels if used in extreme amounts. 

    As far as additional nutrition, Body Fortress goes light on sugar, containing only 6 grams per serving, with none of it coming from added sugars. Plus, it comes in six flavors. 

    Something to consider with this budget pick is the serving size. For the full 60 grams of protein, you have to use two scoops. Many other formulas only require one scoop per serving. That could mean you go through the Body Fortress powder faster. Body Fortress includes nutrition information for both one- or two-scoop servings because you can still get 30g of protein with a single scoop. With that information, you can make an informed choice about your serving size based on your fitness and nutritional goals.

    Things to Consider Before Buying a Protein Powder

    Protein Source

    Whey and Casein

    Whey and casein protein are two of the most popular protein sources. They both come from milk, which contains 80 percent casein and 20 percent whey. Whey gets digested faster, providing a quick boost of amino acids to the bloodstream. That can potentially slow muscle breakdown and speed up recovery by promoting protein synthesis (the process of building and repairing muscles). 

    Casein absorbs more slowly. It helps load up the muscles to prevent breakdown. Some powders contain one or the other, and some have both. If you want to boost muscle building, something with whey powder might be a better option, but if you want to prevent breakdown rather than bulk up, casein might be the right choice. 

    Both whey and casein are complete proteins, meaning they provide all of the essential amino acids the body cannot synthesize itself.

    Plant-Based Proteins

    Plant-based proteins come from seeds, legumes, peas, and other plant sources. Many people choose them to avoid the fat and lactose that come with milk-based proteins, and they’re generally perceived as a healthier alternative. 

    However, plant-based proteins are rarely complete proteins. That is, they don’t contain all of the essential amino acids. Plant-based protein powders typically contain several plant protein sources so that the powder offers all of the essential amino acids even if the individual protein sources do not. 

    Plant-based proteins can contain high levels of heavy metals and chemicals. Sometimes farming methods cause these substances to get absorbed into the plants through the soil and then into the protein powder. Check the protein source, and look for a heavy metals report. Not all manufacturers offer them, but they’re worth looking into to protect your health.

    Flavor and Texture

    Protein powders aren’t delicious, and they can have some funky textures. Some formulas are gritty and chalky, while others are comparatively smooth. A powder that comes in several flavors gives you more chances to find something you don’t mind drinking. Also, look for a formula that dissolves well. Chunky protein drinks don’t work for most people.

    FAQs

    Q: Are protein powders good for weight loss?

    Protein powders can be part of a weight loss program. However, they should fit within the parameters of a healthy diet. Some powders are loaded with added sugar or are designed for weight gain. Be sure to look for a protein powder that is low or has no sugar.

    Q: Why is protein powder good for you?

    Protein powder can be good for you. However, it’s important to note that the optimal way to get protein is by eating a well-balanced diet. But, if you don’t have time for grilled chicken or salmon after a workout, a protein powder can do the trick in a quarter of the time. Protein prevents muscle breakdown and helps your body recover from exercise. If you’re trying to bulk up or simply tone your muscles, extra protein can help you meet your goals.  

    Q: Is protein powder bad for kidneys?

    Protein powder is bad for the kidneys only if you have kidney disease. The kidneys work harder when you ingest a lot of protein at once. If you have kidney disease, talk to your doctor. He may recommend a protein powder with a lower protein content, like 10 to 15 grams.

    Final Thoughts

    Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder’s inclusion of 100 percent WPI keeps it at the top of our list. Quality ingredients provide better nutrition and a more powerful protein hit with each serving. If product purity is high on your list of wants, consider Naked Pea Protein. You don’t get much purer than a single ingredient.

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