Protein powder is a highly concentrated and powderized supplement that’s derived from protein-rich foods like milk, peas, soybeans, and bone broth.
It’s widely used by athletes for better strength gain and muscle recovery following tough training sessions, but it’s also incredibly useful if you are trying to lose weight or maintain a lean physique.
Protein powder has a number of special biological properties that make it ideal for dropping fat and maintaining muscle mass. Our researchers have ranked the ten best protein powders for staying fit and healthy, whether that means adding muscle at the gym or fighting body fat.
1. Ladder Whey Protein Powder
Ladder offers two types of protein: whey and plant-based. Their whey protein contains a mix of whey isolates and casein protein to consistently fuel your muscles with amino acids, ensuring maximum protein synthesis.
Ladder whey only uses natural sweeteners, without the use of fillers, additives, or coloring. With its NSF-certified badge, you can be confident that every serving of Ladder whey is compliant with even the strictest Olympic standards. If you are going to buy any protein powder, this is Alpha XR’s top choice.
2. Ladder Plant Protein Powder
Ladder’s plant protein provides a complete essential amino acid profile (something almost all other plant-based protein powders don’t have), ensuring maximum bioavailability and nutrition for those who follow a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle.
The blend-ability is amazing, and the taste is completely smooth, without the use of artificial flavors and colors. If you are going to get a plant-based protein powder, this is the ultimate choice.
3. Natural Force Organic Whey Protein
If clean, natural, and pure ingredients are important to you, Natural Force should be near the top of your list.
Their organic protein powder comes from grass-fed organic cows and is flavored only with vanilla extracts and stevia leaf extract.
The organic certification means it’s less likely to have contaminants, and healthier cows from a grass-fed diet means healthier protein in your protein powder.
4. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey
When it comes to straight whey protein, Optimum Nutrition is the best pick. It’s got a mixture of whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, and whey protein peptides, and is flavored with natural and artificial flavors that don’t add any sugars to the ingredients.
It comes in a huge five-pound tub and is well-suited for fitness enthusiasts who go through a lot of protein on a regular basis.
5. Myprotein Impact Whey Protein Isolate
Myprotein makes an athlete-focused protein powder that uses only whey protein isolate (the purest form of whey protein), flavored with cocoa powder, artificial flavoring, and sucralose.
It blends up in a shaker bottle easily thanks to the soy lecithin included as an emulsifier, so if you don’t mind the artificial flavoring, it’s a top pick for athletes.
6. Left Coast Performance Bone Broth Protein Powder
With a protein source that’s even more concentrated than whey protein, the usual standard-bearer, Left Coast Performance makes a great protein powder that’s paleo, low carb, and keto diet friendly.
It’s got less than one gram of sugar per serving, and the protein content is north of 90% by weight. Vegans need not apply—this complete amino acid profile is derived from grass-fed beef bones, which makes it great for both athletic performance and for weight loss.
7. Less Naked Whey
Want a clean and simple protein powder but hate the taste of unflavored whey? Less Naked Whey has got you covered. Using just whey protein concentrate, coconut sugar, and cocoa powder for flavoring, Less Naked Whey is a great tasting and simple protein powder without any unnatural ingredients.
The only downsides are that whey protein concentrate is not quite as pure as whey protein isolate, and the coconut sugar does push the sugar content up a bit, to 5 grams of sugar for every 25 grams of protein. Not a deal-breakers for most people, but it does likely rule this protein powder out for strict low-carb dieters and people on a ketogenic diet.
8. Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein
As far as plant-based protein protein powders go, Garden of Life is the very best. WIth a complete amino acid profile thanks to the variety of vegetable sources of protein, it can compete with the best animal-based protein sources.
The addition of sprouts, superfoods, and enzymes for digestion make it well-tolerated and exceptionally healthy.
9. Manitoba Harvest Organic Hemp Pro Fiber
Hemp protein is one of the best sources of protein if you are using it for weight loss purposes, thanks to the extremely high fiber content in a good hemp protein powder.
Manitoba Harvest makes the best hemp protein on the market, due to its organic certification and cold-milling process. While this protein powder is only 50% protein by weight, there’s an astounding 13 grams of fiber for every 11 grams of protein.
If you want a protein powder that really feels like a full meal, Manitoba Harvest is what you want. As with most single-source plant-based proteins, the amino acid profile isn’t as robust as an animal protein, but that’s not a problem if the rest of your diet has some additional sources of protein.
10. FitMiss Delight
FitMiss is one of the best protein powders for women due to its variety of protein sources (whey, casein, egg, and potato) plus its blend of superfood extracts.
You get the benefits of protein powder plus the antioxidant power of ingredients like broccoli, blackberry, cherry, and red currant. With extra vitamin B12 for a midday energy boost, it’s the perfect protein powder for women on the go.
11. Dymatize ISO 100
Dymatize ISO 100 is a bulk whey protein that’s flavored with natural and artificial flavorings and uses a combination of sucralose (a synthetic non-caloric sweetener) and stevia (a natural non-caloric sweetener) as sweetening agents.
This makes it taste great and keeps the sugar content near zero, though purists won’t be a big fan of these extra ingredients. If you want a lot of protein that’s easy to use and doesn’t taste chalky, it’s a good pick.
12. Orgain Organic Protein
Orgain delivers vegan-friendly protein that’s made with certified organic ingredients. Its protein is derived from peas, chia seeds, and brown rice, and includes a creamer base that makes it very easy to mix up into a smoothie or a shake. Even the creamer uses natural and organic ingredients.
The only turn-off for some people will be the erythritol, a sugar alcohol that’s included as a non-caloric sweetener but can cause digestive issues in some people.
Who Should Buy Protein Powder?
Protein powder is safe for most individuals and can help improve recovery, muscle building and strength gains. It is also great for individuals looking to lose weight since it can improve your metabolism and satiety.
Protein powder can come from various sources, some which may not be appropriate for all lifestyles or people. If you have an allergy to dairy, it’s important to avoid protein powders derived from milk.
In general, protein powders don’t tend to have any serious interactions. However, if you are taking a prescription medication and are concerned, it’s best to speak to your doctor before taking a protein powder supplement.
How We Ranked
Protein powders can come from a variety of sources, and some are better than others. According to research, animal protein powders like whey and casein are a lot more beneficial to the body than plant-based sources since they provide a complete protein source. As such, we ranked animal protein products like Optimum Nutrition very well. Building off this, we preferred whey isolate protein powder that was from grass-fed cows. This ensured no dangerous hormones or antibiotics found its way into the protein.
We did allow for plant proteins on our list under one condition: they provided a complete source of protein. This is why you’ll find Ladder Sport at the top f the list. They provide both an animal protein option and a plant protein option with a complete essential amino acid profile.
The flavoring was also important. While we did prefer delicious flavors, it was more important to us that products used natural sweeteners, as the long term resaved on article sweeteners is unclear. We also opted for products that contained minimal fillers, carbs, and fat. Purity was king for us, and protein powders that weren’t pure were severely penalized.
Blend-ability was another crucial element, as no one wants a chunky protein shake. Therefore we tested a variety of protein powders, putting them through rigorous blending trials. Every single product on this list came out clean with minimal chunks.
Protein powder helps you gain strength. A huge number of studies have confirmed the benefits of protein powder in athletes, but one study published 2012 summarizes the results of many different studies (1).
The review, published by researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, pooled data from 22 different clinical trials of protein supplementation and found statistically significant evidence for increases in strength, when comparing strength gains to placebo (non-protein) supplements.
The practical meaning of these findings, according to the authors, is that a protein supplement can increase your one-rep max in the leg press by 30 pounds compared to what you’d have achieved on the same training program without a protein supplement.
Beyond the statistical significance, this means a lot in the weight room—30 pounds is pretty substantial.
Protein powder boosts muscle recovery after tough workouts. The amino acids in protein powder assist with muscle repair, so it’s only natural to expect that muscle recovery would be superior when you are taking a protein powder supplement.
This was demonstrated in a 2010 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2). In the study, researchers had two groups of subjects, one of which received a protein supplement, while the other received a placebo supplement.
Both groups underwent a fatiguing routine of eccentric weight lifting exercises designed to induce muscle soreness. The researchers found that the protein supplement resulted in better retention of strength in the days following the intense workout compared to the placebo.
The strength gains from protein powder aren’t limited to athletes. Protein powder can be very useful in older adults who are trying to combat muscle loss, which can result in frailty and decreased independence.
A study by Alan Hayes and Paul Cribb at Victoria University in Australia summarizes the findings of several different experiments on strength training in older adults and the benefits of protein supplementation (3).
The authors concluded that protein supplementation, especially soon after resistance training, can boost increases in skeletal muscle mass, leading to a decreased risk of disability and better quality of life in older adults.
Protein powder increases your metabolic rate and helps burn calories. Using a protein powder increases your body’s baseline metabolic rate through a process called thermogenesis.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, a high protein meal (like a protein shake) ramps up your body’s caloric expenditure, even at rest.
The result? A doubling of calories burned compared to the increase in energy expenditure after a low-protein meal (4).
Maintaining weight loss is easier with a protein powder supplement. In addition to the thermogenic properties of protein powder, another useful benefit is its ability to induce satiety, or the feeling of fullness after a large meal.
A study by researchers at Purdue University examined the effects of increased protein intake in obese women, and found that protein increases feelings of fullness and helps preserve muscle mass during dieting (5). The effect of this increased feeling of fullness is less calorie ingestion at meals later in the day, according to work by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (6).
Thanks to its thermogenic and satiety-inducing benefits, protein powder mixed into a shake can make a great meal replacement, especially if you are avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugars in favor of the high-concentration protein and low carb content of a quality protein powder supplement.
Since all protein powders are derived from natural foods, they are more or less devoid of any side effects.
The only exception to this is protein powders derived from a food that you are intolerant of or allergic to. People with mild to moderate lactose intolerance can typically handle whey and casein protein (which are derived from milk), because the lactose concentration in these protein powders is usually less than 1% by weight (7).
People with more severe lactose intolerance, or people with a milk allergy, should probably steer clear of dairy-derived proteins, but there are plenty of vegan protein powders and lactose-free protein powders to choose from instead.
Protein dosages for athletes are typically given relative to body size, since larger athletes need more protein.
Scientific research has found that athletes who are training for endurance events need 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day, while athletes preparing for strength, speed, and power events need 1.4 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day (8).
Observational studies have noted that bodybuilders and athletes looking to gain large amounts of muscle mass often consume 2 to 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day, so these high protein intakes may be necessary for extreme muscle mass gain.
For weight loss and weight loss maintenance, the ideal dose of supplemental protein appears to be on the order of 30 to 50 grams of protein per day.
Keep in mind you’ll have to adjust this based on the actual protein content of your protein powder Whey protein, for example, is 80% protein by weight.
Why should I add protein powder to my diet? Protein powder can help you get your recommended daily amount (RDA) of protein, help supplement meals on the go and, in some cases, help with weight management. Protein helps give your body a sense of fullness, while also providing longer-lasting, slow-digesting energy over periods of several hours. This can help promote healthy, natural appetite levels and eating behaviors.
Protein powder can also help active individuals and dedicated athletes supercharge their training and recovery. According to one study, individuals younger than 49 years who undertake resistance training find protein supplementation useful for boosting the musculoskeletal system’s adaptive responses (9). This is especially true for individuals who lead busy lives and find it difficult to plan or cook meals.
Increased muscle mass leads to a faster metabolism, which can help you stay healthier and leaner, feel more confident, and tackle harder workouts. By boosting muscle adaptation and growth while also serving to promote healthy appetite levels, protein powder can help you regulate both your metabolism and your overall weight.
Can I mix protein powder with other recipes? There are many ways you can incorporate protein powder into your everyday life. While many choose easy protein shakes, you can also make protein cookies, protein Rice Krispies, or even protein pizza crusts. You should read the packaging of your particular protein powder to see which recipes are most recommended. Some protein powders are suitable for baking, while others taste best as a simple shake.
When is the best time of day to consume protein powder? Protein powder can be consumed either before or after a workout to equally beneficial effects. One study demonstrated that the myth of the “optimal window” for post-workout nutrient intake is actually much wider than previously thought (10).
Rather than strictly timing nutrition intake, it’s essential to make sure you ingest adequate amounts of protein and other nutrients for your body weight. To help you intuitively judge your protein and nutrient intake, aim to go into a workout feeling energized and nourished–not starving or stuffed. After your workout, refuel to the point of fullness within a few hours so your body can efficiently repair and adapt.
Is protein powder suitable for vegetarians and vegans? There are multiple types of protein powder on the market. Some of them are derived from animal-based sources, while others are plant-based. Each protein powder product features a list of its ingredients so you can choose the powder that is right for you.
What are the common sources of protein for protein powder? The most popular protein powder sources include whey, casein, colostrum, soy, pea, rice protein, and carob germ powder protein.
What are the advantages of whey protein powder? Whey is the most commonly used protein powder. This is because it contains all nine essential amino acids and is also water-soluble, which means that it helps to support lean muscle mass and strength development. These factors make it an easy go-to for protein powder production.
What are amino acids, and why are they important for protein powder? Amino acids are the building blocks of cells. According to the 10th edition of Recommended Dietary Allowances, both “animal and plant proteins are made up of about 20 common amino acids” (11). How much of each amino acid is present in a protein varies, but, other than gelatin, all food proteins contain at least trace amounts of each.
Out of each of these amino acids, the human body makes 11. The other nine are known as essential amino acids since humans must consume these in their diets to rebuild cells efficiently.
What are complete proteins, and why are they important for protein powder? Complete proteins are proteins that contain all essential amino acids, which are the building blocks for cellular growth. Both whey and casein are considered complete proteins found in dairy products, which is why they’re often used in protein powders. Soy and pea protein are both plant-based complete proteins.
In many vegetarian and vegan protein powders, pea protein is paired with rice powder protein to boost the content of the amino acid leucine. This is because pea protein has slightly lower levels of leucine than whey or casein. It’s more efficient to pair pea protein with rice powder than to simply take more pea protein.
What are the benefits of incorporating protein powder for a high-protein diet? A diet that includes protein powder and plenty of vegetables can help you build muscle, improve digestion, and feel fuller longer. However, eating vast amounts of animal-based protein can lead to weaker bones if you do not also ingest lots of vegetables, secure a good calcium intake source, and ensure you consume enough vitamin K (12).
Is it possible to ingest too much protein and protein powder? Excessive protein intake (greater than 0.8 grams of animal-based protein per kg of body weight per day for the average individual) is associated with adverse health outcomes, especially when paired with a low fluid intake (13). Research suggests that this upper limit is higher for athletes, closer to 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day.
While certain conditions like sarcopenia (loss of muscle tissue due to aging) or malnutrition may necessitate a short burst of high protein consumption, long-term protein consumption in otherwise healthy individuals can result in kidney stones, bone density issues, and even liver problems. When planning your protein powder intake for the day, remain within the healthy RDA limits.
How much protein powder can your body use in a single meal? For active individuals who want to build muscle, protein synthesis is maximized when 20-25 grams of protein is consumed in a meal. Some athletes incorporate 40 grams of protein per meal to reach a daily threshold of 150 grams, or 30%, for a 2,000-calorie per day diet (14).
Can protein powder slow down your digestion? When individuals discuss a “slowed digestion” due to protein or other food sources, there are many factors at play. It can be difficult to determine what exactly is slowing your digestion. Moreover, how your body digests protein depends on your makeup (allergies, food sensitivities, etc.), as well as what else you’ve eaten that day and what else you’re eating with your protein.
Protein ingested on its own tends to move through the digestive tract quickly, while protein consumed in conjunction with a balanced meal takes longer to digest, but synthesizes more thoroughly. If you experience slowed digestion, consider adding more fiber to your diet and decreasing stress levels. If the problem persists, consult your healthcare provider for further advice.
Should I add protein powder to my diet? Protein powder is useful for anyone to incorporate into their diet. It’s particularly useful for busy athletes who want to make sure their bodies are getting all the essential amino acids and complete proteins they need in a day.
Having a dependable protein powder supplement can help you maximize your performance when you don’t have time to plan a meal, but you still want to stay on track with your fitness goals.
When is protein powder especially important? Protein powder is especially important at times of life when protein requirements are elevated. Teenage growth spurts, recovering from injury or surgery, starting a new workout program, and amping up an old workout program can all mean that you might need a little more protein than usual. Protein powder is an excellent way to help yourself meet your increased protein needs during these times.
If you’re going vegetarian or vegan, protein powder can also be instrumental in helping you keep your protein intake at a healthy level. Before beginning a new protein regimen, discuss your goals with your doctor so you can decide how to incorporate protein powder into your daily diet.
Is protein powder compatible with a paleo diet? Dairy- and plant-based proteins are compatible with a paleo diet. While protein powders are inherently processed, they are sourced from natural ingredients and can help you keep your protein intake at a healthy level.
Does creatine improve protein powder? Creatine is a naturally occurring compound formed in protein metabolism that helps your muscles exert maximum effort. In long-term supplementation, creatine helps you increase fat-free mass, improve strength, and build muscle (15). These results have been heavily studied with respect to weightlifting, but they also apply to endurance pursuits and high-intensity sprints. Protein powder can help further enhance recovery and build muscle alongside creatine.
What are some health benefits of creatine in protein powder? Creatine supplementation is associated with lowered cholesterol, as well as improvements in symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases, adolescent depression, fibromyalgia, ischemia, osteoarthritis, and diabetes (16).
The compound benefits of creatine in protein powder may help the body perform better, build more muscle and strength, jumpstart the metabolism, promote a healthy weight, protect against disease, and boost bone density.
Should I add greens powder to my protein powder? If you do not feel you get enough vegetables in your regular diet, adding greens powder to your protein powder shake may help protect against high blood pressure (17).
In particular, adding barley grass powder to your protein powder mixes can help promote heart health, protect against symptoms of diabetes, and boost healthy sleep patterns. It’s also packed with brain-healthy vitamins that can help promote cognition and focus.
Barley grass powder also has anti-inflammatory benefits and can improve gastrointestinal health. The added fiber in barley grass may also help your body absorb and digest the protein in protein powder more effectively (18).
Is it possible to have an allergic reaction to protein powder? Protein powder is generally considered safe; however, if you suspect you have allergies or food sensitivities, consult your healthcare provider before taking any. If you are allergic to dairy, protein powder will likely make you sick, or at the very least, bloated.
Why do athletes take protein powder? Protein powder is a useful supplement when it comes to gaining muscular strength and mass, losing weight, and maintaining weight loss.
In addition to its widely-known ability to increase muscle repair and augment strength gains, protein powder also increases feelings of fullness and upregulates your body’s baseline metabolic rate, meaning it helps you burn more calories throughout the day. Protein powder also appears to prioritize burning fat above burning muscle, meaning that your weight loss is more effective—you’ll drop more fat and maintain more muscle mass.
- Paleo protein powder
- Egg-white protein powder
- Keto protein powder
- Soy protein powder
- Low-carb protein powder
Protein powder is a supplement with a wide range of uses, from boosting muscle mass gain in athletes to fighting frailty in older adults to maintaining lean body mass while dropping fat mass.
Many of these benefits are linked to protein powder’s ability to heal muscles, increase satiety, and turn up your body’s metabolism.
When taken at the right dose, protein powder is one of the best ways to gain strength, drop fat, and improve or maintain your physique.
For Alpha XR’s #1 recommended protein powder, click here.