Protein powder is arguably the cornerstone supplement for most gym-goers and fitness enthusiasts as protein plays such a crucial role in building muscle and recovery. However, with a multitude of options available, each claiming to be better than the rest, it can be a daunting task to navigate through the crowded market and find the best protein powder for your needs.
Fortunately, we've put together a list of our top picks, much like we did with our list of the best multivitamins, to help you out, covering a range of different dietary requirements to help you supplement your daily protein and take your training and gains next-level.
Why is this? Well, protein is essential to build, maintain, and grow muscle, and in order to effectively achieve this, you need to ensure you're consuming enough protein on a daily basis. Some of the best foods for protein are great for the bulk of your diet. However, sometimes it can be hard hitting your daily intake without turning to additional supplementation.
So, while protein powder should never replace complete protein sources, additional supplementation can definitely come in handy when it comes to maintaining a balanced training diet. With that in mind, here are our top picks...
Best protein powder
- DMoose Whey Protein Isolate
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey
- bulk Micellar Casein
- Nutiva Organic Hemp Powder
- Momentous Essential Protein
- PhD Diet Whey
1. DMoose Whey Protein Isolate
Best whey protein powder
We're starting off with DMoose's Whey Protein Isolate as it's perhaps the most well-rounded whey protein powder on the market right now.
We say this because, in just one 30g scoop, you get a staggering 26g of cold processed, micro, and ultra-filtered non-denatured whey protein, providing 110 calories in total. The rest of those calories are made up of carbs, fats, and so on, as per usual. However, you only get 1g and 0.5g of each, which means you're almost exclusively consuming protein when taking this supplement.
On that point, DMoose boasts its blend is naturally flavoured, gluten-free, and contains no hormones, soy, fillers, or GMOs. The only real additions are 5.1g BCAAs and 2.8g Leucine per scoop, which help to promote recovery and provide energy for your workouts.
Oh, and it's worth mentioning this protein powder is free of aspartame, so you'll avoid all the potential hazards and risks associated with the sweetener here. This is a huge bonus in our eyes and one that helps elevate it as one of the best whey protein powders around.
- Read More: Best BCAA supplements
2. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey
Best budget protein powder
Optimum Nutrition stands out as a leader in the supplement industry, renowned for its extensive array of premium products, notably the widely popular and reasonably priced Gold Standard Whey.
Made from 100% whey, this protein blend boasts an impressive 24g protein content per serving. Additionally, each serving offers an extra 5.5g of BCAAs, which, as noted by Jackman et al., can augment muscle protein synthesis when supplemented.
Noteworthy is its minimal 1g sugar and 1.4g fat content, resulting in a mere 114 kcal per serving (varies by flavour). This makes it an ideal choice for those seeking to trim calorie intake while maintaining a protein-rich diet.
Furthermore, the product offers a diverse selection of flavours, ranging from banana cream to chocolate mint, along with an unflavoured option for those preferring a more natural taste. Overall, it's an exceptional protein powder complemented by a fantastic assortment of flavours.
- Read More: Best EAA supplements
3. bulk Micellar Casein
Best casein protein powder
This bulk Micellar Casein supplement stands out as a top pick if you're in search of a quality casein protein powder. Unlike whey, casein is the protein responsible for milk's white colour and is known for its slow digestion. As a result, it's often linked to reducing appetite and increasing feelings of fullness.
With a minimum of 83% protein content, each 30g serving provides 25g of protein (26g in the unflavoured variant). The remaining 109 kcals consist of 1g of carbs, 0.7g of sugar, and a mere 0.5g of fat, creating a lean blend that effectively satisfies hunger despite its low-calorie profile.
Flavour-wise, it offers classic options: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and an unflavoured option. While it's not an extensive selection, these timeless flavours generally cater to most taste preferences.
In summary, this bulk Micellar blend stands as one of the finest casein protein powders available. Its high protein content coupled with low-calorie composition makes it an excellent addition to your supplement lineup.
- Read More: Best taurine supplements
4. Nutiva Organic Hemp Powder
Best hemp protein powder
Next up we have Nutiva Organic Hemp Powder, our first vegan-friendly entry. Crafted from 100% organic hemp seeds, this powder is the product of a cold-press process, resulting in a remarkable 50% protein content by weight.
Each serving boasts 13g of protein in total, a seemingly modest amount, but actually quite impressive for a plant-based protein supplement. Beyond protein, this blend packs a punch as an excellent source of dietary fibre and an array of essential minerals like magnesium, iron, and potassium. Notably, potassium plays a pivotal role in maintaining fluid balance within our bodies.
Not only that, but this blend provides all nine essential amino acids in a single serving, coupled with 11g of carbohydrates. While the carbohydrate content might raise eyebrows, it's important to note that carbs serve as vital fuel for our bodies. Incorporating a touch more into your diet could effectively recharge your body after a workout or supply the necessary energy for your training sessions.
There's no option on flavours here, with the blend coming in one form which, according to Nutiva, delivers a mild, nutty taste that's great for smoothies, protein bars, and to add into yoghurt or oats. So, if you want to start your day off with a little extra protein, this may just be the perfect powder for you.
- Read More: Best creatine supplements
5. Momentous Essential Protein
Best vegan protein powder
Momentous Essential Protein is another vegan-friendly supplement that we think is an excellent plant-based option to consider as it's packed with an impressive 20g of protein.
This is exceptionally high for a vegan power and has been made possible by a precise 70:30 blend of pea and rice proteins which, combined, provides a complete amino acid profile.
It is a little more calorie-dense than our previous entries, containing 140 kcal per serving along with 10g of carbs, 2g of sugar, and 3g of fat. Don't be put off by this though, as the extra calories can be useful if you're looking to bulk up, something which can prove tricky at times when adhering to a plant-based diet.
It also comes in two different flavours: chocolate and vanilla chai, providing two delicious options for you to try. What's more, the supplement is NSF-tested for heavy metals and other contaminants, resulting in a high-quality, contaminant-free blend that's great for supplementing your training diet. Overall, one of the best vegan protein powders on the market.
- Read More: Best vegan protein bars
6. PhD Diet Whey
Best low-calorie protein powder
And finally, we come to PhD Diet Whey, a great low-calorie blend that provides an impressive 17g of protein with minimal carbs, fats, and sugars in each serving to aid the development and preservation of lean muscle.
One of the most notable details of this formula though is that it's enriched with L-carnitine, CLA, and green tea extract, renowned fat-burning ingredients that work in synergy with the protein to support any aspirations of a leaner physique.
One thing you do need to be aware of though is the fact it contains 7mg of caffeine per 25g serving. However, this means it essentially doubles up as a great pre-workout supplement as well as you can give your energy levels a boost by consuming this protein powder before your sessions.
In summary, then, we think it's fair to say there are few low-calorie protein powders out there quite as rich and nutritiously advantageous as this blend by PhD.
- Read More: Best pre-workout supplements
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Buying protein powder can often lead to a ton of questions, especially as there are a lot of common misconceptions. Don't worry though, as we've answered some of the most frequently asked queries below.
Is protein powder safe?
Protein powders are generally considered safe for most adults, with few associated side effects. However, it's important to be aware of potential issues, especially related to digestion and product quality.
On the digestion side, some individuals may experience digestive discomfort, such as gas, bloating, or stomach cramps when consuming certain types of protein powders. Skin reactions are also a possibility for some people.
Low-quality protein supplements may contain contaminants, which can lead to illnesses in some cases, although this risk is minimised if you opt for a supplement from a more reputable and well-reviewed brand.
To minimise these risks even further, we'd recommend you choose a high-quality product that has undergone third-party testing for purity and potency. If you have a pre-existing medical condition though, are pregnant, or take medications that might interact with protein powders, make sure you consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating them into your diet.
How much protein powder should you consume per day?
Your recommended daily protein intake will vary depending on factors such as your age, sex, weight, activity level, and overall health goals. That being said, MProtein recommends about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for most healthy individuals, while athletes may require around 1.3-1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.
From these ballpark figures, you can roughly work out how much protein powder to consume in a day, providing you know how much protein you're consuming through your regular diet.
This may roughly work out to be around 25-50 grams of protein powder for an average individual, which typically correlates to about 1-2 scoops per day in most cases.
However, it's incredibly important to remember that individual protein requirements can vary, and overconsuming protein can lead to several potential negative side effects such as weight gain depending, of course, on how much you consume. So, make sure you're careful when adding supplements to your diet, and consult with a healthcare professional if you're unsure.
When is the best time to take protein powder?
This is a hotly debated topic that, ultimately, has no clear answer. Some argue before training, others argue after, and there's even a case to be made for consuming protein powder during a session.
However, one of the most popular times to supplement your diet with protein is in a period known as the “anabolic window”, which refers to the time after training when your muscles are repairing and recovering.
How long this timeframe lasts is up for debate, although it's often said as being anywhere between 15 to 60 minutes post-workout. The issue is, research isn't conclusive on whether consuming protein in this window makes a difference. For example, a 2018 study by Schoenfeld & Aragon concludes by saying "Based on current evidence, it appears clear that any effect of protein timing on muscle hypertrophy, if in fact there is one, is relatively small," suggesting that the evidence is inconclusive.
That being said, the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests post-exercise ingestion (up to two hours after training) stimulates an increase in muscle protein synthesis, thus suggesting there perhaps is an anabolic window and, in turn, a "best time" to take protein powder for training.
It's a tricky one to figure out and something you may need to decide upon yourself through trial and error and your own research as there's not one clear answer. Ultimately though, it's important to find a time to consume protein that suits your routine and at a time that you can keep fairly consistent during your training week.
Can protein powder be used to replace regular meals?
Protein powder can be a convenient and effective supplement to support your dietary goals, but, as mentioned already, it should not be used as a complete replacement for regular meals. This is because while protein is an essential macronutrient necessary for various bodily functions, meal replacement with protein powder won't provide all the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that a balanced meal offers.
Regular meals are designed to provide a broader spectrum of nutrients, such as carbohydrates, healthy fats, fibre, vitamins, and minerals, which are crucial for overall health and well-being. These nutrients help maintain energy levels, support digestion, and regulate various bodily functions beyond what protein and protein powder offers.
Therefore, incorporating protein powder into your diet is best done in conjunction with a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of whole foods. You can use it as a post-workout snack, blend it into smoothies, or include it in recipes to boost your protein intake when needed. However, it's essential to continue consuming regular meals consisting of whole foods to ensure you get the full spectrum of nutrients required for optimal health.