Did you think the best protein powder is only good for building muscle? You're very, very wrong. As well as aiding the muscle-building process, protein powder is also beneficial for recovery, weight loss and more. The below list contains what we think are the best whey and vegan protein powders options to buy right now.
Taking protein powder supplements is almost as essential for workouts as wearing the best workout shoes. All manners of sportspeople, including bodybuilders, runners, cyclists and more, can benefit from taking the right protein supplement.
Protein can also help you lose weight. One gram of protein is four calories, the same as carbohydrates, but protein can make you feel fuller than carbs. You shouldn't replace all your carbs with protein, but upping the daily intake can be beneficial in not feeling hungry all the time when on a diet.
Losing weight can go hand in hand with getting fit, and if you want to get fit, you should pay attention to how much protein you consume. This also ties in well with another feature of protein: recovery. Having a quick protein shake after a workout can aid muscle recovery, enabling you to work out more safely and frequently.
Best protein powders (whey)
Each 30-gram serving of the bulk Pure Whey Isolate delivers 26 grams of protein and only minuscule amounts of sugar and fat, making it the No.1 choice for people who tend to plan their meals meticulously.
According to bulk, Pure Whey Isolate uses "premium whey protein isolate sourced from European, grass-fed dairy cows", so one would hope it's decent quality. The milk and, therefore, the protein powder is also said to be free from hormones, antibiotics and genetic modification.
The product is sweetened with Sucralose instead of Stevia, so if you're opposed to the latter's taste, you can rest assured the Pure Whey Isolate doesn't have any funny aftertaste. At least not more than your average protein powder.
Alternatively, you can give bulk's Informed Whey Protein a try. According to bulk, it's the "very best whey protein shake from bulk, created for elite athletes", and since I'm an elite athlete (not), I felt like this was the perfect option for me.
The added benefit of the Informed Whey is that it's tested for banned substances, making it ideal for pro athletes. And not just lifters but cyclists, runners and so on. Better still, it comes in some of the best flavours I've seen in a while, including Salted Caramel & Walnut and Chocolate Hazelnut Biscuit.
The Organic Protein Company Whey Protein is a good example of why organic supplements have more benefits than just being healthier than their regular counterparts. Sure, the protein used in the Organic Protein Company Whey Protein is derived from grass-fed cows and contains no additives. Still, it also delivers on texture, micronutrients and – most importantly – protein content.
Each 25-gram serving of the Organic Protein Company Whey Protein contains just under 20 grams of protein and only 0.6/1.3 grams of sugar and fat, respectively. This powder also mixes well and can be used with either milk or water, or you can go crazy and use it with porridge or even savoury stuff (the unflavoured variety is best for this purpose).
Talking about flavour, the Organic Protein Company just came out with a brand new flavour to accompany the more traditional vanilla and chocolate varieties: strawberry, elderberry and beetroot. The new flavour is hopefully the first of many upcoming exciting varieties. If you excuse me, I must go now to have my third serving of strawberry, elderberry and beetroot protein today.
The Organic Protein Company Whey Protein contains all the essential and branched-chain amino acids you need for muscle building and repair, and it is also hormone-free, gluten-free, soy-free and GMO-free.
The downside? It costs twice as much as your run-of-the-mill whey protein. £22 for a 400-gram bag is definitely not cheap, but in return, you can rest assured you don't pump your body full of chemicals, preservatives and unnatural additives.
If you need something even purer, try the Organic Protein Co.'s Organic Whey Isolate. A 25-gram serving contains no less than 22.2 grams of protein and only traces of fat and carbs. It's also under 100 kcal (94.25 kcal, to be precise), enabling you to fine-tune your diet like never before.
Two details set the Foodspring protein powder apart from the competition: protein source and composition. Foodspring claims that all whey protein included in this product is from cows that spent at least 90% of their time outside and free to graze the pastures of New Zealand. This obviously makes the Foodspring Whey Protein more sustainable and, quite frankly, a better product overall than most of the powders available on the market today.
Secondly, the Foodspring Whey Protein mixes really well, even with water, so there is no need to invest in the most elaborate protein shakers to get an end-product that is not just slightly flavoured liquid sprinkled with little clumps of protein powder. This might not mean much to some, but a powder that dissolves easily is heaven-sent for people who consume protein shakes daily like me.
Naturally, the Foodspring Whey Protein has a pretty good macronutrient profile: each 30-gram serving packs 24 grams of protein and only just over 1 gram of sugar and fat (1.3 and 1.1 gram, respectively). The powder is sweetened with Stevia, so there is no funny aftertaste either, another positive in our books!
Much like any other premium protein, the Foodspring Whey protein comes in relatively small containers and carries a large price tag: you will have to pay the premium price for the quality ingredients. The larger container is 750 grams, and if you take two servings today, you'll consume the whole tub in less than a fortnight. For this reason, the Foodspring Whey Protein is recommended more for maintaining muscle mass/dieting purposes as opposed to bodybuilding. For those people, this protein is an excellent choice.
The caramel chocolate flavour tested here is one of the most convincing flavours where whey protein is concerned. Thankfully, it lacks that nasty chemical taste that other cheaper rivals seem to possess.
It blends extremely well with water and is specifically engineered for some of the most demanding athletes on the planet, meaning it contains quality ingredients and shuns much of the chemical bulk found in rival powders.
An impressive 26 grams of protein in a single scoop should be enough to suit most needs, but I found ourselves opting for a second portion to thicken up the drink a little and add some punch to the flavour.
Easy to guzzle, packed with important amino acids and incredibly low in fat and sugar content: give the USN Blue Lab 100% Whey a try today!
Optimum Nutrition is trusted by plenty of professional athletes worldwide, and its Gold Standard whey sits at the very top of its range.
With 24 grams of protein and 5.5g of BCAAs, it delivers a hefty dose of muscle-building nutrients with each scoop, although it's not exactly the most delicious thing to get down your gullet.
It mixes easily with water, but the chocolate flavour does a mediocre job of representing a sweet treat. However, there are 17 flavours to choose from, so some are likely better than others.
One imagines the product designers at Dioxyme as scientists and doctors in white lab coats, mixing different ingredients in vials, holding them up in the light to see how well they mixed. This is because every detail of Dioxyme products seems to be engineered to perfection: the ingredients, the nutritional profile, the taste, all working together in perfect harmony.
A good example of this tinkering is the Dioxyme Grass-fed Ultra Whey Protein. It is full of the best quality ingredients you might want to include in your dream protein powder, not to mention it tastes great. Even if only mixed with water, the Dioxyme Grass-fed Ultra Whey Protein will have a phenomenal, rich taste that satisfies the taste buds with every gulp.
The Dioxyme Grass-fed Ultra Whey Protein combines whey isolate 93 and whey concentrate 80: these take up 80% of the mix. The sweetener is organic stevia, but even the rest of the ingredients are either non-GMO or organic. Definitely no nasties here.
Each 38-gram serving contains 27 grams of protein, 3 grams of sugar and less than 1 gram of fat. The amino acid profile is also impressive: no less than 18 different amino acids are crammed into this product. All protein is sourced from grass-fed cows, and the product itself is paleo-, keto- and eco-friendly too, or so does Dioxyme claims.
A slight criticism – and the only one we can offer – is that although Dioxyme ships to the UK, you will need to pay customs tax which will be added to your total. Considering that the product is not cheap as it is, this might put some people off. If you are in the US, I strongly recommend upgrading your protein game and switching to Dioxyme going forward.
Best protein powders (vegan)
The Huel Complete Protein is a bit different from the rest of the vegan protein lot. For one, its macro-and micronutrient stats are on point, and it contains 20 grams of protein, 9 grams of EAAs and 5 grams of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) per a 105 calorie serving. It also tastes rather pleasant for a protein powder that's not whey.
Sure, it’s a bit sludgy and has a slight vegan twang to it, but overall, it’s pretty enjoyable to drink. Just a note, especially for people like me who like to mix their protein powder with only a small amount of water: you might want to add a bit more water to the Huel Complete Protein so it doesn't get too congealed to a level when it wouldn't come out of the shaker. Adding over 200 ml of water should do the trick but feel free to experiment to find the best protein shake consistency for you. Or go crazy like me and mix it with Greek yoghurt to recreate The Mountain's dinner. Your call.
In addition to all that, the Complete Protein is a “nutritionally complete” plant-based protein powder, meaning it contains all 26 essential vitamins and minerals and is a source of fibre, carbs, and fats. This powder truly is the protein powder version of 'standard' Huel, a leaner, less calorific option for those who don't necessarily want to replace a meal with Huel but would still like to enjoy the benefits of it.
For those of you who are planning on packing on weight, we recommend the Huel Black Edition.
Vegan protein powders have come a long way, and if you are a lifter with a plant-based diet, you can choose from many products in this day and age since all the major supplement manufacturers have at least one vegan protein powder to their repertoire.
Given the higher calorie content of The Protein Works' Vegan Wondershake, this protein powder could be featured on T3's best weight gainer guide, too, but I felt it's best to leave it in this list instead.
The Vegan Wondershake has it all that made Vegan Protein Extreme great: it's high in protein (85%), low on sugar, virtually fat-free and above all, has an acceptable taste.
Not just acceptable: it actually tastes good, especially in comparison to some other popular vegan meal replacement products. It is not recommended for weight loss, though, due to the high-calorie content but if you are exercising more vigorously, definitely give the Vegan Wondershake a try.
As protein supplements go, we will stick our neck on the line and say the chocolate peanut offering from Form is genuinely enjoyable to drink, boasting a texture and flavour that isn't far off a proper milkshake.
It's also completely vegan-friendly, gluten-free and is derived 100 per cent from plant-based products, meaning there is a pleasing lack of chemicals on the ingredients list.
In fact, a single serving packs a whopping 30g of protein from brown rice, Algavia and hemp, with Stevia and Thaumatin sweeteners and natural flavours used to make the experience enjoyable.
Each serving also contains a complete amino acid profile and additional probiotics to help boost the immune system of anyone working hard in the gym or out on the field.
Blend it with water, and it's enjoyable. Mix it with almond milk or another dairy-free alternative, throw in a banana, and you have a genuinely tasty treat that's delivering a hefty dose of protein with every gulp.
The My Protein Vegan Protein Blend is crazy low on carbs – only 0.5 gram per serving – and has no sugar in it at all. Like, zero amount. Suppose you are looking for a clean protein powder, whether whey or vegan; the My Protein Vegan Protein Blend won't disappoint.
The Vegan Protein Blend is a blend of pea and fava bean protein isolates, in case you were wondering. It comes in two flavours, your everyday strawberry and the more adventurous chilli chocolate.
Not to mention, the My Protein Vegan Protein Blend only contains 102 calories per serving but still packs 5 grams of naturally occurring BCAAs. Not bad at all.
Made from pea, hemp, alfalfa and pumpkin, the Vega Clean Protein really does live up to its name, while a distinct lack of sugar and fat make it one of the healthiest choices to go for.
Unfortunately, there is a hefty compromise on texture and taste, with the chocolate flavour tested here not really doing much for these tastebuds.
It requires a more vigorous mix than some of the other powders featured on this list, but we did find it one of the easiest on the stomach, perhaps thanks to an additional digestive enzyme derived from pineapple.
What you need to know about protein powder
A saying in gym circles goes like this: abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen. This is true not only for abs but most of your other muscles too. To build lean muscle mass, you have to take protein, ideally sourced from various whole foods. And workout with the best dumbbells, best barbells and best kettlebells. Obviously.
Good protein sources include lean meats such as chicken breast and lean steak, fatty fish like salmon, nuts, seeds (e.g. flaxseed, hemp seed), eggs and more. To aid muscle recovery and therefore gains, you will need to regularly supply your body with protein since we haven't got protein reserves.
When looking to invest, make sure you spend some time studying the nutritional information on the tub. Steer clear of added sugar, emulsifiers, chemical sweeteners and other nasties often included in cheaper products to bulk them out.
How much protein do you need a day?
What is the right amount of protein is a constant source of debate among professionals but the consensus at the moment states that you'll need to take anything between 1.8-2.2 grams of protein per body kilogram per day if you do rigorous training.
The British Heart Foundation says "Most adults need around 0.75g of protein per kilo of body weight per day (for the average woman, this is 45g or 55g for men)." This is for people who don't exercise regularly, only 'exist'. Once you start exercising, you will need to up your protein intake, depending on how vigorous said exercising is, all the way to the aforementioned 1.8-2.2 grams per body kilo per day.
That said, most active adults should be able to get away with taking 1.2-1.5 grams of protein per body kilogram per day.
If you follow a rigorous bodybuilding regime, as well as taking enough protein, you should also make sure you include ample amount of healthy carbs in your diet.
What type of protein powder is best?
Navigating the minefield of protein shake terminology can be a nightmare, as there are numerous types that all work differently and each is designed to be used at different times of the day.
Whey and casein are two of the most common protein types, with the latter acting as a slow-release protein that is usually taken before bed and assists the body in repairing and building muscle during rest.
Whey protein is by far the most popular fast-acting choice and can be taken at any time of day to meet your protein requirements. It's usually fashioned from a dairy derivative, but many vegan plant-based options are now widely available.
Vegan protein powders have come a long way in recent years and by now the best vegan protein powders closely resemble the taste and consistency of their whey counterparts. Opt-in for more premium products to avoid disappointment (and feeling bloated).
How to use protein powder
There are lots of contradicting schools of thought surrounding the optimum time of day to quaff a shake, but most agree that post-workout is a great time to get a shot of whey protein into the system.
The least calorific way to prepare a protein shake is to blend the powder with cold water in a shaker or blender, leading to a thinner consistency and weaker flavour but containing almost zero fat.
Of course, you can blend with cow's milk or vegan alternatives, bung in some peanut butter, a dollop of chocolate ice cream, a handful of cherries and whizz it into a blender for a truly opulent treat, but the waistline probably isn't going to thank you for it.
Either way, we recommend using a protein shake blender to achieve maximum consistency. You can use a regular blender, but these were designed for chopping ingredients instead of mixing them, resulting in a coarser shake.
There are also many online resources for those who wish to get creative and sprinkle some protein powder into their bakes and culinary creations. Still, we'd advise sticking to cold water and downing the stuff for the quickest and most convenient results.
Have one for breakfast, take it at lunch or drink before going to bed to top up the protein in your diet, but ensure you stick to the recommended daily allowance and don't overdo it.
Excessive protein intake can strain your kidneys and liver, which have to work harder to process the surplus nutrients.
How bad is protein powder for you?
Whey protein is not bad for anyone, as long as it is used correctly. Protein powders have a high 'bioavailability', meaning your body can quickly absorb the protein found in the powder. Having protein powder as the only source of protein is a bad idea for sure, but having a shake a day when your body needs protein the most – after workouts – can help muscle protein synthesis, a.k.a. gains.