- 1 What is Protein?
- 2 How Much Protein Do You Need?
- 3 Types of Protein Powder
- 4 Top 10 Whey Protein Powder Supplements
- 5 Best Time of Day to Drink a Protein Shake
- 6 How To Choose a Good Protein Powder
- 7 Where Does Protein Powder Come From?
- 8 Mix Protein Powder With Water or Milk?
- 9 Top 5 Health Benefits of Protein Powder
- 10 Protein Powder Side Effects
If resistance training is part of your regular fitness routine, you’ll have a higher recommended daily intake of protein. Meeting this requirement through whole foods isn’t easy and can prove expensive, which is why protein powder is often the best option.
Splitting your daily intake into 5 or 6 smaller meals by including protein shakes guarantees regular protein consumption throughout the day. This keeps your muscles supplied with amino acids, creating an anabolic environment that’s optimum for muscle growth and recovery.
So how do you find the best protein powder for your fitness goals?
There are literally thousands of protein powders on the market. Some are fast-digesting whey protein, some use slow-digesting casein protein, and others use a combination of the two for releasing protein into your muscles gradually over time.
That’s why this guide includes everything you need to know about the best protein powder supplements, including cost-per-serving, flavors, ingredients, and how to find the lowest price.
We’ll walk you through the different types of protein powder, from whey protein isolate to calcium caseinate and micellar casein. Individual protein powder reviews are also available, with comparisons between the top brands.
Whether your goal is to lose weight (cut), gain weight (bulk), or simply maintain your current physique, we’re confident the protein powders contained in this guide can help.
What is Protein?
Protein is a macronutrient that’s essential for the growth and repair of the body, including muscle. It’s made up of 11 amino acids and provides 4 calories per gram.
According to the British Nutrition Foundation:
“All cells and tissues contain protein, therefore protein is essential for growth and repair and the maintenance of good health. Protein provides the body with approximately 10 to 15% of its dietary energy and it is the second most abundant compound in the body, following water.”
Foods containing poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts, and meat are all considered part of the protein foods group.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Before buying any new protein powder, it’s important to read the ingredients carefully. But one thing they’ll all have in common is a healthy dose of protein.
So, is it possible to ingest too much protein, and what happens if you do?
The current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein in the US is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, or 0.37 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. This is an amount set by the US Department of Agriculture for anyone over the age of 19, and backed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
So, for someone weighing 200 lbs, their protein RDA would be 72 grams.
However, by 50 years of age, this recommendation increases to 1 gram per kilogram of body weight to maintain muscle mass.
It’s important to remember that these are the bare minimum amounts, and don’t consider your level of physical activity.
If your goal is to increase muscle mass through resistance training, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.5-0.8 g/pound). This would mean someone weighing 200 lbs now needs 160 grams of protein per day.
Studies have also proven that small protein-packed meals boost protein synthesis by 25% compared to larger sittings.
Types of Protein Powder
There are three main types of protein powder:
- Protein concentrates: Protein extracted from whole food using heat or enzymes. These are best taken during the day or as a pre-workout shake, as they contain 60-80% protein and 20-30% fat and carbs.
- Protein isolates: Whey protein isolate powders contain a higher concentration of protein, closer to 90-95%. This is after going through further filtration to remove the carbs and fats.
- Protein hydrolysates: Your body and muscles can absorb hydrolyzed whey faster than standard whey protein, which makes it a popular choice for post-workout nutrition. Some clinical studies have shown hydrolysates are better at spiking insulin levels, which helps promote muscle growth.
Whey is a liquid byproduct created during the manufacture of cheese or casein, after milk has been curdled and strained. That’s why it makes sense that Glanbia – one of the global leaders in cheese and dairy products, is a major supplier of whey to sports nutrition companies.
There are three different types of whey protein; whey protein concentrate (WPC), whey protein isolate (WPI), and whey protein hydrolysate (WPH). WPC is typically 25-89% protein, whereas WPI is closer to 90-95%, often with no carbs or fat.
One study looked at comparing whey protein and soy protein, to find the best option for increasing muscle mass.
The test was performed for 96 workouts (around 9 months), where subjects were split into 3 groups. Each group consumed a different drink; one with 1.1 g carbs per kilo of bodyweight per day, one with 1.4 g/kg/d of soy, and one with 1.4 g /kg/d of whey.
Results showed a significant increase in lean body mass for the whey group, compared to carb and soy.
A separate meta-analysis was also performed in 2014, which studied the results of fourteen randomized controlled trials (RCTs).
Across the 626 adults that took part in these studies, a significant decrease in body fat was noted in groups supplementing with whey protein. In addition to fat loss, a significant increase in lean body mass was found in studies that combined whey protein with resistance training.
Whey is also the most popular of the animal protein types, with soy, rice, and pea protein being the most popular types of vegetable protein.
Bestselling whey protein powder supplements
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder:
Each serving contains 24 g of protein, 5 g of carbs, and 1 g of fat. You’re also getting 5.5 g of BCAA’s, and 4 g of glutamine and glutamic acid. Available in more than 20 flavors, including Rocky Road to Key Lime Pie.
- Isopure Zero Carb Whey Protein Powder:
Each serving contains 50 g of protein, 0 g of carbs, and 0.5 g of fat. The Zero Carb variety also provides you with a vitamin and mineral blend, which sets it apart from their Whey Protein Isolate. Available in 17 flavors, with tub sizes up to 7.5 lbs (3.4 kg).
- BSN Syntha 6 Whey Protein:
Each serving contains 22 g of protein, 15 g of carbs, and 6 g of fat. BSN have also packed in 10 g of essential amino acids (EAAs) and 5 g of fiber to help boost protein synthesis and control blood sugar levels. Available in 9 flavors and 4 sizes, up to a 10 lb bag (4.56 kg).
Casein is one of the best protein powders for nighttime due to having a slower absorption rate than whey protein.
But what if you wanted to have a casein protein shake pre- and post-workout? Does it give you less energy or endurance compared to whey?
A study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine tested this theory on sixteen NCAA female basketball players. They were split into two groups; group one consumed 24 g of whey protein pre- and post-workout, and group two consumed 24 g of casein.
After 8 weeks of following a periodized training program 4 days per week, body composition and strength were measured and compared to measurements taken at the start of the program.
Researchers found a significant improvement in performance and a decrease in body fat composition across both groups. There were no significant differences in strength or lean mass between whey protein and casein protein.
However, a study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism found a significant difference between whey protein hydrolysate and casein protein hydrolysate.
A 12-week study was performed with overweight police offers, split into 3 groups; one group on a hypocaloric diet and a second group on hypocaloric diet plus a high casein protein intake (1.5 g/kg/day). The third group had the same diet as the second, but with whey in place of casein.
At the end of the 12 weeks, lean mass gain was greatest in the casein group. The casein group also experienced a greater increase in chest, shoulder, and leg strength compared to whey.
Bestselling casein protein supplements
- Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Casein:
Each serving contains 27 g of protein, 3 g of carbs, and 1 g of fat. You’re also getting 9.6 g of essential amino acids, including nearly 5 g of naturally occurring BCAA’s per scoop. Available in 2 sizes and 10 flavors, from Chocolate Peanut Butter to Natural French Vanilla.
- Bulk Supplements Pure Casein Protein Powder:
Each serving contains 26 g of protein, less than 1 g of carbs, and less than 1 g of fat, with low cholesterol and sodium levels. Available in a range of sizes, from 100 g bags up to a 20 kg sack!
- Dymatize Elite 100% Micellar Casein:
Each serving contains 25 g of protein, 3 g of carbs, and 1.5 g of fat, but higher cholesterol and sodium levels than Bulk Supplements Casein. Available in two sizes (900 g or 2200 g) and with seven flavors to choose from, including Gourmet Vanilla, Cookies & Cream, and Birthday Cake.
You can also buy time-release protein powders. These blend together more than one type of protein, each with a different absorption rate, to guarantee sustained delivery of protein and aminos to your muscles.
MusclePharm Combat is one of the top time release proteins, with a blend that includes whey protein hydrolysate, whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, egg albumin, and micellar casein.
Egg white protein is naturally low in fat and carbs, cholesterol-free, and a good choice for anyone with an intolerance for dairy.
However, there is also evidence that egg white protein supplements are no more effective than a carbohydrate drink.
One study compared egg white protein against a carbohydrate drink, taken prior to exercise. The level of fat free mass and one repetition maximum (1RM) muscle strength were used as measures of performance.
Following an 8-week training program, no significant differences in body composition or muscle strength were reported across the two groups.
Bestselling egg protein supplements
- Jay Robb Egg White Protein Powder
Each serving contains 24 g of protein, 4 g of carbs, and 0 g of fat, with just 120 calories. A best seller on Amazon, with over 1,000 highly rated reviews, it’s also available in 3 delicious flavors; Vanilla, Strawberry, and Chocolate. Contains no soy, lactose, sugar, or artificial sweeteners.
- Bulk Supplements Egg White Protein
Each serving contains 23 g of protein, 0 g of carbs, and 0 g of fat. It’s a much cheaper alternative to powders like MRM Natural Egg Whites, and available in sizes from 250 grams up to 5 kg.
- NOW Sports Eggwhite Protein Powder
Each serving contains 16 g of protein, 2 g of carbs, 0 g of fat, and 80 calories. The typical amino acid profile also contains over 3 g of BCAA’s, made up of 1300 mg leucine, 900 mg of isoleucine, and 1000 mg of valine. Free from wheat, gluten, soy, and milk.
One of the vegetable source proteins, pea protein is considered a safe alternative to whey or casein, for anyone with allergies to milk products or those with a lactose intolerance.
One study tested pea protein against whey protein, measuring the increase in bicep thickness following a 12-week resistance training program. This included 161 males, aged 18 to 35 years old.
At the end of the 12 weeks, subjects in the whey protein and pea protein groups saw an equally significant increase in biceps brachii muscle thickness. No change was observed in the third group (placebo). Researchers concluded that pea proteins could be an effective alternative to whey-based protein supplements.
Bestselling pea protein powder supplements
- Bulk Supplements Pure Pea Protein Powder:
Each 30 g serving contains 24 g of protein, 1 g of carbs, and 1 g of fat. The powder is free from soy, sugar, yeast, gluten, and additives.
- NOW Sports Pea Protein Powder:
Each scoop provides you with 24 g of protein, 1 g of carbs, and 2 g of fat. The protein is sourced from 100% pure, non-GMO pea protein isolate, from yellow peas.
- PlantFusion Complete Plant Protein:
Each serving contains 21 g of a PlantFusion Amino Acid Infused Protein Blend. This includes pea protein isolate, artichoke protein, and organic quinoa powder, providing 4.5 g of BCAAs and 3.35 g of L-glutamine.
Typically derived from whole raw hemp seed, hemp protein is an excellent source of protein for vegetarians, vegans, and anyone with a gluten intolerance.
Not many supplement companies use hemp protein in their protein powder blends, but it’s often available as a standalone product.
MyProtein, Bulk Powders, and Pulsin are UK companies with a pure hemp protein supplement, while Manitoba Harvest, Orgain, and Nutiva are the best companies to go to if you’re in the U.S.
Unfortunately, there’s nowhere near the amount of research for hemp protein as there is for whey protein or casein. This makes it more difficult to prove the health benefits and its ability to increase lean muscle growth.
Bestselling hemp protein powders
- Nutiva Organic Hemp Protein:
Each serving contains nine essential amino acids, together with 11 g of protein, 12 g of carbs, and 4 g of fat. The powder is Non-GMO verified and USDA organic.
- Manitoba Harvest Hemp Pro 70:
Provides you with 20 g of protein, 4.5 g of carbs, and 4.5 g of fat per serving. You also get 3.4 g of omegas (3, 6, 9). Dairy free, whey free, and non-GMO, Manitoba Harvest is suitable for paleo, vegan, and vegetarian diets.
- Orgain Organic Plant Based Protein Powder:
This uses a blend of plant-based proteins, including organic pea protein, organic brown rice protein, and organic hemp protein. Each serving provides you with 21 g of protein, 13 g of carbs, and 4 g of fat.
As the name suggests, soy protein is derived from dehulled and defatted soybeans. These are then processed into either soy flour, soy isolates, or soy concentrates.
Soy protein isolate is the most popular form used in supplements today, and can often be found in protein bars, protein powders, and meal replacement shakes. As an isolate, it has a similar protein content to whey, at around 90%. This is compared to soy protein concentrate, which is closer to 70%.
In terms of digestion rate, soy sits in the middle between whey (fast-digesting) and casein (slow-digesting).
Soy protein vs. whey protein
Scientific studies have proven that soy delivers similar muscle building benefits to whey. One such study tested two different types of protein bar; one with soy protein, and one with whey protein.
After 9 weeks, supplementing with 33 g/day with strength-based low-rep workouts, both the soy and whey treatment groups showed a similar increase in lean body mass. The soy also preserved antioxidant function.
Soy protein vs. casein protein
A separate study, published in the Journal of Medical Investigation, compared soy protein to casein protein, to determine which was best for increasing strength and lean muscle mass.
In total, 59 people were split into two main dietary groups; one that consumed daily meals with 7.8 g of powdered casein each day, and another that ate the same but with soy protein isolate instead of casein.
After 30 days, soy protein supplementation led to a greater increase in muscle volume compared to casein, in participants with low physical activity. Gains in muscle strength and knee flexion were also greater in the group supplementing with soy protein.
Bestselling soy protein supplements
- Jarrow Formulas Iso-Rich Soy:
Each serving contains 25 g of protein, 0 g of carbs, less than 1 g of fat, and 110 calories.
- NOW Foods Soy Protein:
Each serving contains 20 g of protein, 0.5 g of carbs, 0.5 g of fat, and 90 calories. Non-GMO Soy Protein is unflavored, and available in 907 g tubs. Suitable for vegetarians.
- Bulk Supplements Pure Soy Protein Isolate Powder:
Each serving contains 27 g of protein, 0 g of carbs, 1 g of fat, and 112 calories. The typical amino acid profile includes 1600 mg of leucine, 1380 mg of isoleucine, and 740 mg of valine. Free from soy, sugar, gluten, dairy, and additives. Available in a range of sizes, from 100 grams up to 20 kg.
Brown Rice Protein
One study, published in the Nutrition Journal, tested the effects of animal-derived protein (whey) against plant-based protein (rice). This involved 24 resistance trained males being split into two groups; one group receiving 48 g of whey protein, and the other received 48 g of rice protein isolate on training days, post-workout.
The exercise program involved 8 weeks of training, with workouts 3 days per week. Perceived muscle recovery, strength, and readiness to train were all recorded at stages throughout the study.
Researchers concluded that whey and rice protein isolate both improved body composition and exercise performance in equal measure, with no significant difference between the groups.
Bestselling brown rice protein supplements
- Jarrow Formulas Brown Rice Protein Concentrate:
Each serving contains 11 g of protein, 3 g of carbs, 0 g of fat, and 60 calories. Suitable for vegans and vegetarians, certified organic and gluten free. Available in two flavors; Chocolate and Vanilla.
- Nutribiotic Organic Rice Protein:
Each serving contains 12 g of protein, 2 g of carbs, 0 g of fat, and 60 calories. Suitable for vegans and vegetarians, certified USDA organic. Available in a 3 lb tub (1.36 kg) – enough for 90 servings.
- Sunwarrior Classic Protein:
Each serving contains 16 g of protein, 6 g of carbs, 0 g of fat, and 80 calories. Suitable for vegans and vegetarians, with a complete amino acid profile that includes 1456 mg of leucine, 933 mg of isoleucine, and 963 mg of valine. Made in the USA.
Mixed Plant Proteins
Unfortunately, there’s limited research comparing the effects of plant-based protein to animal-based protein (whey). Most studies agree that more needs to be done to measure the anabolic properties of plant-based proteins, and their ability to increase or maintain skeletal muscle mass.
Only one study we found compared the anabolic response of skeletal muscle when supplementing with plant protein, against the response with animal-based protein.
Bestselling mixed-plant proteins
- PlantFusion Complete Plant Protein Powder:
Each serving contains 21 g of protein, 4 g of carbs, 2 g of fat, and 120 calories. Amino acid profile also delivers 3,350 mg of glutamine and over 4.5 g of BCAA’s, with 2,090 mg of leucine and 1,285 mg of isoleucine. Gluten free, with no soy or dairy. Available in a choice of 5 flavors.
- Vega One All-in-One Plant Based Protein Powder:
Each serving contains 20 g of protein, 13 g of carbs, 6 g of fat, and 170 calories. Made from real whole-food ingredients, Vega One contains a complete health blend of antioxidants, omega-3’s, probiotics (bacillus coagulans), fiber, and vitamins. Available in a choice of 8 flavors, including Coconut Almond, Mixed Berry, and Vanilla Chai.
- Orgain Organic Plant Based Protein Powder:
Each serving contains 21 g of protein, 8 g of carbs, 4 g of fat, and 150 calories. Gluten free, kosher, USDA Organic, non-GMO, soy free, and suitable for vegetarians. Less than 1 g of sugar, with zero cholesterol. Available in a choice of 6 flavors, including Peanut Butter and Iced Matcha Latte.
Top 10 Whey Protein Powder Supplements
Finding the best whey protein isn’t easy, especially when it’s the most popular type of sports nutrition supplement, with hundreds of products vying for your attention.
Should you buy a whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, or something that combines the two? Does it matter if you buy hydrolyzed whey?
To help make your decision easier, we analyzed over 100 of the top protein powder supplements on the market. This included best sellers from big name brands, like Optimum Nutrition and MuscleTech.
This meant taking a close look at nutrient levels, BCAA ratios, strength complexes, multivitamin blends, time-release formulas, and calculating the cost per serving and protein density.
The result is what we believe to be the 10 best whey protein powders on the market. Whether your goal is to gain strength, lose weight, boost lean muscle gains, or bulk up, we’ve got you covered.
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey
After carefully analyzing each Optimum Nutrition protein powder, it’s their Gold Standard 100% Whey that comes out on top.
- 24 g of protein, 5 g of carbs, 1 g of fat
- 120 calories per serving
- 21 Flavors available
- 5.5 g BCAAs, 4 g of glutamine and glutamic acid
- World’s number 1 whey protein
- Instantisized whey protein isolate to mix easily
- Combines whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate
Unbeatable value for money sets it apart, but you also get more protein per serving than Performance Whey and Protein Energy. All of this with a fraction of the carbs you get from Natural Oats and Whey (23 grams).
The only protein powders from O.N. with more protein per serving are Pro Gainer (60 g) and Platinum Hydrowhey (30 g). However, both are far more expensive than Gold Standard, with Pro Gainer only suited to bulking diets requiring a large caloric intake (630 calories per serving).
The fast-digesting formula with high-purity whey protein isolates makes this the perfect post-workout shake for bodybuilders, athletes, and anyone that needs to increase their protein intake.
Isopure Whey Protein Isolate Protein Powder
Isopure are one of the biggest names in the industry when it comes to protein powder.
But while their Isopure Mass supplement has certainly proven popular, it’s Whey Protein Isolate that’s the best seller, with thousands of highly rated reviews on Amazon.
- 25 g of protein, 0 g carbs, 0 g fat
- 100 calories per serving
- 17 Flavors available
- 100% Whey protein isolate
- 5.67 g of naturally occurring BCAA’s per serving
- Created with a microfiltration process that makes it clear in water
- Suitable for vegetarians, not suitable for vegans (soy needed)
With 25 g of protein per serving, it’s similar to Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey, but with none of the carbs or fat.
Zero Carb is a similar protein powder, but with an added vitamin and mineral blend. The serving size and protein level doubles (50 g per serving), at a very similar price to their Whey Protein Isolate powder.
Because there’s so little difference between the two, we would recommend the Zero Carb version if it’s a lower price or similar to their Whey Protein.
MuscleTech Nitro Tech
MuscleTech have a long line of best selling protein powders, including Mass Tech, Premium Whey Protein, Platinum 100% Whey, and Phase 8.
However, we featured Nitro Tech in our top 10 due to its balance of high performance ingredients and affordability.
- 30 g of protein, 4 g of carbs, 2.5 g of fat
- 160 calories per serving
- 10 Flavors available
- Combines whey protein isolate, whey peptides, whey protein isolate
- 6.9 g BCAA’s per serving, including 3.2 g leucine
- 3 g creatine, 5.3 g glutamine & precursor
- Whey processed through multi-phase filtration for less fat and fewer impurities
You can usually expect to pay around $1 per serving, which is slightly more expensive than O.N. Gold Standard Whey, but cheaper than MusclePharm Combat. For the price, you’re getting nearly 7 grams of BCAA’s, and an impressive 30 grams of protein per serving. That’s 8 grams more than BSN Syntha 6, and 12 grams more than Jarrow Formulas Whey Protein.
Carbs and fats have been kept low, and in addition to the high protein and BCAA’s, you’re also getting a strength and recovery complex. This contaisn 3 g of creatine and 5 g of glutamine & precursor.
If you’re looking for something more specialized, Nitro Tech is available as a protein bar (Nitro Tech Crunch), with a weight loss formula (Nitro-Tech Ripped), or with sustained amino release (Nitro-Tech Nighttime).
EAS 100% Pure Whey Protein Powder
In addition to MuscleTech Nitro Tech, EAS 100% Pure Whey is one of only a few protein powders to provide 30 grams of protein or more per serving.
The carbs are slightly higher than Nitro Tech, resulting in around 10 calories more per serving, but the price is usually much lower. At the time of writing this guide, a 2.3 kg tub gave a cost per serving of close to $0.60 on Amazon.
- 30 g of protein, 6 g of carbs, 2.5 g of fat
- 170 calories per serving
- 3 Flavors available; chocolate, vanilla, strawberry
- 100% Pure whey protein concentrate
- 7.3 g of naturally occuring BCAA’s per serving
- Also available as a ready-to-drink shake or whey protein bar
Although the level of BCAA’s is similar (7.3 g), you’re not getting any creatine or glutamine, which would explain the lower price.
If you’re looking for a higher dose of protein, EAS also produce a Myoplex Shred ready-to-drink protein shake, with 42 g of protein and just 1 g of sugar. Alternatively, Myoplex Protein Blend combines whey protein isolate, micellar casein, and egg albumen to create a sustained release protein powder.
For a protein shake with even less carbs, you might want to try EAS 100% Whey Isolate. You’re still getting the same 30 g of protein, but from whey protein isolate instead of whey protein concentrate. This cuts the amount of carbs in half (6 g down to 3 g).
BSN Syntha-6 Protein Powder
BSN Syntha-6 delivers slightly more carbs than most whey protein powders, combined with 22 g of a high quality protein matrix. This is in addition to 5 g of fiber – 20% of your RDA.
- 22 g of protein, 15 g of carbs, 6 g of fat
- 200 calories per serving
- 10 Flavors available, including chocolate milkshake and vanilla ice cream
- 10 g Essential amino acids (EAA) per serving
- Protein Matrix comprised of whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, calcium caseinate, micellar casein, milk protein isolate, egg albumen, and glutamine peptides
- Contains no caffeine; use any time, day or night
- Supports muscle growth and protein synthesis
It’s worth mentioning that this is a pure protein powder, with 10 grams of essential amino acids (EAAs) per serving, but no creatine, glutamine, or vitamin complex.
After the original Syntha-6 formula proved so popular, BSN also developed Syntha-6 Edge (24 g protein, 6 g carbs, 3.5 g fat) for a higher dose of protein and a leaner physique. Their highest protein content comes from Syntha-6 Isolate (25 g protein, 7 g carbs, 1.5 g fat).
All three of these formulas deliver more protein than BSN Isoburn, which is a 2-in-1 formula for recovery and fat-burning support.
MusclePharm Combat Protein Powder
MusclePharm currently have a number of product lines, including FitMiss, Core, and Combat. Combat is the most popular by far, with a variety of protein powders to choose from, such as 100% Whey, 100% Isolate, and Mass Gainer.
- 25 g of protein, 5 g of carbs, 1.5 g of fat
- 130 calories per serving
- 6 Flavors available, including Banana Cream and Cookies ’n’ Cream
- Contains a blend of 5 protein sources; whey protein hydrolysate, wehy protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, egg albumin, micellar casein
- Digests at varying rates for protein intake up to 8 hours after drinking
- 100% Pure whey protein version also available
But it’s the Combat Protein Powder that we’ve chosen for our top 10. This offers a very similar macronutrient profile to 100% Whey (25 g protein, 1.5 g fat, 130 calories), but from 5 protein sources instead of 1.
MusclePharm’s microfiltered protein blend uses a combination of whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, whey protein hydrolysate, micellar casein, and egg albumen.
By using proteins that digest at varying rates, you’re ensuring a constant flow of BCAA’s to your muscles for a longer period of time than whey alone.
Available in sizes from 1.8kg to 4.5 kg. Choose from flavors such as Vanilla, Cookies & Cream, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Triple Berry, and Banana Cream.
Bulk Supplements Whey Protein Isolate Powder
Bulk Supplements are well known for producing affordable, best selling nutritional supplements. But although their Whey Protein Isolate is certainly popular, we found the 1 kg bag carries a similar cost per serving as MusclePharm Combat and NOW Sports Whey Protein.
However, you’re also getting more protein than most of the supplements out there (27 g per serving), with less than 1 g of fat and carbs, because it’s isolate.
- 27 g of protein, 1 g of carbs, 1 g of fat
- 115 calories per serving
- 90% Whey protein isolate
- Over 6 g BCAA’s per serving, including 2.85 g of leucine
- Available in a range of 6 sizes, from 100 g up to 20 kg
There’s no complicated ingredient blends, creatine, or caffeine, which makes it easier to control what you’re taking into your body. But if you’re looking for more of an all-in-one muscle builder, we would still recommend Nitro Tech.
Nitro Tech delivers more protein per serving (30 g), together with nearly 7 g of high quality BCAA’s, 3 g of creatine, and 5 g of glutamine and precursor. At the time of writing this guide, Nitro Tech was available for just a few cents more per serving compared to Bulk Supplements Whey Isolate.
Orgain Organix Protein Powder
As an organic protein powder, Orgain carries a slightly higher price tag than the rest of the supplements in our top 10. The level of protein is also slighty lower (21 g per serving), but this is still higher than their Organic Meal Powder and Organic Slim Powder (20 g).
- 21 g of protein, 13 g of carbs, 4 g of fat
- 150 calories per serving
- 7 Flavors available, including Creamy Chocolate Fudge and Peanut Butter
- Orgain Organic Protein Blend: Organic pea protein, organic brown rice protein, organic chia seed, organic hemp protein
- Gluten free, kosher, vegan, non-GMO, soy free
- USDA Organic
Each of their dairy-based shakes contains USDA Organic or grass-fed whey and milk protein concentrates. They’re also gluten free, soy free, non-GMO, and every tub of protein powder is made in the USA.
Also available as plant based protein bars and organic ready-to-drink protein shakes.
As a company, Orgain is focussed on delivering high quality supplements ethically, winning Prevention’s Cleanest Packaged Food Awards in 2017.
NOW Sports Whey Protein Isolate
Whey Protein Isolate from NOW Sports features a similar macronutrient profile to Isopure Whey, with 25 g of protein, 1 g of carbs, and 0 g of fat per serving.
- 25 g of protein, 1 g of carbs, 0.5 g of fat
- 110 calories per serving
- Over 5 g of BCAA’s per serving, including 2.7 g of leucine
- 100% Microfiltered whey protein isolate
- Natural unflavored powder, with no aspartame, sucralose, of acesulfame-K
- Contains a blend of 10 non-essential amino acids and 8 essential amino acids (28 g)
- GMP Certified
The amino profile delivers over 4.5 g of high quality BCAA’s, as part of a 28 g amino acid complex, complete with essential and non-essential aminos. This is slightly less than the 33 g you get with their Whey Protein Concentrate, or the 43 g supplied by NOW Foods Whey Protein.
However, the amino acid profile does vary according to flavor. Although the unflavored Whey Protein Isolate only delivers 28 g of aminos, the Toffee Caramel Fudge flavor has 34.5 g per serving. This includes over 5.7 g of BCAA’s.
TGS Nutrition Whey Protein
- 25 g of protein, 2 g of carbs, 2 g of fat
- 130 calories per serving
- 100% pure whey concentrate
- No artificial colors, preservatives, or flavors
- Made from 100% grade A, rBGH-free milk
- Made in the USA
Best Time of Day to Drink a Protein Shake
So, you found the perfect protein powder, with the right level of carbs, protein, and fats to meet your diet goals. But when should you take it?
Nutrient timing is a contentious issue in fitness. Some people, particularly bodybuilders, believe in a post-workout anabolic window of 30-60 minutes, when a fast digesting whey protein shake should be consumed.
But is there any science to prove this anabolic window exists?
Taking Protein Post-workout
Post-workout nutrition is designed to initiate the rebuilding of damaged muscle tissue and replenish glycogen stores. You may be taking creatine monohydrate at the same time, in which case you need to think about increasing absorption.
Replenishing of glycogen stores
Up to 80% of ATP production during training comes from glycolysis, which requires glycogen. That’s why maintaining and replenishing glycogen stores is crucial for optimal resistance training performance.
A study by Robergs et al. tested muscle glycogenolysis during different intensities of weight-resistance workout. Two trials took place; one where subjects lifted 70% of their 1 RM, and one where they lifted 35% of their 1 RM.
After the final set, glycogen depletion was almost equal between the two trials. However, the rate at which muscle glycogen increased naturally in the 70% group was nearly double the rate of glycogenolysis in the 35% group. This was after 2 hours of passive recovery with no caloric intake.
What if you want to increase the rate of muscle glycogen resynthesis? Should you take pure carbs straight after exercise or a combination of protein and carbs 2 hours post-workout?
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise published a study which tested this on six male cyclists. A drink combining carbohydrates and protein was consumed at 3 stages post-workout; immediately after, 1h, and 2 h post-exercise.
During 6 hours of recovery, glycogen resynthesis was more than 6% greater in the protein and carbohydrate group, compared to pure carbs.
Taking Protein Before Sleep
A recent study looked at the role of nutrition in post-exercise overnight recovery. This involved sixteen participants performing 1 hour of resistance training at 8 pm.
At 9 pm, immediately following their resistance training, all subjects were given a high carb meal consisting of 20 g protein and 60 g of carbohydrates. The final meal of the day was taken 30 minutes before sleep at 11.30 pm. This was with or without 40 g of casein protein.
Whole-body protein balance and muscle protein synthesis were monitored throughout the night for a period of 7.5 hours. Subjects that ingested the casein protein before sleep increased protein synthesis by 22% more than the placebo group. They also improved net protein balance.
When combined with a regular exercise routine, a low-calorie, high-protein meal consumed 30 minutes before sleep has also been shown to improve metabolism, health, and overall body composition.
As we found in the study above, casein protein has been proven as an effective pre-sleep meal. This is due to its slow rate of digestion, high net leucine balance over a 7-hour sleep period, and ability to augment muscle protein synthesis. The recommended quantity of protein is 30-40 g.
How To Choose a Good Protein Powder
There are some great whey protein powders out there, but how do you decide which one is right for you?
For any new protein powder review, we always consider 5 key points:
- 1. Taste/Mixability: The best quality protein powders will have a strong focus on taste and how easily the powder blends with water or milk.
Many larger companies offer a wide range of flavors, such as Optimum Nutrition 100% Gold Standard Whey. With 21 flavors to choose from, including Cookies and Cream, Rocky Road, and White Chocolate, it’s easier to have some variation on taste without switching up the nutrient content.
- 2. Quality of ingredients: Check the ingredient list carefully before buying, paying close attention to the type of protein used. Some modern powders use a blend of proteins so they release to the bloodstream at different rates. Others are pure whey and digested very quickly.
Most of the base protein powder is sourced from the same big suppliers, so quality isn’t usually a problem. How the ingredients are combined, and whether they suit your goal of weight loss, muscle gain, muscle tone, or strength gain depends on the specific protein powder.
- 3. Value for money: This isn’t an exact science, but you should at least be able to calculate the cost per serving (price/(weight/serving size)).
For pure protein powders this will give a clear indication of whether the product is good value for money. But if the powder contains glutamine, creatine, or other ingredients, it’s a little more difficult. We’ll often calculate the cost of these bought separately, then combine them and compare the price to the cost of each protein powder serving.
- 4. Brand reputation: We’ll normally do research into each supplement company’s patent filings, manufacturing locations, and parent company if there is one. But customer reviews can also be a good way to gauge trust.
If a brand has 20 products and they all have large numbers of highly rated reviews, on sites like Amazon and Bodybuilding.com, then we’re much more likely to trust that brand over a single-product company with no feedback.
- 5. Customer feedback: Most major e-commerce sites allow customer reviews, but few are as comprehensive as Amazon. You check the ratings and feedback left by other customers, but also get answers to any questions you have before buying.
Where Does Protein Powder Come From?
Most of the protein on the market is supplied by just a few big companies. These are; Glanbia, Fonterra, Saputo, Milk Specialties Global, Davisco, and Leprino.
Glanbia owns a number of sports nutrition brands, including Optimum Nutrition, BSN, Isopure, thinkThin, and American Body Building. Their whey protein concentrate (WPC) powders are created by spray-drying ultrafiltered whey with 28% to 35% protein. For their whey protein isolate (WPI) powders, the protein level increases to 88%.
Glanbia Nutritionals has developed a wide range of dairy-based, plant-based, and functional proteins.
The general process for going from milk to protein shakes is as follows:
- Cow is milked
- Raw milk is collected and cooled to 4 degrees
- Milk is transported in refrigerated tanks to a cheese-making facility
- Milk is pastuerized at 72-73 degrees C and recooled
- Milk undergoes cheese processing and whey is drained off
- Whey protein concentrate or isolate is spray-dried to become whey protein powder
- Whey concentrate is microfiltered to make whey isolate.
- Whey undergoes ultrafiltration to become WPC-80.
- Whey is collected and pumped to whey manufacturing section of facility.
- The protein is packaged into large bags and stored in a warehouse.
- Proteins are blended and flavored to match specific protein powder products.
- Trucks deliver varieties of whey protein and casein protein powders to supplement companies.
- Mixed protein is measured into containers.
- Bags are shipped to customers.
Mix Protein Powder With Water or Milk?
Of course the taste aspect is important, but is there a performance benefit to be had by mixing your protein powder with milk instead of water?
A decrease in the athletic performance of athletes can be experienced with just 2% dehydration. During intense physical exercise, such as endurance events, it’s not unusual to lose 6-10% of your body weight due to sweat loss.
However, as long as you’re replenishing fluid levels during your workout, dehydration is unlikely to occur. Consuming an adequate amount of water during exercise will not only improve your physical performance, but also your cognitive performance.
Participants in one study were dehydrated to 2.8% through heat exposure or treadmill exercise. Although mild, researchers observed a decrease in cognitive performance in healthy young male and female athletes.
So as long as you’re drinking an adequate amount of water during exercise, you won’t see any added benefit by adding it to your post-workout protein powder.
Low-fat bovine based milk is an excellent source of proteins, lipids, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Apart from being beneficial to your overall health, research has shown milk to enhance muscle protein synthesis after exercise.
One study, published by Elliot et al., tested the ingestion of milk 1 hour after a leg resistance exercise routine. Participants consumed one of three milk drinks: 237 g of fat-free milk, 237 g of whole milk, or 393 g of fat-free milk.
The results suggest that whole milk may have increased utilization of available amino acids for protein synthesis.
Further research suggests that fat free milk is as effective as sports drinks at promoting recovery from strength and endurance exercise.
Bottom Line: Milk beverages, when consumed soon after resistance exercise, can lead to enhanced improvements in protein metabolism following resistance exercise. This is why we will always choose to mix our protein powder with milk instead of water.
Don’t forget, protein powder doesn’t have to be mixed into a protein shake or smoothie, you can also use use it in cooking! Protein pancakes, high-protein oatmeal, and vanilla protein cake are just a few of the delicious recipes available.
Top 5 Health Benefits of Protein Powder
The primary goal of most protein powders is to increase your daily protein intake.But what’s the reasoning behind this, and is there any scientific evidence to backup the health benefits?
1. Stimulates muscle growth
Studies have shown that there are two effective ways to increase muscle protein synthesis (MPS):
- Resistance exercise at 20-40% of your one-repetition maximum for an exercise, performed to failure
- Resistance exercise at 70-90% of your one repetition maximum for an exercise
In general, researchers have found that protein supplementation pre- and post-workout increases physical performance, lean body mass, strength, training session recovery, and muscle hypertrophy.
However, the level to which you experience these benefits varies depending on the type of protein and the timing of consumption. This is mainly due to the lucine content of protein, which can increase protein synthesis and muscle hypertrophy.
A review of past research, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, reported that 3-4 g of leucine was needed for maximum protein synthesis. This was most effective when taken post-workout, together with whey protein and fast-acting carbohydrates to provide an insulin spike.
Boost strength and muscle gains
So we know that whey protein can help boost protein synthesis and increase lean muscle mass. But what about nutrient timing? Do you really need to take a whey protein shake post-workout, and are the same benefits observed across all age groups?
A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition involved 161 men and women, 65-91 years old, who participated in a 12-week resistance exercise program. This was designed to increase muscle mass and strength, with workouts three times a week.
Of the 161 participants, 83 received 20 g of whey protein post-workout, while the remaining 78 people consumed an isocaloric carbohydrate drink. At the end of the 12 weeks, researchers measured gains in lean body mass, quadricep strength, performance during a 6-minute walk, and a timed up-and-go test.
The results showed a significant increase from both groups, across all tests. As a result, they concluded that the whey protein drink was no more effective than an isocaloric carbohydrate drink for strength and muscle gain, as a form of post-workout nutrition.
Keeps muscles fuelled during and after exercise
Muscle gylcogen is the main source of fuel for both resistance and endurance training, but levels can quickly become depleted. This is why some athletes and scientists believe post-workout carbohydrates can boost recovery by increasing glycogen resynthesis.
But what happens when you combine a carbohydrate drink with protein? Are the results any more significant?
A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology compared carbohydrate, protein, and carbohydrate-protein supplements to test their effects on muscle gylcogen storage post-workout.
On three occasions, nine male subjects cycled for 2 hours, then consumed 112 g carbohydrates (CHO), 40.7 g of protein (PRO), or a combination of the two (CHO-PRO).
The CHO and CHO-PRO groups produced a greater response than protein alone, with the fastest rate of muscle glycogen storage experienced by the CHO-PRO group.
Researchers concluded that a carbohydrate-protein supplement was optimal for replenishing muscle glycogen stores post-workout.
But 112 g carbs and 40.7 g protein won’t be right for everyone, so how much do you need?
A separate study suggests 1.2 g carbs per kilo of bodyweight, and agrees that adding protein to the drink will stimulate muscle tissue repair and adaptation. The research also recommends adding protein at a ratio of 4 to 1, carbohydrate to protein. So for someone weighing 100 kg, a post-workout recovery drink should contain around 120g carbs, and 30 g protein.
Helps stimulate fat loss/weight loss
A study by a Neuromuscular Research Center in Finland tested the individual and combined effects of whey protein and carbohydrates. This involved twelve weeks of resistance training, with participants split into three groups; 30 g of whey proteins, isocaloric carbohydrates, or protein and carbohydrates.
At the end of the study, there were no significant differences between groups in terms of muscle size or strength. However, the whey protein group did notice a greater reduction in abdominal fat compared to the carbohydrate groups.
Helps repair muscle post-workout
Muscle growth can only occur if muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown. Resistance exercise improves muscle protein balance, but unless you’re consuming sufficient nutrients, the balance remains negative and your muscles will enter a catabolic state.
A report into the effects of whey protein on muscle protein synthesis (MPS) was released in 2016. This was co-authored by the Health and Exercises Sciences Research Group, Exercise Metabolism Research Group, GlaxoSmithKline, and School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences.
Data from this report showed that ingestion of 40 g whey protein following whole-body resistance exercise stimulated a greater MPS response than consuming 20 g.
Protein Powder Side Effects
Egg-based protein powders have existed since the 1950’s, with whey protein coming to the market in the 70s and 80s as the bodybuilding supplement industry grew.
The main concerns people have about high protein diets are; damage to the kidneys, the liver’s capacity to deanimate proteins, and how quickly amino acids can be absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract. These issues are most likely to arise with a protein intake of 5 grams or more per kilo of bodyweight.
When protein exceeds 35% of total caloric intake, you can also experience hyperaminoacidemia, hyperammonemia, and hyperinsulinemia nausea.
Some people have also expressed concerns over how high-protein diets affect renal function. One study found that protein intakes under 2.8 g/kg/d do not impair renal function in well-trained athletes.
Even for someone who regularly participates in heavy resistance training, the recommended maximum protein intake to avoid protein toxicity would be 2.5 g/kg/d.
There is no evidence to say a higher intake would be more beneficial to muscle growth.
This was proven in a study by Jose Antonio, Associate Professor of Exercise and Sport Science at Nova Southeastern University.
Thirty healthy, resistance-trained individuals were randomly assigned to one of two groups; Control (CON) or high protein (HP). The HP group consumed 4.4 g/kg/d (average of 307 grams). The CON group consumed 1.8 g/kg/d.
The results showed no significant changes between groups for body weight, fat free mass, or body fat percent.
However, there are occasions when a short-term high intake of protein can be beneficial. One example is that it can slow the effects of sarcopenia, which causes a loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength as a result of ageing.