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Assorted Protein Shakes

The Best Protein Powder Guide (2019)

In this complete protein supplement guide, you’ll learn about different types of protein sources and which ones make the best protein powders. If you’re interested in what science says the best protein shakes and protein supplements are, read on!

Farther down, you’ll find information on why we need protein and how it helps us reach our fitness goals.

Quick Glance
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey, Double Rich Chocolate, 1 Pound Best Overall: Gold Standard 100% Whey

“This all-rounder is the most popular protein powder on Amazon.”
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NAKED EGG - 3LB Non-GMO Egg White Protein Powder from US Farms - Bulk, No Additives, Paleo, Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Soy Free - 25g Protein, 44 Servings For Building Muscle: NAKED 100% Egg White Protein

“Egg whites have one of the highest protein efficiency ratios, making them perfect for bulking.”
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Isopure Zero Carb, Keto Friendly Protein Powder, 100% Whey Protein Isolate, Flavor: Cookies & Cream, 1 Pound For Weight Loss: Isopure 100% Whey Isolate

“This lean, low-carb protein isolate is one of the best powders for keeping trim.”
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Ancient Nutrition Multi Collagen Protein Powder, 5 Types of Food Sourced Collagen, Providing Types I, II, III, V, and X, 16.2oz
Collagen:
Ancient Nutrition
Ancient Nutrition Bone Broth Protein, Pure - Dairy Free, Gluten Free and Paleo Friendly, 20 Servings
Bone Broth:
Ancient Nutrition
NOW Sports Nutrition, Soy Protein Isolate Powder, Unflavored, 2-Pound
Soy Protein:
Now Sports
Naked Pea 1LB Pea Protein Isolate from North American Farms - Plant Based, Vegetarian & Vegan Protein. Easy to Digest - Speeds Muscle Recovery - Non-GMO- Lactose, Soy and Gluten Free - 15 Servings
Pea Protein:
NAKED PEA
Naked Rice 1LB - Organic Brown Rice Protein Powder - Vegan Protein Powder - 5lb Bulk, GMO Free, Gluten Free & Soy Free. Plant-Based Protein, No Artificial Ingredients - 15 Servings
Rice Protein:
NAKED RICE
Nutiva Organic, Cold Processed Hemp Seed Protein, 15 G, 30-ounce
Hemp Protein:
Nutiva Organic

3 Best Protein Powder Recommendations

Best Protein Powder Overall

Gold Standard 100% Whey

Sale

This all-rounder is the most popular protein powder on Amazon. It’s 100% whey, generally regarded as the best protein powder. For most people, this is the go-to choice.

5.5g BCAAs

Gluten free

Instantized quick mix

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
23.2g
protein
2.9g
carbs
116
calories
$0.77
serving

Best Protein Powder for Building Muscle

NAKED 100% Egg White Protein

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Egg white proteins have one of the highest protein efficiency ratios, making them one of the best protein powders for bulking up. This is one of the cleanest protein powders for on the market.

5.8g BCAAs

Only 2-4 ingredients

Gluten- and dairy-free

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
24.2g
protein
0g
carbs
106
calories
$1.65
serving

Best Protein Powder for Weight Loss

Isopure 100% Whey Isolate

This lean, keto-friendly, low-carb protein isolate is one of the best protein powders for anyone looking to stay trim. As a whey protein isolate, it delivers more protein per calorie than most other options.

Super Lean

Gluten- and lactose-free

Keto-friendly

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
24.2g
protein
1.9g
carbs
106
calories
$0.79
serving

11 More Best Protein Powders (By Type)

Animal Protein Sources

Animal-based sources are the most popular protein supplements. This is largely because practically all animal sources are complete proteins, meaning they contain all essential amino acids.

Of this group, the milk products whey and casein are the most prevalent, and are general considered the best protein powders. There are some advantages to each source, though, so we’ve briefly summarized some popular options below.

Whey

Whey is a component of milk, and a byproduct of cheese manufacturing. During this process, enzymes are added to warm cow milk, causing the casein in the milk to coagulate (clump up). The leftover milky-clear liquid is whey.

This whey protein liquid contains 20%-30% of all proteins in milk, the casein curds containing the other 70%-80%. That liquid is then cleaned and dried, and can be added to other food products or concentrated and sold as whey protein powder. These powders typically contain between 25% and 90% protein.

It’s not without reason that many professionals consider whey protein to be the best protein powder. First, it contains all essential amino acids in appropriate quantities. (Its PDCAA Score, on the table above, is a full 1.00.) That means anybody taking whey as a protein supplement doesn’t need to mix and match other sources in order to reach their amino acid needs.

Second, whey protein has a very high Protein Efficiency Ratio, second only to egg white protein⁠—on this list. This means that in animal trials, whey protein supplementation resulted in more mass gained than most other supplements.

Finally, whey protein powder is very inexpensive. In addition to being a byproduct of cow milk, which in itself is inexpensive, the formation process is not very resource-intensive. For most people looking for the best protein powder, whey is the way to go.

Whey – Best Protein Powder Recommendation:

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Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder (5 lb)

Optimum Nutrition’s 100% whey protein powder is our top recommendation for most people.

5.5g BCAAs

Gluten free

Instantized quick mix

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
23.2g
protein
2.9g
carbs
116
calories
$0.77
serving

Whey Protein Isolate

Whey protein isolate is a further-refined whey product. The formation process removes more of the food products, such as lactose, leaving a more protein-rich powder.

Depending on the level of filtration, whey protein isolate powders typically contain at least 90% protein. Because of this, they’re a great protein supplement for anyone trying to maximize protein intake while minimizing calories.

Since whey is a milk byproduct, those who are lactose intolerant typically can’t take it. Whey protein isolates, on the other hand, have much lower levels of lactose. In fact, some whey protein isolates are lactose free. Just be sure to check the packaging.

Whey Isolate – Best Protein Powder Recommendation:

Isopure 100% Whey Protein Isolate (1 lb)

Isopure’s 100% whey protein isolate is our lean, keto-friendly go-to for athletes and amateurs alike.

Super Lean

Gluten- and lactose-free

Keto-friendly

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
24.2g
protein
1.9g
carbs
106
calories
$0.79
serving

SUMMARY

Whey, a milk byproduct, makes the most popular protein powder. It contains all essential amino acids and is absorbed quickly. Whey isolate is a concentrate with even more protein content.

Casein

Casein is the other primary component of cow milk, containing 70%-80% of all milk protein. Similar to whey, casein is an excellent protein source, containing all essential amino acids.

One benefit that casein protein powder holds over whey is its ability to clump up. After consuming a casein protein supplement, it concentrates into a clump in the stomach. This causes casein protein to be digested over a longer period of time, resulting in a steady stream of amino acids for up to several hours.

For athletes wanting to minimize muscle breakdown after a workout, casein might be the best protein powder. The slow release ensures that the body has the necessary amino acids and nitrogen sources for muscle synthesis. This in turn discourages the body from turning to muscle tissue as an amino acid source.

Casein – Best Protein Powder Recommendation:

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Gold Standard 100% Micellar Casein Protein Powder (4 lb)

Optimum Nutrition’s 100% casein powder is one of the most popular choices for slow-release protein.

5g BCAAs

Long-lasting absorption

Paleo-friendly

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
21.8g
protein
2.7g
carbs
109
calories
$0.72
serving

For more information on casein protein, see our list of Top 10 Best Casein Protein Powders.

SUMMARY

Casein, the other milk byproduct, is another popular protein powder. It contains all essential amino acids and is absorbed slowly, providing a steady stream of amino acids for muscle building.

Egg White

Egg white is the clear fluid inside of eggs. When you cook an egg, its proteins start to bond together. That process causes the clear, gooey fluid to turn white and solidify. Without those proteins, egg white would be almost nothing but water. In fact, egg white is about 90% water and 10% proteins.

Some manufacturers isolate those proteins to produce egg white protein powder. Typically, they remove the yolks and blend up all the leftover egg white. After a dehydration process, the resultant protein powder can be shipped as is or blended into other ingredients.

Egg white is a complete protein source and has a Protein Efficiency Ratio even higher than that of whey and casein. (That means that test rats grew larger after being fed egg white protein.) And since egg white contains no dairy, it’s one of the best protein powders for those with lactose sensitivities.

Egg White- Best Protein Powder Recommendation:

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NAKED Egg White Protein Powder (3 lb)

There’s no better egg white protein powder to recommend than Naked Egg. With only two ingredients (or four for the flavored versions), this stuff is as pure as it gets.

5.8g BCAAss

Gluten- and dairy-free

Paleo-friendly

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
24.2g
protein
0g
carbs
106
calories
$1.65
serving

SUMMARY

Egg white protein is a popular lactose-free powder that contains all essential amino acids. In animal trials, subjects grew even bigger than they did with whey or casein.

Collagen

Collagen is a common structural protein, forming much of our skin, bones, and connective tissue. The powder is usually produced from animal bones, skin, and cartilage. These typically include chickens, cows, pigs, and fish. And since these sources can vary so widely, different collagen protein supplements can have different amino acid profiles.

Collagen became a hot topic in the health and fitness industry beginning in the early 2010s. Part of this stemmed from studies demonstrating how collagen supplements can improve skin and joint health.124-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain.2Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. But as a protein supplement, different collagen sources first began to garner popularity around 2015.

Depending on the source, collagen can have a PDCAAS rating ranging from 0 to 0.95 (with 1.00 being a “perfect” score). This is because some collagen sources completely lack the essential amino acid tryptophan, which drops the PDCAAS rating to 0. This doesn’t mean collagen protein is useless, as previously explained. For any protein powder missing one or more essential amino acids, you can pair up another protein supplement or food to fill the gaps.

Research on collagen protein supplementation is still early, but it’s one of the best protein powders for those looking to improve hair, skin, and bone health. In addition, most collagen supplements contain the essential amino acids needed for building muscle tissue.

Collagen – Best Protein Powder Recommendation:

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Ancient Nutrition Multi Collagen Protein Powder (1.01 lb)

Ancient Nutrition’s collagen protein powder is undoubtedly one of the best. With collagen derived from bovine, chicken, fish, and eggshell sources, you’re getting all essential amino acids.

Complete protein

Non-GMO

Keto- and paleo-friendly

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
26.5g
protein
0g
carbs
103
calories
$2.88
serving

SUMMARY

Collagen is a newer protein supplement, so there’s less research on it. Some collagen powders contain all amino acids, and others are missing one. As a bonus, collagen can help improve hair, skin, and bone health.

Bone Broth

Bone broth protein powder is the product of dehydrated bone broth. The broth is traditionally made by boiling bones, with or without meat. This process pulls nutrients and flavor out of the bones into the liquid. Most bone broth protein supplements are made from chicken or cow broth, dehydrated down into a powder.

The rise of bone broth protein is actually a precursor to the popularity of collagen supplements. The boom originates with the paleo diet, in which foods are restricted to those presumed to have been available to ancient humans. The diet gained popularity in the early 2010s, and with it, its bone broth recipes.

Like most other animal sources, bone broth protein powder is a complete protein source. In addition to having a complete amino acid profile, it also contains lots of natural vitamins and minerals. It’s touted for its potential to improve digestive, joint, and immune system health.3Protection of gastric mucosal integrity by gelatin and simple proline-containing peptides.4Possible links between intestinal permeability and food processing: A potential therapeutic niche for glutamine.5L-Glycine: a novel antiinflammatory, immunomodulatory, and cytoprotective agent.6Histidine and arginine are associated with inflammation and oxidative stress in obese women.7Glucosamine therapy for treating osteoarthritis.8Combined chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine for painful knee osteoarthritis: a multicentre, randomised, double-blind, non-inferiority trial versus celecoxib.

Bone broth protein is one of the best protein powder choices for those seeking a complete, nutritional protein supplement. In addition, it’s almost definitely the best protein powder for those sticking to paleo-friendly protein powders.

Bone Broth – Best Protein Powder Recommendation:

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Ancient Nutrition Bone Broth Protein Powder (0.98 lb)

Ancient Nutrition steals the show again with their bone broth protein. This powder packs a whole lot of protein and nutrients per serving, and comes in quite a few delicious (and natural) flavors.

Complete protein

Nutrient-dense

Keto- and paleo-friendly

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
27.3g
protein
0g
carbs
123
calories
$2.97
serving

SUMMARY

Like collagen, bone broth protein has undergone less research. It’s a paleo-friendly protein supplement with lots of vitamins and minerals, and contains all essential amino acids.

Plant Protein Sources

For vegetarians, many animal-based protein sources are off the menu. And by the very definition, vegans can’t consume any animal products at all. For these groups, plant-based protein sources are the way to go.

One disadvantage of plant protein sources is that many of them are incomplete proteins, meaning they don’t contain all essential amino acids. This means that anyone sticking exclusively to plant proteins must ensure they get a proper mix to meet all their amino acid needs.

Luckily, there are a few plant foods that actually are complete protein sources. These include foods like soy and quinoa. Although you probably won’t find quinoa protein powder in your local health foods store, other powders such as soy protein are fairly easy to find.

Below, we’ve listed a few of the most popular plant-based protein supplements by type to help you pick the best protein powder. You can take a look at our list of the best vegan protein powders for a more thorough rundown.

Soy

Soy is one of the most complete plant-based protein sources. It has a PDCAAS rating of 1.0, meaning it contains all essential amino acids in adequate quantities. Largely because of this, soy protein powder is one of the best protein powder choices for vegans and vegetarians.

Soy concentrate and soy isolate are the two primary forms of soy protein powder. Soy concentrate contains about 70% protein, and has a lower fat and carbohydrate content than most soy products. Similarly, soy isolate has a protein level of about 90%, and contains even fewer food ingredients.

Soy may be one of the best protein powder choices for vegans, vegetarians, and those with gluten and lactose sensitivities. (Though those with food sensitivities should always check the label, of course.)

Soy – Best Protein Powder Recommendation:

Now Sports Nutrition Soy Protein Isolate Powder (2 lb)

This soy protein powder keeps it simple and clean. It’s 100% soy protein isolate, with absolutely no other ingredients. You know exactly what you’re getting.

Complete protein

Gluten- and dairy-free

Vegan

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
25g
protein
0g
carbs
113
calories
$0.76
serving

SUMMARY

Soy is the most popular plant-based protein supplement. It contains all essential amino acids, and is the go-to for many vegetarians and vegans.

Pea

Pea protein is another complete protein source, and has been growing in popularity over the past few years. It’s made by extracting the pea proteins in a bath and dehydrating the solution into a powder.

On the PDCAAS scale, pea protein scores a 0.89. This means that it does contain all essential amino acids. However, in order to meet your amino acid needs, you would have to consume about 11% more than, say, whey protein. But, as previously explained, this is not a problem for anybody with a varied diet, as other foods can fill that amino acid deficit.

Pea protein is one of the best protein powder choices for those adhering to vegetarian diets. And just like most other plant-based proteins, pure pea protein is lactose- and gluten-free.

Pea – Best Protein Powder Recommendation:

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NAKED Pea Vegan Protein Isolate (1 lb)

NAKED takes another spot on our best-of list with their 100% pea protein powder isolate. Unflavored contains nothing but pea protein powder, and the flavored versions contain only two more natural ingredients. It’s 100% free of soy, dairy, gluten, and GMOs, sourced solely from farms in the US and Canada.

5.7g BCAAs

Gluten- and dairy-free

Vegan

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
27g
protein
2g
carbs
160
calories
$0.73
serving

Sale
Runner-Up: Source Organic Pea Protein (2 lb)

Source Organic’s pea protein is so good we had to give it a mention. It’s just about the purest pea protein powder you can get your hands on. It’s 100% organic pea protein isolate sourced from Canadian farms and processed in the US.

4.8g BCAAs

Gluten- and dairy-free

Vegan

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
25.4g
protein
1.2g
carbs
115
calories
$1.16
serving

SUMMARY

Pea protein contains all essential amino acids, but in slightly less quantities than soy. It’s a good vegan option for those who don’t like soy products.

Rice

Rice protein powder is another inexpensive protein powder option. It’s typically made by simply grinding rice into a powder and using enzymes to separate the starch and protein. Once the starch is pulled out, a protein-rich powder is left over.

Most rice protein has a PDCAAS rating of roughly 0.90—just slightly above pea protein. It contains all essential amino acids needed for muscle tissue building, but it’s best to pair it with other protein-rich foods to fill the slight amino acid deficit. Quinoa, lentils, and nuts are some good options.

Rice protein is one of the best protein powders for those maintaining vegetarian diets on a budget. It’s an easily-digested choice that’s typically free of all dairy and gluten—though, again, always read the label.

Rice – Best Protein Powder Recommendation:

NAKED Rice Organic Brown Rice Protein Powder (1 lb)

NAKED steals the show again with their bulk organic rice protein powder! As with their other protein powders, this one contains just one ingredient: 100% organic, non-GMO sprouted whole grain brown rice.

4.9g BCAAs

Gluten- and dairy-free

Vegan

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
25g
protein
4g
carbs
120
calories
$0.99
serving

SUMMARY

Rice protein is an excellent, lesser-known protein supplement. It contains all essential amino acids, but in slightly less quantities than soy.

Hemp

Hemp protein powder is another complete protein source. This lesser-known protein supplement has gaining popularity since the mid 2010s. Its production is clean and simple, made by grinding hemp seeds into a fine powder.

No matter how you slice it, hemp protein powder contains all essential amino acids. However, it has fairly low levels of the amino acid lysine, leaving it with a PDCAAS rating of 0.51. Luckily, this is really no issue, as consuming protein from almost any other source will fill this gap.

Hemp is one of the best protein powder choices for those wanting to avoid animal products and stick with a natural, barely-processed supplement.

Hemp – Best Protein Powder Recommendation:

Sale
Nutiva Organic Hemp Seed Protein (3 lb)

Nutiva’s organic hemp seed protein powder is one of the best on the market. Its only ingredient is 100% cold-pressed hemp seed, sourced from organic, non-GMO, sustainable Canadian farms.

Nutrient-dense

Keto- and paleo-friendly

Vegan

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
15g
protein
9g
carbs
90
calories
$0.68
serving

For more information on hemp protein, see our list of Top 8 Best Hemp Protein Powders.

SUMMARY

Hemp powder is an increasingly popular protein supplement. It contains all essential amino acids in less quantities than rice or pea protein, but its processing is very clean. It’s usually just finely-ground hemp seeds.

Special Types of Protein Powder

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)

Branched chain amino acids are a combination of the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These three amino acids play an important role in muscle protein synthesis.

BCAAs are present in many protein sources, such as whey, casein, and egg whites. As such, most people with healthy diets and those who drink protein shakes are not lacking in BCAAs.

However, there is some research to suggest there may be some benefit to supplementing amino acids directly. For example, one study found that supplementing amino acids after heavy weight training resulted in boosted protein synthesis (as in, more muscle building).9Postexercise net protein synthesis in human muscle from orally administered amino acids In contrast, those who didn’t take any supplement experienced muscle protein breakdown.

SUMMARY

BCAAs are a combination of three amino acids. They’re present in most protein supplements, but taking them in isolation might reduce muscle breakdown after a workout.


How to Supplement Protein Powder

Best Protein Powder For Muscle Building

When it comes to building muscle, whey protein and casein protein are the two most popular options. As explained above, the two are both milk products, and contain a complete profile of essential amino acids.

Whey protein powder is the more popular of the two due to its rapid absorption. When you drink a whey protein shake after a workout, the amino acids in the drink almost immediately get to work. These building blocks are quickly used to build muscle tissue as you recover.

Casein protein powder, although similar in to whey protein, is absorbed more slowly. It’s a good option for athletes who want a release of protein over a longer period after their workout, or who want to maintain a steady supply of amino acids for several hours.

Egg white protein powder is another popular option among athletes. Its Protein Efficiency Ratio is higher than both whey and casein, meaning that animal trials showed the most mass gain with egg whites. And just like whey and casein, egg white protein powder contains all essential amino acids.

SUMMARY

Whey, casein, and egg white are commonly regarded as the best protein powders for muscle building.

Dosage for Muscle Building

Research varies a little bit when it comes to protein supplement dosage recommendations. One meta-analysis of 49 studies found no benefit in total daily protein intake beyond 1.6 g per kg of bodyweight, or roughly 0.73 g per pound.10A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults Other studies focusing on trained athletes suggest that up to 2.4 g or protein per kg of bodyweight—or roughly 1 g per pound—might be most beneficial.11Do athletes need more dietary protein and amino acids?

For fairly experienced weightlifters, 2 g of total daily protein intake per kg of bodyweight (or 0.9 g per pound) is a common recommendation.

To hit your daily goals, you’ll need some careful planning and tracking. Some people choose to plan their meals in advance, while others track calories and nutrients on the go. The smartphone app MyFitnessPal is a popular choice for this.

Use the Protein Needs Calculator below to determine your ideal protein intake for muscle building.

Without careful planning, most athlete’s diets won’t hit their daily protein intake goals. Once you have a rough estimate of your daily intake, you can drink a protein supplement to make up the difference, if any. Most protein shakes contain around 25 grams per serving.

SUMMARY

For most athletes, up to 0.73 g of protein per pound of bodyweight is recommended. For the heavy weightlifters, up to 1 g per pound is recommended.

Timing for Muscle Building

There are some common misconceptions about when you should drink your protein supplement. You may hear novices and seasoned gym rats alike recommend you drink a shake during your workout for maximum performance. However, not even the best protein shake can help you squeeze out a few more reps.

These misconceptions stem from a misunderstanding of something called muscle catabolism. During a workout, muscle tissue can actually break itself down for energy. If you’re hoping to build muscle mass, this isn’t ideal. Luckily, research has shown that taking protein supplements before or during workouts can help to mitigate this muscle breakdown.12Branched-chain amino acids augment ammonia metabolism while attenuating protein breakdown during exercise. What a relief, right?

Well, it’s not actually an issue for most weightlifters. The caveat is that they won’t actually reach a catabolic state during their workouts. Muscle catabolism occurs when the body is undergoing lengthy, repetitive, stressful exercise, such as running a marathon. For most weightlifters who keep their sessions to roughly an hour (or with decent rests, even longer), muscle breakdown shouldn’t be a concern.

With all that in mind, weightlifters won’t reduce muscle breakdown by drinking a protein supplement before or during their workouts.

So when is the best time to drink that tasty protein shake? (Or bland, if you prefer unflavored protein powder.) Research overwhelmingly has one answer: right after your workout.

Study after study has demonstrated that consuming a protein supplement (or even better, a protein/carbohydrate mix) after each workout can have a slew of positive effects, like the following:

Beyond that, drinking one of the best protein shakes after a workout can be a nice treat for your efforts. You earned this!

SUMMARY

Research has shown it’s best to drink your protein shake as soon after your workout as possible. There is no significant benefit to consuming protein before or during your workout, unless engaging in lengthy endurance training.

Best Protein Powder For Weight Loss

Research has thoroughly demonstrated that protein supplementation can help with weight loss. As mentioned previously, drinking protein shakes while at a calorie deficit can lead to greater fat loss and muscle tissue preservation.22A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study But what’s the best protein powder for weight loss?

Whey protein, one of the most popular protein supplements, is a great option for losing weight. For anyone trying to maintain a strict diet, whey protein isolate may be a good choice, as most food ingredients are filtered out to make the leanest and cleanest powder possible.

Plant-based protein powders are also among the best protein powders for weight loss. Soy, pea, and rice are some of the most popular plant-based options. In reality, you can’t go wrong with most protein supplements.

However, you do want to keep an eye on the nutrition label. Some protein shake brands will add sugary sweeteners—especially weight loss-focused brands (ironically). While they might taste even yummier, unhealthy ingredients are not helpful on any weight loss journey.

SUMMARY

For any goal, whey is one of the best protein powders. Those aiming to lose weight often use plant-based powders as well, such as soy or pea. Also, check all nutrition labels for any unhealthy ingredients, such as added sugar.

Dosage for Weight Loss

For someone trying to lose weight, their protein intake needs are going to be less than an athlete’s. As mentioned above, daily protein intake beyond 1.6 g per kg of bodyweight (roughly 0.73 g per pound) isn’t helpful for most people.23 A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults So if you’re working out, consider that your protein intake maximum.

For those who are not very active, the current Recommended Dietary Allowance of daily protein intake is 0.8 g per kg of bodyweight, or 0.36 g per pound.24Dietary protein intake and human health. You can use the calculator below to get an idea of your ideal protein intake.

Also keep in mind your daily caloric requirements. To lose weight, you need to be at a caloric deficit. Most weight loss plans suggest a deficit of 100-500 calories per day. So when you drink your protein shakes, be sure not to slip past your target!

SUMMARY

For weight loss, shoot for 0.36 g of protein per pound of bodyweight. If you work out, then it’s alright to consume up to 0.73 g of protein per pound, but don’t go past that.

Timing for Weight Loss

While research suggests athletes should drink protein immediately after a workout, the timing might be a little different for those simply wanting to lose weight.

First off, if you are working out at all, it’s best to drink a small protein shake immediately afterward. As explained above, that will help minimize your body’s breakdown of muscle tissue, as it’s supplied with amino acids from the protein shake instead.

Muscle tissue is incredibly important when it comes to losing fat. Of all types of tissue in the body, muscle is one of the highest users of energy—that is, calories. And this is true even at rest! If two people with the same weight were to lie in bed all day, the one with more muscle mass would burn more calories (all other factors remaining constant).

So if your goal is to lose fat, then you want to maintain that muscle mass! This doesn’t mean you’ll end up bulky. In fact, muscle tissue is much “leaner” than fat. A pound of muscle takes up a lot less space than a pound of fat.

Outside of muscle maintenance goals, research shows that drinking your protein shakes with meals, as opposed to between meals, helps with fat loss.25Effects of protein supplements consumed with meals, versus between meals, on resistance training–induced body composition changes in adults: a systematic review Of course, you need to make sure you aren’t drinking so much protein that you exceed your caloric needs.

SUMMARY

Research has shown that drinking protein shakes with meals, instead of between, helps lead to greater fat loss. If you work out, it can also be helpful to take protein afterward.


What Is Protein?

Protein has become a fitness buzzword. Many people are under the impression that if they could just get their hands on the best protein powder, their fitness dreams might come true. But what exactly is protein? And why do we need it?

Biology

Proteins are one of the primary building blocks of the body. They’re used as structural components for muscle and other tissue, and play vital roles in the production of hormones and enzymes. Before the body can use proteins, however, they must be broken up into amino acids.

There are 20 different amino acids that the body needs for growth and development. For adults, 11 of those amino acids are produced within the body. They are termed nonessential amino acids, as they don’t need to come from our diets.

The other 9 amino acids are referred to essential amino acids. The only way for essential amino acids to enter the body is via the foods you eat. That’s why it’s important to make sure your diet (including any protein supplements you might take) contains the right kinds of amino acid sources.

Not all proteins sources are created equal. Although some protein sources do contain all 9 essential amino acids, there are many that don’t. Sources that do contain all essential amino acids are called complete proteins. Sources that don’t are referred to as incomplete proteins.

Typically, the best protein powders will be complete proteins. However, some incomplete protein supplements can be combined with others to fill the gaps.

  • Complete Proteins

Complete proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids. Complete protein sources include almost all animal-based foods, including whey, casein, and egg. There are a few plant-based complete protein sources as well, such as quinoa and soy.

Almost all of the best protein powder supplements are complete proteins. Most incomplete sources are not even processed into protein powders. There are a few exceptions to this, such as some types of collagen protein powder. However, this is really not an issue, as explained below.

  • Incomplete Proteins

Most plant-based sources are incomplete proteins, meaning they don’t contain all 9 essential amino acids. There are some uninformed sources that claim incomplete proteins are useless for athletic purposes, but this is not true.

All proteins, including incomplete proteins, benefit the body. After consuming protein, its amino acids are broken down and used for building tissue. This is still true for incomplete proteins. The caveat is that since incomplete proteins are missing one or more essential amino acids, a good diet is needed to fill the gaps.

For example, some collagen protein powders lack the essential amino acid lysine. However, since lysine is present in almost every other protein source, this is no issue for anybody maintaining even a moderately varied diet. The lack of lysine would only be a problem for someone who consumed absolutely nothing except protein collagen supplements, which would be an unhealthy diet in itself.

All things considered, though, complete protein sources still tend to make the best protein powder.

SUMMARY

The body uses proteins as building blocks, and needs certain amino acids from them that it can’t produce alone.

Sources

Animal

Almost all animal protein sources protein are complete, meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids. This is true not only for meat, fish, and poultry, but also other animal-sourced foods, such as eggs and dairy.

Because of this, dairy-based protein powders such as whey and casein are considered to be some of the best protein powder. In addition to being complete sources of protein, they’re also inexpensive to produce.

eggs sitting near protein powder
Egg whites are a great complete protein source.

Plant

Most plant-based protein sources, on the other hand, are incomplete. Generally, they lack at least one or two amino acids. This means that vegetarians and vegans, who don’t consume animal-sourced complete proteins, must carefully plan their diets to ensure they aren’t lacking any essential amino acids.

However, there are some plant-based foods that are complete sources of protein. Soy, quinoa, hemp seeds, and chia seeds are some fairly popular complete protein sources. Some pea and rice varieties are also complete protein sources. Because of this, soy, pea, and rice protein powders are some of the best protein powders for vegans.

SUMMARY

Most animal proteins have all amino acids needed by the body, while many plant sources don’t. For those that don’t, a varied diet is needed to fill the gaps.

Mix of protein-rich rice and peas
Rice and peas are both complete sources of protein.

Protein Powder Benefits

So now we understand the biological purpose of protein. We’ve also looked at the basics behind different protein sources. But what benefits might protein supplements such as protein shakes have on our health and fitness goals?

For Athletics & Muscle Building

Research has thoroughly demonstrated a positive link between protein consumption and boosting athletic performance and muscle mass. Here’s a closer look:

  • Boosted Muscle Building

We learned earlier that muscle tissue is made of protein. After a weightlifting session, the affected muscle tissue begins a process called protein synthesis. Through this process, the muscle is essentially building more of itself, increasing its size and performance capabilities.

Several studies have demonstrated that increased protein consumption leads to increased muscle protein synthesis after working out.26Effects of exaggerated amino acid and protein supply in man.27Reduced resting skeletal muscle protein synthesis is rescued by resistance exercise and protein ingestion following short-term energy deficit.28Protein requirements and muscle mass/strength changes during intensive training in novice bodybuilders. Simply put, protein-rich diets help the body to build more muscle after an intense workout.

As expected, then, research shows that protein supplementation combined with weight training typically leads to increased muscle mass.29Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength30A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults There are many factors at play when it comes to building muscle, including total caloric intake, but ensuring you’re getting enough protein through the best protein powders is one of the most basic measures.

  • Decreased Muscle Breakdown

For both strength athletes and endurance athletes, muscle tissue is important. And while it may not sound ideal, the body is actually always undergoing at least a little muscle protein breakdown. This balance between muscle protein breakdown and synthesis is called protein turnover.31Human muscle protein synthesis and breakdown during and after exercise.

Practically every athlete wants to keep their protein turnover in the positive—that is, with protein synthesis outpacing protein breakdown. But muscle protein synthesis actually decreases after any type of workout, whether it be a brisk jog or a heavy squat session.

Luckily, there’s an easy way to counteract this. Research has shown that taking a protein supplement right after a workout can help to push the body from net muscle breakdown to muscle synthesis.32Reduced resting skeletal muscle protein synthesis is rescued by resistance exercise and protein ingestion following short-term energy deficit.33A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study34Postexercise net protein synthesis in human muscle from orally administered amino acids35Essential amino acids and muscle protein recovery from resistance exercise These effects are even more pronounced after drinking a carbohydrate and protein shake.36Effect of milk-based carbohydrate-protein supplement timing on the attenuation of exercise-induced muscle damage37Acute milk-based protein–CHO supplementation attenuates exercise-induced muscle damage38Timing of postexercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans

  • Boosted Strength & Performance

Wanting to get more bang for your buck with athletic training? The benefits of taking protein supplements go beyond increased muscle mass. Research has demonstrated that drinking protein shakes after strength training boosts several performance factors, including the following:

The performance benefits to taking protein powder can be seen both short term and long term. For example, increased muscle glycogen synthesis and decreased muscle soreness are both short term benefits. The cited study found that taking a protein supplement helped decrease soreness and therefore increase the intensity of a workout 48 hours later.

Other benefits occur over a longer period. You won’t see an immediate boost in your one-repetition max after taking even the best protein powder. Those kinds of performance gains are more obvious in the long run.

  • Decreased Soreness & Recovery Time

Every athlete should be familiar with DOMS—delayed-onset muscle soreness. After a sufficiently intense workout, the resultant damage to muscle fibers can lead to some amount of pain. This pain can range from a mild ache to a debilitating affliction, depending on the workout familiarity and intensity.

For many people, DOMS is often accompanied by some sort of masochistic pleasure—some lingering evidence of a killer workout. However, it does lead to decreased performance. Inflamed and damaged muscle fibers simply can’t perform as well as healthy ones.

Luckily, protein shakes can help! As mentioned above, studies have shown that taking a protein supplement results in less soreness and DOMS overall.44THE EFFECT OF A CARBOHYDRATE AND PROTEIN SUPPLEMENT ON RESISTANCE EXERCISE PERFORMANCE, HORMONAL RESPONSE, AND MUSCLE DAMAGE (The effect is even more pronounced with protein/carbohydrate mix shakes.) And, as previously mentioned, research has shown specifically that soreness-related decreases in performance can be mitigate by protein powder supplementation.45Effect of milk-based carbohydrate-protein supplement timing on the attenuation of exercise-induced muscle damage

Want to minimize your recovery time? Research says to grab the best protein powder for you goals and drink up!

SUMMARY

For athletes, protein supplements can increase strength, performance, and muscle mass, while decreasing soreness and recovery time.

Muscular man curling a dumbbell
Supplementing protein can increase muscle mass, performance, and strength.

For Weight Loss

Protein Powder Nutrition Label with 12 Grams of Sugar per Quarter Cup
This popular protein powder contains 12 grams of sugar per scoop. Yikes!

The benefits of taking some of the best protein powder (those without sugary additives) go beyond bulking up! If you’re looking to lose weight, research says protein supplements are your friend.

We want to note that it’s best to combine protein shakes with other weight loss strategies. For example, one study put its participants on a 500-calorie deficit diet and split them into two groups. One group drank a whey protein shake as part of their meal plan, and the other group didn’t.

By the end of the 12-week trial, both groups had lost a significant amount of weight, with the protein shake group losing a little more. The catch, though, is that the protein shake group lost significantly more body fat and significantly less lean muscle mass.46A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study Simply put, they ended up skinnier and healthier than the other group.

Although the most successful weight loss stories involve healthier diet and exercise, there is evidence to suggest that the best protein powder alone can help. One meta-analysis of many different studies found that, all other factors controlled, protein supplementation correlates with a decrease in body weight, fat mass, and cardiovascular disease.47Whey Protein Supplementation Improves Body Composition and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

One caveat: It’s incredibly important to carefully choose the best protein powder for your weight loss goals. Many protein powders taste really great at the expense of added sugar and other ingredients. It’s not necessary to take 100% pure protein powder, but you’ll want to check the nutrition facts before you buy.

SUMMARY

For overweight people, protein supplements can help with losing extra fat while preserving lean muscle.

For General Health

Even for those who aren’t athletes, protein supplements can lead to improvements in general health. For example, although there are benefits to high-protein diets, there are some risks associated with long-term consumption of lots of red meats. These risks include bone strength dysfunction, liver disorders, artery disease, and more.48Adverse Effects Associated with Protein Intake above the Recommended Dietary Allowance for Adults Protein supplements are a good alternative for maintaining enough protein intake without consuming too much red meat.

Of course, those who aren’t at risk of meat over-consumption can still benefit from drinking some of the best protein shakes—those without unhealthy additives such as sugar. Many of the studies cited above found correlations between protein supplementation and lean muscle maintenance, decreased fat mass, and more.

And the benefits of protein go beyond muscle/fat body composition. Research has shown that whey protein in particular can help improve other health factors, such as reduced blood pressure and inflammation. 49The chronic effects of whey proteins on blood pressure, vascular function, and inflammatory markers in overweight individuals.50Effect of whey supplementation on circulating C-reactive protein: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.51Dietary cheese whey protein protects rats against mild dextran sulfate sodium-induced colitis: role of mucin and microbiota. This is part of the reason whey is often considered the best protein powder. Studies show that protein shakes are more than an athlete’s drink!

SUMMARY

Even for non-athletes, protein supplements can help reduce risk of bone weakness, artery disease, high blood pressure, inflammation, and more.


Protein Powder Sources

Protein Source Quality

We previously learned about what kinds of protein sources contain all essential amino acids—those that the body can’t produce on its own. But a food’s amino acid profile isn’t the only factor in determining its quality.

Here’s a quick overview of how protein quality is measured. If you’re not interested in the technical details, skip down to the protein quality summary.

  • Protein Efficiency Ratio (PEF)

Protein Efficiency Ratio is a measurement of how much mass an animal gains after consuming a given protein. Researchers will feed a rat a certain protein supplement, then measure over time how much weight that rat gains compared to a control.

The measurement is determined by the mass gain of the rat per gram of protein consumed. Casein protein serves as the standard value, which is 2.7. Any Protein Efficiency Ratio above 2.7 is considered excellent. However, not all of the best protein powders will exceed that score.

One problem with this measurement is that protein-related rat growth may not closely correlate with human growth. As a result, this scale should be referenced with a grain of salt.

  • Biological Value (BV)

Biological Value is a measurement of how efficiently the body uses a protein source for muscle tissue synthesis. The scale looks at what percentage of nitrogen absorbed from a protein source actually ends up used in tissue formation. (Recall that proteins consist of nitrogen-rich amino acids.) It also indicates whether a given food is a good source of essential amino acids (those that the body can’t produce on its own).

A food’s Biological Value is presented either as a percentage or as a unitless number. A score of 100% indicates that all of the proteins in the food likely end up utilized in muscle tissue formation. It’s possible for a food to score above 100 (but not 100%), such as when the body pulls nitrogen from non-food sources during tissue synthesis. Whey protein is one such example, with a BV score of 104.

The are a few issues with this Biological Value. First, many factors that aren’t seen in nitrogen measurements can influence the digestion and absorption of protein. In addition, factors not related to the protein source itself can lead to fluctuations in nitrogen availability, resulting in skewed figures.

  • Net Protein Utilization (NPU)

Net Protein Utilization is another measurement of how efficiently the body uses a protein source for muscle tissue synthesis. The scale is basically the same as Biological Value, except that it’s calculated from the net nitrogen ingested as apposed to the net nitrogen absorbed. The Biological Value and Net Protein Utilization scores for a given protein source tend to be similar, with the Net Protein Utilization score being a little lower.

  • Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS)

The Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score indicates whether a food is a good source of all essential amino acids. It looks at the ratios of all essential amino acids in a food (its amino acid profile) and compares those to the recommended dietary values.

The scale compares the food’s limiting amino acid (whichever is lowest of them all) to dietary recommendations. The percentage difference is then expressed as a range from 0.00 to 1.00.

For example, a food containing enough of all essential amino acids, such as milk, has a PDCAAS measurement of 1.00. Many grains, on the other hand, only contain up to 50% of the recommended amount of the essential amino acid lysine. Therefore they typically have a PDCAAS measurement of up to 0.50, despite having enough of the other essential amino acids. Essentially, this means you would have to eat twice the amount of grain protein compared to milk protein in order to meet the body’s essential amino acids requirements.

The Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score is the mostly widely used and accepted measurement of protein quality, though it’s not without its flaws. It’s primarily useful as a measurement of one single protein source, which is helpful when searching for the best protein powder.

Scores of Common Protein Supplements

Protein SourceProtein Efficiency RatioBiological ValueNet Protein UtilizationPDCAAS
Whey Protein 3.2104921.00
Casein Protein2.777761.00
Egg Protein 3.9 100921.00
Milk Protein2.591821.00
Bone Broth Protein1.5NDNDND
Collagen ProteinNDNDND0 to 0.95
Soy Protein2.274611.00
Pea Protein2.383660.89
Rice Protein2.473710.90
Hemp Seed Protein0.785ND0.51

SUMMARY

There are a few scales for measuring protein quality. The most important is PDCAAS, which measures whether a source has enough essential amino acids and gives a score between 0 and 1.00.


Summary

Protein is an essential part of the human diet. The amino acids that comprise all protein sources are vital building blocks for the human body.

As discussed, protein supplements can be a great way to meet your fitness goals and improve your health. They’re helpful not only for boosting muscle mass and strength, but also for decreasing fat mass.

Based on the studies, research, and data presented in this article, here is a review of our best protein powder recommendations:

All of Our Best Protein Powder Recommendations:

Sale
Best Overall: Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder (5 lb)

Optimum Nutrition’s 100% whey protein powder is our top recommendation for most people.

5.5g BCAAs

Gluten free

Instantized quick mix

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
23.2g
protein
2.9g
carbs
116
calories
$0.77
serving

Best for Weight Loss: Isopure 100% Whey Protein Isolate (1 lb)

Isopure’s 100% whey protein isolate is our lean, keto-friendly go-to for athletes and amateurs alike.

Super Lean

Gluten- and lactose-free

Keto-friendly

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
24.2g
protein
1.9g
carbs
106
calories
$0.79
serving

Sale
Best Casein Protein: Gold Standard 100% Micellar Casein Protein Powder (4 lb)

Optimum Nutrition’s 100% casein powder is one of the most popular choices for slow-release protein.

5g BCAAs

Long-lasting absorption

Paleo-friendly

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
21.8g
protein
2.7g
carbs
109
calories
$0.72
serving

Sale
Best for Building Muscle: NAKED Egg White Protein Powder (3 lb)

There’s no better egg white protein powder to recommend than Naked Egg. With only two ingredients (or four for the flavored versions), this stuff is as pure as it gets.

5.8g BCAAss

Gluten- and dairy-free

Paleo-friendly

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
24.2g
protein
0g
carbs
106
calories
$1.65
serving

Sale
Best Collagen Protein: Ancient Nutrition Multi Collagen Protein Powder (1.01 lb)

Ancient Nutrition’s collagen protein powder is undoubtedly one of the best. With collagen derived from bovine, chicken, fish, and eggshell sources, you’re getting all essential amino acids.

Complete protein

Non-GMO

Keto- and paleo-friendly

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
26.5g
protein
0g
carbs
103
calories
$2.88
serving

Sale
Best Bone Broth Protein: Ancient Nutrition Bone Broth Protein Powder (0.98 lb)

Ancient Nutrition steals the show again with their bone broth protein. This powder packs a whole lot of protein and nutrients per serving, and comes in quite a few delicious (and natural) flavors.

Complete protein

Nutrient-dense

Keto- and paleo-friendly

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
27.3g
protein
0g
carbs
123
calories
$2.97
serving

Best Soy Protein: Now Sports Nutrition Soy Protein Isolate Powder (2 lb)

This soy protein powder keeps it simple and clean. It’s 100% soy protein isolate, with absolutely no other ingredients. You know exactly what you’re getting.

Complete protein

Gluten- and dairy-free

Vegan

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
25g
protein
0g
carbs
113
calories
$0.76
serving

Sale
Best Pea Protein: NAKED Pea Vegan Protein Isolate (5 lb)

NAKED takes another spot on our best-of list with their 100% pea protein powder isolate. Unflavored contains nothing but pea protein powder, and the flavored versions contain only two more natural ingredients. It’s 100% free of soy, dairy, gluten, and GMOs, sourced solely from farms in the US and Canada.

5.7g BCAAs

Gluten- and dairy-free

Vegan

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
27g
protein
2g
carbs
160
calories
$0.73
serving

Sale
Best Pea Runner Up: Source Organic Pea Protein (2 lb)

Source Organic’s pea protein is so good we had to give it a mention. It’s just about the purest pea protein powder you can get your hands on. It’s 100% organic pea protein isolate sourced from Canadian farms and processed in the US.

4.8g BCAAs

Gluten- and dairy-free

Vegan

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
25.4g
protein
1.2g
carbs
115
calories
$1.16
serving

Best Rice Protein: NAKED Rice Organic Brown Rice Protein Powder (1 lb)

NAKED steals the show again with their bulk organic rice protein powder! As with their other protein powders, this one contains just one ingredient: 100% organic, non-GMO sprouted whole grain brown rice.

4.9g BCAAs

Gluten- and dairy-free

Vegan

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
25g
protein
4g
carbs
120
calories
$0.99
serving

Sale
Best Hemp Protein: Nutiva Organic Hemp Seed Protein (3 lb)

Nutiva’s organic hemp seed protein powder is one of the best on the market. Its only ingredient is 100% cold-pressed hemp seed, sourced from organic, non-GMO, sustainable Canadian farms.

Nutrient-dense

Keto- and paleo-friendly

Vegan

30g 1 oz 1/4 cup
15g
protein
9g
carbs
90
calories
$0.68
serving


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