You don’t need to be a professional athlete or dedicated bodybuilder to reap the benefits of the best protein powder. Regardless of whether you want to lose weight, build lean muscle mass or elevate your fitness level, getting enough protein is essential to achieve your health and fitness goals.
Yet hitting your daily requirements for this important nutrient isn’t always easy, which is where supplements can come in handy. But then you may be wondering which protein powders are worth investing in. But don’t worry. At Live Science, we’ve spent countless hours researching and testing a variety of products so you can find the best protein powder for your needs and preferences.
What the experts say
“A safe level of protein ranges from 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram [2.2 lbs.] of body weight, up to 2 grams of protein per kilogram for very active athletes… Most Americans truly need to be eating about 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight,” says Jessica Crandall, a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes educator and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (opens in new tab).
And even if you’re not physically active, you can still reap the benefits of protein supplements. Getting enough of this nutrient will help to ramp up your metabolism and keep your appetite at bay. Protein will also keep your immune system strong, balance your hormones, and improve the look of your skin and hair. So even if lifting heavy weights is not on your agenda, meeting your daily protein requirements is important for general health and wellbeing.
With the best protein powder, you can get 20g to 30g of this nutrient in a single serving. All you need is the best protein shaker and a bit of water or milk, and you have a tasty shake that you can easily sip on-the-go. And when it comes to available products, rest assured you will be spoilt for choice. Protein supplements come in a wide range of flavors, contain countless additional ingredients, and address many different issues.
Here, we’ve ranked the best non-vegan protein powders on the market to help you select a product that will tick all your boxes. If you’re plant-based, we have a separate guide that’s solely focused on the best vegan protein powder too.
Best protein powder
If it’s just a solid, reliable, no-frills product you’re after, this could be the best protein powder for you.
WHAT USERS SAY
This protein powder scores 4.2 stars out of 5 on Amazon, with enthusiasts praising it for its value, range of flavors and ease of mixing, and many feeling reassured by its ranking in independent tests, “I like this brand because you know what you’re getting, based off independent lab testing”. The main criticisms revolve around taste, particularly in the more unusual flavors which some find too sweet.
Myprotein prides itself on providing an all-round, value-for-money product. It is ranked Grade A by independent tester Labdoor for both quality and value.
The protein comes from whey concentrate, which some people find causes bloating. There are few ingredients, although some of the flavor options include artificial flavors. It comes in more than 40 flavors and a range of sizes. We found the 250g bag really useful for a weekend away or bringing into the office, but you can also purchase a 5kg bag to store at home.
If you’re bewildered by the choice, consider buying the sample pack which contains up to eight flavors to try before you commit to a larger size. We tried the chocolate smooth, which worked well when stirred into porridge. Although, if you’re after more of an intense chocolate taste, the chocolate brownie may be more to your liking. Our testers with a sweet tooth also liked the sticky toffee pudding flavor, whilst those who liked something a bit more simple favored the vanilla and the strawberry.
Made with just whey isolate, with no whey concentrate, and sweetened only with stevia, which is a natural substance made from the leaves of the stevia plant, this is the best protein powder for anyone who suffers from a sensitive stomach.
WHAT USERS SAY
It scores 4.5 stars on Amazon, with reviewers commenting favorably on the natural ingredients and the fact that it doesn’t leave them bloated. The negative reviews mostly relate to the flavor. “The stevia is so strong it leaves a nasty tangy aftertaste”, complains one. If you don’t mind the taste of stevia, you may love it, though.
A reassuringly modest list of ingredients means you can be sure what’s in the powder. It’s low in carbs and pretty modest on calories, too, for the amount of protein per serving.
The downside is that stevia can be rather overpowering, and this powder scores less well than some of the best protein powders for flavor. The taste is somewhat thin and it’s very sweet. There are only two available flavors – strawberry and chocolate.
Many protein powders come complete with a range of flavors – some more palatable than others.
WHAT USERS SAY
The main objection to this product among reviewers (and there aren’t many who give it a low rating – it scores a solid 4.6 on 5 on Amazon) relates to price, and especially to recent price rises in the product. “I think it’s a quality product overpriced”, says one. Unless you have a great recycling service, you may find that you can’t recycle the black tub, either.
However, if you want the flexibility to add your own flavors, or you dislike the sweeteners found in flavored whey products, this is a great choice. It’s not entirely flavor-free, but the taste is neutral enough (a mild, milky taste) that it won’t come strongly through your own flavors.
In common with most protein powders, it has added soy lecithin as an emulsifier, which is the only added ingredient beyond the whey products (which are a mixture of whey isolate, hydrolyzed whey isolate and whey concentrate). It mixes well, without too many lumps.
If gains are your goal, this will most definitely be the best protein powder for you.
WHAT USERS SAY
Although in Amazon reviews it scores a healthy 4.5 on 5, there are some complaints of sore stomachs and bloating, and a few gripes about the flavor (although we found it pretty palatable). The main complaint is that it doesn’t mix easily – most reviewers recommend using a blender to mix it. The majority of reviewers are just delighted by their weight gains. “It gives me a noticeable boost in strength and size”.
With a whopping 1,271 calories and 53g of protein per serving, not to mention 216g of carbohydrate (partly coming from ground oats), this is a protein powder for anyone who is serious about gaining mass. Dieters beware! Unlike BSN’s other mass gainer, it doesn’t contain creatine, so you can control whether or not you want that in your diet plan.
It is true that part of the reason for the huge number of calories and mighty helping of protein is down to the serving size, which is large (two big scoops). Even allowing for this, though, it still makes for good value for money.
Some protein powders can contain processed ingredients that you might not recognize.
WHAT USERS SAY
This protein powder scores an overall rating of 4.6 stars. Enthusiasts praise it for its taste and texture and find it easy to digest. “I have tried a LOT of different plant-based protein powders and this one wins, hands-down”, reports one happy customer. Not everyone likes the flavors and the distinctive sweetness and aftertaste of stevia divide opinion. There are a handful of reports of stomach pains and even, alarmingly, of bugs found in the tub, though these are a tiny minority of reviews.
However, if you’re keen on finding a protein powder filled with natural ingredients, the Orgain Organic Protein Powder might just be the one for you.
Founded by a cancer survivor and integrative specialist who wanted to create a product with natural, food-based ingredients, Orgain makes products with ingredients that, whilst perhaps not exactly familiar, are at least recognizable foodstuffs, and the powder is certified organic and non-GMO.
Be aware that the calorie count is 150 per serving which is a little higher than most non-mass-gainer powders and the carbohydrate count is 15g, so it’s not low carb. It contains sea salt so if you’re trying to keep your sodium levels down this may not be for you.
Beloved of celebs such as Jennifer Aniston, this is principally a food supplement aimed at boosting collagen.
WHAT USERS SAY
Fans of the product (78% of Amazon reviewers give it five stars) rave about its positive effect on their hair, nails and skin. “Vital Proteins has been a night and day difference”, says one. There are a few less satisfied customers who claim to have suffered adverse effects such as skin break-outs and low moods, but these are very much in the minority.
It has the added bonus of providing a decent 18g of protein without any carbohydrates, though, so with only 70 calories per serving, it’s a useful way of adding some easy protein into your diet without acting as a meal in itself. Many users stir it into coffee or other drinks or smoothies.
Unusually for a protein powder, it’s a bovine collagen product, made from cow hides from grass-fed cattle, so obviously isn’t suitable for vegetarians. It is unflavored and really does taste of very little indeed. It doesn’t mix very easily into cold liquids (it stirs easily into hot liquid), so you’ll need a whisk if you’re taking it cold.
If you’re looking for a low-calorie protein powder that packs in protein without the carb overload, this is a perfect choice. Transparent Labs whey protein isolate lists minimal ingredients but maximizes on flavor, with a range of tasty choices and no chalky aftertaste. The cinnamon french toast flavor, in particular, is a must-try – we found it moreish, without being sickly sweet, and we didn’t feel sluggish or uncomfortably full after drinking it either.
The powder feels clean which is unsurprising, as it’s made using dairy products of 100% grass-fed and hormone-free cattle and is also gluten-free with no preservatives, artificial sweeteners, or coloring.
The downside to this protein powder is that it’s not vegan-friendly (although Transparent Labs have a vegan alternative). It’s also worth mixing with milk alternatives, or food, to pad out the texture a little, although we found it holds its own with water.
Often protein powders clog when mixed, but we found you don’t need to worry with this powder; it mixes really well and drinks smoothly. If you’re looking to go easy on your stomach, the minimal lactose, fat, and cholesterol content makes this feels like a well-rounded and nourishing protein powder to add to your diet.
A super-refined protein product, this is the best protein powder for anyone serious about building lean muscle.
WHAT USERS SAY
With an impressive 4.7 of 5 rating on Amazon, it’s clear that customers rate it highly. Many praise it for not causing digestive discomfort and for the quality of its ingredients. “Dymatize ISO100 Hydrolyzed protein powder means you get a super fast digesting and absorbing whey protein isolate that’s had the sugars, carbs and lactose removed from whey concentrate for nothing but pure muscle building protein.”
With the protein all coming from whey protein isolate, it’s great for anyone who struggles with whey concentrate, and it’s low in carbohydrates and calories. The inclusion of hydrolyzed whey protein isolate means you absorb the protein even more quickly.
The flavor is good without the temple-aching sweetness you get in some protein powders – we tried the birthday cake flavor, which can be notoriously sweet, and even this was pleasantly tasty but not overly synthetic. It mixes pretty easily too, although it’s worth noting that whilst some protein powders mimic the action of thickening agents when stirred into porridge, we found Dymatize actually had the opposite effect, and made the porridge slightly runnier.
A draw is that there’s a large variety of flavors to choose from, though it’s a pity you can’t buy it in sample sizes to try before committing to a large tub – the tub sizes are 900g or 2200g which is a lot of powder to get through if you don’t like the flavor.
The KIN Nutrition Whey Less protein range is made with natural ingredients, including added bacteria cultures and fiber that support gut health and digestion. This powder only contains 10 ingredients overall; the result is a super tasty protein powder that doesn’t cause the bloating often associated with whey, and there’s no nasty aftertaste either.
Each 30g serving of Whey Less is packed with 23g of protein and only 125 kcals. We loved the smooth and silky taste of the vanilla flavor, which mixed well with both food and water and didn’t taste powdery. Vanilla is often labeled as the boring choice among protein powder flavors, but this tasted deliciously rich and felt like a treat (without being overbearing), despite containing no hidden nasties.
Whey can sometimes catch a bad rep, but we didn’t feel at all nauseous or weighed down after a scoop of this powder in a protein shake or added to oats. This is likely down to the powder being soy, GMO, and gluten-free, as well as low in sugar and lactose. Another nice little addition is the injection of matcha green tea extract into the ingredients list.
Unfortunately, this protein powder isn’t suitable for vegans and retails at a pretty expensive $32.50 for just 500g, before shipping. You can pick up a good deal by purchasing a 4-pack though. It’s a great addition to your diet if you’re looking to hit your protein target while being kinder to your gut.
Anyone who competes in athletic events will know how important it is not to take any banned substances, either deliberately or inadvertently.
WHAT USERS SAY
Reviews are mostly positive, with no one star reviews on Amazon at all and a very respectable 4.7 star rating. The flavors are not to everyone’s taste and there are a few niggles over the price, but most people rate it as a reliable, straightforward choice. “I would recommend this shake to people who are looking for something simple for recovery purposes.”
With this protein powder you can be confident that you’ll not breach any doping regulations. All SiS products are tested under the Informed Choice Certification program against the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list.
Beyond that, it’s a fairly unremarkable product, with a reasonably standard amount of protein per serving and a low carbohydrate content. The flavors are reliable favorites – chocolate, strawberry and vanilla – though we found the taste and texture of the vanilla one somewhat cloying. The chocolate flavor was pleasant mixed into porridge, although if you’re after a richer, chocolatey taste then you may want to add some cacao powder to the mix as well. We thought the spoon (which is plastic) was an usual shape, but it actually picks up the protein powder well, since it is quite a sandy texture.
Huel has come a long way from its early days of the rather grainy and flavorless complete food that it started with.
WHAT USERS SAY
Reviewers are impressed with the taste – “by far the best tasting protein drink I’ve tried,” says one reviewer who normally uses a whey protein powder. The main objection in the reviews is the price, especially when compared to non-plant-based protein powders. At the same time they mostly acknowledge that the nutritional profile and ingredients are of a quality that justifies the price.
Although it still produces the same meal replacement powders (although with an improved texture), it has branched out into flavored products and nutritionally balanced snacks, including this impressive protein powder.
It’s not intended as a meal replacement or for your sole source of nutrition, as it has a lower calorie and carbohydrate profile than would be recommended for a complete meal, but nevertheless it is nutritionally complete high protein snack, containing all 26 recommended vitamins and minerals and meeting the UK and EU recommendations for macro- and micronutrients. If that weren’t impressive enough, it manages to achieve this with purely plant-based ingredients and without compromising on flavor or texture.
Unusually, there’s a minimum order of two tubs, which will be off-putting to some, especially if you’re ordering for the first time and haven’t tasted the protein powder before, and the protein powder doesn’t come in sample sizes.
There’s much to love about this protein powder.
WHAT USERS SAY
It’s not surprising it’s won awards. Reviewers are enthusiastic about the protein to calorie ratio and the flavors. It’s not to everybody’s taste – there are grumbles from some about the flavor, powdery texture and excessive sweetness – but most of the reviews can be summed up in the words of this reviewer: “The taste is great, it is a quality product with added extras like probiotics, it has responsible eco packaging and whilst it is pricier than others on the market, all of the before mentioned make this worth it.”
Packing a powerful protein punch from high quality, plant-based proteins, you might expect the flavor and texture to be disappointing, but you’d be in for a pleasant surprise. The texture is smooth, it’s easy to mix and the flavors are fun (though some plain ones might be nice for more traditional types, and it’s too sweet for some tastes). The addition of curcumin to combat inflammation is a nice touch.
It’s not cheap, but most flavors are available in smaller sample sizes, and you are getting a product that is kind to the environment in every way (the omission of the plastic scoop in favor of amounts suggested in tablespoonfuls – after all, we all have a spoon! – is particularly welcome, and the packaging is compostable).
How do we test protein powder at Live Science?
All of the protein powders in this guide have been tried and tested by the Live Science team. Firstly, we disregarded any products that had excessive levels of artificial sweeteners, additives or preservatives. We also looked at the texture of the powder, including how well it mixed into water, milk, and foods such as oatmeal or smoothie bowls. Finally, came the taste test, where we determined whether the taste was reflective of the flavor, unusually bitter or particularly sweet. Packaging was also noted, based on sustainability and convenience, as well as value for money.
Julie Stefanski is a certified diabetes care and education specialist and a certified specialist in sports dietetics. Stefanski owns a private practice focused on writing and social media, children with special needs and athletes. She graduated from Messiah College and earned a master’s degree in adult and distance education from Penn State University. Below, she gives her advice on how to choose a protein supplement.
How to choose the best protein powder for you
If you’ve not included protein powder in your diet before it can be a little tricky to know where to start. To work out which protein powder is the best option for you, begin by looking at how much exercise you do and what type. If you’re a powerlifter your needs will be different from that of a committed runner, pounding away on a treadmill every day. Do you train in a gym or do you like to mix it up with your own home workout ideas?
If your main goal is to gain large amounts of muscle, perhaps as a weightlifter, body builder or other power-focused athlete, then you will likely want to maximize your protein intake, but it’s important not to overdo it.
“In recent years, there have been high levels of heavy metals found in certain protein powders,” says Julie Stefanski, a registered dietitian nutritionist. “It’s important to research the company’s testing for these contaminants.”
And, if you’re competing in any kind of event you’ll also need to ensure you don’t accidentally consume a banned substance, which means you’ll need to comb through the ingredients list with utmost care. You can find a list of approved protein powders at Informed Sports (opens in new tab).
If you’re looking to lose body fat, then you may want to choose a protein powder lower in carbohydrates and calories. Not all protein powders are equal in terms of the macronutrients and calories they provide, so make sure you read the nutritional information on the label carefully, as a single serving can vary between 70 kcal and 1,000 kcal.
Stefanski says it’s important to know what your aims are and how protein powder genuinely contributes to them. She adds “The macronutrient content [the amount of protein, carbohydrates and fats] depends on why you’re using the product, such as for a meal or post-workout, and your individual protein and energy needs.”
Traditionally, protein powder has been made using whey powder – a by-product of cheesemaking. However, if you are looking for plant-based options you can choose from alternatives, including hemp seeds, soy and peas. For more on non-dairy options check out our list of the best vegan protein powders available.
When choosing your protein sources, it’s worth knowing that different proteins affect the body in different ways. “Protein sources are ranked by how well they are absorbed by the intestine and utilized by the body,” Stefanski explains. “This ranking is known as protein digestibility. Whey protein and other cow’s milk sources rank highest. Animal protein sources such as egg [and] beef rank higher than plant protein sources such as soy, pea, oat and rice. While collagen has grown in popularity, it lacks some of the amino acids you’d find in the same amount of whey protein.”
The amount of protein in whey powder can vary dramatically, from 29% to 90%, depending on how it has been processed. The highest concentration powders may contain very little fat, lactose (milk sugar) and cholesterol, while the powders with lower protein levels will have these components in higher concentration. So, you will find whey isolate powders, which have been filtered several times, will have much higher protein percentages, but will be more expensive as well.
If you’re weighing up the benefits of different protein powders it’s worth thinking about how easy they are to digest, as some are kinder on the body than others. Stefanski advises: “If you’re looking for the best quality protein, you can see if the protein powder offers a digestibility score called PDCAAS.” She added: “The higher the value, the better the amino acids will be absorbed and used by your body.”
What are the benefits of using the best protein powder?
When it comes to convenience and versatility, protein powders are unrivalled. If you find it challenging to consume enough protein, or have a diet that is naturally low in this crucial nutrient, then protein powders can easily help bridge the gap. You can sprinkle them on other foods, blend them with countless other ingredients, or simply mix them with water — the options are endless.
What’s more, protein powders will not go off quickly, so you can keep them on your kitchen shelf for months on end. And they are extremely portable — it is much easier to carry around a bag of protein powder than a heavy bottle of pre-made protein shake or a food container.
How to achieve the best results? Stefanski says that, although it can be eaten whenever you like, for optimum results, make sure you consume your extra protein within an hour of training: “For maximal muscle repair and growth, protein should be accompanied by carbohydrates within one to two hours. The amount of protein and carbohydrates is dependent on overall energy needs as a person. If total calories aren’t met, amino acids will be used as an energy source rather than a building block of structures in the body.”
This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.