5 Best Protein Powder That Help You Reach Your Goals

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powder put in a measuring spoon

If you’ve even stepped a toe into the wide world of physical fitness and diet, you’ve heard about protein powders. Whether they’re designed to help you bulk up, lose weight, be healthier, or replace meals altogether, there seems to be a protein powder for everyone!

To help you wade through the options, we’ve created a buyer’s guide that will help you understand what to look for in a protein powder, how to choose the best protein powder to meet your personal goals, and how to know which protein powders to stay clear of.

Short on time and want to skip straight to the best answers? To help you get started reaching your fitness goals faster, we’ve included thorough reviews of the top five best protein powder options below.

buyers guide

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A decade or so ago, protein powder options were severely limited. Today, they might be considered severely unlimited and if your budget’s unlimited, so are your choices.

The problem with unlimited choices, of course, when it comes to choosing the best protein powder, is that you have to choose. And more often than not, lots of choices simply lead to feelings of overwhelm and that nagging worry that you didn’t purchase the best protein powder.

Fortunately, we can help clear up some common confusion about protein powders and help you see past all the marketing rhetoric to make sure you’re getting a good value and identifying the product that will help you reach your goals–not the goals of, say, the weightlifter at the gym 24-7.

Why Protein Powders?

Powder spills from the container

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n the 90s, healthy eating was all about choosing low-fat options, and diet sodas and snacks popped up like weeds. Today, however, we understand that all those chemical additives (not to mention the sugar!) that fill those so-called healthy options do more harm than good and more people than ever are turning to whole-food options. 

Generally speaking, the closer we get to nature, the better but the problem is that cooking three meals from scratch every day can take a huge amount of time! It can also be expensive to find high-quality sources of protein at each meal.

Plus anybody who has dieted can tell you–chicken and eggs get super boring after a while! 

Protein powders can be a huge win regarding affordable energy and convenience. Being able to mix up a shake that has the protein equivalent of a full meal is incredibly helpful, especially when you’re already struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle. 

You might not, for example, have time to make breakfast and workout every morning before work, but protein shakes mean you don’t have to choose.

Matching Your Protein Source to Your Needs

milk, bread and vegetables, and woman measuring her waist

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New, affordable, healthy sources of protein are being discovered all the time (pea protein, anyone?), but here are the main ones, along with some pros and cons to each: 

Whey Protein

One of the most popular options on the shelves, whey protein, is a terrific option for daily use and meal replacements since it is bioavailable (easy to digest) and high in calories. It is derived from milk, so if you’re lactose intolerant, you might try whey isolate over whey concentrate (isolate has less lactate).

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder, Double Rich...
  • Packaging May Vary - New look, with the same trusted quality!
  • GOLD STANDARD 100% WHEY BLEND – 24g blended protein consisting of whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, and...
  • OVER 5G OF BCAAS – help build lean and strong muscles with naturally occurring BCAAs

Either way, if you can afford it, go with a grass-fed whey protein to help ensure the highest quality protein.

Casein

Another dairy-derived protein, casein is known and loved for its slow-release properties. Unlike other sources of protein, casein can stick around in your bloodstream for hours, releasing amino acids (protein building blocks) over time.

Casein also has benefits when it comes to building muscle mass; a study in Texas and another in Massachusetts found that adding casein to your protein supplementation regimen can increase results substantially.

Egg

eggs

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Egg protein is free of dairy, which makes it popular among people who want tons of protein without the dairy side-effects. It also provides great vitamins and nutrients, such as vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin D (only from pasture-raised egg sources, though). Some people report gas due to egg protein powder, however, so buyer beware!

Soy

soya beans

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Laura Soybeans, Newest Crop and Non-GMO - Directly from The Chambers...
  • 5 lb. net weight. Identity Preserved, Non-GMO soybeans directly from the Chambers family farm in Iowa
  • Best soybean for making Soy Milk, Tofu, and Tempeh. Exported to tofu shops in Japan since 1987
  • Newest crop (2018 crop started), for the best nutrition and taste

Soy protein’s most obvious benefit is that it’s vegetarian. It’s also a complete protein, packed with tons of vitamins and minerals, and one of the more affordable protein (and common) choices out there.

Pea

green peas

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A relatively newer option, pea protein is often combined with other types of vegetarian protein. Some people think that a protein derived from a tiny green vegetable is not as beneficial, but that’s not the case.

NOW Sports Nutrition, Pea Protein Powder, Unflavored, 2-Pound
  • Same trusted quality with a brand new look! Packaging may vary
  • PURE, UNFLAVORED PEA PROTEIN POWDER: NOW Sports Pea Protein is a non-GMO vegetable protein isolate that has 24 grams of...
  • The Informed-Sport seal is your assurance that each and every production run of these NOW Sports products has been...

Pea protein is full of vitamins, and it’s almost as good as whey or casein for helping to build muscle. It’s also extremely easy to digest and can be great at helping you recover from a workout.

Hemp, Brown Rice, and Other Proteins

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Hemp protein or brown rice protein are often used in conjunction with pea protein and, in a high-quality protein powder, can pack a great punch. Brown rice protein is low in lysine, an important type of amino acid, but unless you’re using protein powders exclusively as meal replacements (and you probably shouldn’t be), you’ll be fine.

Naked Rice - Organic Brown Rice Protein Powder – Vegan Protein...
  • ONLY ONE INGREDIENT: 100% Organic Sprouted Brown Rice Protein with no artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors and is...
  • VEGAN PROTEIN SOURCE: Naked Organic Brown Rice Protein Powder is an excellent source of plant-based protein powder for...
  • PREMIUM VEGAN NUTRITION: 25g of Protein, 0g of Sugar, 4g of Carbs, 120 Calories, and 4.9g of BCAAs (branched-chain amino...

The main difference you’ll find between vegetarian proteins and animal proteins is vegetarian proteins are often cleaner and taste better–though they’re usually more expensive and you’ll need to consume more as they have less protein per serving.

Collagen

NeoCell Super Collagen Powder – 6,600mg Collagen Types 1 & 3 -...
  • COLLAGEN POWDER: A combination of Types 1 & 3 hydrolyzed collagen peptides, Super Collagen Powder provides some of the...
  • BEAUTIFUL FROM THE INSIDE OUT: Hydrolyzed collagen supports the health of your skin, hair and nails, making you look and...
  • COLLAGEN PEPTIDES: using NeoCell's advanced hydrolyzation process, large collagen molecules are enzymatically hydrolyzed...

We saved collagen for last because it’s not, technically, a protein powder. Made from some rather unsavory parts of animals (like cow hooves and fish scales), collagen is something of a magic bullet in today’s health food world. It’s also extremely high in protein, and the best-quality kinds are almost tasteless, so you can stir them right into your coffee, tea, or oatmeal and never notice the difference.

Samples or Bulk?

You can often get huge discounts by buying in bulk (especially if you can find your favorite protein powder at a discount warehouse like Costco), but we don’t recommend doing this until you’ve had a chance to try the powder, first.

Muscle Milk Pro Series Protein Powder, Knockout Chocolate, 50g...
  • POWERFUL PROTEIN – MUSCLE MILK Genuine Protein Powder contains 50 grams of high quality protein, 3-4g sugar, and...
  • USAGE – MUSCLE MILK Pro Series Protein Powders can be used pre-workout, post-workout or as an anytime protein-rich...
  • GREAT TASTING SHAKE – Mix 2 scoops (82g) MUSCLE MILK Powder into 10-16 fluid-ounces water for a great tasting shake....

If possible, purchase samples or two week’s worth so you can get a feel for whether or not using a protein powder works well with your lifestyle, and so you can decide whether you like that particular brand and flavor.

Protein powders are notoriously chalky and lack flavor, so don’t waste your money on a huge amount unless you’re sure you love it!

Beware!

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Not all protein powders are created equal. One of the first things you should do is check the ingredient list (not the label, which isn’t regulated by the FDA or USDA and can be misleading). A general rule of thumb is that the shorter the list, the better quality the ingredients.

The more ingredients–and the more ingredients you can’t pronounce–likely mean you’re filling up with lots of additives or unhealthy chemicals.

You should also check the sugar content of your protein powder. We know now that fat isn’t the enemy; sugar is. While, ideally, your product will be free of sugar, products that aren’t sweetened at all are usually pretty difficult to swallow. A small amount of naturally-derived sugar is probably fine, but large amounts of sugar should be a big, red flag.

Finally, check out the carbs. If you’re trying to keep your carbohydrates low, you’ll want to check to make sure that you’re not accidentally consuming extra in your protein powder.

Use Them Carefully

carefully

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If you are diabetic or have kidney disease, you should be very careful about your protein powders. Diabetics should choose a protein powder without any added sugar, and since kidneys can be harmed by large amounts of protein, people with kidney disease should stick to powders that serve less than 10 or 15 grams per serving.

How to Use Protein Powders

How to Use Protein Powders

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Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder, Double Rich...
  • Packaging May Vary - New look, with the same trusted quality!
  • GOLD STANDARD 100% WHEY BLEND – 24g blended protein consisting of whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, and...
  • OVER 5G OF BCAAS – help build lean and strong muscles with naturally occurring BCAAs

As we mentioned earlier, people use protein powders for a variety of reasons. Here are just a few:

  • Convenience
  • Increase protein (if you’re vegan, you might struggle to get the protein in your diet that you need; protein powders derived from pea or soy can help tremendously)
  • Weight loss
  • Building muscle

Special note: it’s easy to buy into manufacturer’s claims (“buy this product and all your problems will be solved!”), but don’t be fooled. Protein powders can be extremely helpful as tools to help you reach your goal, but simply consuming them won’t make a difference. To truly see results, it’s important that you can combine the best protein powder for you with a healthy lifestyle and healthy diet.

How We Chose Our Ratings

ratings

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In our section, we introduce you to our top picks for the best protein powder options based on our research. Our goal was to utilize customer reviews, testimonials, and the latest information from scientific research to create a list of products you feel you can trust.

In fact, many very popular products didn’t make the cut, simply because their ingredient list was questionable or they failed to produce enough positive reviews. We also took into account the brand’s reputation, opportunities to save, and more.

best proteins

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Best Overall Whey Protein Powder: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder, Double Rich...
  • Packaging May Vary - New look, with the same trusted quality!
  • GOLD STANDARD 100% WHEY BLEND – 24g blended protein consisting of whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, and...
  • OVER 5G OF BCAAS – help build lean and strong muscles with naturally occurring BCAAs

5 out of 5 stars

This whey isolate provides a low-lactose, low-sugar protein in a highly bioavailable form, with less fat and cholesterol than most of its competitors. In addition to 24 grams of protein per serving, you’ll also enjoy a whopping 55 grams of BCAAs, branched-chain amino acids that have been proven to help with building muscle mass.

Because of that, this is not a good option if you want to lose weight, but otherwise, you’ll appreciate the multiple sizes and flavors. Plus, this bad boy has almost 17,000 reviews online–and an average rating of 4.4 stars out of 5. It’s a winner!

Best Pea Protein Powder: Orgain Organic Protein

5 out of 5 stars

This USDA-certified pea protein comes in two sizes and two flavors (creamy chocolate and vanilla bean) and packs a punch with over 21 grams of protein. It gets a boost thanks to brown rice and chia, but it’s also non-GMO, free of carrageenan, artificial ingredients, and soy. If you want a vegetarian option with premium ingredients, this is your best bet.

Best Casein Protein Powder: Naked Casein

Less Naked Casein - Chocolate Micellar Casein Protein Powder from US...
  • ONLY THREE INGREDIENTS: 100% Micellar Casein Protein, Organic Chocolate, and Organic Coconut Sugar. Less Naked Chocolate...
  • US FARMS ONLY: Our chocolate casein protein powder is brought to you only from US farms to ensure that our protein...
  • MAXIMUM NUTRITION: 27g of Protein, 5g of Sugar, 6g of Carbs, 150 Calories, and 5.5g of BCAAs (branched-chain amino acid)...

5 out of 5 stars

Naked Casein is just that: micellar casein protein from sources free of growth hormones, rGBH, and rBST, and grown in the United States. At 26 grams of protein and only 2 grams of sugar, you’re getting an extremely high-quality product that will deliver amino acids to your bloodstream over an extended period.

Plus, it’s almost tasteless, so you can add it to your morning smoothie or juice without altering the taste.

Best Vegan Protein Powder: Garden of Life Organic Vegan Protein Powder with Vitamins and Probiotics

Garden of Life Organic Vegan Protein Powder with Vitamins and...
  • Certified USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, RAW, Certified Vegan, NSF Certified Gluten Free, Informed Choice...
  • Excellent Source of Complete Protein from 13 RAW Organic Sprouts
  • 22 Grams of Protein; 3.8 Grams of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) per Serving

5 out of 5 stars

If you typically have issues digesting protein or want to combine your protein powder with your daily vitamin and probiotic, you’ll love this protein powder from Garden of Life. Created by a highly reputable brand, these 22 grams of protein per serving come with no added sugar. The protein is sourced from peas, sprouted grains, seeds, and legumes, and comes with over 3 billion CFU enzymes and probiotics to ensure maximum digestibility.

This probably isn’t the best option if you’re trying to bulk up, but if you’re looking to add protein powder for weight loss, muscle recovery, or as part of a healthy lifestyle, this is one of the best options out there.

Best Organic Whey Protein Powder: Naked Whey

Less Naked Whey Vanilla Protein – All Natural Grass Fed Whey Protein...
  • ONLY THREE INGREDIENTS: 100% Grass Fed Pure Whey Protein, Vanilla and Organic Coconut Sugar. Almost Naked Vanilla Whey...
  • ALL NATURAL WHEY: Our Grass Fed Whey is sourced from small dairy farms in the US to bring you non-denatured whey packed...
  • MAXIMUM NUTRITION: 25g of Protein, 5g of Sugar, 8g of Carbs, 150 Calories, and 5.9g of BCAAs (branched-chain amino acid)...

5 out of 5 stars

If you want whey protein powder but also want it to be as clean as possible, you’ll love this whey product from the Naked lineup. It has exactly one ingredient on its ingredient list: whey.

The whey is sourced from grass-fed dairy farms in California and provides 25 grams of protein with only 2 grams of sugar. It also has over thirteen hundred reviews on Amazon, with 88% of those four-star or higher.

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