Protein powders are ubiquitous in the fitness world, and there’s nothing quite like throwing a couple of scoops of protein and some milk into a shaker bottle and chugging it after a hard workout. But you don’t have to be a bodybuilder or fitness junkie to use protein powders. Many people use them for other reasons, such as meal replacement, for weight loss or just for convenience.
Protein is an essential macronutrient, and is necessary for almost every bodily function – but most especially for proper muscle growth and synthesis. If you’re actively seeking to gain muscle, you’re going to need to increase your protein intake to match your activity level. Protein powders, whether whey, casein or plant-based, can be an excellent and easy way to up your consumption of protein and get the essential nutrients you need for a healthy, balanced diet.
In this review, we’re going to look at the some of the best and most popular protein powders available. We’re also going to take a quick look at the various kinds of protein powders out there, the pros and cons of each, and how you can choose the best protein powder for you and your needs.
QUICK LINKS TO TOP 10 PROTEIN POWDERS FOR 2017
1. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey Double Rich Chocolate
2. Orgain Organic Plant Based Protein Powder
3. Vega Protein & Greens, Vanilla
4. IsoCarb Zero Carb Protein Powder
5. BSN Syntha6 Protein Powder Micellar Casein
6. EAS 100% Pure Whey Protein Powder Vanilla
7. Optimum Nutrition Platinum HydroWhey Protein Powder
8. Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder, Chocolate
9. BulkSupplements Whey Protein Powder Isolate
10. Naked Whey 100% UnDenatured Grass-Fed Whey Protein Powder
- Benefits of Using Protein Powder
- How Much Protein Is Enough?
- Types of Protein Powders
- Best Protein Powders 2017 – Buyers Guide
- Our Recommendations
BENEFITS OF USING PROTEIN POWDER
If your diet is already rich in high-quality, whole foods like eggs, dairy, chicken and other lean meats, you may not need to use a protein powder. If you can hit your daily protein needs through whole foods, you’re already in pretty good shape and may not need extra protein. In fact, it is usually better to get as much of your protein through whole foods as possible, as they will contain far more essential nutrients than protein powders.
However, if you are active, an athlete, or do regular resistance and weight training, you may find it beneficial to add more protein into your diet. The extra protein will help with your recovery after a workout, greatly enhancing synthesis and speeding up muscle growth.
Studies have shown that those who regularly consume whey protein after resistance training often have increased levels of lean body mass and muscle, greater strength, less fat and overall better body composition.
Protein powders also contain an ample amount of Branched Chain Amino Acids, or BCAA’s for short. BCAA’s – Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine – are among the 9 essential amino acids, and are the building blocks of muscle. All proteins are made of amino acids, and amino acids enhance protein synthesis by delivering nitrogen and amino acids to the muscles for protein synthesis.
Many amino acids are produced naturally in the human body, but some can be only gained via food. If your diet is not already rich with varied and healthy proteins, you might greatly benefit by adding in a protein supplement, and reaping the rewards of the additional amino acids.
Most protein powders will have all the essential amino acids previously mentioned (Leucine, IsoLeucine and Valine), but many others will also include some (or all) non-essential amino acids. These include Glutamine, Glutamic Acid, Glycine and Aspartic Acid.
Protein powders can also be extremely helpful if you are trying to go vegetarian or vegan. Protein can be hard to come by outside of animal products, and supplementing your vegan diet with soy, pea or plant-based protein powders can be very convenient and helpful for getting more protein in your diet.
And if you are always on the go, have little time to cook or prepare healthy meals and are having a hard time getting enough healthy protein in your diet, a quality protein powder can make it much more manageable and convenient.
But How Much Protein is Enough Protein?
A good rule of thumb for active athletes is 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. Thus, if you are 180 pounds, you should aim for 180 grams of protein per day. Slightly less active people may be just fine around .82g/lb of bodyweight. Our 180lb athlete would thus aim for 147.2lbs of body weight. Those who are inactive may be fine with significantly less.
Types of Protein Powders:
When looking at protein powders, you will come across powders made of many different ingredients, such as whey, casein and plant-based blends.
Whey Protein: The Best Protein Powder For Muscle Gain
Whey protein is easily the most popular and widely used form of protein available. It comes from milk, specifically, the liquid that separates form the curd during cheesemaking, and is chock full of micronutrients and essential BCAA’s, such as Leucine, Iso-Leucine and Valine.
But what really sets whey apart and makes it so popular amongst users is how easy and convenient it can be. It is generally among the cheapest of protein powders, and is also the fastest and most easily digested. A serving of whey can have amino acids and proteins hitting your muscles in less than 30 minutes.
Multiple studies have shown that whey protein can help increase muscle synthesis in men up to 132% more than casein protein, and has excellent effect on recovery after intense exercise.
One drawback to whey protein is that it is quite high in lactose, of which many people are intolerant. Whey protein concentrate generally has even higher lactose content than whey isolate, as the processing used for isolate removes much of the lactose content. If lactose is an issue, you will want to look into another form of protein, or at least a whey isolate.
CASEIN – The Runner Up
Casein protein, like whey, derived from milk. It is, however, a much more slow-acting and absorbed protein. When casein protein hits your stomach, the acid causes it to turn thick and gel-like, which delays the absorption of amino acids into the bloodstream. Instead of proteins hitting the muscles within minutes, you get a gradual, extended release, that can last up to 8 hours. Some weightlifters like to drink a shake with casein right before bed, so that protein is digested continuously throughout the night.
Casein Protein is considered to be more effective than plant or soy proteins at increasing muscle synthesis and strength, but not nearly as effective as whey proteins. It is thus best used for weight loss, as the extended release helps maintain muscle mass during calorie restriction.
Eggs have long been known as an excellent source of protein, and have been very popular amongst bodybuilders and fitness athletes for decades. They are full of BCAA’s are and, as an animal product, are considered a complete protein source.
Egg protein powders are made from pure egg white isolate, meaning they are essentially protein and nothing more. This means it is easily and quickly digested. Egg protein has also been shown to have good effects on appetite, and thus be very effective for weight loss, as it keeps you full for a longer period of time.
Hemp protein is relatively new to the scene. It is usually rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and some amino acids, but is not very high in others, such as leucine. It also generally does not have very high protein content. It makes a fine protein supplement for those who cannot digest dairy, but if you are looking for a top-notch powder with all the essential amino acids, there are better options out there.
MIXED PLANT PROTEINS
Protein powders made of plant mixes tend to contain a combination of brown rice, peas, hemp, chia or flax seeds. These plants, while not nearly as high in protein content as whey or egg, come together to create a nice protein supplement.
Plant proteins are especially useful for vegans who do not wish to consume milk products, or for those who are lactose intolerant. They are, however, much slower acting and harder to digest than whey or egg proteins, which mean they may not be the best choice for immediate, post-workout recovery or muscle synthesis. Some people also report upset stomachs and bloating, from consuming too much plant at once. The plus side is that, like casein, they are great for appetite control and calorie restriction.
Finally, choose a protein powder whose taste you enjoy. If you’re going to be drinking protein shakes multiple times a day, you may as well enjoy what you are eating. Forcing yourself to gulp down something you hate isn’t going to be sustainable for long, and consistency is key when it comes to your health and fitness. It may take some experimenting, but you will find a protein powder that you find tasty and delicious.
CONCENTRATE, ISOLATE or HYDROLYSATES?
If you’ve settled on a whey or casein protein, you will also come across three different forms of protein powders – Concentrators, Isolates and Hydrolysates.
Protein Concentrates are the most common form of protein powder available, and are produced by extracting the protein from the whey or casein, using heat or enzymes. Generally, they are about 60%-70% protein, with the remaining calories coming from carbs and fats.
Protein isolates are made by further refining a protein concentrate, removing any fats or carbs leftover. Isolates powders thus have higher protein content than concentrates, often around 95% of calories.
Protein Hydrolysates are produced by heating a protein with enzymes or acid, which causes amino acids to break apart. This process allows them to be much more digestible than concentrates or isolates, and thus much faster acting.
To help you make sense of all that, and pick a protein powder that works for you, we’ve put together a short buying guide of the Top 10 Protein Powders available in 2017. Each of these protein powders is one of the best and most popular powders on the market, and you’ll be sure to find one you like.
10 BEST PROTEIN POWDERS For 2017
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey Double Rich Chocolate
Optimum Nutrition calls their whey protein powder the Gold Standard, and it’s not hard to see why. It is one of the most popular, highest-quality and best tasting whey protein powders on the market. Made with Whey Protein Isolate as its main ingredient, ON Gold Standard is one of the fastest-acting and most easily digested powders available.
A single scoop of Gold Standard whey contains 24g of protein and only 9g of carbs, as well as 5g of essential BCAA’s, such as Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine and 4 grams of Glutamine and Glutamic Acid. Each scoop is 31g, meaning that each serving is 80% protein. That’s one of the highest protein contents per serving when it comes to protein powder, and another reason Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard is one of the most popular proteins on the market.
Gold Standard Whey is also micronized and instantized, which makes it easily mixable in a glass of milk or water. Micronizing also helps speed up digestion, meaning that protein and amino acids hit the muscles within minutes. This makes it perfect for post-workout recovery and helps speed up muscle growth.
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey comes in over 20 flavors, such as Double Rich Chocolate, Extreme Milk Chocolate, French Vanilla and Mocha Cappuccino.
Orgain Organic Protein Powder
Orgain Organic Protein Powder is a plant-based powder, made from a blend of organic pea protein, brown rice protein, chia seeds and hemp protein. Each serving contains 21 grams of protein, in addition to 5g of fiber, and is only 150 calories. It is entirely Gluten-Free, Kosher, Vegan, free of soy and GMO’s, perfect for vegans or those who are lactose-intolerant. It is also USDA-certified Organic, making it one of the healthiest, safest protein powders in our review.
As this Orgain powder is plant-based, it is much slower-acting and digested than other protein powders, such as whey. This means it may not be the best choice for an immediate post-workout shake, but makes it a great option for weight loss and meal replacement. The extended release of the protein helps curb appetite and keep you full longer than other, more quickly-digested proteins.
Orgain Organic comes in two flavors: Vanilla Bean and Creamy Chocolate Fudge, for two delicious options that mix well with both water and milk.
Vega Protein & Greens, Vanilla
Like the Orgain Organic powder above, Vega Protein and Greens is a plant-based protein powder, made from a blend of pea protein, hemp seed protein, and sprouted brown rice protein, as well as sacha insi seeds. Vega Protein and Greens also has a healthy blend of greens, including alfalfa grass powder, spinach powder, broccoli powder and kale powder for all the essential vitamins and minerals you need.
Vega Protein is verified by the Non-GMO Project as entirely GMO-Free. It is also gluten-free and vegan, making it a perfect option for vegan and lactose-intolerant. Like the Orgain, it is also perfect for meal replacement and weight loss, thanks to it slow-acting recipe and the additional nutrients from greens.
Each serving has 110 calories and delivers a solid 20g of protein, with only 5g carbs – and zero sugars. It comes in several different flavors, such as Vanilla, Chocolate, Natural, Berry, or Tropical.
IsoPure Zero Carb Protein Powder
IsoPure Zero Carb is a 100% whey protein isolate that absolutely zero carbs per serving. Each 30g scoop provides 25g of protein, which is even more protein per serving than Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard. It is also completely Gluten and Lactose-Free. IsoPure also adds a special blend of vitamins, nutrients and additional minerals for added health and nourishment in every scoop.
As a whey protein isolate, Isopure Zero Carb very easy to digest and hits muscles very quickly when taken right after a workout. Isopure also uses a microfiltration process, that allows it to be completely clear when dissolved in water. It comes in 16 flavors, ranging from Creamy Vanilla to Dutch Chocolate to Espresso. Keep in mind, however, that not every flavor is entirely carb-free (some have up to 3g of sugar), and many people say that some flavors taste much better than others.
Other than that, athletes love IsoPure Zero Carb, reviewing it as one of the highest-quality protein powders available.
BSN Syntha6 Protein Powder Micellar Casein
BSN Syntha6 is a blend of whey and casein protein, and one of the highest-quality, premium powders in the fitness world. Each serving has 22g of protein, with 10g of essential amino and fatty acids and only 6g of fat and 15g of carbs. Each serving is one 47g scoop of powder – meaning that less than half of every serving is protein. Compared to other powders, such as Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard, this is somewhat low.
As Syntha6 includes casein protein, it will digest more slowly than a pure whey protein, like Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard. This works well for weight loss and meal replacement, as the release and absorption of amino acids into the muscle will last longer and provide longer fullness. Thanks to the whey protein isolate, however, it’s also great as a post-workout recovery shake for muscle repair and growth.
BSN Syntha6 comes in 10 flavors, such as Chocolate Milkshake, Chocolate Cake Batter and Banana. Many reviewers love it, believing that it is one of the best-tasting protein powders on the market. Instead of having to force the drink down your throat a couple of times day, you can truly enjoy the shake.
EAS 100% Pure Whey Protein Powder Vanilla
EAS Protein Powder is made from 100% whey concentrate, with less than 2% of artificial flavorings and emulsifiers. It contains no added sugars, fillers or blends, giving you some of the highest-quality, purest and healthiest flavored whey protein.
Each serving packs 30 grams of protein and more than 7 grams of natural BCAA’s, such as Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. The result is a high-quality and delicious protein powder great for pre-or post-workout. A single serving of EAS Protein Powder is 42g, of which 30g is protein. This is actually a very high protein content, and similar to that of Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard.
As EAS is a whey concentrate, it is very fast-acting and easily digested. Consume it within 30 minutes of a workout for enhanced recovery, muscle synthesis and growth.
EAS Protein Powder comes in several different flavors, the most popular being vanilla and chocolate, and is easy to mix with milk or water for a quick shake. Users love the flavor, and it doesn’t taste chalky or artificial.
Optimum Nutrition Platinum HydroWhey Protein Powder
Optimum Nutrition Platinum HydroWhey is a premium, hydrolyzed powder made from whey protein isolate. After all the excess fat and carbs are strained from the whey, and only the pure protein isolate is left, the whey is hydrolyzed. Hydrolyzing breaks the protein into much smaller particles, greatly increasing the speed of absorption and delivery into your muscles. This enhances recovery and synthesis when taken immediately after a workout, resulting in much greater and faster strength gains.
Each serving of HydroWhey is 39g, and contains 30g of protein and 8.8g of essential BCAA’, including IsoLeucine, Valine, Tryptophan and Lysine. 30g of protein per 39g scoop is a very high protein content per scoop, and the highest on our list so far.
ON Platinum HydroWhey is very highly-regarded, and any athletes consider ON HydroWhey one of the best protein powders. It has been shown to show remarkable increases in strength and recovery when taken regularly after working out.
HydroWhey comes in multiple flavors, such as Turbo Chocolate and Velocity Vanilla.
Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder, Chocolate
Muscle Milk is one of the best-known protein powders, thanks its high protein content and delicious flavor in every serving. Each scoop of Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder has 16g of protein, 150 calories and 9grams of leucine and other essential BCAA’s. It is also an excellent of fiber (2g per serving) and over 20 vitamins and minerals.
Like BSN Syntha6, Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder is a mixture of casein protein and whey protein isolate. This makes it both an excellent source of protein for post-workout recovery and muscle growth, as well as great for fullness and satiety during weight loss. You can also consume it pre-workout, and the slow-absorbing casein will cause excellent protein synthesis throughout your workout. It comes in 12 flavors, such as Chocolate, Vanilla and Cookies ‘n Cream.
One thing to keep it mind with Muscle Milk Protein Powder is that, while the package says each serving has 32g of protein, that is for a two-scoop serving. Each scoop (35g) will contain 16g of protein – as opposed to 24g in a 30g scoop of Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard. Like Syntha-6, then, it is less than half protein.
BulkSupplements Whey Protein Powder Isolate
BulkSupplements Whey Protein Isolate contains nothing but pure, unflavored whey protein isolate, with no chemicals, additives, flavors or preservatives – just pure protein. BulkSupplements uses a cold-filter process to separate the fats and carbs from the whey, leaving nothing but the protein.
It dissolves easily in any liquid, such as water, milk or juice, and has almost no discernible taste. If you like a little flavor, you can always add some artificial sweetener. A single 30g serving will have 122 calories, virtually all of which will be pure protein.
BulkSupplements Whey Protein is incredibly easy to digest and absorbs very quickly, making it excellent for post-work synthesis and recovery. Protein and essential amino acids will hit the bloodstream within minutes of consumption, speeding up recovery and helping build strength and muscle.
Many athletes also report that BulkSupplements Whey Isolate does not cause the same bloating and digestive issues that they get from other whey proteins, especially for those who are lactose-intolerant. The lack of fillers, chemicals or artificial flavors also helps.
All protein powder from BulkSupplements is made from sourced from 100% grass-fed cows, ensuring that it is nothing but the highest-quality and healthiest supplement possible.
Naked Whey 100% UnDenatured Grass-Fed Whey Protein Powder
Naked Whey is another pure protein powder isolate, like BulkSupplements Whey Protein Powder. Naked Whey is made from one ingredient and one-ingredient only – grass-fed cows’ milk, sourced from dairy farms in California. It contains absolutely no artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners and is entirely free of Soy, GMO’s and Gluten. Naked Whey, like other pure protein powders, uses a cold filtering process, entirely free of acid and bleach, to isolate the protein and remove additional fats and carbohydrates from the whey. As a result, this is one of the healthiest, most-natural protein powders in existence. Pure, isolated protein eliminates much of the bloating and side-effects that come from many of the added chemicals and substances found in other protein powders.
Each serving of Naked Whey is 30g, and consists of 25 grams of protein and 5.9g of over 19 different amino acids. It has no flavor and can be added to a variety of different drinks and smoothies without affecting taste. Keep in mind, however, that due to its very thick, heavy consistency, it must be blended to properly mix into smoothies.
Our recommendation for top protein powder for 2017 is Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey. With 24g of protein per 30g scoop, it provides some of the best value and protein per serving, and comes in a wide variety of flavors (26). If you prefer a flavored powder, for easy shakes and smoothies, over a pure, unflavored one, then Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard is your best bet.
As a runner-up, we recommend BulkSupplements Pure Whey Protein Isolate. As a pure protein isolate, it contains zero flavors and can be added to water, milk, juice, smoothies or even foods such as ice cream or yogurt without changing the flavor, and without the bloat and fullness associated with many protein powders. And since it is almost entirely protein, each 30g scoop contains 27g of protein.
In the end, however, exactly which protein is best for you will depend on a few things, such as taste, whether you have any gluten or lactose intolerances, or if you’re using it for meal replacement, weight loss or muscle gain. And of course, remember to pick one you actually enjoy. All of the protein powders we reviewed are excellent choices, and we think you’ll be able to find one that suits you.