No matter if you’re trying to lose fat, gain strength, or gain muscle, protein powder has and always will be an important core component. Studies have repeatedly shown that supplementation can improve muscle retention during weight loss and muscle growth during weight gain. This begs the question, with so many protein powders on the market, which is the best for you?
The Ultimate Protein Powder Comparison Tool
The table below is the result of my research and data compilation, put together for your benefit. It is a reduced table of only the highest quality products, but if you’re interested in seeing more (over 25), check out my full table of protein powders. The sorting and filtering is pretty intuitive, but if you don’t know what something means, look under the chart for a full explanation.
Garden of Life Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein 1.37 Plant Vanilla 17 0 $$ 4 Body Fortress Whey Protein Powder 2 Whey Vanilla 26 2 $$$ 4.4 Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard 5 Whey Many 23 3 $$$ 4.5 NOW Foods Whey Protein Isolate 5 Whey Unflavored 25 1 $$$ 4.6 Dymatize Nutrition Elite 4.5 Whey Many 21 4 $$ 4 Optimum Nutrition 100% Casein Protein 4 Casein Many 24 0 $$$ 4.3
I’ve included the following 9 columns in the chart:
- Image : Just so you can get an idea of packaging
- Brand and Name
- Size : This is in pounds (lbs) of protein
- Type : More information on type below the chart
- Flavor : Note that “many” means that there are several flavors, you can definitely find one you’ll like
- Protein Per Serving : Standard comparison of grams of protein between powders
- Net Carbs : Some diets (like keto) require low or no carbs, I have listed net carbs (total carbs – dietary fiber) if this is important to you
- Price : The prices will fluctuate over time, but I’ve used symbols to give you an idea of the ballpark range of the price ( $ = less than $20, $$ = $20-40, $$$ = $40-80, $$$$ = $80+). Get exact prices by clicking through on the product you are interested in.
You can click on any of the titles to order it from high to low or low to high, and also type in the search bar at the top of the table to only find certain results (i.e. “whey”).
The Role of Protein in Nutrition
Protein is one of the body’s main building blocks for muscle, bone, skin, and other tissues. Used often by athletes, shakes have various compositions of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. They can range from 100% protein, to mostly carbohydrates with a little added protein and fat.
What is Protein Powder?
I’m sure you know that protein is a nutrient that people (animals) get from food. Why is it important? Well protein has many roles in the body, and most important of all it is one of the fundamental building components for muscle, and also skin, tissue, bone and even more. Not only that, but when your body needs carbohydrates fast it will sometimes convert protein into energy depending on the circumstance.
The typical recommended daily intake of protein is 0.5 – 1 grams per lb of bodyweight, with more active people higher on that scale. This can be tough to get, especially if you aren’t fond of eating a lot of meat or you can’t afford it. Enter protein powder, a quick and relatively inexpensive way to get a lot of protein.
Supplements, as you may know, comes in a bag or container in powder form and you can mix with liquid (typically milk or water) in order to drink it. There are a variety of cheap protein manufacturers, that make different types of protein. You’ll find that the most popular is cheap whey.
Hang on…whey? I thought we were talking about protein powder? Even though you won’t see it on most typical food labels, there are actually different types of protein based on where they come from and how your body uses them. What they all share is that they are proteins, which means they are composed of amino acids that can be broken down and used by the body like we mentioned earlier. The most common types of protein are:
- Whey: The most popular type by far. It is a protein found in milk and usually contains a small amount of lactose. In order to stop muscle breakdown and start building new stronger tissue you need to absorb the protein, and whey is the fastest absorbing, which is why it is so popular as a post workout drink.
- Casein: This is also found in milk, however, it is a less popular powder because it is a slow absorbing protein. What this means is that it is good to have with meals when there is no need for a high supply of amino acids to your muscles. Casein is very useful as a general supplement, check out the best casein protein powders here.
- Soy: For people with diet restrictions, for whatever reason, soy supplements are the leading plant-based protein. Soy digests slightly slower than whey protein, but still at a good rate. Also, it can often contain antioxidants depending on how it is processed from its source.
One final subject I would like to touch on in this area is the difference between whey protein isolate and concentrate. In the interactive chart above I have only included isolates because that is what most people are looking for. Whey isolates look to maximize the amount of protein and minimize carbohydrates and fats. On the other hand, concentrates are used more as mass builders because they will be much more calorie dense, with a lot of fat and carbohydrates along with the protein.
Who Can Benefit From Supplementation?
Truthfully there are many people who are lacking protein, but most often the people who will see the most benefits will be people who are active, as they require the most protein to stay healthy and get stronger.
Incorporating protein shakes into your diet can help you meet your macro nutrient goals, and at the same time do it with quality ingredients.
Finally, protein powders usually have a wide variety of amino acids. If you have a wide variety of amino acids available you will be able to repair and build more types of tissue.
Many questions typically arise as to whether or not gender factors into what protein powder is best for you, and to address these issues I have written posts on the best protein supplement for men and the best protein powder for women. Overall the products work the exact same way in both men and women, but there are some special considerations you might want to take.
I will not pretend to be an expert on being vegan or vegetarian, but one thing I do know is that there are many successful people and athletes who are either vegan or vegetarian who use protein powder. Since you can’t have whey or casein because they both come from milk you’re typically looking for soy or hemp.
I don’t personally know what the best vegan option is, but using the chart you can figure out which is the best plant-based product by sorting by the type of protein and looking through the different ‘plant’ type powders.
Don’t Most Powders Taste Bad?
When protein powders first came out on the market they tasted absolutely terrible unless you loaded them with sugar in order to make them bearable. However, as the industry developed, great strides have been made in making powders taste better. Even unflavored protein powder usually isn’t hard to drink; it just won’t be super enjoyable.
The best tasting protein will vary depending on who you ask. Typically the most popular and safest flavors are chocolate and vanilla, but if you’re feeling adventurous some companies offer interesting flavors like cookies ‘n cream. If you have a preference for the taste you can find it in the chart above, but remember that when it says ‘many’, it will contain all the common flavors and more!
Supplements and Restrictive Diets
I briefly alluded to it before, but protein powders can be useful on low carb diets, even for extreme ones like keto. You might find my article on the best protein for weight loss useful, since most of them fit into these diets. Since I only included protein isolates on the list just about all of them are good options as low carb shakes, however you’ll notice that some have 0 carbs, while some have up to 10 carbs. If this is a factor just sort by net carbs and you’ll be able to find a product suitable for you.
If you are unfamiliar with net carbs, they are simply the total carbs minus the dietary fiber. This fiber is not absorbed in any way, it passes right through you. On the ketogenic diet for example, you typically want to keep your net carbs under 50, but you actually want to make sure you are getting at least some fiber.
Finally, for anyone who is lactose intolerant some of the above are lactose free protein powder options. Whey and casein are obviously out because they come from milk, but hemp and most soy products are an option, just make sure to read the product descriptions carefully when you click through and you’ll be set!
Is Protein Powder the Best Supplement?
Most people have limited budgets, especially for something like supplements. There are plenty of different supplements out there, and some would argue that a solid creatine supplement is better than protein powder. However the real answer is that it depends on you. For any type of strength training nutrition is always the number one concern. If you are not getting as much protein as you would like to get, this will hinder your results. Protein powder supplements can make huge differences in cases like this, but in others where you feel like you easily get enough protein you might want to look at creatine or even pre workout supplements to improve your results.
Whew! That was a LOT of information to go through. I know I didn’t cover absolutely everything, but I hope I covered everything that you need to know in order to find the best product for your situation, if not send me an email with any questions you have.