The Ultimate Guide To Protein Powders
Protein powder is probably the ONE thing that everyone who works out would pick if they could only choose a single supplement.
It’s like the first thing you hear about, the first thing you learn about, probably the first thing you used when you started taking your fitness seriously.
I think that’s because it’s like the one thing that you KNOW will maximize your workout.
Work out. Tear muscle fibers. Add protein. Muscles heal bigger and stronger.
By ensuring you’re getting enough protein in your diet, you’re basically ensuring your muscles will grow. Protein powder makes it super easy to get enough protein if your diet can’t quite get you there, so it makes sense why it’s so popular.
If you want to read an in-depth, science-y guide on protein, I really enjoyed reading this paper/book (section 10).
There is an insane amount of information when it comes to protein powders, and unlike the paper I linked to above, a lot of that info is BS, just like most other topics in health and fitness. (Sad.)
Sometimes it just comes down to the fact that there’s so many conflicting studies and view points about those studies, but other times it’s more sinister. It’s becoming more common for third parties to test protein powders and other supplements, which means we’re seeing that many companies straight up lie on their labeling.
Obviously that means it’s really hard to know who to trust.
(But if we keep backing companies that do these lab tests, we’ll eventually have a much more open, transparent, and trustworthy industry – something we should all be supporting.)
This lack of trust is one of the biggest reasons why I’m so hesitant to switch the brand I use. But even then, the brand I use recently changed the formula, so it’s like they forced me to change brands. Now I’ve got to do the digging required to make sure it’s still a good option.
Which leads me to this whole article (and website). I want to know the best way to maximize the effort I put in, and get the best results for the least amount of effort. Basically the 80/20 rule. What’s the 20% of stuff I can do that will produce 80% of the results?
I want the best bang for my buck. That means it has to work. It means it has to be healthy. It means it can’t be full of crap.
There’s a million different types of protein, which we’ll get into below, so I guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for here, because we’re now taking the time to go through, test, and look at pretty much everything on the market and then let you know what the best of the best is.
The What, Why, And Benefits Of Protein Powder
Alright so there are a load of studies on protein and its role in building muscle. Check out PubMed to read up on them and see what the science says.
Basically, your body needs protein for many functions (including hair growth), but most importantly for us, it is the building block of muscle tissue.
When you consume protein, your body can then bring that protein to your muscles, which you literally tear while you work out, and the protein helps to repair and build those muscles.
Most people are now saying that 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day is about right for an active man. So, if you weigh 200 pounds, consume 160 grams of protein every day.
That’s tough unless you’re eating a load of food, hence the popularity of protein powders. It’s easy to get another 20-30 grams with a quick shake.
Again, we operate under the 80/20 rule here, meaning that we’re interested in the 20% of stuff that will get us 80% of results.
We like the big picture, and doing things the most simple way to maximize our efficiency and still get results.
The one thing you have to keep in mind is that you must consume protein, and for maximum benefits it should be a complete protein like whey.
Consuming protein right after a workout doesn’t actually seem to matter based on new research and better understanding of old research (this study, for example).
Even if consuming protein 20 minutes after a workout helped you gain 5% more in the gym, it’s not an 80/20 thing. I’m going to gain 95% of the gains by just eating enough protein throughout the day, everyday.
All of this is to say please don’t get bogged down and suffer from analysis paralysis when it comes to picking a protein powder or trying to maximize the timing or anything like that.
You could spend your entire life running self experiments and tweaking here and there based on studies you do to yourself and that you read. That’s awesome, and I love following guys who do that, but it’s not for me, and probably not for you, either. You’ve got a life, you’re just trying to maximize the effectiveness of the things you do to stay in shape.
Anyway, the biggest takeaway here is that eating enough protein helps you grow more muscle. So, eat enough. Up to 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight.
There are some people who say it’s grams per pound of lean body weight, some people who say 0.5 grams per pound, some who say 1.0 grams per pound…do you see where this is going? Just…eat lots of protein, and protein powders can help you reach your goals.
If you are not seeing any movement at the gym, then look into what’s going on, but for now, focus on the big picture and maximizing your gains efficiently.
Top 3 Protein Powders Overall
Now, before we get too far into this, there’s a decent chance you just want to know what the best protein powder is. While we break down each type of protein into our top picks, including whey, we’re including this quick run down below to save you time, in case you’re just looking for the best.
Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein
These guys ARE protein powder, right? They are enormous and seem to be available everywhere. I’ve bought Optimum Nutrition in North America, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Online, in GNC, at random drug stores.
I think what makes them so popular (if you want to know how popular they really are, they’ve got nearly 20,000 Amazon reviews. 20,000! And they’re mostly all good) is that the protein per serving is pretty good, their pricing is really competitive, and there’s not a TON of other stuff in there.
Certainly, as you’ll see, there are more “pure” or “clean”, if you will, powders on the market, but in terms of what you get for the price, it’s easy to see why ON is so popular.
Protein per serving: 24 grams
Servings per container: 71 when buying 5 lb jug
Protein Concentration: 75%
Cost per serving: $0.75 – $0.85 when buying 5 lb jug
Not to mention they’ve got nearly 30 flavours from which to choose, and it comes in a bunch of different sizes. I’d recommend testing a small bottle of the protein first, to make sure you like the flavor and consistency, and then move on to something like the 5 pound jug.
It’s important to me that they’re not screwing us when it comes to what’s in the actual protein.
You can debate about the smaller details all you want (they’ve recently altered the formula a little bit, which is making some of the more dedicated protein powder enthusiasts go insane), but I want to know that I’m getting everything I’m paying for.
According to third-party tester LabDoor,
“Total protein was measured at 72.6g per 100g of product. A 32g serving will yield 23.2g protein, 3.3% below its label claim.”
Compared to some of the other products tested, a 3.3% variance between label and actual results is very small, and helps build my trust in the product. I know what I’m getting and that they’re not trying to pull a fast one on me.
They’ve also tested negative for heavy metals and other harmful ingredients.
Being so popular, being generally good in terms of protein per serving and cost per serving, and being so readily available, it’s hard to knock ON protein. It’s a really good place to be if you’re focused on maximizing results and achieving gains without too much fuss.
>> Click Here To Learn More And See Prices <<
Other than their strange branding (they have way more products than just protein), MyProtein is a cool product that is perhaps best known in the UK, and must have only recently started focusing on the American market.
They are the biggest UK sports nutrition company and they claim to be the biggest online sports nutrition company in the world.
I first noticed them while browsing LabDoor, and saw that they held 2 of the top 3 and 3 of the top 10 rankings for protein powders. LabDoor loves ‘em.
The reasons are pretty clear.
There’s basically nothing in these but protein. If you go for the unflavored version, you’re getting whey protein and soy lecithin, which acts as an emulsifier. Nothing else in there!
Would be better if it was sunflower lecithin, as we like to avoid soy if possible, but it’s not a massive deal breaker.
Protein per serving: 21 grams
Servings per container: 40 when buying 2.2 lb jug
Protein concentration: 87.6%
Cost per serving: $0.85-$0.95 when buying 2.2 lb jug
However, when you get the flavored versions, you’re dealing with “flavoring”, which they don’t explain much more on the packaging, and sucralose for the sweetener. While the FDA says it’s safe for consumption, there have been studies that have challenged that safe rating. You’re not going to die if you have some, but some researchers believe that it’s generally not as risk-free as some other more natural sweeteners.
Honestly, not a huge deal to most, but some people can be very sensitive to this.
They’ve also got a ton of flavors, they’re a really reputable UK company with a lot of custom manufacturing and testing equipment, and it’s interesting to see them breaking into the North American market, and especially earning such a good result from LabDoor.
As with some others (ON), they’ve recently changed from using Stevia, and this may account for a change in taste as well.
If you’re like me, taste is nice, but not a real deal breaker. I mostly just care that I’m getting the macros in. Last time I got a bottle, they didn’t have my usual flavor so I got a slightly different one. While it’s not as good, I don’t really care and I’ll gulp it down.
However, if you are a protein powder connoisseur, use caution and buy a small bag first to make sure you like it. This is general advice, but if you’ve used these guys in the past and are looking into them again, know that the flavors do seem to have changed a bit with the updated formula.
And finally for the label claims. LabDoor tests show that:
Total protein was measured at 87.6g per 100g of product. A 25g serving will yield 21.9g protein, 4.3% over its label claim.
So, not only are they not screwing you based on label claims, they’re actually providing a tiny bit more protein than they suggest. Not too shabby.
>> Click Here To Learn More And See Prices <<
Quest Nutrition Whey
Quest has a cult-like following. They want to revolutionize food and have it be good for you AND taste great. They came out of nowhere in 2010 and are now on a crusade to rid the world of obesity.
I can get behind Quest with a mission like that. And they have come up with some incredibly innovative and great tasting products.
Protein chips? Check. The best protein bar of the year according to GNC? Check (multiple times). Awesome protein powders? Check.
Quest is more expensive than some of the other options out there, but they have a great product, they basically invented everything they do themselves, and it’s a super clean product.
80% of the calories here come from protein, which is a great number, and according to LabDoor, it has a 69.5% protein by concentration. LabDoor found that it’s pretty close to accurate when it comes to labelling, too:
Total protein was measured at 69.5g per 100g of product. A 31g serving will yield 21.6g protein, 6.3% below its label claim.
That’s within my comfort zone of margin of error.
Protein per serving: 20 grams
Servings per container: 30 when buying 2 lb jug
Protein concentration: 69.5%
Cost per serving: $1.25 – $1.35 when buying 2 lb jug
I think what sets Quest apart is their mission, their amazing flavors, their great product line up, and their super clean ingredient list. You can check out their ingredients page for yourself to see why they use each ingredient, and to learn more, but we think it’s pretty legit.
>> Click Here To Learn More And See Prices <<
What Type Of Protein Powder Is Best For You?
There are a ton of different protein “configurations”, if you will. Whey, casein, soy are the big ones, but there are even more niche products like cricket protein!
If you’re looking for info on a specific type of protein, we’ve got you covered. We have articles on all the major points you might be considering.
The Best Whey Protein
Whey protein is protein derived from milk products. Specifically, it’s the liquid part that separates from the cheese curds in cheese making.
Super high in protein, milk based, and packed with BCAAs, it’s a really common, powerful, and useful type of protein. It is easily the most common protein available and is a great selection if you are looking to get an efficient and effective solution to hitting your macros.
The Best Casein Protein
Another milk-based protein, this is one of the other more popular proteins.
Unlike whey, this protein takes a longer time to absorb into your body, making it more ideal for meal replacements or for taking before bed, as it should “last longer”.
It’s basically second-best when it comes to gaining muscle (second best to whey, that is), but is more effective than many other types, including soy.
The Best Tasting Protein Powders
Alright, are you a protein powder connoisseur? Do you love to maximize your pleasure while drinking your shake? We’ve got you covered.
While some products are just much better than others, we’ve tried to narrow things down to a few options that are pretty similar in terms of performance, and just give you the best tasting ones from which to choose.
The Best Low Carb Protein
On a low carb diet? Who isn’t these days. And for good reason. Plenty of evidence suggests that low carb diets are among the healthiest, gut-friendly, and most conducive to longevity.
If your protein powder is full of crappy carbs you don’t want, it doesn’t matter how much protein is in it. You want something that is almost exclusively protein, with no filler.
Luckily there is a lot more choice these days when it comes to finding a low carb option, and we can give you an idea of which ones to choose.
The Best Low Calorie Protein
Want the protein but don’t want all the other filler and crap that goes with it? Need to hit your macros but trying to stay in a caloric deficit?
We’ve got you covered. Some products are designed with very low calories to give you the best bang for your buck in terms of protein to calorie ratio.
The Best Unflavored Protein
This is a tough one! Lots of companies are putting out unflavored protein powders so you can mix and create smoothies and bake as you wish without having to work around the flavor.
Problem is, lots of them are disgusting or not actually unflavored.
Well, don’t waste your money figuring out what to buy, we’ll do the hard work for you.
>> Here are our reviews of the best unflavored proteins << (COMING SOON)
The Best Organic Protein
Is eating organic important to you? Then you’re not going to just pick up some random protein that has who-knows what in it. Clearly most proteins out there don’t give a rip about being organic.
However, it’s basically the future, and so you’ve obviously got options that will get you a good amount of protein using totally organic ingredients.
Awesome, right? Click on to our article and find out which one you should pick.
>> Here are our reviews of the best organic proteins << (COMING SOON)
The Best Soy-Free Protein
OK so there’s going to be a wider range of possible options here, as soy free can come in many different forms.
We get it, though, you don’t want to be ingesting soy when you’re trying to pack on the muscle and stay manly. There’s even some risk that high soy intake may cause cancer.
So, to make sure you’re staying as safe as possible while maximizing your gains, we’ve come up with a list of proteins that you can rest assured do not contain soy.
>> Here are our reviews of the best soy-free proteins << (COMING SOON)
The Best Bone Broth Protein
Amazing, isn’t it? Bone broth protein? There’s actually a few companies out there doing this now, which means that while you’re between batches and waiting to collect enough bones to make broth, you can supplement with an awesome protein powder made from your favorite ingredient.
Have you tried the bone broth protein and coffee powder yet? You haven’t? Well read on to learn more about your options!
The Best Cricket Protein
When I was in Thailand recently, there was a local company putting out protein bars made with cricket protein.
Turns out that harvesting crickets to turn into protein takes up a LOT less resources than most other kinds of protein sources.
Big win if the environment is important to you.
While usually not as protein dense as some other options, it is a really cool choice to have, and there are actually a couple choices available to you.
>> Here are our reviews of the best cricket proteins << (COMING SOON)
The Best Grass-Fed Protein
Did you hear about the Skittles truck that overturned, spilling candy all over the interstate? Did you hear it was headed to a farm to become cow food?
Yup. To get to their mandated carb requirements, farmers are feeding cows candy. Is that the kind of cow you want to eat meat from?
No thanks. I’ll stick with grass-fed.
>> Here are our reviews of the best grass-fed proteins << (COMING SOON)
The Best Pea Protein
Vegans and vegetarians rejoice, pea protein is a thing.
In terms of absorption, it’s right between whey and casein, and it’s got all but one essential amino acid (methionine).
It’s relatively new and hasn’t been studied that much, but limited research shows that it certainly has the potential to be effective.
>> Here are our reviews of the best pea proteins << (COMING SOON)
The Best Egg Protein
Don’t want to deal with the discomfort that would come from using a dairy protein?
But don’t care to use pea protein or something plant based? Egg protein may be your best bet.
Obviously it’s animal based and therefore a complete protein, which is great news. It has not been studied a whole lot, but eggs are one of the most well-known high protein (and well-absorbed protein) foods.
These are typically egg-white proteins, so you won’t get the same full feeling as you would from eating a whole egg, yolk included, but is a nice alternative to dairy and plant based protein powders.
The Best Rice Protein Powder
Brown rice protein is an interesting one. It has all of the amino acids you need, it lacks enough lysine to be considered a complete protein. So, remember to supplement with another source to get the complete amino acid profile your body needs.
But, at least one study shows that muscle growth and body composition were similar in subjects using rice protein powder compared to those using whey.
>> Here are our reviews of the best rice proteins << (COMING SOON)
The Best Paleo Protein
Ran out of bloody steaks but need to get your fill of protein? Lucky for you, you can order some paleo protein…and you don’t even need to leave your cave if you buy it online!
But seriously, there have finally been some legit companies open up who are making pretty awesome paleo protein powders using things like eggs and beef protein, for example.
Check out who we recommend in this new section of the market.
>> Here are our reviews of the best paleo proteins << (COMING SOON)
The Best Dairy Free Protein
There are a number of options if you don’t dig dairy, and they include both plant and animal based protein sources.
We’ll give you a couple options of each in our comprehensive non-dairy page linked below, but expect things like pea protein, beef protein, egg protein, and more.
>> Here are our reviews of the best dairy-free proteins << (COMING SOON)
The Best Gluten Free Protein
Does your gut hate you when you ingest gluten? Are you intolerant but still want to crush your daily protein goals?
No worries, luckily many of the top brands have products that contain no gluten, so you’ll have a decent selection from which to choose.
>> Here are our reviews of the best gluten-free proteins << (COMING SOON)
The Best Raw Protein
There are indeed a couple of options when it comes to protein that offer raw ingredients. In fact, you’ll probably get more than just a protein powder.
The top picks in this category typically infuse their blends with superfoods and greens that will round out your nutrient profile nicely. Many of them use a lot of different types of protein, so you should get a pretty full and wide range of amino acids, too.
>> Here are our reviews of the best raw proteins << (COMING SOON)
The Best Beef Protein
You think of protein, you think of whey, you think of milk, you think of cows. That makes sense. So you hear beef protein and you go, yeah, OK, no problem.
Then you stop and you go, oh BEEF protein! Yeah, like boil the beef, separate the fat, dry it out, voila.
There are some really good options if you’re lactose intolerant or just generally want to enjoy beef protein without having to eat a load of steak.
The Best Hemp Protein
This has to be the most pure and basic protein powder out there. You’re almost certain to get something that has a single ingredient: hemp protein.
Hemp has a lot of benefits and a really good nutritional profile, so if you’re choosing a plant based protein, it’s pretty hard to go wrong here.
The Best Protein Bars
Ah, protein bars. So satisfying.
I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of getting a pretty decent tasting little snack that tastes like it should be really naughty, only to look on the label and realize I’m actually getting closer to my daily macros.
Problem is, a lot of protein bars are crap and/or filled with sugar. No bueno.
So, why don’t we take a deeper dive into protein bars? Figure out what your options are, what to get, what to avoid, which ones actually taste good, and which ones are actually healthy.
>> Here are our reviews of the best protein bars << (COMING SOON)
How much protein should you eat?
While some say 1+ gram per pound of bodyweight is good, recent work looking at a load of studies seems to have confirmed that it’s more like 1 gram per kilgram of bodyweight is more than enough.
What’s the best protein?
Depends what you’re looking for. That’s why we put this page together!
Scroll up and choose a type of protein and read our article on the subject. That’ll help narrow it down.
Is real food better than protein powder?
Not necessarily. I mean, you should be eating real food to ensure you’re getting enough of the other macronutrients, as well as the all-important micronutrients in a balanced diet.
But it’s not bad to consume protein powder, particularly if you’re sticking to a more natural, filler-free product like the ones we recommend.
When should I have a protein shake?
Check out our article on whether to drink a shake before or after working out.
The real answer is that as long as you get enough protein over a longer time scale, not just the so-called 45 minute window after working out, you’ll be good to go. Hit a weekly goal as your big focus, a daily goal as your smaller focus, and don’t worry too much about timing otherwise.