The Best Protein Powders And What To Look For When Buying

Best Protein Powders 2024: Jump Menu

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey protein powder

(Image credit: Monique Woo / Future)

1. The Quick List ↴
2. Best Overall: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey
3. Best Value: Bulk Pure Whey Protein
4. Best Clear Whey: Healthspan All Blacks Clear Whey Protein Isolate
5. Best For Muscle Gain: Innermost The Strong Protein
6. Best For Before Bed: Foodspring x Davina McCall Protein + Relax
7. Best Tasting: Dymatize Iso100
8. Most Indulgent-tasting: Grenade Protein Powder
9. Best For Daily Use: Smart Protein Whey Complete
10.
Buying Advice
11. Types of Protein Powder
12. Glossary

While few, if any, amateur athletes need protein powder to support their exercise regime, it can be a highly convenient way to ensure you have all the fuel required to repair and build muscle after a workout.

You might assume that all of them do the same job, but that’s not the case. Coach spoke to Dr Daniel Fenton, clinical director and GP at London Doctors Clinic, and Lily Chapman, a performance coach and nutritionist at digital coaching site P3RFORM, about the differences between protein powders, how much price matters and whether they contain any ingredients you should be wary of. I then assessed the best protein powders out there using Fenton and Chapman’s criteria and tasted them too, so you have a better idea of what you’re buying.

Fenton’s in-depth advice is below, but here’s his takeaway: “I suggest you choose a low-fat, low-carbohydrate, high-protein powder. While you require all three to aid muscle development, balance is key.”

The good news is those three qualities describe the majority of the supplements in our selection of the best protein powders below. 

The Quick List

In a hurry to know which protein powders are best? I've listed the top-scoring products in various categories here. Click on the link to jump to the full review with specs and tasting notes further down the page.

How I Choose The Best Protein Powders

You can trust Coach We give honest reviews and recommendations based on in-depth knowledge and real-world experience. Find out more about how we review and recommend products.

Protein powders have been a staple part of my training plans for the last decade, topping up my tank to help me hit my daily protein quota (usually upwards of 2g per kg of bodyweight, depending on my goals). 

In that time I’ve tried a wide variety of supplements, and that number has increased since becoming Coach’s chief protein powder tester. So if it’s a tasty shake you’re after, I’m your guy. 

My laptop is home to a spreadsheet filled with scores and notes for every protein powder I’ve tested. Each one is rated for its nutritional offering and affordability, as well as its taste, texture and mixability. 

To save you from adding an unnecessary spreadsheet into your life, I’ve summarized this info below in a far more easy-to-digest format, including reasons to buy, reasons to avoid and my final verdict on each one. 

A selection of protein powders tested by the author

A selection of protein powders tested by the author, Harry Bullmore (Image credit: Harry Bullmore / Future)

The Best Protein Powders

I’ve tried a lot of protein powders of all different stripes, but the most common and popular type is whey protein which is mostly what we’ll cover here, with a couple of exceptions that include slower-releasing casein protein (see the section on types of protein powder).

For more about the benefits of casein, head over to our guide to the best casein protein powders. And if you prefer a plant-powered protein pick-me-up, our round up of the best vegan protein powders has a wide range of tried-and-tested options.


Best Overall

Tub of Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey double chocolate flavour next to small glass of a brown protein shake

(Image credit: Harry Bullmore / Future)

1. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey

The best protein powder

Specifications

Flavors: 13, including cookies and cream, and double rich chocolate
Serving size: 30g-32g, depending on flavour
Calories: 113-116
Protein per serving: 24g
Carbs per serving: 1.6kg-1.8g

Reasons to buy

+
Mixes quickly to create a thick shake
+
Great taste with a wide range of flavors 
+
Relatively high protein per serving

Reasons to avoid

-
Fairly average calorie content

It’s bold to call your product “gold standard” but in this case it’s not unwarranted. It’s reasonably priced, with a chunky serving of protein, under 2g of carbs and 116 calories per 31g serving. With 29 servings in each standard 908g tub you won’t have to replace it as often as others, and there are plenty of flavours to choose from. 

Taste test: Double rich chocolate This shake marked a notable step up from other similarly-priced options I’ve tried, bettering its rivals’ taste and texture. The double rich chocolate flavour tastes more decadent than a supplement should, and the powder mixed well too. A couple of shakes produced a smooth, thick milkshake-like drink that masked the fact it was mixed with water. Despite this, it didn’t feel as heavy in my stomach as other protein powders I’ve tried.—Harry Bullmore 

Best Value

Glass of protein shake made with chocolate Bulk Pure Whey Protein next to packet

(Image credit: Charlie Allenby / Future)

2. Bulk Pure Whey Protein

Best whey protein powder for most people

Specifications

Flavors: 20, including birthday cake, tiramisu, rocky road, and pistachio ice-cream
Serving size: 30g
Calories: 114 (chocolate)
Protein per serving: 22g
Carbs per serving: 1.2g

Reasons to buy

+
Good value
+
Variety of interesting flavors
+
Regular discounts reduce the price per serving

Reasons to avoid

-
Inferior type of whey used
-
Need to buy in bulk to get the best deal

Bulk is used by heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua—and if it’s good enough for AJ there’s a high chance it’s good enough for you. With the variety of flavors available (including eight different chocolates), your tastebuds are sure to be tickled. Each serving packs a punch of 22g of protein, while the inclusion of 5g of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) per serving is a nice touch at this price.

Taste test: Chocolate It says a lot about a protein powder if it tastes good with plain old water. The chocolate Pure Whey Protein didn’t take too much shaking to get silky smooth and the result was a flavoursome blend. Although there are powders out there that taste more like a real milkshake, the final result was most drinkable.—Charlie Allenby

Best Clear Whey

Healthspan elite clear whey protein powder

(Image credit: Harry Bullmore / Future)

3. Healthspan Elite All Blacks Clear Whey Protein Isolate

Best tasting clear whey protein powder

Specifications

Flavors: Zesty lemon, orange and mango
Serving size: 25g
Calories: 85
Protein per serving: 21g
Carbs per serving: 0.4g

Reasons to buy

+
Tasty and refreshing
+
Easy protein hit with minimal carbs and sugars
+
5.3g BCAAs per serving

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
Only two flavor options

Clear whey is great in principle, offering a drinkable protein top-up without the heavy creaminess of standard whey shakes. But it can be hit-and-miss. This supp is one of the winners, balancing great taste with a nutritional profile we can get behind—plenty of protein without unwanted sugars and carbs. 

Taste test: Orange and mango I was impressed with both flavors, but the orange and mango option just edged this contest. It took a few more seconds of shaking than other clear powders I’ve used, but after this the consistency was smooth and the taste was indiscernible from a refreshing fruit drink—extra impressive given the decent 21g of protein per serving.

Best For Muscle Gain

Innermost the strong protein powder

(Image credit: Harry Bullmore / Future)

4. Innermost The Strong Protein

Best protein powder for those lifting heavy

Specifications

Flavors: Smooth chocolate, creamy vanilla, summer strawberry
Serving size : 40g
Calories: 147
Protein per serving: 34g
Carbs per serving: 2g

Reasons to buy

+
High protein content
+
3g of creatine per serving
+
Glutamine for recovery

Reasons to avoid

-
Thin texture
-
Only 13 servings per bag

All protein powders offer at least a decent protein content—that comes with the territory. But Innermost always tries to give a little more. As well as a generous 34g of protein, each serving supplies 3g of power-boosting creatine and 5g of glutamine, which has been linked to reduced muscle soreness. 

Taste test: Creamy vanilla I tested all four protein powders in Innermost’s range and the Strong Protein was a clear winner. I liked the combination of creatine, glutamine and a higher-than-average amount of protein, and was surprised to find the creamy vanilla flavor beat my default chocolate option in the flavor stakes. It blended immediately and tasted great. The texture was a little thin, but this might be remedied by mixing it with milk. 

Best For Before Bed

foodspring davina mccall protein powder relax

(Image credit: Harry Bullmore / Future)

5. Foodspring x Davina McCall Protein + Relax

Best pre-bed protein powder

Specifications

Flavors: Honey and spices
Serving size: 30g
Calories: 108
Protein per serving: 22g
Carbs per serving: 4.2g

Reasons to buy

+
Unique flavor
+
Includes ashwagandha for a calming effect 
+
Contains casein protein

Reasons to avoid

-
Taste won’t be for everyone
-
Lower protein content than others

Released alongside a cocoa-flavored Protein + Focus drink, this supplement sets out to provide more than just a 22g helping of protein. The bulk of its protein comes in the form of slow-absorbing casein, helping support muscle recovery and growth overnight if you drink it before bed. It’s also enriched with a litany of vitamins including B12, B6, vitamins C and D, zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron, as well as the supplement of the moment, ashwagandha, which may boost strength and muscle growth and have a calming effect on the mind. 

Taste test: Honey and spices This doesn’t taste like any other protein powder I’ve tried, especially if you heat it up (as Foodspring recommends). The honey and spices flavor is less stimulating than the artificial sweetness of rivals if you want a protein top-up before bed, and I found it far less dense than other casein drinks I’ve tried when looking to maximize overnight muscle growth. 

Best Tasting

Dymatize ISO100 dunkin donuts

(Image credit: Harry Bullmore / Future)

6. Dymatize Iso 100 Hydrolyzed

Best for people with a sweet tooth

Specifications

Flavors: Fruity Pebbles, Pebbles birthday cake, gourmet chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, cocoa Pebbles, cookies and cream, dunkin’ cappuccino, dunkin’ mocha latte, fudge brownie, strawberry, gourmet vanilla
Serving size: 30g
Calories: 120
Protein per serving: 25g
Carbs per serving: 2g

Reasons to buy

+
Fun flavor options
+
A sweet treat
+
Creamy texture

Reasons to avoid

-
May be too sweet for some

Dymatize has paired with the likes of Dunkin’ Donuts and Pebbles Cereal for its current crop of Iso100 flavors, making it a top choice for sweet-thing fiends. It has more than just high-profile partners too. Each drink has 25g of hydrolyzed whey protein for faster absorption, and just 120 calories. 

Taste test: Dunkin’ glazed donut 

Dymatize’s new Dunkin’ Glazed Donut option surpassed Fruity Pebbles to become my favorite flavor. It has the brand’s customary sweetness, and I found it does an impressive job of recreating the taste of glazed sugar in liquid form. This flavor may be too decadent for some, but if you’re looking to top-up your protein intake and satisfy a sweet tooth then it’s an ideal solution. 

Most Indulgent-tasting

Grenade Protein Powder Fudged Up

(Image credit: Harry Bullmore / Future)

7. Grenade Protein Powder

Most indulgent-tasting

Specifications

Flavors: Fudged up, birthday cake, strawberries and cream
Serving size: 40g
Calories: 147
Protein per serving: 30g
Carbs per serving: 2g

Reasons to buy

+
Delicious
+
Thick, creamy texture
+
More protein than rivals

Reasons to avoid

-
Only 480g or 2kg bags available
-
Higher in calories than competitors
-
Only three flavor options

This Grenade shake’s elevated protein (30g) and calorie (147) content makes it an attractive option for those looking to bulk up. The main drawback I found was that there wasn’t enough of it—I tested a 480g pouch containing 12 servings, which left me scraping the bottom of the bag in no time. The other option is a 2kg, 50-serving bag, which may be too much if you just want a month’s worth.  

Taste test: Fudged up

Grenade does a better job than most at mimicking the thick, creamy texture of a bona fide milkshake, even when I mixed it with water. Despite the slightly larger (40g) serving size, there were no unwanted lumps after 10 seconds of shaking either. Add to this the fact that the fudge flavor not only tasted great but smelled great too, and you’ve got yourself an impressive protein powder. 

Best For Daily Use

Smart Protein Whey Complete

(Image credit: Harry Bullmore / Future)

8. Smart Protein Whey Complete

Best for daily use

Specifications

Flavors : Chocolate, vanilla, vanilla and blueberry, strawberry, banana, raspberry ripple, unflavored
Serving size: 30g
Calories: 121
Protein per serving: 22.28g
Carbs per serving: 2.8g

Reasons to buy

+
Smooth texture
+
Available in 480g and 960g bags
+
Low in fat and carbs

Reasons to avoid

-
Not as thick as others
-
Less intense flavor

Smart Protein is a newcomer to the supplement game, and it does a lot right. It’s made with whey concentrate, offering a clean hit of protein (an incredibly specific 22.28g per serving) with minimal calories, fat and carbs. 

Taste test: Chocolate 

This powder served up a smooth drink with minimal mixing time. The chocolate option isn’t as indulgent as rivals like Optimum Nutrition and Grenade, but that might suit some people. I found the less intense flavor was really easy to drink, making it a solid option as a daily shake. 

Best Chocolate Flavor

Hermosa Whey Protein Powder

(Image credit: Charlie Allenby / Future)

9. Hermosa Whey Protein Powder

Best-tasting chocolate protein powder

Specifications

Flavors: Chocolate, vanilla
Serving size: 30g
Calories: 125 (chocolate)
Protein per serving: 21g
Carbs per serving: 4.5g

Reasons to buy

+
Relatively high in protein
+
Chocolate flavor is a treat

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
Not many servings per tub

If you’re a fan of bougie workout classes and have a membership at a boutique gym, then there’s a good chance you’ll love Hermosa. The protein shake is aimed at the Lululemon/Barry’s Bootcamp crowd, but it’s more than a status symbol. The 21g of protein per serving is around par, but its flavor is worth the price alone. Although it’s slightly on the calorific side, you can forgive it when what you’re drinking tastes this good.

Taste test: Chocolate The powder mixed well and had a smooth, enjoyable mouthfeel. Even with water, the shake tasted of chocolate (rather than the synthetic profile that plagues some cheaper powders) and its richness would only be enhanced with milk.—CA

More Great Protein Powders

Myprotein Clear Whey Isolate protein powder

(Image credit: Charlie Allenby / Future)

10. Myprotein Clear Whey Isolate

Most refreshing protein shake

Specifications

Flavors: 15, including cranberry and raspberry, pineapple, watermelon, and orange mango
Serving size: 25g
Calories: 86
Protein per serving: 20g
Carbs per serving: 0.7g

Reasons to buy

+
Exceptionally low in calories
+
Orange mango flavor is a treat

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive at RRP for a Myprotein product

Myprotein is renowned for producing great nutrition supplements that don’t cost the earth. Its Clear Whey Isolate is slightly pricy when bought at RRP—but as with most Myprotein purchases, it will often be discounted, leaving you with a cost-effective way of getting your protein. Clear Whey Isolate has a high level of protein per serving (20g) without the calories commonly found in whey powders. It also doesn’t have a milky taste or texture—handy if you’re put off by the normal profile of a protein shake.

Taste test: Orange mango The orange mango clear whey isolate had a look and mouth feel much more like an energy drink compared with standard whey protein, making it a refreshing way of refueling that was easy to consume. The orange mango flavor mixed seamlessly and didn’t taste at all like E numbers and additives.—CA


Foodspring Whey Protein

(Image credit: Charlie Allenby / Future)

11. Foodspring Whey Protein

Best all-natural whey

Specifications

Flavors: Vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, coconut crisp, cookies and cream
Serving size: 30g
Calories: 115
Protein per serving: 24g
Carbs per serving: 1.7g

Reasons to buy

+
High in protein
+
All natural
+
Great for baking and porridge 
+
Low in carbs, calories and fat

Reasons to avoid

-
No scoop
-
Only available in 750g tub

Foodspring tubs look better than most protein powders on the shelf, and their contents taste better than the majority of competitors too. And the authentic flavors don’t come from heaps of hidden sugar. Sugar is replaced with a purified extract of stevia, helping to keep the calorie count down. As a result, the nutrient breakdown is dominated by its 24g protein offering. 

Taste test: Cookies and cream Every shake I’ve tried from the Foodspring range has been delicious, but the cookies and cream flavor is a cut above the rest. The taste isn’t that different from the Oreo doppelganger on the front of the tub, balancing the substance of the biscuit element with a creaminess that comes from the filling. The powder also tastes great in porridge or overnight oats, and didn’t leave me feeling too heavy like other protein supplements.—HB


The Protein Works Whey Protein 360 Extreme

(Image credit: Charlie Allenby / Future)

12. The Protein Works Whey Protein 360 Extreme

The best quantity of protein per serving

Specifications

Flavors: 19, including banana milkshake, choc orange swirl, salted caramel bandit, and French vanilla
Serving size: 35g
Calories: 136
Protein per serving: 27g
Carbs per serving: 2.4g

Reasons to buy

+
More protein per serving than most
+
Added vitamins and minerals

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive if not discounted
-
Vanilla was slightly grainy

If a protein powder has the word “extreme” in the name, it can sometimes be off-putting to the average Joe. But The Protein Works’ best-selling whey blend’s branding is to help differentiate it from its standard Whey Protein 360. The upgraded formula features an impressive 27g mix of fast- and slow-release protein per serving to help with muscle recovery and growth. It also has a blend of vitamins and minerals to provide oomph to your post-workout supplement.

Taste test: French vanilla Vanilla is the ultimate test for a protein powder because there are no big flavors to hide behind. Although it had the slight graininess that is common to other vanilla shakes we’ve tasted, the result was a thick, easy-to-drink shake that didn’t taste too watery. That said, you’d probably want to opt for one of the other 19 flavors if you need your protein shake to offer excitement.—CA


Ultimate Performance Whey Protein

(Image credit: Charlie Allenby / Future)

13. Ultimate Performance Whey Protein

The cheapest protein around

Specifications

Flavors: Chocolate ice-cream, strawberry ice-cream, and vanilla ice-cream
Serving size: 30g
Calories: 104.6
Protein per serving: 21.8g
Carbs per serving: 1.1g

Reasons to buy

+
Relatively low in calories
+
Cheap

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited flavors
-
Can only buy in bulk

Ultimate Performance’s Whey Protein is the cheapest whey (sorry) to start your protein journey. It doesn’t scrimp on the nutritional side either, leaving you with a well-formulated shake that is relatively low in calories and high (21.8g) in protein. The limited number of flavors may disappoint more adventurous palettes, but they are three classics so they’ll be suitable for most.

Taste test: Strawberry ice cream The luminous pink color of this shake might be a mite off-putting for some, but it didn’t taste half as synthetic as it looked and the only downside was that some clumps were left even after vigorous shaking.—CA


PHD Smart Protein clear

(Image credit: Harry Bullmore / Future)

14. PhD Smart Clear Whey

Best pre-workout protein powder

Specifications

Flavors: Lime and mint
Serving size: 25g
Calories: 86
Protein per serving: 20g
Carbs per serving: 0.8g

Reasons to buy

+
Unusual but pleasant flavor
+
Low in carbs and sugars
+
No milky aftertaste

Reasons to avoid

-
Taste isn’t for everyone

Leave it to PhD to make a smart protein drink. Enjoy all the benefits of your average shake—20g of protein, low carbs and minimal sugar— without the milky aftertaste, making it a solid pre-exercise option for those in need of a protein boost. 

Taste test: Lime and mint This flavor was previously labeled “mojito” and while a pre- or post-workout cocktail may sound unorthodox, somehow this booze-free alternative pulls it off. I found the lime and mint flavor delivered the balance of sweetness and tartness that defines a mojito, making it a refreshing option around exercise. Some extra shaking was needed to get rid of a few stubborn lumps too, but that’s my only criticism. 


Sci Mx Ultra Muscle Protein Powder

(Image credit: Harry Bullmore / Future)

15. Sci-Mx Ultra Muscle

Best protein powder for weight gain

Specifications

Flavors: Vanilla, chocolate, strawberry
Serving size: 150g
Calories : 548
Protein per serving: 56g
Carbs per serving: 75g

Reasons to buy

+
High protein content
+
5g of creatine per serving
+
High carb content to support sports

Reasons to avoid

-
High in sugar
-
High carb and calorie content may not suit all
-
Needs to be mixed very thoroughly

This protein powder isn’t like others on the list, bragging about offering a clean protein hit with most other macros kept to minimal amounts. Instead, it’s designed for those looking to pack on mass and/or support their sporting performance, dealing out a hefty 75g of carbs and 548 calories per serving. You’re also getting 5g of creatine and 7.8g of BCAAs.

Taste test: Vanilla I’ve had bad experiences with mass gainers and their ilk before, with cement-like textures, cardboardy flavors and post-drink bloating that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth (often literally). The 150g serving size here left me worried about more of the same, but it was fairly smooth and the flavor—while definitely on the sweeter side of my usual shakes—was enjoyably drinkable. There were some small lumps left in the mixture after 20 seconds of shaking, so make sure you mix well before guzzling.  


Foodspring Clear Whey protein powder

(Image credit: Harry Bullmore / Future)

16. Foodspring Clear Whey

Best post-workout clear whey protein powder

Specifications

Flavors: Peach iced tea and hibiscus, raspberry mojito, lemonade
Serving size: 30g
Calories: 112
Protein per serving: 25g
Carbs per serving: 1.6g

Reasons to buy

+
Light texture
+
High in protein
+
Low in carbs and sugar 

Reasons to avoid

-
Only 16 servings in smaller tub
-
No scoop

Some protein powders promise a lot, with added BCAAs, creatine, glutamine and whatever else to boost your performance. This Foodspring shake keeps things more simple: It’s high in protein (25g per 30g serving) without coming with extra unwanted carbs (less than a gram) or calories (112). As an aside, the attractive tub design also deserves some recognition.

Taste test: Peach iced tea and hibiscus After a hard workout, the last thing I want is a creamy protein drink to challenge my innards. Clear whey is a welcome alternative, although I’ve found many flavors too sweet to quaff post-metcon. Foodspring’s peach iced tea and hibiscus offers a Goldilocks-like balance, offering a light and refreshing texture with a pleasant, understated flavor that I’d genuinely choose over many fruit drinks. 


The Organic Protein Company Organic Whey Protein

(Image credit: Charlie Allenby / Future)

17. Organic Protein Company Whey Protein

A rare organic protein powder

Specifications

Flavors: Unflavoured, Madagascan vanilla, raw cacao and maca, isolate, strawberry, elderberry and beetroot, and banana and lucuma
Serving size: 25g
Calories: 96 (raw cacao & maca)
Protein per serving: 15.17g
Carbs per serving: 4.87g

Reasons to buy

+
100% organic
+
Under 100 calories

Reasons to avoid

-
Flavors require a refined palate
-
Relatively expensive price per serving

This whey from the Organic Protein Company does what it says on the tin (bag, really). Made with five ingredients—in contrast to some of the lengthy lists of additives seen elsewhere—it’s one of the “cleanest” whey protein powders on the market. The downsides of this are a relatively small serving of protein per serving and flavors that won’t be to everyone’s tastes. Even so, its sub-100 calories will tick the boxes for those looking for the benefits of protein without calorie gains elsewhere. 

Taste test: Raw cacao and maca Cacao is an acquired taste and it’s bitter compared with the milk chocolate many of us know and love. Once you get over the initial shock, the shake is drinkable, though it remained watery, with a grittiness from unmixed powder.—CA


Tub of Gnarly Sports Nutrition Grass-Fed Whey protein powder

(Image credit: Nick Harris-Fry / Future)

18. Gnarly Sports Nutrition Grass-Fed Whey

Easy-to-digest whey protein

Specifications

Flavors: Vanilla, chocolate
Serving size: 45g
Calories: 160
Protein per serving: 25g
Carbs per serving: 12g

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to mix
+
Inoffensive flavors
+
Added pre- and probiotics

Reasons to avoid

-
Higher in carbs than others
-
Few flavors

Gnarly’s whey concentrate powder is a little higher in carbs than most non-recovery powders, but that will help to top up your energy levels if you’re using it to recover after HIIT or cardio sessions. Along with 25g of whey, each serving also contains prebiotics and probiotics to support your gut health, as well as digestive enzymes to help the shake settle in your stomach.

Taste test: Chocolate The powder mixes very easily and the texture of the drink is silky smooth without any lumps at the bottom. The chocolate flavor was the typical bland affair you get from protein shakes, but entirely inoffensive and easy to get down in a hurry. Gnarly could use a few more flavors in its range, though, with only chocolate and vanilla available.—Nick Harris-Fry


Glass of white protein shake next to protein shaker and bag of Crazy Nutrition Tri-Protein

(Image credit: Harry Bullmore / Future)

19. Crazy Nutrition 100% Tri-Protein

Best protein powder for baking

Specifications

Flavors: Vanilla, chocolate, salted caramel
Serving size: 30g
Calories: 112
Protein per serving: 24g
Carbs per serving: 2g

Reasons to buy

+
High in protein
+
Low in carbs and sugar
+
Vanilla flavor works well in baking recipes

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
Only three flavors
-
Thin texture

Tri-Protein’s pitch is that it mixes six types of protein powder which will be absorbed at three different rates to avoid stomach aches and curb hunger pangs. Whey isolate and hydrolysate is digested in the first phase, followed by whey concentrate and milk protein concentrate, and finally micellar casein and calcium caseinate. It’s worth bearing in mind that our expert calls milk powders a “cheap bulking agent” below which are high in lactose.

Taste test: Vanilla I can’t validate Crazy Nutrition’s digestion claims with a simple taste test, but necking this shake after a workout did leave me feeling less heavy than most whey powders. It tasted good too, although the texture was quite thin when mixed with water. Where it really excelled, however, was in recipes; namely, protein pancakes and a protein cheesecake. It added a pleasant flavor to both without proving overpowering or leaving any unwanted lumps in the mixtures.—HB

Best Protein Powder Buyer’s Guide

Picking between the huge range of protein powders available is difficult, especially when each and every one of them makes grand promises about the effect they will have on you.

You might assume that all of them do the same job, but that’s not the case, as we discovered when we quizzed Dr Daniel Fenton, clinical director and GP at London Doctors Clinic.

What are the key things people should look out for when looking for the best protein powders?

“How much protein you obtain from each serving, the amino acid profile, the cost, taste and number of additives are a few key factors. I tend to focus on yield—the actual amount of protein you obtain from each serving—and amino acid profile.

“I suggest you choose a low-fat, low-carbohydrate, high-protein powder. While you require all three to aid muscle development, balance is key.

“The difference in protein content in various powders can be phenomenal. Do not simply pay for a brand name – the proof is in the numbers. Look carefully at the concentration and type of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) included in the protein. Leucine has been shown to be one of the most important BCAAs so it should contain decent quantities.”

What should you get if you pay more money for protein powder?

“There is a natural tendency to think that more expensive products are better—but this is a fallacy. Content is more important than cost. All protein powders will contain some additives including thickeners, preservatives, sweeteners and fillers.

“I would strongly recommend taking a look at the label before you purchase. While your main focus is gaining muscle, you should aim to avoid putting nutritionally-redundant chemicals into your body. Here are a few of the things to look out for.

“Avoid artificial sweeteners, which includes sucralose, aspartame and saccharin. The presumption is that these are better for you than sugar but this is not quite true. There is no good evidence that they reduce weight gain, type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome and some studies actually show an increased risk of adverse health outcomes.

“Milk powders are a cheap bulking agent widely used in protein powders. They are high in lactose sugars which is terrible if you are lactose intolerant. This can contribute to gastrointestinal upset including bloating and loose stools.

“Oils and fats are added to protein supplements to increase richness; they are non-essential ingredients which can contribute to hypercholesterolemia [high cholesterol]. It is fairly common to see high cholesterol levels in bodybuilders and athletes despite their immense fitness levels and generally healthy eating—taking protein powder with added oils is thought to be a contributing factor.”


Is it worth looking out for extra benefits from protein powder such as vitamins and minerals, or fibre?

“The simple answer is no! While these make for an excellent selling point, if you are eating a balanced diet alongside the protein supplement you should not need additional vitamins.”

Is there a limit to how much protein the body can absorb from a serving?

“The human body is an impressive machine, which likes to maintain a balanced constant internal environment. We can fill ourselves with protein, but we will only absorb as much as we require for muscle synthesis.

“The Department of Health recommends approximately 55g of protein a day for male adults and a little less for females. Obviously, if we exercise at high intensity, muscle turnover is higher and protein demand is therefore greater, so we will often require more than this. But if we consume too much protein, the body will simply metabolize and excrete it. This means you could literally be flushing money and protein down the pan.”


What protein powder is best for muscle gain?

Let’s face it, you’re not chugging protein shakes down for the sheer pleasure of it. You want more muscle, so we asked Lily Chapman to cut to the chase.

“Overall intake should be a priority,” says Chapman. “In order to accelerate muscle gain, you should aim to consume around 1.6-2.0g of protein per kg of bodyweight every day. For example, a 70kg individual should consume between 112-140g of protein across the course of their day.” That tallies with the target suggested by a dietitian when we asked how much protein you need to build muscle

There are three more factors that make some types of protein better for muscle gain than others. “Choose a powder that has a high amount of protein per serving, is ‘complete’ in relation to amino acids, and has a high digestibility or bioavailability rate. The latter is measured by either the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) or the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS). 

“Whey isolate, casein and soy all have similar PDCAAS and DIAAS values and are therefore regarded as the ‘best’. Strength-based studies have also found muscle protein synthesis to be more stimulated following ingestion of these, in comparison with other protein types.”

Types Of Protein Powder

The most common type of protein powder product will create a shake that contains protein and virtually nothing else. These are designed to fuel lean muscle growth following a workout, and so avoid extra carbs and sugars and keep the calories to a minimum to deliver on the “lean” part.

Mass gainer shakes go in the other direction and contain huge amounts of everything. They are high in calories and carbs as well as having more protein than a standard shake. People tend to use mass gainers during a period of bulking up, usually during the winter before cutting (reducing body fat but retaining muscle) in the spring, a well-worn bodybuilding technique. A mass gainer is useful for those in serious physique training, but less so when you’re just aiming for a higher protein intake each day.

Recovery shakes are another common option, and these are aimed more at endurance athletes who need a high amount of carbs and electrolytes as well as protein to recover after their training sessions. Recovery protein powder often also contain vitamins and minerals to support the immune system, and are popular with those who play team sports like football and rugby, as well as among runners, cyclists and swimmers.

Meal replacement shakes are generally categorized as entirely different products from protein shakes, but often use whey protein and can have a similar nutritional profile as recovery shakes. Meal replacement shakes can be used as a meal substitute when you’re short on time, or they can be a low-calorie option that helps you to lose weight. They often are high in protein to increase satiety while still low in calories overall.

What are the differences between whey and casein?

Whey versus casein can be seen as fast versus slow protein,” says Fenton.

“Muscle growth is determined by simple science: protein (muscle) breakdown vs protein synthesis. If the synthesis of new muscle protein is greater than the breakdown of muscle protein, you will get a net gain of muscle mass.

“Whey is typically processed very rapidly into amino acids, which will reach peak levels within an hour of consumption and therefore assist muscle synthesis very quickly. However, the peak levels also fall very quickly.

“Whey is considered an anabolic protein because it rapidly accelerates protein synthesis so it’s great for quick muscle regeneration, but has very little effect on naturally occurring muscle breakdown after a workout.

“Casein can take several hours to be metabolized and as a result creates a slower release of proteins to help muscles recover and grow. It is often referred to as an anti-catabolic protein, because it also helps to prevent excess protein breakdown.

“The downside is that casein will remain in the stomach for a substantial period of time, and one can appreciate that it is difficult to complete a high-intensity workout with a full stomach.

“In essence, balance and timing are key for maximum gains. Ignore those who say ‘casein is the key’, or ‘only whey works’ – scientifically, this is simply untrue. Both work very well if used appropriately, complementing your workout and your own natural metabolism.”


Glossary

Whey protein

Whey is the liquid portion of milk, which separates from the rest during cheese production. A mixture of proteins can be isolated from this whey and processed into whey protein powder which contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source. This is then used as a supplement by people who want to increase their protein intake, build muscle and support athletic performance. 

Casein protein 

Whey makes up about 20% of the protein content of cow’s milk, while casein fills the remaining 80%. Like whey, casein is a byproduct of cheesemaking and can also be made into a powder then used as a supplement, providing the amino acids needed to build muscle. However, it’s not absorbed as quickly as other protein sources like whey, so many people take this supplement before fasted periods like a night's sleep. 

Whey protein concentrate

Whey protein can come in three forms: concentrate, isolate and hydrolysate. They are all made from whey obtained during cheese production, but each one is produced slightly differently to deliver distinct features and nutritional profiles. Whey concentrate goes through less processing, and tends to be the cheapest of the three as a result. But it has a slightly lower protein content and a few more grams of carbs, fat and lactose than more processed forms. 

Whey protein isolate

Whey protein isolate undergoes extra processing steps to deliver a higher protein content than whey protein concentrate, as well as negligible (1g or below) amounts of carbs, fat and lactose. That means it is usually more expensive than whey protein concentrate. 

Whey protein hydrolysate 

The benefit of whey protein hydrolysate is that it’s absorbed more quickly than other forms of whey protein because it has been pre-digested. This makes it a popular post-workout option. A 2019 study into its use concluded that “ingestion of the whey protein hydrolysate was associated with greater post-exercise muscle protein synthesis compared with intact whey protein”.

Clear whey isolate

Clear whey isolate is a fairly new innovation in the supplement world. The main difference from other whey shakes is the texture, which is light and watery in contrast to the usual creamy drinks. Despite this, it still delivers a high protein content with minimal carbs, fats and sugars, while also having a lower calorie content than most standard whey supplements. It is usually more expensive though. 

BCAAs

BCAAs stands for branched-chain amino acids. Amino acids are molecules that combine to form proteins, which the body can use to maintain and build muscle. The body needs 20 amino acids to function properly, and nine of these fall under the bracket of “essential amino acids” which can’t be created by the body and need to be consumed as food. Three essential amino acids—leucine, isoleucine and valine—are classed as branched-chain amino acids in reference to their chemical structure. 

BCAA supplements are sold with the listed benefits of helping maintain and contribute to the growth of muscle mass. A study published in the journal Nutrients also found that BCAA supplementation over eight days “decreased perceptions of soreness in resistance-trained individuals with several years of experience”. 

EAAs

EAAs stands for essential amino acids—the nine necessary amino acids your body cannot produce and which need to be consumed. EAA supplements aim to deliver these amino acids, including all three BCAAs, in powder form. 

Suggested benefits of EAA supplementation overlap heavily with those listed for BCAAs. These include improved exercise performance and boosted recovery.

Creatine

Creatine can be found in protein-rich foods such as red meat, seafood and animal milk, as well as supplements. It’s one of the most heavily researched supplements on the market and one of the most popular, boasting benefits such as improved exercise performance, enhanced recovery, and increased strength and muscle mass.

When creatine is delivered to your muscles, it can merge with phosphate to create phosphocreatine, which is then stored. When needed, this can then be used for rapid energy production—useful in speed and power sports like powerlifting and bodybuilding. 

Leucine

Leucine is one of the three branched-chain amino acids described above. It can be taken as a supplement. 

It is suggested that these amino acids can be used by muscles to provide energy during exercise and improve exercise performance. However, a University of Rochester article states that “studies have not consistently shown that taking supplements of these amino acids improves exercise performance, builds muscle mass or helps you recover from exercise”.

Isoleucine

Despite the similar name, isoleucine is a separate amino acid from leucine, and another in the group of nine essential amino acids. It is also a branched-chain amino acid and can be bought as a supplement, as well as featuring in BCAA powders. 

Reported benefits include helping control blood sugar, improving endurance, speeding up the healing of injured muscle and supporting muscle growth, according to the University of Rochester research. 

Valine

After leucine and isoleucine, valine is the third and final branched-chain amino acid. It is available as a supplement and will also be present in BCAA powders. As such, it is often taken to support muscle growth, enhance athletic performance and boost the immune system.