Proteins are the building blocks of our body, and we need it each and every day to survive. You’ve probably seen or heard of one of your friends consuming a protein shake after a workout. These protein shakes (also called protein supplements) are mixed primarily with protein powder. Protein powder, in turn, takes the place of a standardized meal and gives a person a dose of muscle building ingredients.
Before protein powder, the supplement was a larger than normal meal with added protein to replenish energy and rebuild muscles. Now, you can have a more protein based diet to suit your goals and needs without the hassle of having to make a large meal.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Protein Powder Used For?
- 2 Choosing Between Them
- 3 Best Powders According To Your Goals
- 4 Best Powders According To Types Of Protein
- 5 Best Tasting Powders
- 6 Comparing and Contrasting Powders
What Is Protein Powder Used For?
During a workout, lifting weights and stretching beyond your normal range creates micro tears in the muscle. Your muscles probably feel tired and lazy afterward, indicating muscle exhaustion. Protein powder acts as a powerful recovery tool when your muscles need replenishing the most. People who are looking to build muscle through the use of protein supplements are going to want to consume a shake or a large meal soon after a workout to maximize those benefits.
Protein powders may be marketed towards gym goers and avid exercisers, but they are also a good dietary substitute for those looking to start or add to a healthier diet.
Choosing Between Them
There are a variety of protein powders on the market and choosing the right one for your personal goals can be daunting. Furthermore, there are powders created for different purposes, such as weight loss as opposed to pure muscle gain. Finally, the most well-known protein powder supplement, whey, contains further divulsions which attune better to certain health requirements. These types of powders will depend more on the person using them and require a thorough amount of research before making your first purchase.
In this guide, we will explore some of the best protein powder supplements on the market. We will explore carbohydrate, protein, fiber, and fat content as well as the percentage of purity among other factors. Cost per serving is another aspect to take into consideration—protein powders can and will be expensive depending on the brand, goal, type, and manufacturer.
Best Powders According To Your Goals
This is probably the biggest factor in one’s decision to start using protein powder. You may be unable to eat high protein/whole foods 3 to 4 times a day but you’ll be able to purchase a large quantity of powder for a similar price. Consuming a protein powder supplement will give the body the compounds it needs to build muscle. Consuming protein powder regularly will ensure continuous growth over an extended period of time.
The reason why most experts recommend consuming your protein supplement right after your workout is to make sure your muscles are absorbing the nutrients as soon as possible. The longer you wait to consume protein or any other replenishing substance for that matter, the more quickly the benefits window closes.
Here are our recommendations for the best muscle building focused protein powders:
MuscleTech, specifically the Nitro-Tech series, receives high regards in our list because of the added ingredients to their formula at no added cost you. These ingredients discussed below, help the process of protein digestion and absorption occur better and faster at the molecular level. Everything begins and ends at the smallest possible scale. Your body will digest the foods and supplements that you consume, but in the end, it all comes back to what is going back to your muscles in order for them to replenish and rebuild.
We acknowledge that most customers are going to be very particular about the serving count. While no tub is going to be spot on in terms of the number of servings it advertises, Nitro-Tech does get pretty close. Nitro-Tech (as manufactured by MuscleTech) is a Whey Isolate, one of the purest forms of Whey but also the most expensive.
- Let’s say you’re looking at purchasing a 4lb tub of Nitro-Tech. This powder, in particular, will fetch you around 30g of protein in a single scoop while keeping carbs, sugars, and fats to a low number.
- Each serving also contains about 3g of creatine and leucine. Creatine is a molecule that stimulates ATP, the living batteries of every cell—primarily in your muscles and brain. Great, but what’s that got to do with your muscle gain? Leucine is an amino acid vital to the makeup of proteins but is not produced anywhere in the body. Normally you consume it with your everyday diet without ever thinking about it.
- In addition to just receiving your concentration of protein, you’ll be consuming two compounds crucial to the upkeep of your metabolic rate. The faster you burn calories and the more you consume, the easier it is going to be to gain muscle mass.
Approximate cost per serving (2lb tub)—($1.46)
Not to be confused with MuscleTech, Muscle Pharm is a top competitor to MuscleTech in terms of product range and development. While Muscle Pharm certainly does a little bit of both, it is certainly backed up by customer satisfaction and loyalty.
What is interesting about Combat Powder as opposed to Nitro-Tech is that it features multiple versions of Whey—Isolate, Concentrate, and Hydrolysate (not dairy based). While most brands look at Whey Isolate as the ultimate prize, there is nothing wrong with having these three mixed together, which Combat Powder does.
When we refer to protein concentration, we mean the overarching protein concentration. Delving further will get you the more specific types of protein.
One thing you may notice on the nutrition facts label is the 75mg of cholesterol. This is a minuscule number compared to other foods out there so it’s nothing to be concerned about. However, a good pointer would be to check the nutrition label for cholesterol with any brand you are thinking about investing in. A high percentage of sugar, cholesterol, and total fats probably means that you could be doing better.
- But Combat Powder doesn’t have those high statistics, so no need to worry!
You can beef up your protein intake all you want, but it won’t do you much good unless your muscles can properly recover. While there are Casein powders made specifically for that purpose, it doesn’t hurt to invest in a powder that further helps that process. Happy customers of Combat Powder have commented widely on its recovery effectiveness. This aspect will have your wallet breathing a sigh of relief from all the money you didn’t spend on an extra tub of powder.
Approximate cost per serving (2lb tub)—($1.23)
We tried to determine which category Syntha 6 Edge should go in before finally landing it in the muscle gains(z) section. Syntha 6 Edge is an upgrade by BSN over its predecessor, Syntha 6, in terms of fewer carbohydrates and fat across the board. Specifically, in the carbohydrate category, Snytha 6 Edge has a full 60% fewer carbs than normal Syntha 6. This will definitely adhere more to your long term gains as opposed to the immediate burst of energy that comes with consuming a majority of carbs.
We say this because Syntha 6 Edge is also a well-liked powder for its taste, and we just can’t count that factor out. Like Combat Powder, Syntha 6 uses a picture of Whey concentrate and isolate in addition to hydrolysate. For a 2.3lb tub, you’ll usually get 28 servings worth for about 24g of protein per serving.
Due to the presences of Whey Concentrate, Syntha 6 Edge is still not advisable to people who are lactose intolerant despite a sizable portion being Whey Isolate. However, the presence of Hydrolyzed Whey Isolate is a huge factor much like it is in Combat Power. Hydrolysate is the most processed substance of the three Whey’s and while on its own it would certainly be the most expensive, it is the most easily absorbed into the body. We already identified Whey Isolate as the compound with the highest percentage of protein, and an even further processed Whey Isolate is almost pure.
- The fact that it is absorbed quickly into the body after consumption means that it is suitable for having before or after a workout. It gives you the energy to both complete a workout and recover from it without raising carb or fat content.
Approximate cost per serving (2.3lb tub)—($1.07)
Best Powders For Weight Loss
There are some who may be looking at protein powders specifically for weight loss as opposed to straight muscle gain. Studies have shown that specific protein powders, while not as numerous as muscle building, are designed specifically as weight loss supplements.
In the case of weight loss, you are probably going to spend less time exercising than you are substituting Whey protein into your diet. This is because Whey protein increases metabolism in the body, burning calories faster and resulting in a slimmer appearance as opposed to bulk.
Here are our recommendations for the best weight loss focused protein powders:
BPI Sports’ appropriately named “Best Protein” may seem like an odd choice to be placed in the weight loss category. However, the reason that Best Protein fits in this category is actually pretty simple. The servings it provides in a 2lb tub (24) are designed to help you burn fat and energy during your exercises. Like many of the other muscle building powders we’ve discussed, Best Protein can substitute for a meal or help you meet your overall protein and dietary needs during the day.
What makes Best Protein such a game changer when it comes to weight loss? As with all powders, the trick is going to be how you use it. Best Protein has a low carb and fat content (this will come with any product), which means it has more of the rapidly digesting protein. If you decide to use Best Protein in order to lose weight, it would be ideal to use as a meal replacement so you can burn fat faster while still putting on muscle.
Approximate cost per serving (2lb tub)—($1.14)
Best Powders According To Types Of Protein
Whey based protein is perhaps the most popular powder on the market as well as the cheapest. Whey as a substance is a byproduct in the manufacturing of cheese. Globular proteins are then isolated from Whey itself. There are two subdivisions of Whey protein—Concentrate and Isolate—which adhere to different people with different bodily desires and requirements.
Whey Concentrate is the most popular of the protein powders, primarily because of its high protein/low-fat concentration. Apart from being cheapest among the subdivisions, it also comes packed with carbohydrates for quick energy consumption.
Like Gold Standard, it was hard to find bad things to say about MyProtein’s Impact Whey. With a whopping 40 servings in a 2lb bag, it’s understandable while this powder would appeal to a gym and bodybuilding enthusiast more than anything. Many users have also raved about Impact’s various tastes, which can be a bit of a gamble regardless of what powder you choose to invest in.
Each serving yields about 21g of protein and with 40 servings in total. Compared to other market brands, the grams per serving isn’t too bad in terms of yield but 40 servings in total will last you a long time before you have to purchase another bag. With a low fat and carbohydrate content and an 80% protein concentration, its difficult to go wrong with Impact Whey.
Approximate cost per serving (2lb bag)—($.64)
With Opportuniteas, you can get the same amount of protein per scoop as you would with most other Whey powders—about 24g. However, if you look at the nutrition label on a 1lb bag, the difference between Opportuniteas and other Whey powders is astounding. An astounding 54% of the ingredients are proteins in varying degrees.
Opportuniteas is described as “grass-fed” which means it is processed milk from cows that eat grass chemical and hormone free. If you’re sticky about where your foods and powders come from, then Opportuniteas might be the powder for you at a little higher cost.
A problem you might encounter with Opportuniteas is that only a total of 15 servings come in a 1lb bag, far lower than other Whey powders that come in 2lb tubs or larger. Another problem that some, but not all, will encounter with Opportuniteas is that it is completely unflavored. There are some other flavors but the costs will vary due to different processing requirements.
Approximate cost per serving (1lb bag)—($1.50)
We saw how Whey is a byproduct. In order to build Whey isolates, they are processed to remove fat and lactose, leaving the remaining substance a majority of protein. Because of the cost of further processing and a majority of it being protein, Whey isolates are going to be more pricey than Whey concentrate. However, it will be perfect for someone looking to control their carbohydrate intake.
You’re going to see this protein powder plastered across the internet and at the top of everyone’s list, but why? Gold Standard is usually ranked high because of its high concentration of Whey Isolates (the most protein). Whey Isolates have the highest percentage of protein per serving among the current powders.
Since Gold Standard is a Whey protein, it is not marketed as ideal for those who are lactose intolerant or any similar dairy inconsistencies. It is important to consult a dietitian or nutritionist if you have any of these problems before purchasing Whey protein. By no means is Gold Standard “average”, but it does happen to have some of the best overall stats of any of the powders, which is why it’s very highly reviewed across the board. The fact that it is a Whey Isolate also helps those looking for even the tiniest bit of protein increase over another brand.
Gold Standards’ servings also contain the naturally occurring, branched chain amino acids (BCAA) leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The muscle building powder MuscleTech also contains some of these amino acids, but what’s so special about them? Humans need amino acids to survive and live a healthy life, and Gold Standard does the amazing job of providing ample supplies of three of the nine acids for you.
At the smallest level, these amino acids help in the synthesis of protein, transporting it to different parts of your body, and producing energy.
Approximate cost per serving (2lb tub)-($1.03)
If you’re looking to buy Cheetos or nacho flavored Doritos, make sure you don’t pick up NOW Sports Whey Protein Isolate on accident! Aside from its noticeable color differential from other powders, NOW Protein is a very simple powder with one of the lowest total fat contents on the market depending on what size tub you get.
NOW Protein is one of the more expensive brands on our list, not the least of which because of its high-quality standard. It’s difficult to trust a powder you don’t even know is working until you see results over time. A 2lb tub will yield you about 26 servings but in each serving is around 28g of protein. Compared to the various other powders, NOW Sports has one of the highest protein per serving contents here.
A low-fat content and high protein per serving statistic are sure to attract more and more customers. A high price count can be a little off-putting at first, so that’s why we recommend NOW Sports only if you have deeper pockets than normal. However, if this isn’t a problem for you, then the 28g per scoop is sure to give you results.
Approximate cost per serving (1.8lb tub)-($1.47)
Six Star is a notable brand for its cross between affordability and protein concentration. A 2lb tub doesn’t produce the most amount of servings but for the price its right at the equilibrium. In each serving, you’ll be consuming about 30g of protein, which is a lot more than the other 2lb tub’s we’ve looked at so far. Though the serving count isn’t the greatest, what comes in the powder is the real kick—whey isolate, concentrate, and hydrolyzed whey. The three main categories of whey are all included in a single serving of Six Star and for the price, it’s almost unbeatable.
Glutamine and Creatine are two amino acids that are added to Six Star’s impressive benefit list. It is worth noting that including these two amino acids add to the percentage of purity among in the protein count. It seems self-explanatory but the higher percentage of protein, the better.
Approximate cost per serving (2lb tub)-($1.00)
Whey has lactose! It should be carefully avoided by those who are lactose intolerant. One of the biggest questions you’re going to ask yourself is this: how much dairy (w/lactose) can I consume before it gets uncomfortable? If you cannot consume lactose whatsoever, you may have to do some deeper digging to find a brand that completely dilutes lactose from their product. The following products have eliminated lactose almost completely from their ingredients. For those with a higher tolerance for lactose, these powders will be more favorable than the ones above and below not only for comfort and health but the muscle building and weight loss benefits that come with them.
Keep in mind that further processing to try and eliminate lactose will raise the price more so than other powders, similar to the process done with Whey Isolates. Here are some protein powders that are favorable to people with intolerances:
BiPro sets itself apart from most powder brands not just for being a Whey Isolate and mostly lactose-free. BiPro is a National Science Foundation (NSF) certified brand for athletes. This means that the NSF has tested BiPro’s ingredients for performance enhancing substances and ingredients that might appear in other brands. This is a huge factor if you’re training to be a professional athlete or getting ready for a competition. If drug testing is going to be involved, you will want to make sure that you aren’t violating any rules even before the competition starts.
Approximate cost per serving (2lb tub)—($1.10)
While Orgain would fit very nicely below in our vegan section, we couldn’t pass the opportunity to place it here. Orgain is plant based and contains no dairy products whatsoever. Although, because it is plant based, you probably won’t get a full chocolatey or vanilla taste as the tubs advertise. If you can get past the taste, then you can see how a 2lb tub of Orgain can benefit you greatly if you are lactose intolerant in any way. Not only that, but the organic, plant based protein that gives Orgain its punch is USDA certified, so you can be sure that you’re getting your money’s worth.
Compared to other Whey products, Orgain surprisingly has one of the cheaper price outlooks on the market. While it doesn’t have the most protein per serving (21g), it does come with additional benefits of being gluten and GMO-free. You can see now why this powder would be popular in the Vegan section as well.
Approximate cost per serving (2lb tub)—($1.27)
Bulksupplements is another plant based protein powder and an alternative to Whey. Unlike Orgain however, Bulksupplements is soy based, which provides the user with a good supply of glutamine and arginine, amino acids that are extremely helpful to the metabolic processes and muscle growth. Bulksupplemetns will be favorable to those with lactose problems for the same reasons that Orgain is favorable-both are plant based and neither has dairy products.
Being dairy free is good and all, but what about its other amenities? With a wild 90% protein concentration, it’s easy to see why this powder would be so popular. Most reviewers have complimented Bulksupplements on its easy mixture. Since you won’t be using milk, you will want to pay extra attention to make sure your mixture has spread out accordingly.
Approximate cost per serving (2lb bag)—($.02/gram)
Best Casein Powders
As you can see, there isn’t just one single type of protein. Some proteins will be preferable to people with different complications, requirements, and desires. When you’re trying to bulk up, the thought process is consuming as much protein based foods or supplements in a healthy but consistent time span. However, when you sleep, (we hope you get 7-8 hours on average), you’re not eating or drinking anything. This is where Casein protein comes in.
Casein protein, unlike Whey in all its forms, is digested slowly and over time. This is why you’ll notice that when people purchase Casein protein powders, they will usually consume them before they hit the sack for a long rest. Again, the key is patience. Your muscles won’t bulge while you’re sleeping, so you have to remain consistent and faithful to your commitment.
Your metabolism slows while you sleep. Consuming Casein protein right before settling down has shown to increase your metabolism while you sleep and keep your stomach full in the process. This does not mean you can get away with not exercising, however, because your body can only so much without expending the energy in your muscles.
Here are our choices for the best Casein based protein powders:
Optimum Nutrition once again tops our list for best protein but this time for the Casein category. Gold Standard features another, Casein focused product specifically for when you sleep.
Since it is not a well known or advertised product like the normal Whey protein powders, Gold Standard Casein features a lower price than normal which will definitely be appealing to those looking for the bargain deal. Casein alone won’t help you bulk up like the normal Whey proteins do but they definitely contribute to the metabolic process when your body needs it the most—after a workout or right before sleep when your muscles are in need of a recharge.
Gold Standard Casein also includes 5 grams of BCAA’s and amino acids vital to the production and transport of protein in the muscles. Take this as an added bonus courtesy of Optimum Nutrition!
Approximate cost per serving (2lb tub)—($.96)
Muscle Pharm also makes an appearance for the best powder’s list. When looking for a good Casein powder, you’re essentially looking for the same ingredients and benefits you would look for in a normal Whey powder. Each serving will give you about 28g of Micellar Casein (scientific name).
User reviews on Muscle Pharm are mixed due to preferences on taste and mixability, but the key with Muscle Pharm is that it only has 1g of sugar and 0g of fat. That’s right, you’ll be getting all the benefits of Casein while you sleep and you won’t have to worry about stacking up on the sugar and fat content. That shouldn’t give you an excuse to stop exercising!
Approximate cost per serving (2lb tub)—($1.07)
Best Vegan Powders
For those who are cutting meat out of their diets, there are plant-based and vegan powders that will suit your needs. These are a little different than the Whey based proteins since most of the protein you consume will come from plants. However, vegan based powders have shown to be just as nutritious and beneficial to one’s health as Whey powders. You’ll mainly find vegan powders among people looking to obtain a healthier diet as opposed to muscle building, but not always.
Here are our recommendations for the best vegan based protein powders:
As with most plant-based and vegan powders, Vega Sport protein features a high protein per serving count in exchange for a low serving number. Vega Sport leans more on the recovery side of protein powders because of the vast amount of amino acids, with 13/15 of the essential acids being included in each serving. The total amount of nutrients and protein in a 2lb tub is staggering when compared to Whey and Casein powders, which is probably why the price is a little steep.
Depending on the size of tub you get, you will get a small but noticeable total fat content. With a low serving count but if you’re using the powder correctly and not over packing your shake, then you’ll be able to get the most out of the 30g of protein that comes with each serving.
Approximate cost per serving (2lb tub)—($1.47)
Other supplements that fit the Vegan niche: Orgain Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder
Best Tasting Powders
You’ve may have also seen your friends scrunch their faces, or listened to their horror stories of describing the taste of some of these protein powders. It’s true, some of these powders simply are not designed to taste good but are nonetheless nutritious in value. It’s part of the cost one must also deal with if they plan on just mixing the powder itself. It is also important to not give up protein concentration in favor of a better tasting brand.
Some brands have engineered powder to adhere directly to those whose may be little more inclined to something better tasting than straight nothingness. It’s a personal preference but in the end, most powders, when mixed properly or with added ingredients (fruits, veggies, etc.) will end up tasting better anyway.
The brands listed below have all been reviewed in different categories above. Here are their best tasting flavors:
BSN Syntha-6 Edge (CHOCOLATE MILKSHAKE)
BPI Best Protein (SNICKERDOODLE)
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard (DOUBLE RICH CHOCOLATE)
Comparing and Contrasting Powders
Carbohydrates are compounds that also produce energy for the body. However, they are quickly broken down by the body into their vital, energy giving components for use immediately. Protein, in general, takes longer to digest and synthesize than carbohydrates.
- A powder with a high carb content is most likely going to be consumed before or during a workout in order to increase the efficiency of your muscles.
- A powder with a low carb content is probably going to be consumed after a workout, as it will most likely contain the nutrients to rebuild and replenish energy/muscles over time.
Whenever you eat a food high in carbs, you might feel replenished, but only for a short time. It’s important to consider which powders are designed for long-term digestion. Casein digests while you sleep and provides nutrients that might otherwise be lost or diminished during your period of inactivity.
We’ve expanded upon a number of different powders with different origins and ingredients, but in the end, it comes down to how much of the powder is actually going to be the protein that helps you build up or slim down. The powders that are more expensive are going to have a higher protein concentration than your average brand. It will depend on how deep your pocket is, but any one of these powders is going to help you with your goals, there will just have to be some variables to consider.
- A higher concentration of protein will have a lower carb and fat content. An average protein concentration will usually have a higher carb and fat content but not by much.
- A lower concentration of protein will have a slightly higher carb and fat content. You usually don’t see this with powders as they all try and keep carb and fat to a minimum.
Keep in mind that there is nothing horribly wrong with consuming a small to average amount of carbs and fat with your powder. Despite the media treating fat and carbs like the ultimate evil, they are energy stores and suppliers for your body respectively.
Fiber is a molecule that, like carbohydrates, give you energy. However, they are not digestible as proteins and other carbs are. When we talk about fiber, we usually talk about what the benefits of a healthy diet can do for you. It is important to have a diet, regardless of whether you utilize protein powders or not, that has a good fiber content (available on most nutrition labels as “Dietary Fiber”).
- Insoluable fiber passes more quickly through your digestive system and helps prevent constipation and other digestive issues
- Soluable fiber is more readily absorbed by the body and provides health benefits such as regulating blood sugar and cholesterol.
This is all fancy language, but the basis of fiber content is that it, like protein, is needed by the body to live a more disease-ridden life that might come with a poor diet. A poor diet lowers the body’sies natural defenses and leaves it susceptible to illnesses it might otherwise repel if it were healthy.
A low-fat content is what every brand of protein powder strives for. Like we mentioned about protein concentration, fat content is nothing to be ashamed of but is important to keep at a minimum if possible. A gram may seem little compared to the twenty or thirty grams of protein you’ll be consuming but it can hamper your progress if you’re careless. Keeping the fat content to a minimum of 5g regardless of the type of protein you’re considering is a wise idea.
Checking for protein powder is actually easier than it sounds and it involves the nutrition labels. The percentage of protein and the number of grams per serving of protein will give you a good idea of what you’ll be consuming each time you take a serving of a particular powder.
Put that up against the percentage or total number of carbs and fat and you’ll see what the purity is of each serving.
- A powder with a low percentage of protein and a fat or carb content that exceeds 5g will probably not be ideal.