Find the best protein powder with our interactive protein guide
Finding the best protein powder depends on what your goals are. In general, people drink shakes for two, sometimes conflicting reasons:
1. Gain muscle (good weight gain).
2. Lose fat (good weight loss).
In an ideal world, everyone could gain plenty of muscle and lose tons of fat at the same time. In the real world, however, it’s important to concentrate on either one or the other goal. (Fitness models and professional bodybuilders, whose livelihood depends on how they look, follow a gaining-muscle cycle then a losing-fat cycle before contests.)
So concentrate on finding the most effective protein powder for ONE of these goals. We’ve made an interactive guide to help you compare the different types. If you’re a bodybuilding stud (or studette), you could read its contents and know exactly what to look for. If you’re not a fitness guru, however, we’ve included our thoughts to guide you through the selection process after the chart. The criteria are self-explanatory but know both the price and the rating for each item are based on AMAZON listings.
Click on the column headings to sort the lists. The chart below has 8 products. Here’s the FULL CHART OF 40+ POWDERS.
Number of Servings
Protein per serving
Price per Protein Gram
Main Protein Source
Calories per serving
Fat per serving
Carbs per serving
|Bob's Red Mill Isolated Soy Protein||4.6||30.92||240||5||0.03||soy||20||0||0|
|Body Fortress Whey Protein Powder||4.5||31.96||50||26||0.02||whey||140||2||7|
|Cytosport Complete Casein||3.6||29.29||29||25||0.04||casein||110||1||1|
|CytoSport Cyto Gainer Protein||4.4||41.85||36||27||0.04||whey||280||2||38|
|NOW Foods Whey Protein||4.6||59.99||81||25||0.03||whey||105||1||1|
|Now Foods Soy Protein||3.1||15.89||20||25||0.03||soy||160||1.5||9|
|Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydro Whey||4.5||50.99||40||30||0.03||whey||140||1||2|
|Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass||4||45.99||16||50||0.06||whey||1250||4||253|
Again, you can see our FULL CHART OF 40+ PRODUCTS HERE.
(A quick note: we’ve organized it with what we consider important. We haven’t included all those trendy, scientific-sounding terms—““isolate BCAA matrix 2013!”—that supplement companies throw out to trick you into thinking they have the best brand of protein powder. Really, supplements need not be so complicated. Don’t get scammed!)
SO WHY TAKE PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS AT ALL?
It’s not absolutely necessary for men and for women to drink protein shakes to live a healthy lifestyle. However, if you want to grow muscle/lose fat, you should be eating small meals. What happens if you’re only eating a small breakfast, a small lunch, and a small dinner? That’s right—you get hungry between meals and reach for that bag of chips or, worse, pig out at the next meal. Of course, you can always cook a lot of small meals, but who has the time?
Enter protein powders. You drink them with water or mix them with milk or a sports drink, and have them between meals and/or before bedtime. 3 meals + 2 or 3 shakes a day supply your muscles with proper nutrients all day and night without the added fat and cholesterol of potentially unhealthy food.
SO WHAT IS THE BEST SUPPLEMENT? WHAT ARE THE BEST INGREDIENTS?
While anything animal-based can be made into a powder, the most common and the top type of protein powder are made of either whey or casein, both of which come from milk. We could go into a 100-page analysis of both, but for practical purposes all you need to really know are a few simple facts.
Whey gets absorbed quickly into your bloodstream so it’s ideal after a workout or upon waking up in the morning or generally throughout the day. Casein, on the other hand, gets absorbed slowly so it’s ideal to take it before bedtime so your body will be replenished while you sleep.
A lot of people buy both whey and casein, but if you had to choose only one, we suggest you go with good quality whey. It’s cheaper, more practical, and, to most people, tastes better too. For general use, whey is probably the best protein powder source.
Since both of these sources come from milk, if you’re vegan, you might want to try a supplement that’s completely plant-based. The most popular ones are soy, rice, and pea. Soy is generally considered the most ideal vegan protein because it’s one of the few plant-based ones that’s complete—i.e., have all the necessary amino acids that animal-based ones (whey, casein, etc.) have.
SO, DARN IT, WHICH PROTEIN POWDER IS THE BEST?!!
Well, we assume you’re exercising with weights and some sort of cardio program (walking, running, etc.). If you aren’t, nothing below will really help you. This won’t be a list of the top ten protein powders, but more of what’s outstanding in each category.
Also, it’s important to not only look at the price of the item but also how much it costs per serving or, even more importantly, how much it costs per protein gram. A $10 product that only provides 100 grams of protein is worse than a $100 product that provides 1500 grams.
TO GAIN MUSCLE (GOOD WEIGHT GAIN):
What are the best protein shakes for increasing mass? Anything that’ll increase the number of calories you eat beyond what your body can burn. So as long as its fat content is low, any supplement that has the most calories (in the form of protein and carbohydrates) is excellent. We recommend:
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Seriously, if you want to gain muscle fast, Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass (around $45) is the ticket. Each serving has 1250 calories and 50 grams of protein, which are way more than any other supplement we know of. Fat is kept low at only 4 grams per serving and carbs are high at 253 grams, but if you’re only interested in muscle gain, those extra carb calories won’t hurt you. The product’s only downside is its price per protein gram isn’t the lowest at 6 pennies per gram. But then again you’re getting a lot of carb calories too. This is why Serious Mass is one of the top protein shakes for weight gain.
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We suggest the CytoSport Cyto Gainer(around $42) if you want to get more protein more cheaply. Sure, you’re only getting 280 calories per serving, but that’s still twice as many calories as most supplements’ servings, and you’re getting every protein gram at 4 pennies instead of 6. Each serving will also provide you with 2 grams of fat, 38 grams of carbs, and 27 grams of protein.
TO LOSE FAT (GOOD WEIGHT LOSS):
Here, your goal is to lower your caloric intake so it falls below what your body is burning. How do you lower your calories? Obviously, you lower your fat intake as much as possible, but you also lower your carb intake while leaving your protein intake high. Bodybuilders and fitness models pretty much follow the same diet when losing weight—cut down on carbs and fat and keep protein intake high.
So, clearly, the best weight loss supplements would be ones that are high in protein but low in fat and carbs. Mix with water or nonfat milk (anything without carbs and fat), and you have the perfect protein for smoothies. These are what we’d recommend:
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The Now Foods Whey (around $60) is excellent for weight loss because each serving only has 1 gram of fat and carbohydrates each, creating only 105 calories. Where do these calories come from? You guessed it—25 grams of good quality protein! And the product’s reasonably priced at only 3 pennies per protein gram.
In fact, due to its cost and extremely low fat/carb and high protein content, Now Foods Whey might also be the best protein powder for people who already are at their preferred weight.
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Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydro Whey (around $60) has the same low fat content as the Now Foods, one more gram of carbohydrate (2 grams per serving instead of 1), but 5 more protein grams, making an impressive 30 grams of protein per serving. The cost stays cheap too at only 3 pennies per protein gram.
FOR THE BUDGET-MINDED, WHAT’S THE BEST PROTEIN POWDER ON THE MARKET?
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This one’s easy. Body Fortress Whey (around $30) provides you with two 2-pound tubs (that’s 4 pounds if you flunked 1st grade math) of high-end protein. What does this mean? It means you get 50 servings for that price, and each serving gives you 26 grams of protein, making it only 2 pennies per protein gram! Its fat and carb content, while not super-low, is kept reasonable at 2 and 7 grams per serving. All in all, this Body Fortess product provides the cheapest but still great quality supplement and creates the number one protein shake for the budget-minded.
IF YOU ONLY DRINK A SHAKE RIGHT BEFORE BED:
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CytoSport Complete Casein (around $30) is a casein product since it’s slow-acting so your body, while sleeping, would get its nourishment throughout the night. And since you’ll be sleeping right after taking this, you better hope for low fat and low carbs since you don’t want to look like a sumo wrestler when you wake up (sumo wrestlers do indeed sleep right after they eat!).
So . . . each serving of the CytoSport Complete Casein gives you only 1 fat gram and 1 carb gram and a terrific 25 grams of protein. All this and you’re still only paying a very reasonable 4 pennies per protein gram. Mix it with nonfat milk or water, this is probably the best value protein powder for smoothies if you only drink at night.
WHAT PROTEIN SUPPLEMENT TO BUY IF YOU’RE A VEGAN:
The same principle applies for vegans as nonvegans. Eat a low-fat, high-carb, high-protein diet for weight gain; eat a low-fat, low-carb, high-protein diet for weight loss. Only difference is you’ll be drinking plant-based shakes instead of whey- or casein-based ones.
For a more detailed description of various vegan protein powders (pea, rice, hemp, and soy), please visit our dairy-free protein powder page. But if you’re pressed for time, here are your answers right below (both powders are derived from soy, which in our opinion is the best protein to take if you’re a vegan):
For a vegan, which is the best protein powder to gain weight? Answer: Now Soy Protein.
And for vegan weight loss, which is the best protein for smoothies? Answer: Bob’s Red Mill Soy.
A FINAL WORD:
So we hope the above information has been useful to you, and if we’re missing a favorite product, please let us know so we can update our chart (and don’t forget, the chart on this page is just a small portion of a MUCH BIGGER 40+ PRODUCT LIST HERE).
Hope you’ve found your best protein powder. Now hit those weights!