These protein supplements will enhance growth and recovery so you maximize training and performance.
Protein plays a vital role in maintaining, growing and repairing body tissue. Whey protein powder can be used as an emergency energy source and are also essential for the production of a number of key hormones which promote growth and maturation from a protein powder.
Considering the indispensable role that it plays, we must recognize the importance of consuming an adequate serving of protein every day for muscle growth and weight loss and two types of whey protein can help. Failing to do so can result in the development of chronic diseases and ailments such as muscle wastage, anemia (low blood iron), decreased immunity and fatigue and vitamins and minerals and branch chain amino acids can help you lose weight and aid in muscle recovery from a protein supplement.
To allow you to select a whey protein powder or protein blend that fits your goals, our team have tried and tested a vast number of premium protein powders. Furthermore, the article will also break down the science behind muscle building and help you understand why whey protein concentrate and isolate supplementation is so effective for the best protein powders.
The 8 Best Protein Supplements on the Market
When selecting a whey protein powder, it is important to study the ingredients closely as many protein powders that appear to be of good quality often contain fillers and bulking agents which have no purpose other than increasing the quantity of the two types of whey protein, being whey protein concentrate and isolate powder, or a protein blend. A good quality powder will be high in protein and low in filler ingredients, calories, and sugars. Additionally, from a practical viewpoint, you want a shake that performs well in terms of taste, price, digestibility, and mixability for the best protein powders.
As stated, there are so many options for a whey protein powder available in whey protein concentrate or isolate that it can become convoluted, as well as plant based protein which can provide for the best vegan protein powder benefits. To allow you to pick the powder that matches your goal, we have reviewed 8 of the best supplements on the market.
- Best Protein Powder Overall: Performance Lab SPORT Protein
- Best Organic Grass-Fed Whey Protein: Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate
- Best Vegan Whey Alternative: National Bodybuilding Co. Full Prep Vegan
- Best Fat Free Protein: NutraBio Whey Protein Isolate
- Best For Recovery Protein: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey
- Best For Strength Building: Staunch Whey Isolate
- Best Whey For Meal Replacement: Ample Meal Replacement
- Best Whey For Weight Gain: Transparent Labs Protein Mass Gainer
Best Protein Powder Overall: Performance Lab SPORT Protein
When we saw that Performance Lab had used Oryzatein® in their protein powder, we were impressed enough to check it out. And we liked what we saw out of this brown rice protein. We found that it was much cleaner than other protein powders out there. Naturally flavoured with organic cocoa, vanilla bean and ceylon cinnamon – this is the best tasting protein powder many customers have tried. Being a brown-rice protein powder, anyone can use it for growth and weight loss for this powder contains great ingredients.
Regardless of whether you’re dairy intolerant, vegan, allergic to soy or gluten…Because Performance Lab Protein contains no allergens at all. Supplying 20g protein (and only 100 calories) per serving, Performance Lab Protein can be easily included in your diet at all times – whether you’re cutting or bulking.
Pros: This is a good, clean formula that is organic and vegan friendly. The chocolate flavor tastes amazing and the product includes Bacillus Coagulans, a beneficial probiotic. As a much cleaner protein, this supplement is a good choice for weight loss and has essential amino acids per serving.
Cons: It only uses a single source protein and chocolate is the only flavor available. Although it has good benefits, for the price, there are others like it that include more per serving.
Check out our individual review for Performance Lap SPORT Pre here!
Best Organic Grass-Fed Whey Protein: Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate
Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey boasts an impressive array of eco-friendly accomplishments. It’s organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free. There are no artificial sweeteners — a rarity in a world full of whey protein powder, which are almost always filled with chemical flavorings to disguise the chalkiness of protein. There are also no artificial colorings or preservatives added. If you have a sensitive stomach, allergies, or just care about the environment, this is an excellent choice for you and your body weight goals and is easy to digest compared to a whey concentrate.
Pros: Transparent Labs has made a solid whey protein powder with no artificial ingredients and a transparent label. Being third party tested, this allows consumers to trust that the product is suitable for use. It is organic and non-GMO and is solid for those who tend to be sensitive to certain protein supplements and contains essential amino acids with right amount of protein per scoop per serving.
Cons: It is slightly high in carbs and cholesterol and despite lactose, their are no digestive enzymes. While the company is transparent, the price is fairly expensive compared to other protein products out there.
Check out our individual review for Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate here!
Best Vegan Whey Alternative: National Bodybuilding Co. Full Prep Vegan
National Bodybuilding Co. Full Prep Vegan Protein is designed to help bodybuilders progress faster in the gym and with their vegan goals. A 100% natural and organic plant-based protein, this works to increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis, optimize nutrient utilization, boost metabolic efficiency, and enhance athletic recovery. Using organic rice and pea protein, this supplement does not produce inflammation and is more bioavailable than dairy. With 117 calories and 20.5 grams of protein, this powder will work for your overall protein benefit as it helps you adopt a healthy lifestyle while building muscle and providing amino acids from a protein shake.
Pros: This protein is 100% organic and naturally flavored with stevia while being lows in calories. Designed for cleaner and faster absorption ensures all of those nutrients hit you effectively, like branched chain amino acids. Manufactured to FDA standards and produced by a rising and reputable company that seeks the gold standard in vegan protein powder for your goals and fitness needs to help you lose weight and keep muscle while being easy to digest.
Cons: Only 20 servings per container is low and you can only get it from their website directly. Chocolate is the only flavor unlike other types of protein and plant based powder.
Check out our individual review for National Bodybuilding Co. Full Prep here!
Best Fat Free Protein: NutraBio Whey Protein Isolate
This 100% whey protein isolate is the ultimate powder to provide fast acting support, repair, and recovery while also working to promote muscle protein synthesis, encourage optimal nitrogen retention, and really enhance muscle growth so you see those huge gains come to life. A 100% transparent label ensures no banned fillers or additives ruin this product and honestly shows no soy, lactose, gluten, or hormones are in this protein.
Packed with 25g of protein, this supplement contains 0g fat, 1g carbs, and sits at just 100 calories, conducive for any diet. This protein isolate is gram for gram the purest form of protein available and you won’t find any banned substances to harm you. A full profile of only the best ingredients, this clean, honest, and fast digesting protein is perfect for your gains.
Pros: Great tasting and fast acting to support recovery and repair. A 100% transparent label comes with great ingredients like 5g BCAAs and 4g Glutamine. From a reputable and trusted company in NutraBio.
Cons: Some flavors do contain sucralose and acesulfame potassium. But they do offer a Grass Fed Isolate option that uses only natural sweeteners for those who prefer.
Check out our individual review for NutraBio Whey Protein Isolate here!
Best For Recovery Protein: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey
Optimum Nutrition has long been established as one of the most reliable and affordable manufacturers of high quality fitness supplements, including protein powder. Their Gold Standard Whey is a powerful combination of whey protein and isolate that provides 24 grams of protein is ideal for promoting and maintaining muscle growth.
Since the FDA does not regulate the supplement industry or require that companies accurately report their ingredients, it can be difficult to find a brand that actually delivers on their promises. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100 Whey is best overall on this list because of their commitment to producing high quality, effective protein power: they perform daily quality assurance tests on all of their products and all of them are NSF-certified pure, so you never have to worry.
Pros: Optimum Nutrition has made a product that contains three kinds of whey that mixes well. This is an effective protein powder that contains enzymes to aid in digestion and for the price, this protein is one choice to buy for your health and wellness from a complete protein per serving.
Cons: It does contain artificial sweeteners, as well as lecithin and soy, which many others on the market do not have for flavors and taste. While it is tested for quality assurance, the label could be a little more descriptive for consumers with dietary restrictions for protein sources and protein needs.
Check out our individual review for Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey here!
Best For Strength Building: Staunch Whey Isolate
Staunch Whey Isolate is a high quality protein blend made from 100% pure whey protein isolate. On top of that, digestive enzymes are added to help the body break down and utilize protein more effectively to nourish muscles and provide for much better recovery. With five great flavors at an affordable price, you get 24 grams of protein, 1 gram of carbs, 0 grams of fat, with only a 100 calorie protein supplement.
Their pure whey is made with low temperature cross flow microfiltration and is a 100% chemical free and natural process. As a result, fat and lactose are removed while the structure of this protein still remains intact. This provides for a clean taste and easy to mix powder to add to any beverage you desire.
Pros: Flavors are great and it is pumped with amazing ingredients. Easy on the digestive track and still able to contain 24 grams of protein. From a company who knows fitness and bodybuilding and seeks the best for their consumers.
Cons: Texture tends to be a little chalky and the amount per container is small for the price. It also contains artificial flavors.
Check out our individual review for Staunch Whey Isolate here!
Best Whey For Meal Replacement: Ample Meal Replacement
Ample is a complete low-carb meal replacement shake made from real-food ingredients. It is the optimal breakfast or lunch replacement to help you feel full and focused for up to 4 hours. Made up of 20+ superfoods, this product includes premium fats, proteins, fibers, antioxidants, electrolytes, and probiotics. A gluten, soy, and BPA free product, it also contains no artificial sweeteners, flavors, or sugar alcohols to ruin a great product.
With the option of 400 calories or 600 calories per bottle, the macro nutrient ratio of the 400 calorie bottle looks like 25g fat, 21g carbs, 25g protein, with just 4g sugars. A complete meal, this supports muscle growth and maintenance, increases focus, promotes solid digestion and gut health, and will keep you full for an extended period of time.
Pros: A good balance of macronutrients and no artificial ingredients is a huge plus. Good probiotic bacteria for gut health and good choices for ingredients to give you what you need.
Cons: Lacks some vitamins and minerals we would like to see and no mention of omega-3’s is disappointing. It is also a fairly expensive product.
Price: $90.00 for 12 meals (400 calorie option) OR $108.00 for 12 meals (600 calorie option)
Check out our individual review for Ample Meal Replacement here!
Best Whey For Weight Gain: Transparent Labs Protein Mass Gainer
ProteinSeries Mass Gainer is loaded with everything you need to enhance lean muscle growth to safely and efficiently pack on muscle and healthy weight. This supplement is great for the perfect meal replacement, or a great weight gainer protein supplement to pair with a workout. The pure formulas included with this supplement provide amazing benefits for not only growth, but your overall health and wellness.
Mass Gainer offers 53 grams of protein per serving, which is derived from 100% Grass-Fed Whey Concentrate. At 750 calories for two scoops, you get 12 grams of fat and 109 grams of clean and natural carbs derived from organic tapioca, oat, and sweet potato sources. With no artificial sweeteners, food dyes, or harmful additives, you know exactly what you are getting with this mass gainer to ensure high-quality and healthy muscle growth.
Pros: Great for lean muscle growth and perfect for a meal replacement or paired with a protein supplement. Great ingredients and no artificial additives for a transparent label. From a reputable company in Transparent Labs.
Cons: A premium priced option only available directly through their site.
Check out our individual review for Transparent Labs Mass Gainer here!
What Are The Benefits of Whey Protein Powder
Taking whey protein powder, either as whey protein concentrate or isolate, can have a number of powerful effects on the body. Whey protein powder is highly accessible, affordable and is a useful tool for promoting a high-protein diet.
Whey protein has been studied rigorously and has been found to promote muscle growth, facilitate recovery, and may assist in fat loss by increasing satiety.
Benefits: Protein Synthesis
If you are involved in regular training, there should be an even greater emphasis on ingesting ample protein. During physical training, the muscles are exposed to a great deal of mechanical load which causes small muscle fiber tears. To allow the tears to be repaired and for an efficient muscle rebuild, a process known as muscle protein synthesis (MPS) must occur with the help of essential amino acids along with fat and carbs.
To optimize MPS, a high amount of protein is required. Failing to consume enough will hinder MPS thus potentially stunting recovery and leading to restricted movement, prolonged soreness, and muscular weakness. On the other hand, hitting your daily protein target will facilitate efficient recovery and cause these tears to be repaired rapidly and protein powder can really help. As a result of this process, the muscles fibers will increase in size and strength.
The research is clear, protein supplementation is an effective method of increasing one’s daily protein intake, enhancing MPS and therefore contributes to an increase in muscular strength and size (1). Based on this research, a number of health and fitness businesses have created protein powders. Protein shakes are undoubtedly quick, easy and effective but due to the vast number of products available, it can often be confusing and challenging to pick the right supplement for your needs and goals.
Protein Dosage Recommendations for Optimizing MPS
The amount of protein one should consume daily depends on their physical characteristics and goals. The recommendation for an adult is to consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (2). However, if you are aiming to build significant muscle mass, it may be necessary to consume more – the recommendation is between 1.0 – 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. The purpose of this, as mentioned previously, is to advance the rate of MPS and therefore a protein powder can assist with.
The Difference Between Whey Isolate and Concentrate
Furthermore, you may come across terms such as whey “isolate” and “concentrate”. These terms simply refer to a specific stage in the processing of protein. In order to create protein powders, milk is heated to separate curds and whey. The whey protein concentrate is simply whey in its truest form. To create the isolate form, the whey must then be heavily filtered. This is done for one of two sole purposes – to increase the protein percentage of the powder and also lower the carbohydrate and fat content, as well as increasing branch chain amino acids.
Whether you go for whey concentrate or isolate protein powder, it appears to makes very little difference – both are effective. However, if you are looking to maintain muscle size while dropping body fat, whey isolate is one superb option as it has a higher protein content than and is lower in carbs and calories than concentrate. Additionally, if you are lactose intolerant, isolate may be digested more efficiently than concentrate for a post workout (3).
Whey and Casein’s Impact on Muscle Growth
There are different types of protein powder that can be purchased and the two most common types are whey and casein, both of which are animal proteins. In simple terms, whey is a fast digesting protein which causes rapid protein synthesis whereas casein is a slow digesting protein which maintains steady protein synthesis (4). The general understanding is that whey is one of the most effective reasons for building muscle whereas casein is most useful for maintaining muscle size.
Plant and Animal Proteins Impact Muscle Building
There are a number of plant-based protein powders available which are excellent choices for vegans and vegetarians however, be aware that they may not have as profound an impact on muscle building as animal proteins. This is because plant products have a smaller range of amino acids (the “building blocks” of protein) and will, therefore, fail to maximize muscle size and recovery in the same way animal proteins do (5).
Moreover, there has been a great deal of research completed on one of the essential amino acids and one of the key branch chain amino acids known as Leucine which has been found to have a major impact on muscular growth. Whey protein naturally has a high amount of leucine with each serving whereas vegan protein tends to be much lower in leucine.
How We Decide the Best
Differentiating the differences between protein powders is an arduous task. While certain characteristics of certain powders have been highlighted, it’s important to recognize that these are not necessarily positives or negatives. Rather, it’s a case of simply highlighting methods, ingredients and processes involved in case they cause a degree of difficulty for you.
To decide which protein powders made the list, we considered a number of areas. Firstly, we considered how the powder itself was manufactured to ensure it has been tested, is safe and is a product of premium quality. Secondly, we assessed the ingredients to ensure that each shake contained a high dosage of protein – whether that be whey, casein or a blend of both. Lastly, we considered the palatability and digestibility of each product.
While these 8 products are of supreme quality, they will ultimately fail to cause changes if two other factors are not taken into account – consistent resistance training and a calorie surplus. You should not expect to see an increase in muscle mass by simply taking a protein powder. Muscle strength and size will only occur when this is combined with regular strength training and is one of the key reasons for the best whey protein powder for your post workout needs.
In addition to this, a calorie surplus is also required. This is simply where you consume more calories per day than your body requires. The additional energy is necessary to promote recovery from the stresses of strength training and consequently drive an increase in muscle mass. Only with a combination of proper training, a calorie surplus and a high-protein diet and whole foods, will you begin to see substantial change take place from a great protein source.
Generation Iron may receive commissions on purchases made through our links. See our disclosure page for more information.
- Pasiakos, Stefan M.; McLellan, Tom M.; Lieberman, Harris R. (2015-1). “The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review”. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 45 (1): 111–131. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0242-2. ISSN 1179-2035. PMID 25169440.
2. Pendick, Daniel (June 18, 2015). “How much protein do you need every day?”. Harvard Health Blog.
3. Wilborn, Colin D.; Taylor, Lem W.; Outlaw, Jordan; Williams, Laura; Campbell, Bill; Foster, Cliffa A.; Smith-Ryan, Abbie; Urbina, Stacie; Hayward, Sara (March 1, 2013). “The Effects of Pre- and Post-Exercise Whey vs. Casein Protein Consumption on Body Composition and Performance Measures in Collegiate Female Athletes”. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 12 (1): 74–79. ISSN 1303-2968. PMC PMCPMC3761774. PMID 24149728.
4. Hoffman, Jay R.; Falvo, Michael J. (September 1, 2004). “Protein – Which is Best?”. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 3 (3): 118–130. ISSN 1303-2968. PMC PMCPMC3905294 Check |pmc= value (help). PMID 24482589.
5. Australia, Healthdirect (February 19, 2019). “Vegetarian and vegan diets”. www.healthdirect.gov.au.