If you're trying to level up your health and fitness this summer, adding more protein to your diet is an essential way to build lean muscle. Supplementing your diet with a protein powder could help you get closer to achieving your health goals.
There's a lot of information (sadly a lot of misinformation, too) on protein powder, not to mention thousands of protein powders from which to choose. Deciphering it all can feel like a workout in and of itself.
We're here to help. We did a deep dive into all things protein powder. With our experts in tow, we're separating protein powder fact from fiction, and we're giving you our picks on which ones to buy.
The best rated protein powders on Amazon:
Best whey protein powder: ON Gold Standard Whey Protein Powder (2 lb.), $37 (reduced from $45)$37 at Amazon
Best plant-based protein powder: Orgain Organic Vegan Protein Powder (2 lb.), $27$27 at Amazon
"Most people get the protein they need from food," Hillary Ake, a sports dietician who works with professional athletes, told us. "However, when you exercise, the working muscles go into protein breakdown mode, and sometimes even muscle breakdown and muscle damage, depending on the type of exercise.
"Replenishing protein after a workout can push the body back into muscle protein building mode, to help repair muscle damage and build muscle."
A 2018 study from the British Journal of Medicine shows that dietary protein supplementation (up to a maximum 0.73 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day) significantly increased strength and muscle size in adults, especially those who participate in resistance training.
Alex Larson, a registered dietician nutritionist who works with endurance athletes, further explained the effectiveness of protein powders stating, "It depends on what purpose you're wanting the protein powder to serve," she said. "The research has shown eating protein, in combination with carbohydrates, after a workout is a great way to build and recover muscle. Protein powders are also a useful way for individuals needing to gain weight who struggle to eat larger volumes of food. While I always recommend getting protein from food first, protein powders can be a convenient source."
How to choose a protein powder
Larson suggests the first thing to look for in a protein powder is third-party testing, which "assures that what's listed on the package is actually what's in the product." Sound advice, but it's also important to understand the different types of protein powder. (The FDA doesn't currently regulate protein powders, which makes getting the right information even more important.)
There are two kinds of protein powders. Whey protein powders such as Optimum Nutrition's Gold Standard are derived from milk, while vegan options such as Orgain are derived from vegetarian sources such as peas, soy or hemp. While whey proteins are the most common, vegan options are effective (though usually require higher doses).
There are two kinds of whey proteins, whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate. Experts generally recommend a whey protein isolate powder, which is strained in a way that yields a higher percentage of protein and a lower percentage of lactose than a protein concentrate.
Athletes and exercise enthusiasts may opt for a protein powder with added carbohydrate. Ake suggests those looking for a protein powder with an added carbohydrate air for a "4:1 or 3:1 carb to protein ratio depending on your activity," while also stating endurance athletes will require more carbohydrates to replenish their body.
How much protein powder should I take?
When it comes to protein powder intake, the more active you are, the more protein you need. The average athlete should take between "1.2 - 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram body weight (0.5 - 0.9 grams per pound)," Larson says, while a sedentary adult should take 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (0.36 grams per pound).
While protein powders are generally considered safe, Larson suggests anyone with kidney-related issues consult a doctor before using any protein powders.
Shop the best protein powders on Amazon
When it comes to choosing a protein powder, we looked for reviewer feedback on taste, the protein source and other ingredients. We considered price per serving and looked for industry leaders whose product earns at least four stars out of five.
ON Gold Standard Whey Protein Powder
Taste was a big winner with the 4.6-star rated ON Gold Standard Whey Protein Powder. Delivering 24 grams of pure protein per serving, 5.5 grams of BCAAs and 11 grams of EAAs (Essential Amino Acids), Optimum Nutrition's Gold Standard is an anytime formula good, which can be taken before or after or a workout, or anytime you need extra protein.
One reviewer after the next lauded the taste of this 4.7-star-rated protein powder, including a self-proclaimed picky eater who "LOVED IT!" (All caps in a review? We're listening.) It's also a taste-tested favorite of CBS Sports writer Fox Van Allen, who recommends mixing it with lactose-free 2% milk instead of water for added protein after a workout.$37 at Amazon
Cellucor Whey Sport Protein Powder
Taste also won big here with reviewers stating It both "tastes" and mixes well. This glutlen-free combination powder is formulated with a whey protein concentrate and a whey protein isolate blend.
A well-tested product, Cellulor's whey protein powder is NSF Certified for Sports, "an an independent certification program recognized by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and the Canadian Football League."$29 at Amazon
Now Sports Nutrition Whey Protein Isolate
Now Sports is a consistent industry leader. We like this NPA A-rated GMP product because it doesn't contain soy and is relatively clean of other indredients. This Certified Organic whey powder is produced without the use of synthetic growth hormones (rBGH), antibiotics or pesticides.
This powder does contain BCAAs (branched chain amino acids), which are attractive to athletes because they are metabolized into skeletal muscle, though studies show BCAA effect on muscle recovery are negligible.
As for taste and clumping, Amazon customers gave this powder 4.4 stars, its ability to dissolve without clumping a highlight. It offers 25 grams of protein per serving.$40 at Amazon
Orgain Organic Vegan Protein Powder
An industry leader and Amazon best-seller, Orgain's Organic Plant Based Protein Powder delivers 21 grams (per serving) of organic, plant-based protein derived from pea, brown rice and chia seeds. Each serving delivers two grams of dietary fiber with zero grams of added sugar and 150 calories per serving.
USDA organic certified, this powder is also vegan, kosher, lactose and soy free. A 4.5-star rated protein powder, loyal buyers stated this powder "is a great product, deserves 5 stars."$27 at Amazon
Now Sports Pea Protein Powder (Unflavored)
Consisting of pure pea protein, Now Sports vegan protein powder is a non-GMO vegetable protein isolate that delivers 24 grams of (promised) easily-digestible protein. That's good news for those who find protein powders hard to digest. One scoop contains 24 grams of protein and typically contains over 4,200 mg of BCAA.
This powder's NPA A-rated GMP certification guarantees that every aspect of the brand's manufacturing and testing methods have been examined.
While taste on vegan powders scores lower than the taste of whey powders, users who wanted a vegan option liked that this powder was a "great source of low-calorie" protein. Zero added sugars scored big with buyers.$24 at Amazon
Gold Standard Plant Based Protein Powder
This vegan protein powder by Optimum Nutrition is made from a combination of pea, rice and fava bean protein. Made with nine essential amino acid/BCAAs, this powder contains zero sugar and is gluten-free. There's 24 grams of protein per serving.
Reviews gave this powder 4.0 out of 5 stars, with one stating "the taste and the texture are exceptional."$42 at Amazon
Shop more vegan protein powders on Amazon
- Vegan protein + organic superfoods: Ka'Chava Meal Replacement Shake, $90 (reduced from $125)
- Top-rated flavor and consistency: Vega Original Vanilla Protein, $29
- Features organic superfoods: Orgain Organic Vegan Protein Powder, $22 at checkout (reduced from $28)