The best whey protein powders
- High-quality whey protein powders should have a taste you can tolerate, deliver maximum protein with minimal extras, and mix well in both beverages and baked goods.
- For expert consultation on the best whey protein powders, we spoke to Jeb Stuart Johnson, a Brooklyn-based strength coach, and Maryann Walsh, a registered dietitian and owner of the nutrition consulting company, Walsh Nutrition.
- Our top pick, Cellucor's Whey Protein Isolate & Concentrate Blend Powder, mixes smoothly, tastes great, and only costs three cents per gram of protein, offering a great combination of supplements and value.
- This article was medically reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City.
Protein, a macronutrient every cell in your body contains, is essential for your health. If you're an athlete, casual gym-goer, or just want to lose a few pounds, protein also helps you build and retain muscle. Taking whey protein is an effective and inexpensive way to add more of the macronutrient to your diet.
In short, whey is the liquid leftovers that come from the cheese-making process. This liquid is dried into a powder, which is then sometimes (but not always) mixed with sweeteners while keeping calories, carbohydrates, and fats to a minimum.
But not all whey proteins are created equal. While some are formulated with different additives, others pack more protein per serving or designed to keep more of the protein's natural nutrients. At the bottom of this guide, we've included insight into what whey protein is and why it's beneficial, as well as the safety precautions associated with taking whey protein and the best places to purchase it.
About our expertise
In developing this guide, we tested close to a dozen of the top protein powders available from brands like Cellucor, Optimum Nutrition, and Naked to find the best across a variety of categories.
The co-author, Andrew Gutman, is a former associate editor at Muscle & Fitness magazine, has competed in a bodybuilding show and two Strongman competitions, and has been lifting weights regularly for over a decade. He's tried dozens of different whey protein powders.
Our guide features powders that have a taste you can stomach, a high protein content, and minimal fat, carbs, and calories. Guides Editor, Les Shu, is a former research chief at Men's Fitness who oversaw the fact-checking of the magazine's nutrition and exercise articles.
Additionally, we reached out to Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, and a nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City, for additional fact-checking and insight.
Here are the best whey protein powders:
- Best whey protein powder overall: Cellucor Whey Protein Isolate & Concentrate Blend Powder
- Best sugar-free whey protein powder: Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydrowhey
- Best-tasting whey protein powder: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder
- Best additive-free protein powder: Naked Whey Protein
- Best GNC-branded whey protein powder: GNC AMP Wheybolic
- Best fat-free whey protein powder: Myprotein Impact Whey Isolate Protein
- Best digestion-friendly whey protein powder: Dymatize ISO 100 Whey Protein Powder
Updated on 11/20/2020 by Rick Stella: Updated the sections on what is whey protein powder and if consumption is safe, added the GNC AMP Wheybolic protein powder as the best GNC-branded pick, checked the availability of each recommended protein powder, and updated the prices and links where necessary.
If you're looking for a powder that mixes easily and tastes great, Cellucor Whey Protein Isolate & Concentrate Blend Powder is one of the best and most affordable options.
Pros: Great taste, affordable, mixes smoothly, 24 grams of protein per serving, excellent for baking, third-party tested
Cons: 130 mg of sodium per serving, contains artificial sweeteners
The Cellucor Whey Protein Isolate & Concentrate Blend Powder not only tastes good and has 24 grams of protein per serving, but it's also the most affordable option in our guide at 71.4 cents per serving and 3 cents per gram of protein. Each serving also only has 1.5 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbs, and 120 calories.
There are seven flavors to choose from, including whipped vanilla, molten chocolate, and cinnamon swirl. Cellucor recommends mixing two scoops with five to six ounces of your preferred beverage, but you can adjust the amount of liquid to fit your tastes. The company also suggests mixing the powder with yogurt, oatmeal, and pancakes. — James Brains, reviewed by Andrew Gutman
The Platinum Hydrowhey by Optimum Nutrition may be expensive, but it mixes well and boasts 30 grams of protein per serving with zero grams of sugar.
Pros: 30 grams of protein per serving, third-party tested, superb mixability, no sugar
Cons: Contains high-fructose corn syrup
A single serving of Optimum Nutrition's Platinum Hydrowhey yields 140 calories, 30 grams of protein, one gram of fat, 3 grams of carbs, and no sugar. It's made of hydrolyzed whey protein, which breaks down the protein into smaller pieces for better absorption and easier digestion.
You can choose from seven flavors: cookies and cream overdrive, chocolate mint, velocity vanilla, chocolate peanut butter, supercharged strawberry, turbo chocolate, and red velvet cake, which was the highest-rated flavor on Bodybuilding.com. I think that turbo chocolate tastes great, too.
Optimum Nutrition uses artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and high-fructose corn syrup (which gets counted as a sugar on food labels).
Optimum Nutrition claims you can easily mix this protein with just a spoon and I can confirm this is true. While this may not seem like a strong selling point, I've forgotten my shaker bottle at home many times and have had to mix my protein with a spoon or knife at work. When I tried this with other brands, I always got clumpy, gross-tasting shakes. — Andrew Gutman
The Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder packs 24 grams of protein into each serving and is one of the better-tasting powders according to experts and buyers.
Pros: Tastes good, relatively affordable, third-party tested
Cons: Complaints about the formula changing, contains an artificial sweetener
The Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder gets its sweetness from a little bit of sugar (1 gram per serving) and acesulfame potassium, which is an artificial sweetener also known as Ace-K.
Each serving has 120 calories, a gram of fat, three grams of carbs, and most importantly 24 grams of protein. Optimum Nutrition has also curated a number of recipes in which you can use the powder. — James Brains, reviewed by Andrew Gutman
When Naked Nutrition calls its Naked Whey Protein additive-free, it means it as this protein powder has literally just one ingredient: whey protein derived from grass-fed cows.
Pros: Contains just whey protein from grass-fed cows, low carbohydrate and fat count per serving, has 5.9 grams of BCAAs per serving
Cons: Not completely devoid of sugar (though there aren't any artificial sweeteners or flavors), hard to mix, and can sometimes be chunky
Many of Naked Nutrition's products live up to the brand's namesake of being literally naked, though perhaps none do it quite as well as its flagship protein powder, Naked Whey. Comprised of a single ingredient (whey protein from grass-fed cows), Naked Whey is a clean, additive-free product that has no artificial sweeteners, no artificial colors, and no artificial flavors.
From a protein standpoint, one serving of Naked Whey (2 scoops of powder which is roughly 30 grams) delivers 25 grams of protein, 3 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fat, 120 calories, and just 2 grams of sugar. Each serving also has 5.9 grams of a combination of the BCAAs isoleucine, leucine, and valine. BCAAs (branch chain amino acids) may help build protein in muscles and aid in recovery.
A few drawbacks (or, rather, nitpicks) would be the Naked Whey isn't the easiest to mix, and requires quite the shake in a shaker bottle to create a smooth, drinkable combination, though you're likely to still encounter a few clumps. The taste of this is also very plain and almost dairy (which makes sense, of course), but Naked does offer the protein in Chocolate, as well as Vanilla and Strawberry in its Less Naked Whey, which has a few more additives.
Naked Whey comes in either a 5 lb. tub for $90 or a smaller 1 lb. option for $22 — and Naked Nutrition even allows customers to set up recurring monthly deliveries at a discounted rate.
If an additive-free protein powder is what you seek, Naked Nutrition's Naked Whey, with just the single ingredient of whey protein, is about as simple and straightforward as it gets. — Rick Stella
GNC's AMP Wheybolic protein powder offers 40 grams of protein per two-scoop serving, as well as 6.2 grams of leucine, and works great as either a pre- or post-workout supplement.
Pros: Now comes in popular Girl Scout flavors, packs 40 grams of protein and 6.2 grams of leucine per two-scoop serving
Cons: May be too sweet for some, contains sucralose and other artificial sweeteners
The GNC name is synonymous with workout supplements, and its own branded protein are among its most popular items, specifically its GNC AMP Wheybolic powder. The brand supplied a tub of the powder in the Thin Mints flavor, which is sure to catch the attention of anyone who's a fan of Girl Scout Cookies (it also offers Girl Scout Coconut Carmel aka Samoas and Girl Scout S'mores).
Each two-scoop serving of the powder offers 40 grams of protein, 6.2 grams of leucine, 210 calories, 7 grams of net carbohydrates, and 2 grams of total sugar. The powder mixes well in water (after about 20 seconds or so of shaking) and never felt chunky or like there were leftover bits that hadn't fully mixed.
I used this protein primarily as a post-workout drink, though did also test it post-workout and on non-workout days. The Thin Mints flavor is heavy on the chocolate and mint, so if you like sweeter protein powders, this is exactly what that is. I'm not a huge sweet protein powder drinker myself, so would often choose to use this in moderation.
A single $65 tub of the powder comes with 25 two-scoop servings, which is just shy of enough for a month's worth of use — especially if you prefer to drink it on both workout and non-workout days.
Our nutrition reviewer, Samantha Cassetty, did point out a few things to be cautious of after we spoke to her during testing. First, is the inclusion of sucralose. As we've mentioned in other protein powders, sucralose is a sweetener that may upset some people's stomachs during ingestion. Cassetty pointed out that the powder also includes the artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium, has artificial flavoring, and contains carrageenan, a somewhat controversial additive that's been studied limitedly.
The Myprotein Impact Whey Isolate Protein is a great option if you want as much protein packed into each scoop as possible without extra fat, carbs, or calories.
Pros: Excellent product purity, a high concentration of bound protein, fat-free, low in sodium
Cons: Concerns about quality control, contains artificial sweetener, not third-party tested
Depending on the flavor you choose, the Myprotein Impact Whey Isolate Protein fits up to 22 grams of protein into each 25-gram serving.
It does this with little or no fat or sugar and only 90 calories per serving. The sodium content is also low at 25 mg per serving.
Labdoor independently tests dozens of whey protein powders, and the site recommended the Myprotein Impact Whey Isolate because it scored high in Labdoor's ingredient safety, nutritional value, and product purity tests. The testers found there were 21.9 grams of protein in every 25-gram serving.
There are a few complaints worth mentioning, too. Make sure you buy the whey isolate and not just the whey concentrate (If you follow our links, you should be fine). — James Brains, reviewed by Andrew Gutman
If you've found protein powders leave your stomach feeling queasy, consider the lactose-free Dymatize ISO 100 Whey Protein Powder.
Pros: Lactose-free, 91% of calories are from protein, less than a gram of sugar and fat, third-party tested
Cons: Complaints of foreign objects found in the powder, contains an artificial sweetener, 160 mg sodium per serving
The Dymatize ISO 100 Whey Protein Powder is the only lactose-free option on our list but it's not the only one that uses hydrolyzed isolate protein—the Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydrowhey does, too—which is supposed to help with digestion and absorption.
Each serving has 25 grams of protein, less than a gram of fat, 120 calories, and 2 grams of carbs, including less than 1 gram of sugar. There are 13 flavors to choose from, including cinnamon bun, fudge brownie, gourmet chocolate, and chocolate coconut.
Labdoor recommends the Dymatize ISO 100 as one of the best whey protein powders. In its tests, the powder had high scores for nutritional value and product purity, including less than one part per million of six harmful substances. Around 91% of the calories in this powder come from its protein content. — James Brains, reviewed by Andrew Gutman
What else we considered
Animal Whey: I like Animal because the company doesn't make gimmicky claims or rely on pseudoscience to sell its products. What you see is what you get and what you get is 120 calories, one gram of fat, 2 grams of carbs, and 25 grams of protein per serving. Animal uses whey protein isolate as its primary protein source, it's moderately priced, and it's third-party tested.
This wasn't included, however, because it's no better than any other pick. Compared to Optimum Nutrition or Dymatize or Cellucor, it's slightly more expensive and isn't as lauded by fans. It barely missed the cut.
Pro Jym Protein Powder: A fan favorite, Pro Jym is comprised of four different proteins: whey protein isolate, micellar casein, egg albumin, and milk protein isolate. According creator, Dr. Jim Stoppani, Ph.D., this extends the rate of digestion for better protein synthesis. It comes in three flavors: chocolate cookie crunch, cookies and cream, and s'mores, and contains 150 calories, 3 grams of fat, 7 grams of carbs, and 24 grams of protein per serving.
Pro Jym missed the mark for two reasons:
- You pay more for three times the amount of fat and carbs as Optimum Nutrition's Platinum Hydrowhey, so it doesn't fit into our minimum fillers criteria.
- It's not a pure whey protein powder.
Performix ioWhey: I personally like this protein powder because it tastes great (my favorite flavor is fruity cereal), it's easy on the stomach, and there are minimal extras. One serving of Performix ioWhey is 100 calories, zero grams of fat, 2 grams of carbohydrates, and 22 grams of protein.
My major issue is that Performix claims ioWhey is absorbed 36% more efficiently than other brands, which is why their protein per serving is low. That sounds great but since the product isn't third-party tested, there's no way to know if this is true or if the company's selling you less protein per serving. For the price per serving, you're better off buying Optimum Nutrition or Dymatize ISO 100 if you're willing to shell out for a premium protein. — Andrew Gutman
What is whey protein and why is it beneficial?
There are three main types of whey protein:
- Whey protein concentrate (WPC): This is a concentrated protein that keeps more of the nutrients. Most non-isolate proteins are comprised of WPC.
- Whey protein isolate (WPI): This is similar to WPC but most of the carbohydrates, fat, and fat-soluble vitamins have been removed, so the powder has a higher percentage of protein. Typically, isolate is digested more quickly and, therefore, more agreeable for some. For that reason, most trainers and registered dieticians recommend opting for WPI, though it's often more expensive.
- Whey protein hydrolysate (WPH): WPH is considered pre-digested since it breaks down the amino acids — the building blocks of proteins — to help with quicker absorption.
In addition to our research and experience in testing whey protein products, we consulted two experts for this guide: Jeb Stuart Johnston, the head strength coach at Brooklyn Strong and a nutrition coach at Stronger U, and Maryann Walsh, a registered dietician and the owner of Walsh Nutrition.
Is whey protein consumption safe?
Before you increase your protein intake significantly, check with your health-care professional since people with certain maladies, such as calcium deficiencies or low blood pressure, could experience adverse effects from whey protein.
It's also important to note that protein powders aren't regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and some companies dilute their protein with useless fillers, which is why certain brands subject themselves to third-party testing as a way to verify the quality of their product.
To know if a protein is tested, look for a seal from either NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Choice. This doesn't mean that untested proteins are a subpar product but it's good to be aware. You are, after all, putting this stuff into your body. Other than looking for brands that are third-party tested, here are different ways to spot a quality protein:
- Ensure that protein is the first ingredient on the label. "When you look at a label, it's in descending order so the ingredient in the highest amount will be found at the top of the list," Walsh told Business Insider. "Look for labels that have protein at the beginning with fewer ingredients accompanying them."
- Typically, you want a whey powder that contains at least 20 grams of protein per serving. All of our picks do.
- Try to steer clear of excess sugar. As for artificial sweeteners, research on how they affect our weight and health is mixed.
How much should you consume?
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein consumption is about a gram for every 3 pounds of body weight. So, if you weigh 180 pounds, that equates to 60 grams of protein per day. Experts suggest that taking up to twice that still produces benefits.
When it comes to fitness-specific goals, like gaining muscle or losing fat, Jeb Stuart Johnston recommends ingesting up to one gram per pound of bodyweight. His claim is backed up via a study by the University of Stirling.
"For someone who's trying to gain muscle mass and work out, taking in more protein helps speed up protein synthesis [the process in which your muscle fibers utilize protein to repair and grow]," Johnston said. "For a person who's strictly trying to lose weight, taking in more protein helps retain the muscle you already have."
Based on Johnston's recommendations, a 200-pound man would have to consume 200 grams of protein per day. That's equivalent to 2 pounds of chicken breast. Supplementing with whey protein, he explains, is a convenient way to get more protein without grilling up another piece of bland chicken.
Where to buy whey protein?
When it comes to buying protein, one convenient ordering option is Amazon's "Subscribe & Save" program, since it can save you up to 15%. You're able to cancel your subscription at any time, too. What's great about this program is that it automates ordering products that you replenish regularly.
For instance, if you take a serving of protein powder every day and there are 30 servings in a container, you can have a new tub delivered every month without lifting a finger.
Personally, I like to buy my protein from Bodybuilding.com. I usually try a different brand of protein each time I order more, so Amazon's "Subscribe & Save" program doesn't make sense for me, although it's a smart option for many people. Bodybuilding.com has reliable customer reviews and it routinely offers deals on popular brands. As a bonus, it offers free shipping on orders over $75.
To figure out the cost per serving on your own, take the product's price and divide it by the number of servings in the container. Since the amount of protein per serving varies by brand, it's also useful to look at the cost per gram of protein. This is easy to calculate by dividing the cost per serving (as calculated above) by the number of grams of protein per serving. — Andrew Gutman
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