The Best Protein Powder

It's all about pure, wholesome ingredients

We inspected the ingredients of 697 flavors of protein powders, and only eight of them were truly risk-free.

The sports nutrition industry has a history littered with lawsuits, misleading product labels, and hyperbolized products, especially when it comes to protein powder – which is a multi-billion dollar industry. Outrageous branding campaigns have been convincing people they need extra protein to build muscle since the ‘70s, and that perception is still going strong. Sales are up, spiked proteins are rampant, and the war for the best-tasting whey isolate continues.

We spent 180 hours researching the industry to discover what the frenzy was all about. During that time we built a list of 697 different flavors of protein powder, consulted with nationally renowned fitness and health experts, and investigated the nutritional pros and cons of 191 artificial sweeteners, food colorings, and illegal substances.

In the end, we determined that pure, wholesome ingredients (those without artificial and potentially harmful additives) are the key to a great protein powder.

Using that research, we designed a method for reviewing supplements from 111 brands, focusing on those in powder form.

Our three approved protein powders are:

How we found the best protein powder

Because ingredients can vary from flavor to flavor, we realized early on that we needed to evaluate every single flavor of every single product line. Fast forward a week and we had a list of 679 products from 111 different brands.

From there, we inspected each product’s “Supplement Facts” label looking for two things: artificial sweeteners and food coloring. We cross-checked every single ingredient against a comprehensive list of artificial sweeteners and food colorings that we compiled from the Department of Health and Human Services, FDA, and other scientific journals. If a controversial ingredient showed up, we excluded the product.

Click here for a more comprehensive list of ingredients you should avoid.

Our expert contributors were adamant about third-party testing, so we decided that our recommendations must be verified by the NSF Certified for Sport program or Informed-Choice.org. No one expects to buy a protein powder that contains illegal stimulants, but since supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, it’s a very real possibility. And accidentally consuming a powder with steroids or stimulants could be a career-ending mistake.

If it is not third party verified, it could have illegal steroids or stimulants in it without you knowing … Athletes using the supplements should know what ingredients are in it and what the risks of those ingredients are.

Jackie Buell PhD, RD, CSSD, ATC, Ohio State University, Sports Nutrition

Finally, since quality is the most important thing (and that people have legitimate reason to distrust protein powder manufacturers) we chose to make cuts based upon the purity of the ingredients themselves. We at Reviews.com are not scientists, but the fine people at Labdoor are, and thanks to the company’s thorough investigation on the quality of top-selling protein powders, we were able to determine which of our finalists were labeled truthfully and accurately.

It’s important to note that if a product is not verified by Labdoor, Informed-Choice, or the NSF, that does not mean it failed; it just means the company that produces the powder has not submitted it to one of these organizations for testing. We chose to exclude unverified products nonetheless because we will not slap a Reviews.com-recommended label on any product that is not irrefutably legal and pure.

Our Decision Funnel

1
Must be a currently available protein powder, not discontinued or recalled

2 disqualified

2
Must not contain any controversial food colorings

22 disqualified

3
Must not contain any artificial sweeteners

487 disqualified

4
Must be verified by Informed-Choice.org or the NSF Certified for Sports program not to contain steroids

142 disqualified

5
Must have a Labdoor quality grade of B- or higher.

36 disqualified

Reviews.com Recommended Protein Powders

Raw Protein

by Garden of Life

Buy On Amazon

Acceptable Flavors:

Real Raw Vanilla
Real Raw Chocolate
Original

100% Whey Gold Standard

by Optimum Nutrition

Buy on Amazon

Acceptable Flavors:

Natural Chocolate
Natural Vanilla

Performance Protein

by Vega

Buy on Amazon

Acceptable Flavors:

Mocha
Chocolate
Vanilla

Team taste test

After narrowing down the list of products to the recommended brands, we knew we still needed to address one important question: How do these protein powders actually taste?

We decided to conduct an in-office taste test and ordered the vanilla flavored powder from each of the top brands to see how they compare. We tested each powder by mixing with water (as opposed to milk or other beverage), to make sure the taste of each product wasn’t impacted by outside flavors.

The Reviews.com team

After gathering a group of nine participants from our office, we had everyone drink a sample of each product and provide separate ratings (on a 1-5 scale) for taste and texture. We also asked everyone to pick one product as their overall favorite. After tallying the votes, the winners were:

Vega Performance Protein Review

Vega combines whole grain brown rice, pea, alfalfa, and SaviSeeds to form a complete, plant-based protein blend. Vega is certified vegan and gluten free, making it a great option if you’re lactose intolerant or have other problems with dairy. Vega provides 26 grams of protein per serving, which is the highest among our recommended brands.

®
Passed

Performance Protein Chocolate

Per 8-12oz. serving
Protein: 26g
BCAAs: 5.3g
Glutamine & Glutamic acid: 5.3g

Vega comes in four different flavors (vanilla, chocolate, berry, mocha), but only chocolate and vanilla met all of the requirements in our criteria. We ordered and tested the 29.2 oz. bottle of vanilla flavored protein. The security seal did not peel off cleanly, but outside of that minor inconvenience we had no problems mixing and testing the powder. The vanilla flavor dominated our taste test, winning best taste and overall favorite, though our team did give it a 2.5/5 rating for texture.

Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard Review

Optimum Nutrition’s 100% Whey Gold Standard stands out as the only whey-based protein among our recommended brands. Gold Standard uses whey protein isolates as the primary ingredient, and offers a competitive 24 grams of protein and more than 5 grams of BCAAs per serving. ON 100% Whey Gold Standard comes in more than a dozen flavors, but only the natural chocolate and natural vanilla met our review criteria.

®
Passed

100% Whey Gold Standard Natural CHOCOLATE

Per 6-8oz. serving
Protein: 24g
BCAAs: 5.5g
Glutamine & Glutamic acid: 4g

After fishing out the scoop at the bottom of a 5 lb bottle, we mixed and tested the natural vanilla. The powder mixed easily in water and was voted best texture among the recommended brands in our taste test. It finished third for taste, but the general feedback was that the taste was not particularly strong (which could be a good thing if you prefer a softer / mild flavor).

Garden of Life Raw Protein Review

Garden of Life is a plant-based protein derived from more than a dozen organic sprouts. The powder comes in four different flavors, three of which (Original, Chocolate, Vanilla) met all of our review criteria. Garden of life is a vegan, gluten free, dairy free, and soy free option that provides 17 grams of protein per serving.

®
Passed

Raw Protein Unflavored

Per 6oz. serving
Protein: 17g
BCAAs: 3.8g
Glutamine & Glutamic acid: 3.1g

Garden of Life struggled a bit in our taste test, coming in second place for taste and third place for texture. All of the products we tested can be mixed without a blender or shaker cup, but the Garden of Life powder seemed to settle quicker than the other products we tested. If you plan to drink this one on your drive to work you’ll probably want a shaker or a cup with a lid that enables you to control the consistency as you drink it.

What we learned while researching the protein powder industry

Early assumptions

We approached this review with two main assumptions:

  1. Quality ingredients are crucial
  2. The type of protein you should ingest depends upon your fitness goals

Artificial ingredients are useless and can lower your overall health

The general consensus among online fitness and nutrition communities is that the artificial sweeteners and colorings used in protein powders are bad for you. We took our research a step further and asked over 4,000 registered dietitians for their opinions on the matter. Their response was unanimous (and much stronger): If possible, artificial sugars and colorings should be completely avoided. Not only are they unnecessary; they’re potentially dangerous.

Artificial sweeteners are not digested by the body, so they cannot be utilized for energy. Therefore, they don’t provide nutrients to fuel the body during exercise, or help with recovery post-training.

Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, CDN, CNSC, CSCS

A majority of the studies we found on artificial sweeteners and dyes provide “inconclusive” results, but the controversy surrounding the topic is enough cause for concern. Many common food colorings are considered a “concern” by the FDA and the debate regarding the benefits of artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame is ongoing. Here’s a list of the bad ingredients (and their side effects) we found to be most common in protein powders after digging through the “Supplement Facts” of nearly 700 different products:

Verified protein powders should be preferred over those that aren’t

Our search for “no no” ingredients led us to another important fact: Nutritional supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, which means that protein powder manufacturers themselves are responsible for ensuring that their products are safe, legal, and comply with standard FDA regulations.

Sometimes manufacturers cut corners, and whether it’s at the expense of your wallet or your health, it’s a big deal. For instance, Labdoor tested 73 different supplement product lines (many of which were included in our research) and found that, on average, they contained 12.7% less protein than stated on the Supplement Facts label. Average sodium content for the lot was a whopping 70.4% higher than claimed, and 52% of the powders contained measurable amounts of free-form amino acids, which spike protein content and produce misleading lab results.

Consider this: BSN True Mass, a protein powder labeled “excellent” by BodyBuilding.com, was found to deviate from its claimed protein content by over 40%.

In order to be 100% certain of the ingredients in a particular supplement – regardless of what it says on the label – our expert fitness consultants strongly encouraged only buying protein powders that have been verified by a third-party testing company (Informed-Choice, Labdoor, the NSF). Otherwise, you might wind up drinking a shake with spiked proteins, non-nutritional (possibly harmful) ingredients, loads of sodium, and controversial sweeteners and dyes. Or even worse, you could find yourself disqualified from a sporting event because your go-to supplement contained a steroid or other illegal substance.

Protein powder isn’t a replacement for a balanced diet

In the explicit words of Rich Piana, “Any competitive bodybuilder isn’t getting what they need for a show at GNC; they’re going to the grocery store. Bodybuilders are not made on supplements; they’re made on f*$&ing good, healthy, wholesome food.” Whether you’re a competitive athlete or not, a good diet should never be replaced with protein powders.

If your full-time job isn’t training for the olympics, though, you probably don’t have time to buy yams, bake them for a couple of hours, cool them overnight, and haul them to the gym wrapped in foil… every single day. So for those who can’t prioritize meal planning, protein powders are a great way to bolster their overall health – as long as the supplement is consumed in the right manner, of course. Consider the following words from the International Sports Science Association: “The biggest advantage of protein supplements is not that they can build more muscle; the biggest advantage is convenience.”

What to do next?

So, now that you know the truth about protein powder, what’s next? Start by asking yourself a couple of questions:

Are you relying on protein powder as a substitute for healthy food? If so, it’s in your best interest to wean yourself off supplement dependency. Make a point to spend more time meal planning, and by all means, eat more real food.

Is your favorite protein powder verified? If not, make a stand. Email the brand; call the manufacturer; chat with the company on Facebook – find a way to ask them why they haven’t subjected their products to third-party testing.

Unsure about where to start? Check out the tool below for recommendations on the best protein source, supplement regimen, and ingredients to avoid based on your unique profile.

Expert's Corner

A Guide to Protein Powder

We worked with fitness expert Alissa Rumsey to identify a protein prescription best suited for your fitness goals:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Goal

What's your gender?

  • Male
  • Female

Select which age group you belong to:

  • 13-19 Years Old
  • 20-39 Years Old
  • 40+ Years Old

Select which best describes your fitness goal:

  • Weight Loss
  • Decrease Body Fat
  • Improve Performance
  • Gain Muscle Mass
  • Maintain Muscle Mass
Whey protein isolate has less calories than most whey protein concentrates. Egg and plant proteins are also lean sources of protein.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey protein isolate, Egg, Plant, whey + casein

Recommended supplement regimen

Post-workout, max 1x/day 20-30 grams

Ingredients to avoid

Sugars and artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein isolate has less calories than most whey protein concentrates. Egg and plant proteins are also lean sources of protein.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey protein isolate, Egg, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Post-workout, max 1x/day, 20-30 grams

Ingredients to avoid

Sugars and artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein isolate has less calories than most whey protein concentrates. Egg and plant proteins are also lean sources of protein.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey protein isolate, Egg, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Post-workout, max 1x/day, 20-30 grams

Ingredients to avoid

Sugars and artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein isolate has less calories than most whey protein concentrates. Egg and plant proteins are also lean sources of protein.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey protein isolate, Egg, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Post-workout, max 1x/day, 10-20 grams

Ingredients to avoid

Sugars and artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein isolate has less calories than most whey protein concentrates. Egg and plant proteins are also lean sources of protein.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey protein isolate, Egg, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Post-workout, max 1x/day, 10-20 grams

Ingredients to avoid

Sugars and artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein isolate has less calories than most whey protein concentrates. Egg and plant proteins are also lean sources of protein.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey protein isolate, Egg, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Post-workout, max 1x/day, 10-20 grams

Ingredients to avoid

Sugars and artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein isolate has less calories than most whey protein concentrates. Egg and plant proteins are also lean sources of protein.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey protein isolate, Egg, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Post-workout, max 1x/day

Ingredients to avoid

Sugars and artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein isolate has less calories than most whey protein concentrates. Egg and plant proteins are also lean sources of protein.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey protein isolate, Egg, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Post-workout, max 1x/day

Ingredients to avoid

Sugars and artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein isolate has less calories than most whey protein concentrates. Egg and plant proteins are also lean sources of protein.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey protein isolate, Egg, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Post-workout, max 1x/day

Ingredients to avoid

Sugars and artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein isolate has less calories than most whey protein concentrates. Egg and plant proteins are also lean sources of protein.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey protein isolate, Egg, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Post-workout, max 1x/day

Ingredients to avoid

Sugars and artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein isolate has less calories than most whey protein concentrates. Egg and plant proteins are also lean sources of protein.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey protein isolate, Egg, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Post-workout, max 1x/day

Ingredients to avoid

Sugars and artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein isolate has less calories than most whey protein concentrates. Egg and plant proteins are also lean sources of protein.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey protein isolate, Egg, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Post-workout, max 1x/day

Ingredients to avoid

Sugars and artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein is ideal in this scenario for two reasons: it digests incredibly quickly and has the highest bioavailability, so it gets to your muscles quickly. If you’re a vegetarian, plant based proteins are an OK alternative, but don’t necessarily contain all the essential amino acids.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey; Plant protein if vegetarian

Recommended supplement regimen

During workout and post-workout

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein is ideal in this scenario for two reasons: it digests incredibly quickly and has the highest bioavailability, so it gets to your muscles quickly. If you’re a vegetarian, plant based proteins are an OK alternative, but don’t necessarily contain all the essential amino acids.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey; Plant protein if vegetarian

Recommended supplement regimen

During workout and post-workout

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein is ideal in this scenario for two reasons: it digests incredibly quickly and has the highest bioavailability, so it gets to your muscles quickly. If you’re a vegetarian, plant based proteins are an OK alternative, but don’t necessarily contain all the essential amino acids.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey; Plant protein if vegetarian

Recommended supplement regimen

During workout and post-workout

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein is ideal in this scenario for two reasons: it digests incredibly quickly and has the highest bioavailability, so it gets to your muscles quickly. If you’re a vegetarian, plant based proteins are an OK alternative, but don’t necessarily contain all the essential amino acids.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey; Plant protein if vegetarian

Recommended supplement regimen

During workout and post-workout

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein is ideal in this scenario for two reasons: it digests incredibly quickly and has the highest bioavailability, so it gets to your muscles quickly. If you’re a vegetarian, plant based proteins are an OK alternative, but don’t necessarily contain all the essential amino acids.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey; Plant protein if vegetarian

Recommended supplement regimen

During workout and post-workout

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey protein is ideal in this scenario for two reasons: it digests incredibly quickly and has the highest bioavailability, so it gets to your muscles quickly. If you’re a vegetarian, plant based proteins are an OK alternative, but don’t necessarily contain all the essential amino acids.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey; Plant protein if vegetarian

Recommended supplement regimen

During workout and post-workout

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey digests quickly and is high in BCAAs including leucine, which helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Throw some casein in the mix and it can prolong the amount of time protein is exposed in the intestinal tract, which can help increase absorption.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey, Whey + Casein combination

Recommended supplement regimen

During workout and post-workout

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey digests quickly and is high in BCAAs including leucine, which helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Throw some casein in the mix and it can prolong the amount of time protein is exposed in the intestinal tract, which can help increase absorption.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey, Whey + Casein combination

Recommended supplement regimen

During workout and post-workout

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey digests quickly and is high in BCAAs including leucine, which helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Throw some casein in the mix and it can prolong the amount of time protein is exposed in the intestinal tract, which can help increase absorption.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey, Whey + Casein combination

Recommended supplement regimen

During workout and post-workout

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey digests quickly and is high in BCAAs including leucine, which helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Throw some casein in the mix and it can prolong the amount of time protein is exposed in the intestinal tract, which can help increase absorption.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey, Whey + Casein combination

Recommended supplement regimen

During workout and post-workout

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey digests quickly and is high in BCAAs including leucine, which helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Throw some casein in the mix and it can prolong the amount of time protein is exposed in the intestinal tract, which can help increase absorption.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey, Whey + Casein combination

Recommended supplement regimen

During workout and post-workout

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

Whey digests quickly and is high in BCAAs including leucine, which helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Throw some casein in the mix and it can prolong the amount of time protein is exposed in the intestinal tract, which can help increase absorption.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey, Whey + Casein combination

Recommended supplement regimen

Post-workout

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

The goal here is to ingest enough protein to prevent weight loss and muscle wasting, so any supplement that provides protein and calories are acceptable.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey, Egg, Casein, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Once per day

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

The goal here is to ingest enough protein to prevent weight loss and muscle wasting, so any supplement that provides protein and calories are acceptable.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey, Egg, Casein, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Once per day

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

The goal here is to ingest enough protein to prevent weight loss and muscle wasting, so any supplement that provides protein and calories are acceptable.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey, Egg, Casein, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Once per day

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

The goal here is to ingest enough protein to prevent weight loss and muscle wasting, so any supplement that provides protein and calories are acceptable.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey, Egg, Casein, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Once per day

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

The goal here is to ingest enough protein to prevent weight loss and muscle wasting, so any supplement that provides protein and calories are acceptable.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey, Egg, Casein, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Once per day

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings

The goal here is to ingest enough protein to prevent weight loss and muscle wasting, so any supplement that provides protein and calories are acceptable.
Best protein source for your goal

Whey, Egg, Casein, Plant

Recommended supplement regimen

Once per day

Ingredients to avoid

Artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and dyes, artificial flavorings