Adding protein powder to your diet can be a speedy way to get more protein throughout your day, which can help you gain or maintain muscle and feel fuller.
"Protein powders can be a convenient option to help you hit your goals, especially for those who are busy and on the go," says Mackenzie Burgess, RDN, dietitian and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices.
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But scan stores in person or online, and you'll soon discover there are many, many protein powders out there. Plus, they often serve different purposes.
All this makes it challenging to decide which protein powder is right for you. To help, we spoke to dietitians to gain insight into how to choose, along with the healthiest protein powder brands for a wide variety of health goals.
The Best Protein Powders to Buy
- Best for Weight Loss: Designer Wellness Designer Lite Low-Calorie Protein Powder (From $9.99, Amazon.com)
- Best Whey: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey (From $36.99, Amazon.com)
- Best Vegan: Vega One Organic All-in-One Shake - Plant-Based (From $49.99, Walmart.com)
- Best for Muscle Gain: Garden of Life SPORT Certified Grass Fed Whey (From $39.89, Amazon.com)
- Best for Gut Health: Nuzest Clean Lean Digestive Support Protein Powder (From $44.99, Amazon.com)
- Best Lactose-Free: Vital Proteins Vital Performance (From $26.98, Amazon.com)
- Best Organic: Ora Organic So Lean & So Clean (From $35.99, Amazon.com)
- Best Casein: Ascent Native Fuel Micellar Casein Protein Powder (From $41.99, Amazon.com)
- Best Collagen: Great Lakes Gelatin Collagen Peptides (From $26.99, Amazon.com)
- Best Egg White: NOW Sports Egg White (From $28.84, Amazon.com)
- Best Personalized: Gainful (price varies)
- Best Pea: Ritual Daily Shake 18+ (From $44, Ritual)
- Best Soy: NOW Sports Nutrition Soy Protein Isolate (From $17.98, Amazon.com)
- Best Rice: Naked Rice Organic Brown Rice Protein Powder (From $21.99, Amazon.com)
- Best Hemp: Nutiva Organic Cold-Pressed Raw Hemp Seed Protein Powder (From $24.24, Amazon.com)
How We Chose
To select the top protein powders, we reached out to multiple dietitians to see which options they recommend to their clients — and why.
Along with insights from these experts, we also consulted a July 2022 review of protein powders and shakes from ConsumerLab, an organization that vets health and nutrition products.
We also sought to include protein powders that were vetted by third-party organizations, such as NSF International, or adhered to Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP), which are overseen by the FDA.
Get to Know Common Protein Sources
When you’re choosing a protein powder, you’ll likely want to consider the source of the protein.
The main animal-based proteins include:
- Whey: made from cow's milk and absorbed quickly by the body; this is the protein source in many, many protein powders
- Casein: like whey, casein is also made from cow's milk — but differs in that it’s absorbed slower and less of the protein is absorbed overall, per ConsumerLab
- Egg white: made from egg whites
- Collagen: made from the skin and bones of cattle and pigs, fish scales and eggshells
The main plant-based protein sources include:
- Pea protein: made from peas, and a complete protein
- Rice protein: made from rice, usually brown rice — this is a hypoallergenic protein option
- Hemp protein: made from hemp
- Soy protein: made from soybeans, and offers a complete protein
- Vegan: made from one or more of the ingredients above and contains no animal products
1. Best Protein Powder for Weight Loss: Designer Wellness Designer Lite: Low-Calorie Protein Powder
- Nutrition per 1-scoop serving: 60 calories, 0 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 90 mg sodium, 5 g carbohydrates, 4 g dietary fiber, 0.5 g sugars, 10 g protein
- Available Flavors: Vanilla Cupcake, Chocolate Cookies and Cream
The Designer Lite line of products is intended for weight loss, Burgess says. "These powders contain just 60 calories per scoop while still providing 10 grams of protein." The flavors taste dessert-like, offering the experience of a sweet treat without the calories to match (it's sweetened with sucralose).
This protein powder includes both soy and whey. For people with obesity or overweight, supplementing with whey protein powder may help with weight loss, per a January 2018 systematic review in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
Designer Wellness conducts third-party testing and requires a certificate of analysis from supplies. (Another product from the same manufacturer — Designer Wellness Designer Vanilla Whey — passed ConsumerLab's protein powder testing.)
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $9.99
2. Best Whey Protein Powder: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey
- Nutrition per 1 scoop of Double Rich Chocolate: 120 calories, 1 g total fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 90 mg sodium, 3 g carbs, 2 g sugar, 24 g protein
- Available flavors: Chocolate, Banana Cream, Chocolate Coconut, Chocolate Malt, Chocolate Mint, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Coffee, Cookies & Cream, Delicious Strawberry, Double Rich Chocolate, Extreme Milk Chocolate, French Vanilla Creme, Mocha Cappuccino, Rocky Road, Strawberries and Cream, Strawberry Banana, Unflavored, Vanilla Ice Cream
There's good reason to opt for a whey protein powder: Whey, which is created during the cheese-making process, may boost muscle mass in partnership with a strength-training program, helps with muscle recovery, aids healing from burns and can help with malnutrition, per the Mayo Clinic.
This protein powder from Optimum Nutrition is a whey blend, including both whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate. It's also gluten-free, keto-friendly, contains no added sugar (it's sweetened with artificial sweeteners instead) and has over 5 grams of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) to help you build muscle mass.
This powder is available in many flavors. The Double Chocolate flavor is a ConsumerLab top pick for a flavored whey protein powder. In previous years, Delicious Strawberry was also a top pick.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $36.99
3. Best Vegan Protein Powder: Vega One Organic All-in-One Shake
- Nutrition per 1-scoop serving: 140 calories, 3.5 g total fat, 10 grams carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 210 mg sodium, 20 g protein
- Available flavors: Berry, Mocha, Plain Unsweetened, French Vanilla, Chocolate Mint, Coconut Almond, Chocolate
This Non-GMO Project Verified protein powder is made from pea, sunflower seed and pumpkin seed protein, providing 20 grams of protein and all nine essential amino acids.
"Vega is a company that has vegetarians and vegans in mind, so many of their products contain essential nutrients that vegans and vegetarians may miss in their diets like iron and vitamin D," says Cassie Christopher, RD, founder of Stress Less Weight Mastery. That's the case for this protein powder, which contains 30 percent of your daily value (DV) of iron and 50 percent of your DV of vitamin D.
The raw ingredients in Vega products are inspected per GMP. The French Vanilla flavor of the Vega One protein powder is approved by ConsumerLab. Bonus: This non-dairy protein powder comes in many different flavors, which is great for anyone who is taste-sensitive or wants a little diversity in their diet.
Buy it: Walmart.com; Price: $49.99
4. Best Protein Powder for Muscle Gain: Garden of Life SPORT Certified Grass Fed Whey
- Nutrition per 1-scoop serving: 120 calories, 0.5 g of fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 130 mg sodium, 6 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 24 g protein
- Available flavors: Chocolate, Vanilla
This NSF-certified for Sport option is geared toward gaining muscle.
"Protein powders with a high biological value (a value that measures how well the body can absorb and utilize a protein), such as whey protein and whey protein isolate, best support muscle growth," says registered dietitian Mia Syn, RD.
This grass-fed whey protein also contains milk protein, and contains all the essential amino acids as well BCAA and glutamine.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $39.89
5. Best Lactose-Free: Vital Proteins Vital Performance
- Nutrition per 2-scoop serving: 130 calories, 10 mg cholesterol, 6 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugar, 25 g protein, 230 mg sodium
- Available Flavors: Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, Cold Brew Coffee
About 65 percent of people have lactose intolerance worldwide, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. If you're part of this majority, your body has a limited ability to digest lactose, a sugar in milk and its derivatives. Symptoms vary from one person to another, but most report stomach pain, cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting a few hours after eating dairy.
Obviously, you don't want a protein powder that'll lead to these digestive woes, and you'll want to instead opt for a lactose-free protein powder. Burgess recommends Vital Proteins Vital Performance.
"These powders pack in 25 grams of protein by combining lactose-free milk protein isolate [a mixture of 80 percent casein and 20 percent whey] with collagen peptides," she says.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $26.98
6. Best Organic Protein Powder: Ora Organic So Lean & So Clean
- Nutrition per 2-scoop serving: 130 calories, 3 g fat, 5 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 22 g protein, 38 mg calcium, 7 mg iron, 390 mg of sodium
- Available flavors: Chocolate, Vanilla, Vanilla Chai, Unflavored
There's a few reasons you might opt to seek out an organic protein powder, like lessening your environmental impact or eating fewer pesticides. If organic is your priority, and third-party testing is a key consideration, protein powders from Ora Organics are a good match, Burgess says.
"This USDA-certified organic plant-based protein powder is made with plant-protein-rich, whole-food ingredients," Syn says. That includes peas, rice, quinoa and amaranth. Plus, it's "free of additives, fillers and sugar."
Ora has a rigorous vetting process for all of its suppliers, and has third-party labs tests its products for heavy metals, pathogens and contaminants.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $35.99
7. Best Protein Powder for a Healthy Gut: Nuzest Clean Lean Digestive Support Protein Powder
- Nutrition per 2-scoop serving: 90 calories, 1.5 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 390 mg sodium, 5 g carbohydrates, 4 g of sugar, 18 g of protein
- Available Flavors: Probiotic Vanilla, Probiotic Cacao
If you want more protein in your diet — and are also eager to improve your gut health — Burgess recommends Nuzest, which makes a digestive support protein powder.
"They contain Bacillus coagulans probiotics in the mix," Burgess says. "Probiotics are good bacteria that can help promote gut-health and improved digestion."
This powder is free from artificial sweeteners, fillers, artificial flavors and both dairy and soy. Products from Nuzest are made in GMP-registered facilities. Just keep in mind that this pick is a bit high in sodium, so try to avoid using it more than once a day.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $44.99
8. Best Casein Protein Powder: Ascent Native Fuel Micellar Casein Protein Powder
- Nutrition per 1 scoop of vanilla bean: 110 calories, 0 g total fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 50 mg sodium, 1 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 25 g protein
- Available flavors: Vanilla Bean, Chocolate, Chocolate Peanut Butter
"Casein is often taken by athletes at night to reduce muscle loss as it is digested more slowly," Christopher says.
This type of protein "is ideal for recovery while at rest versus whey protein, which is fast-absorbing and a good post-workout choice," says Christina Meyer-Jax, RD, a dietitian and health advisor for Lifesum and Gympass.
This low-carb protein powder contains zero artificial ingredients, 25 grams of protein per scoop and 11 grams of naturally occurring BCAAs. It's also gluten-free and Informed Choice Certified, which means that the casein has been third-party tested for banned substances.
Plus, one serving contains nearly 50 percent of the RDA for bone-supporting calcium, says dietitian Kayla Girgen, RD, founder of Nutrition Untapped.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $41.99
9. Best Collagen Protein Powder: Great Lakes Gelatin Collagen Peptides
- Nutrition per 2-scoop serving: 45 calories, 35 mg sodium, 11 g protein
- Available flavors: Unflavored
"The long-term benefits of collagen include reducing the appearance of wrinkles and improving joint mobility for people with osteoarthritis," Christopher says.
This grass-fed protein powder is gluten-free and non-GMO, and third-party certified as well as kosher, paleo-friendly and keto-friendly.
"This is a good quality product that is price-sensitive for people who want to see if collagen will benefit their skin or joints," Christopher says.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $26.99
10. Best Egg White Protein Powder: NOW Sports Egg White
- Nutrition per 1-scoop serving: 80 calories, 0 g total fat, 2 g carbohydrates, 260 mg sodium, 1 g sugar, 16 g protein
- Available flavors: Unflavored, Creamy Chocolate Powder, Creamy Vanilla Powder
Christopher recommends this protein powder because it contains only one ingredient: egg white powder. (More ingredients are found in the flavored varieties.)
"Egg is a highly bioavailable protein that your body can readily use," Christopher says. Egg white protein is a complete protein, per ConsumerLab. It's both easy to digest and high in BCAAs, according to Kaiser Permanente.
This low-carb protein powder has all nine essential amino acids and is Informed Sport Certified, which means that every batch has been rigorously tested for any banned substances.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $28.84
11. Best Personalized Protein Powder: Gainful
- Nutrition info: Because the product is personalized, nutrition facts are different for each blend.
- Available flavors: Strawberry Cream, Madagascar Vanilla, Rich Chocolate, Caffè Mocha, Cookies & Cream, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Matcha Green Tea, Cinnamon Toast, and Sea Salt Caramel
Marie Salbuvik, RD, a dietitian and fitness expert, recommends this brand because it personalizes your protein powder depending on your needs and lifestyle.
To find the blend that's right for you, go on Gainful's website, take their quiz and an RD will customize a formula that's just right for you. Each of the powders has only seven ingredients or fewer and contains all nine essential amino acids. Plus, there's no gluten, soy, fillers or artificial flavors, dyes or sweeteners.
Salbuvik considers this pick "one of the best stevia-free protein powders" she's ever come across.
Buy it: Gainful.com; Price: Varies
12. Best Pea Protein: Ritual Daily Shake 18+
- Nutrition per 1-scoop serving: 115 calories, 2 g fat, 3 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 20 g protein, 290 mg sodium
- Available flavors: Vanilla
Pea protein comes from yellow split peas, per the Cleveland Clinic. It has a lot of benefits — it's ideal for vegans, since it contains no animal products, and is also naturally gluten- and lactose free, as well as having a creamy, pleasant texture and being easy to digest, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
This recommendation for a pea protein powder comes from Syn, who notes that it's a "plant-based protein powder made with organic pea protein and is free of added sugar and major food allergens, including soy and gluten."
Plus, this product is Informed Sport Certified, which means it's tested for banned ingredients, as well as going through third-party testing for heavy metals.
Buy it: Ritual; Price: $44.00
13. Best Soy Protein: NOW Sports Nutrition Soy Protein Isolate
- Nutrition per 1-scoop serving: 90 calories, 0.5 g total fat, 0 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 170 mg sodium, 20 g protein
- Available flavors: Unflavored
"When choosing a soy protein, opt for non-GMO like this brand," Girgen says. "It contains no added sugar and has a robust amino acid profile rich in leucine, which is known to stimulate muscle growth."
This brand is also Informed Sport Certified and GMP Quality Assured, which means that every aspect of the product manufacturing has been rigorously examined.
Meyer-Jax believes this protein powder is a good option for vegetarians and vegans because it contains all nine essential amino acids.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $17.98
14. Best Rice Protein: Naked Organic Brown Rice Protein Powder
- Nutrition per 2-scoop serving: 120 calories, 0.5 g total fat, 4 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 25 g protein
- Available flavors: Unflavored
If you're looking for a protein powder that uses rice as a protein source, Naked Rice gets a nod from many of the dietitians we spoke with. "This protein powder is made with one ingredient — organic sprouted brown rice," Syn says.
Burgess also appreciates that it's a source of protein without additional ingredients.
"It's a very clean vegan protein powder with no artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors and is GMO-free, soy-free and gluten-free," Meyer-Jax says. The only drawback is that it doesn't contain all nine essential amino acids, which is why Meyer-Jax recommends mixing it with another plant-based protein source, like pea or hemp, to make a complete protein.
"Since it's unflavored, try blending into a fruit smoothie or mixing into cereal bars as a post-workout snack," Burgess suggests.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $21.99
15. Best Hemp Protein: Nutiva Organic Cold-Pressed Raw Hemp Seed Protein Powder
- Nutrition per 2-scoop serving: 110 calories, 3 g total fat, 8 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 0 mg sodium, 15 g protein
- Available flavors: Unflavored
This gently cold-pressed powder is made from raw hemp seeds and is a sustainable source of all nine essential amino acids and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Nutiva's option is a clean, plant-based protein that's high in antioxidants, fiber and other micronutrients, such as potassium, iron and zinc. Big bonus: It's approved by ConsumerLab and is USDA-Certified Organic.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $24.24
What to Consider When Choosing a Protein Powder
In addition to considering your specific health needs along with any ingredients you need to avoid, there are other factors to keep in mind:
Choose Third Party-Certified Products
"In the U.S., the supplement industry is not closely regulated, which means that there is no way of knowing if the powder is what the package says it is," Christopher says.
As such, she recommends looking out for third-party testing by USP, NSF or Consumer Labs, which will often place a seal of approval on the label.
Keep Your Personal Goals in Mind
"It's important to remember that you are a one-size-fits-one unique individual," Meyer-Jax says. "Understand first what your goals are in adding a protein supplement into your diet (muscle-building, immune health, weight loss or more energy, for example)."
Then choose products that align with your personal goals, experimenting with different ones if necessary. Remember, "Everyone is different, so what works for your friend may not for you," she says.
Anything that you put into your body should delight your taste buds.
As a general rule of thumb, animal-sourced proteins such as whey and casein have the most minimal aftertaste.
"Pea protein powder [in particular] on its own really does taste like peas," Christopher says. "I have learned that the hard way."
Mix your protein powder with ingredients like fresh, frozen or dried fruit for sweetness and flavor.
What to Avoid in a Protein Powder
Just as there are things to look for, there are also ingredients to avoid in protein powder.
Be on the lookout for added sugars, Burgess says. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 36 grams per day, so it's best to pick a protein powder without added sugars.
"Look for unsweetened powders and add your own sweetener to your smoothie," Christopher says. You can use fresh, frozen or dried fruit or stevia to sweeten your drink. "That way, you'll likely end up using less and forgoing the digestive discomfort some of the sugar alcohols can cause," Christopher says.
"If you have dietary restrictions, it is important to choose a powder that meets your needs," Syn says.
People with allergies will have to pay special attention to the ingredients in their protein powder. So that means people with a soy allergy should avoid soy protein powders and pick a supplement that's soy-free.
And if you follow a vegan diet, you'll want to opt for a protein powder that's free from animal products.
Not everyone needs to include protein powder in their diet. "Protein powders can be an easy and convenient source of high-quality protein, but many people — including athletes — can meet their protein needs through whole-food ingredients such as meat, fish, chicken and dairy products," Syn says.
- ConsumerLab: "Protein Powders and Shakes Review"
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: "Whey Protein Supplementation Improves Body Composition and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Whey protein"
- American Dairy Products Institute: "Whey"
- Kaiser Permanente: "Egg Protein"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Everything You Should Know About Pea Protein"