If you want to get those big gains in the gym, you need one of the best whey protein powders.
We assume if you’re here you already know a bit about whey and the need to protein up after a strenuous workout, but in case you’re not too familiar, here’s the basic rundown.
Whey protein is generally a dry powder that consists of the various proteins from whey, a liquid by-product of cheese. Because of whey’s high protein content and inclusion of pretty much all essential amino acids the human body needs, it’s dried, packaged and sold as a powdered dietary supplement. It’s become a popular exercise supplement too because of the role protein plays in building muscles.
Strenuous exercise essentially tells your body your muscles aren’t good enough to do the work you want them to do. So after being damaged and strained through exercise, your body rebuilds, repairs and, with enough consistent strain from exercise, grows and augments your muscles. And that task requires lots of protein that you might not get through your regular diet.
There’s a reason Michael Phelps was eating 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day. He needed an extraordinary amount of fuel and protein to maintain his body’s peak form, and your body needs fuel too if you want it to be able to grow big muscles and hold on to them.
Now that we’ve covered the basics about the best whey protein powders, you should recognize a few differences among whey protein powders:
- Concentrates: Whey protein concentrates generally have more lactose and fat than the following options, which means more nutrients but not necessarily more protein.
- Isolates: Whey protein isolates remove most of the carbohydrates, lactose and fat, leaving you with more or less pure protein.
- Hydrolyzed whey: Hydrolyzed whey is just whey that’s easier to absorb and metabolize. Though it’s been partially hydrolyzed, it’s still a powder and because it goes through this additional step, it can be more expensive.
In terms of actual consumption, whey protein usually has a light milky flavor and you can mix it with milk or water. Many of the best whey protein powders add flavors like chocolate or vanilla for easier consumption. For the record, we’re not huge fans of vanilla flavoring in proteins in general because we usually find it to be too sweet or it doesn’t mesh well with the natural flavors of the whey. For that reason, most of our picks lean toward chocolate or unflavored instead of vanilla, though we’ll note that most of our picks will have all three to choose from and sometimes more, like strawberry or variations of chocolate, like chocolate peanut butter.
And that’s just about all you need to know to start your whey protein journey. Check out our round-up of some of the best whey protein powders below and start upping your exercise gains and muscle recovery today.
1. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey Protein Powder
When it comes to the best whey protein powders, we’re pretty darn confident in Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey Protein Powder in chocolate. It consists of a blend of whey isolate and whey protein concentrate, and we’ve used it for years to help our muscles repair after a hard day at the gym.
In our experience, it makes a notable difference in muscle growth and recovery time. After a while, your body will actually start to crave this stuff after a hard workout.
Of course the chocolate flavor may have a lot to do with that. No flavoring in protein powder is perfect, but we think the chocolate here goes a long way to make the whey protein flavor a lot more palatable and consumable, and you just might find you actually want it when you’re done exercising.
We recommend going for the five-pound container because this stuff doesn’t go bad or lose its utility for a long time and you get a much better value compared to the lesser quantities. Plus, if you do exercise regularly with the goal of building and maintaining substantial muscle mass, you’ll find you go through this stuff fast, especially if you protein up more than once a day.
2. Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydro Whey Protein Powder
We love Optimum Nutrition’s protein and the brand’s Platinum Hydro Whey Protein Powder is, more or less, a purer, more easily digestible version of the top pick, courtesy of the use of 100% hydrolyzed whey protein isolate.
Because of that, it has more protein per serving than the top pick, and it will digest more easily so you can avoid that bloated, overly full feeling you can sometimes get with protein powders. Furthermore, because it contains less lactose, this isolate powder can be a better option for those who are lactose intolerant. (We would still recommend caution for lactose-intolerant people though because there’s always going to be some lactose that couldn’t be fully removed).
There are only two downsides: the price and the use of sucralose, a non-calorie sweetener. While sucralose is totally safe to consume (Splenda is basically sucralose), some protein users don’t like it because they say it affects their digestion and doesn’t help with the taste. And of course, because this protein is 100% hydrolyzed, it does cost more than the top pick.
3. Nutricost Whey Protein Concentrate
BEST WHEY CONCENTRATE
The Nutricost Whey Protein Concentrate has a few great things going for it. First, it’s highly concentrated whey. Whey protein concentrate is the only protein ingredient in this, and you get 25 grams per serving here.
Nutricost must’ve thought people who want whey concentrate want as few other ingredients as possible because this powder only has six ingredients in it total. The rest of the ingredients are basically flavors, sweeteners and salt.
Lastly, this protein powder mixes well and doesn’t clump up, the true bane of any protein user’s existence.
It’s not perfect of course; one of the sweeteners is sucralose, so even though you’re getting a pared-down isolate powder, you could still have some digestive discomfort.
But that being said, if you’re all about that whey-concentrate life, the Nutricost Whey Protein Concentrate is the best whey protein powder for you.
4. Dymatize ISO100 Hydrolyzed Protein Powder
BEST HYDROLYZED WHEY
For those with troubling digesting lactose or those who expect to use a lot of protein every day, you’re going to want the most digestible protein you can get.
If that’s you, that means you’ll want the best hydrolyzed whey isolate protein, which means you want Dymatize ISO100 Hydrolyzed Protein Powder. Dymatize extracts the purest whey through a process of microfiltration and purification to remove excess carbs, fat, lactose and cholesterol, making it among the most digestible whey protein powders on the market.
When you live in a lactose-filled world, especially in the protein powder market, this is the one protein that stakes its reputation on smooth digestion and no cramping, and many users found that to be true.
5. Body Fortress Whey Protein Powder
Your body is a fortress. So, build it up and keep it strong with this Body Fortress Whey Protein Powder. The makers call it Super Advanced because it’s enhanced with creatine and other amino acids that allow you to train harder and rebuild lean muscle faster.
But beyond the actual whey protein powder itself, Body Fortress offers this powder at a very competitive price. Not only is this protein among the cheaper options in terms of upfront dollars, but it also offers among the best price per ounce for proteins five pounds and under.
6. Naked Whey Grass Fed Unflavored Whey Protein Powder
If you’re looking for a simple whey protein with zero additives, it’s time to get Naked. Naked Whey Grass Fed Unflavored Whey Protein Powder has no artificial sweeteners, flavors or colors, and it’s GMO-free, growth hormone-free, soy-free, and gluten-free. Hence the name. Yet, it’s packed with amino acids and clean protein that’s cold-processed to ensure zero contamination.
If you’re looking for straight-up whey protein with literally no other ingredients except whey protein concentrate, the unflavored Naked Whey is the best whey protein powder for you.
7. Muscle Milk Pro Series Protein Powder
MOST PROTEIN PER SERVING
Sure, Muscle Milk is the new kid on the block compared to some of these other tried-and-trues, but it was able to compete because it’s actually putting useful protein products out there.
Is the Muscle Milk Pro Series Protein Powder a true whey protein in the sense that whey is the only protein included? No. Is it an excellent source of protein that includes different kinds of whey in its formula? Yes!
Because Muscle Milk incorporated more than just whey into its formula (and added things like casein) it can boast a whopping 50 grams of protein per serving, which is nearly double any other option on this list. If you’re looking to maximize your gains, more protein per serving will only help.
8. BlenderBottle Shaker Bottle
BEST PROTEIN BOTTLE
If you take away or purchase nothing else from this round-up, please do yourself a favor and buy a BlenderBottle Shaker Bottle.
Protein powders are notoriously clumpy and difficult to mix. You have to assume every brand will have some degree of clumping, and trust us, you do not want a nasty clump of protein falling into your mouth while you’re just trying to rehydrate after working out.
That’s why if you’re looking to start your protein journey we highly recommend buying a BlenderBottle shaker bottle. The screw-on lid comes with a secure flip-top for easy drinking and stowing, but the really important thing is the inclusion of a ball whisk. You leave the ball whisk in the bottle while you add your protein powder and milk or water, screw the top on and shake like you’re trying to beat your personal record on a ShakeWeight.
The ball whisk, while not perfect, works amazingly well to break up large clumps of the powder and is way more effective than just mixing with a spoon.
Seriously, it may seem like something extra you don’t need, but we really think it’s essential. So do yourself a favor and buy one or better yet buy two or three because it’s a huge pain to have to rinse and clean the same bottle every time you want to work out.