There are so many different brands of protein powders, and so many different types of protein products, that consumers can often feel overwhelmed when trying to make an informed and health-conscious purchase decision. Our goal with this article is to make that decision easier based on a review of medical research.
Choosing a good protein powder brand can be more challenging than choosing between brands in other categories like CBD oil because the difference between protein powders are quite subtle.
In this article we’ll highlight what criteria to consider when choosing a protein powder, and recommend our top brands across different categories like vegan protein and collagen protein.
What Matters When Comparing Protein Powder Brands
The most important consideration when evaluating protein powder brands is a clean formulation. This means that the ingredients list contains an effective dose of the active ingredient (in this case protein), and contains no harmful filler ingredients like added sugar or artificial flavoring.
Because protein powders are a simple product, evaluating the formulation is much easier than evaluating the formulation of other categories of health products like CBD gummies. In many cases, the only ingredient will be protein.
We tend to recommend protein sourced from grass-fed animals over protein sourced from conventionally-raised animals, because medical research proves grass-fed animal products are more nutritionally complete.
Effective dose is our second consideration when evaluating protein powder products. We will only recommend protein powder products that contain a minimum dose of 20 grams (g) protein, as medical research has established this as the effective dose for maximizing post-exercise muscle protein synthesis. Not all consumers use protein powder after workouts, but since many do we believe this is an important criteria.
Price is an obvious third consideration. Since price varies significantly based on the number of servings in the protein powder product, we will analyze price per 20 g protein to standardize price comparisons.
An ancillary consideration will be product certifications. Some protein powders contain certifications like NSF Certified for Sport which guarantee product purity and a lack of harmful contaminants like anabolic steroids. This is a minor plus, but we don’t consider these certifications absolutely necessary for a protein brand, because protein is a simple food-based product and we believe the risk of contamination is far less than for product categories like pre-workouts.
Best Overall Protein Powder - Naked Nutrition Whey
Naked Nutrition’s Grass Fed Whey Protein Powder is our top overall pick. This is a brand we’ve recommended in the past due to their clean, simple and effective formulations and those statements hold true in this case.
We generally recommend whey protein for protein powder, because it’s been found to be more effective than other types of protein for exercise recovery and performance. The medical study we linked to in the previous section on effective dose found that “Whey protein seems to be most effective to increase post-exercise muscle protein synthesis rates. This is likely attributed to its rapid digestion and absorption kinetics and specific amino acid composition.”
As evidenced by the product title, this product is entirely sourced from pastured animals. The only ingredient is whey protein concentrate; there are no fillers at all. This means this product passes the clean formulation test.
The protein dose per serving is 25 g, so it passes the effective dose test as it’s dosed above the minimum-effective dose of 20 g.
Naked Nutrition’s protein powder is Informed Choice certified. Like the NSF, this certification ensures that the product is free of contamination from banned substances such as anabolic steroids.
The price of Naked Nutrition Grass Fed Whey Protein Powder is $94.99 for a one-time purchase, and contains 76 servings of 25 g protein. This equates to $1 per 20 g protein serving. The brand offers a 20% discount for consumers who subscribe to regular shipments.
Best Vegan Protein Powder - Hemp Yeah!
Vegan protein powders are increasing in popularity. More consumers are trying the vegan diet, and vegans may have a greater need for supplemental protein than omnivores.
Our top choice for vegan protein powder is Hemp Yeah! from Manitoba Harvest. This appears to be another high-quality brand, as we recommended one of their products in our recent CBD oil reviews article.
We recommend the unsweetened version of Hemp Yeah! Max Protein, which is linked to above, and which passes the clean formulation test. Its only ingredients are organic hemp protein concentrate and oregano extract.
The protein dosage of this product is 20 g, which meets the effective dose.
Hemp Yeah! has a USDA Organic product certification, which we do believe is valuable for plant proteins. Organic produce has been shown in medical research to be lower in pesticides and slightly more nutrient-dense.
It’s worth noting that this product is significantly more nutrient-dense overall than whey protein. It provides 15% Daily Value (DV) of iron, 20% of potassium, 15% of magnesium, 20% of zinc and 90% of copper. And these nutrients come from the whole food ingredients; there are no synthetic added nutrients like we’ve seen in cheaper protein brands we’ve reviewed in the past.
The relative nutrient density of this product suggests it may be a healthy option not just for vegans, but also for omnivores who may not eat enough produce.
The price of Hemp Yeah! unsweetened is $33.99 for a one-time purchase, and contains 28 servings of 20 g protein. This equates to $1.21 per 20 g serving, which is slightly more expensive than Naked Nutrition. The brand does offer a 5% discount for subscription orders.
Best Collagen Protein - Bulletproof Collagen
Collagen protein is a great protein powder option for consumers who are also focused on skincare, because oral collagen intake is proven in medical studies to reduce signs of skin aging and improve other skin parameters such as hydration and firmness.
As we age, our natural collagen production decreases, and the only way to achieve collagen levels similar to adolescents and young adults is to supplement with oral collagen.
We recommend the unflavored version of Bulletproof Collagen Protein as our top collagen protein powder pick. Like Naked Nutrition, this product has a simple, single-ingredient formulation: collagen protein sourced from grass-fed cows.
This product only contains 18 g protein per serving, so you may want to slightly increase the serving size if you’re using this product post-workout. We would prefer to recommend a collagen protein with a minimum dose of 20 g protein, but we couldn’t find one that also was sourced from grass-fed animals. We believe the health considerations outweigh the performance considerations, and it’s easy to just add about a fifth more of a scoop to get that extra 2 g protein if needed.
The price of Bulletproof Collagen Protein is $76.99 for the 42.3 oz “Bulk Savings” product, which contains 60 servings of 18 g protein. This equates to $1.43 per 20 g serving. The increased price is unsurprising as collagen protein is a more specialized product than standard whey protein, and requires more work on the manufacturing end.
Cheapest Protein Powder - NOW Sports Whey Protein
To get significant cost savings on protein powder you need to buy in bulk. NOW Sports Whey Protein is a 10 pound (lb) bag of whey protein that retails for $119.24 at the time of writing this article. This product contains 162 servings of 25 g protein, which equates to $0.59 per 20 g serving.
NOW Sports protein powder passes the clean formulation test because it’s unflavored and only contains two active ingredients: whey protein and sunflower lecithin, which is a safe and non-toxic food-based emulsifier.
This protein powder brand makes no mention of sourcing from pastured animals, so we'll assume it’s sourced from conventionally-raised animals. This also explains the lower price, as conventionally-raised animal products are cheaper. We believe it makes sense for consumers with high discretionary income to buy exclusively pastured animal products, but this product is still a great option for consumers who may be on a lower income.
One impressive aspect of this product is that even at such a low price-per-serving it still has the same Informed Choice product certification that Naked Nutrition has.
Best Keto Protein Powder - Isopure Zero Carb Protein
The keto diet, short for the ketogenic diet, has been gaining popularity in the U.S. More consumers have been trying this diet, and we wanted to provide a protein powder recommendation for those consumers.
While many popular protein powders could technically be considered keto, given that keto typically allows for around 20 - 50 g carbs, we don’t believe it makes sense to “waste” carbs on protein powder when it would be healthier to utilize most of the available carb allotment from a keto diet on fresh fruits and vegetables.
So even though Naked Nutrition’s whey has only 3 g carbs per serving, we recommend Isopure Zero Carb Protein Powder as our top pick for keto protein powder. It contains zero carbs. This product has a simple formulation: the only ingredients are whey protein and soy lecithin, which is a safe and non-toxic food-based emulsifier.
Isopure protein powder provides 25 g of protein per serving, so it meets the effective dose requirement. Its price is currently $56.99 for a 3 lb tub on Amazon, which equates to $0.97 per 20 g protein serving.
This product does not appear to be sourced from pastured animals, so we don’t consider it as healthy overall as our top overall pick of Naked Nutrition whey protein powder.
Best Flavored Protein Powder - Truvani
Some consumers can’t stand the taste of plain, unflavored protein powder which is what we typically recommend. It can be somewhat chalky and tasteless, even though we believe it’s the healthiest option.
Since we don’t recommend products containing “natural flavors” or “artificial flavors” for health reasons, we found a flavored protein powder that uses whole foods ingredients to create the flavoring.
Truvani Vanilla Protein Powder uses organic vanilla powder and organic monk fruit extract for the flavoring. It also contains organic pumpkin seed concentrate and organic chia protein concentrate. The majority of the protein comes from organic pea protein concentrate. Because all of the ingredients are whole food ingredients this product passes the clean formulation test.
Truvani provides 20 g of protein per serving; right at the effective dose. It’s relatively expensive, which should be expected for a specialty product. This protein powder currently retails for $44.99 on Amazon, which equates to $2.25 per 20 g protein serving. This is around double the cost of any other protein powder we’ve recommended in this article.
Truvani does contain certified vegan and certified gluten-free stamps, so it may be a good option for consumers with dietary restrictions.
What’s Wrong With Most Protein Powders
The average protein powder product is sourced from conventionally-raised animals which we’ve previously established to be nutritionally inferior to animal products sourced from grass-fed animals.
Many protein powders contain added sugars and artificial flavoring agents which we consider unhealthy. The label above is from Optimum Nutrition chocolate flavor; one of the most popular protein powders on the market.
It does provide an effective dose of protein, but the product also contains natural flavors, artificial flavors, modified food starch, and the artificial sweeteners acesulfame potassium and sucralose. We believe that every brand we’ve mentioned in this review has a much cleaner formulation than this product, due to the lack of questionable filler ingredients.