Finding the best protein powder depends on what your goals are. In general, people drink shakes for two, sometimes conflicting reasons:
1. Gain muscle (good weight gain).
2. Lose fat (good weight loss).
In an ideal world, everyone could gain plenty of muscle and lose tons of fat at the same time. In the real world, however, it’s important to concentrate on either one or the other goal. (Fitness models and professional bodybuilders, whose livelihood depends on how they look, follow a gaining-muscle cycle then a losing-fat cycle before contests.)
So concentrate on finding the most effective protein powder for ONE of these goals. We’ve made an interactive guide to help you compare the different types. If you’re a bodybuilding stud (or studette), you could read its contents and know exactly what to look for.
Dairy-based protein powder, including whey and casein, are popular due the high levels of protein they both contain.
Unfortunately, whey and casein powders are indigestible for some users, and people may experience abdominal discomfort after drinking any dairy products. A person could be allergic to some unknown products in the dairy-based protein powder or they may be lactose intolerant.
While the product is generally safe and effective when used according to the label, there are indeed side effects of whey protein for some users, though whether these qualify as dangerous or not is up to the individual.
And remember, these are the most common side effects because even authorities like WebMD has stated protein powder is generally safe for healthy adults.
COMMON SIDE EFFECTS OF WHEY PROTEIN?
• a bloated feeling
• abdominal cramps
• increased bowel movements
5 WAYS TO MITIGATE THESE COMMON EFFECTS:
1. First, make sure you’re not lactose-intolerant. If your stomach feels like it’s refighting the Battle of Midway after ingesting protein powder, chances are you’re lactose intolerant.
Lactose-intolerance discomfort is the most common side effect of whey protein. The substance is sourced from milk and is comprised of about 5% to 6% of lactose. People who are lactose intolerant are incapable of absorbing lactose, which is sugar from milk.
Certain ethnic groups are more lactose intolerant than others. If you belong to the most affected groups, well, chances are you’re lactose intolerant and could feel the side effects of whey protein.
Percentage of lactose intolerant populations by ethnic group:
Whites – 15%
Hispanics – 50%
Blacks – 75%
Asians – 90+%
Native Americans – 90+%
There are also some overlaps among groups. For example, American Jews, while predominantly white, have a 60% lactose-intolerance rate.
But just because you belong to the most affected groups doesn’t mean you are lactose intolerant. Listen to (or, more likely, feel) your stomach, and you’ll pretty much figure it out.
Here are some remedies if you’re sure you’re lactose intolerant:
If pills don’t work and the side effects persist, you just have to go with another, non-milk protein powder.
These would provide you with the proper protein without the discomfort that lactose-intolerant users experience from whey protein.
2. The second remedy for protein-powder discomfort is simply exercise! This goes without saying, but if you ingest a lot of protein, whether from powder or any other form and you’re not working out, your body will not handle it well.
Proper exercise includes a cardio program, a weight-training program, and a stretching program, as outlined in most fitness books.
3. Drink plenty of water to offset all the protein your body is taking in. Bodybuilders, who consume the most protein of just about any athlete, are advised to drink at least 1 gallon of water a day.
And I say “at least.” If you’re serious about working out, you should drink that much too. Water helps flush out improper and impure substances in your body, and it helps with a lot more than just eating protein powder.
4. Don’t overly consume protein powder. The US government recommends most adults eat around 56 grams of protein a day, and while athletes almost always eat more, even the most hardcore bodybuilders eat no more than 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Don’t forget: that’s 1.5 grams of protein per bodyweight pound, not 1.5 grams of protein powder per pound. So all your other protein sources plus protein powder combined should not be more than 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight. And you should be eating other protein sources, which brings us to the next remedy . .
5. Eat a balanced diet. Drink your protein shakes but don’t use protein powder as your only source of protein; it’s a supplement to real protein foods you should eat and enjoy—steaks, chicken, fish, eggs, etc. Supplement those sources of protein with fresh vegetables and fruits and complex carbs like brown rice and whole-wheat pasta.
SO WHY TAKE PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS AT ALL?
It’s not absolutely necessary for men and for women to drink protein shakes to live a healthy lifestyle. However, if you want to grow muscle/lose fat, you should be eating small meals.
What happens if you’re only eating a small breakfast, a small lunch, and a small dinner? That’s right—you get hungry between meals and reach for that bag of chips or, worse, pig out at the next meal. Of course, you can always cook a lot of small meals, but who has the time?
Enter protein powders. You drink them with water or mix them with milk or a sports drink, and have them between meals and/or before bedtime. 3 meals + 2 or 3 shakes a day supply your muscles with proper nutrients all day and night without the added fat and cholesterol of potentially unhealthy food.
SO WHAT IS THE BEST SUPPLEMENT? WHAT ARE THE BEST INGREDIENTS?
While anything animal-based can be made into a powder, the most common and the top type of protein powder are made of either whey or casein, both of which come from milk. We could go into a 100-page analysis of both, but for practical purposes all you need to really know are a few simple facts.
Whey gets absorbed quickly into your bloodstream so it’s ideal after a workout or upon waking up in the morning or generally throughout the day. Casein, on the other hand, gets absorbed slowly so it’s ideal to take it before bedtime so your body will be replenished while you sleep.
A lot of people buy both whey and casein, but if you had to choose only one, we suggest you go with good quality whey. It’s cheaper, more practical, and, to most people, tastes better too. For general use, whey is probably the best protein powder source.
Since both of these sources come from milk, if you’re vegan, you might want to try a supplement that’s completely plant-based. The most popular ones are soy, rice, and pea. Soy is generally considered the most ideal vegan protein because it’s one of the few plant-based ones that’s complete—i.e., have all the necessary amino acids that animal-based ones (whey, casein, etc.) have.
SO, DARN IT, WHICH PROTEIN POWDER IS THE BEST?!!
Well, we assume you’re exercising with weights and some sort of cardio program (walking, running, etc.). If you aren’t, nothing below will really help you.
Also, it’s important to not only look at the price of the item but also how much it costs per serving or, even more importantly, how much it costs per protein gram. A $10 product that only provides 100 grams of protein is worse than a $100 product that provides 1500 grams.
Other people might follow a vegan lifestyle and want a plant-based protein powder. Others still might adhere to the paleo diet,which doesn’t allow for dairy proteins. Good news is there are many different dairy free protein powder supplements available.
(A quick note: All those trendy, scientific-sounding terms—““isolate BCAA matrix!”—that supplement companies throw out to trick you into thinking they have the best brand of protein powder are not included. Really, protein powders or supplements need not be so complicated. Don’t get scammed!)
TO GAIN MUSCLE (GOOD WEIGHT GAIN):
What are the best protein shakes for increasing mass? Anything that’ll increase the number of calories you eat beyond what your body can burn. So as long as its fat content is low, any supplement that has the most calories (in the form of protein and carbohydrates) is excellent.
Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass
If you want to gain muscle fast, Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass (around $40) is the ticket. Each serving has 1250 calories and 50 grams of protein, which are way more than any other supplement we know of.
Fat is kept low at only 4 grams per serving and carbs are high at 253 grams, but if you’re only interested in muscle gain, those extra carb calories won’t hurt you.
The product’s only downside is its price per protein gram isn’t the lowest at 4 pennies per gram. But then again you’re getting a lot of carb calories too. This is why Serious Mass is one of the top protein shakes for weight gain.
CytoSport Cyto Gainer
CytoSport Cyto Gainer(around $42) is another good choice. Sure, you’re only getting 280 calories per serving, but that’s still twice as many calories as most supplements’ servings. Each serving will also provide you with 2 grams of fat, 38 grams of carbs, and 27 grams of protein.
TO LOSE FAT (GOOD WEIGHT LOSS):
Here, your goal is to lower your caloric intake so it falls below what your body is burning. How do you lower your calories? Obviously, you lower your fat intake as much as possible, but you also lower your carb intake while leaving your protein intake high. Bodybuilders and fitness models pretty much follow the same diet when losing weight—cut down on carbs and fat and keep protein intake high.
So, clearly, the best weight loss supplements would be ones that are high in protein but low in fat and carbs. Mix with water or nonfat milk (anything without carbs and fat), and you have the perfect protein for smoothies. These are what we’d recommend:
The Now Foods Whey (around $60) is excellent for weight loss because each serving only has 1 gram of fat and carbohydrates each, creating only 105 calories.
Where do these calories come from? You guessed it—25 grams of good quality protein! And the product’s reasonably priced at only 3 pennies per protein gram.
In fact, due to its cost and extremely low fat/carb and high protein content, Now Foods Whey might also be the best protein powder for people who already are at their preferred weight.
Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydro Whey (around $60) has the same low fat content as the Now Foods, one more gram of carbohydrate (2 grams per serving instead of 1), but 5 more protein grams, making an impressive 30 grams of protein per serving. The cost stays cheap too at only 3 pennies per protein gram.
FOR THE BUDGET-MINDED
This one’s easy. Body Fortress Whey (around $30) provides you with two 2-pound tubs (that’s 4 pounds if you flunked 1st grade math) of high-end protein. What does this mean? It means you get 50 servings for that price, and each serving gives you 26 grams of protein, making it only 2 pennies per protein gram!
Its fat and carb content, while not super-low, is kept reasonable at 2 and 7 grams per serving. All in all, this Body Fortess product provides the cheapest but still great quality supplement and creates the number one protein shake for the budget-minded.
IF YOU ONLY DRINK A SHAKE RIGHT BEFORE BED:
Optimum nutrition 100% Casein (around $30) is a casein product since it’s slow-acting so your body, while sleeping, would get its nourishment throughout the night. And since you’ll be sleeping right after taking this, you better hope for low fat and low carbs since you don’t want to look like a sumo wrestler when you wake up (sumo wrestlers do indeed sleep right after they eat!).
So each serving of the Optimum nutrition 100% Casein gives you only 1 gram fat and 4 gram carb and a terrific 24 grams of protein. All this and you’re still only paying a very reasonable 4 pennies per protein gram. Mix it with nonfat milk or water, this is probably the best value protein powder for smoothies if you only drink at night.
WHAT PROTEIN SUPPLEMENT TO BUY IF YOU’RE A VEGAN:
The same principle applies for vegans as non vegans. Eat a low-fat, high-carb, high-protein diet for weight gain; eat a low-fat, low-carb, high-protein diet for weight loss. Only difference is you’ll be drinking plant-based shakes instead of whey- or casein-based ones.
Below, we’ll give you recommendations on the best plant-based, dairy-free protein powders.
RICE AND PEA PROTEIN POWDER:
Rice protein is another great dairy free protein powder. It is derived from brown rice and is ideal for gluten-free protein drinks. Pea protein powders are also gluten free, dairy free, and are hypoallergenic, like rice protein powder.
PROS: Since both powders are non-allergenic, these products will not be as harsh on the digestive system. Your stomach might thank you.
CONS: Rice protein, however, is not a complete protein so another protein would have to pair with it in order to make it a whole food. Neither is pea protein. Which is why both rice and pea are often paired together to form a complete protein powder (i.e., one that has all the amino acids that meat- or dairy-based protein powders have).
RECOMMENDED RICE AND PEA PROTEIN POWDERS:
Nutribiotic Organic Rice Protein
Serving Per Container: 40 (15 gm each)
Protein per serving 12 gm
Fat 0 gm
Now Foods Pea Protein
Price Around $20
Serving per container 10 (33 gm each)
Protein per serving 24 gm
Fat 1 gm
Carb 2 gm
HEMP PROTEIN POWDER:
Hemp protein powder is probably the best plant-based protein on the market, and it is inexpensive.
PROS: Hemp is a gluten-free protein powder that can be absorbed into the blood stream quickly. It is also easy to digest since all of its digestive enzymes are in place.
CONS: Since hemp seed powder is not a complete protein, it should be combined with other plant-based proteins so that all amino acids are consumed. Those who suffer from an auto-immune disease may be sensitive to hemp protein powder and find that it causes their immune system to react.
RECOMMENDED HEMP PROTEIN POWDER:
Nutiva Organic Hemp Protein
Price Around $20
Serving per container 15 (30 gm each)
Protein per serving 15 gm
Fat 3 gm
Carb 8 gm
SOY PROTEIN POWDER:
Soy protein can be made into plant-based, sugar-free protein shakes that are highly digestible.
PROS: Soy is a complete protein, carrying all of the amino acids that the body needs; it is also low in fat and has no cholesterol. If you’re not allergic to soy, it’s probably the most effective non-dairy AND VEGAN protein powder.
CONS: Although soy protein powder offers great benefits, it can cause the same allergies and reactions as some dairy protein powders. These allergy symptoms may include runny noses, bloating, and/or nausea.
RECOMMENDED SOY PROTEIN POWDER:
Bob’s Red Mill Isolated Soy
Price Around $10
Serving per container 20 (20 gm each)
Protein per serving 17 gm
Fat 1 gm
Carb 0 gm
Bob’s Red Mill Isolated Soy is wonderful with 0 fat grams and 0 carbohydrate grams per serving. For vegan weight loss, this is the best protein for smoothies.
Best Egg Protein Powder:
The best egg-based protein powder one could find is Now Foods Egg White Protein. Just like its beef protein powder, it only contains 1 ingredient: egg-white powder. No salt, no sugar, no preservatives. And it’s even a bit more robust than the beef protein with 16 grams of protein per serving (for around $18 you get 27 servings).
Protein Powder for Kids
The adult daily intake of protein should equal 45-56 grams. For those active in sports and exercise, an increase is helpful. Strength training athletes require about 1.4 to 1.8 grams per kilogram (2.2lbs) of body weight per day. Endurance athletes need about 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram (2.2lbs) of body weight per day.
Children under 14 do not require large quantities of protein as they grow so protein supplements for kids (preteens anyway) is not essential.
For pre-teens (under 14 years of age) taking too many protein supplements would be foolish. It’s unnecessary and maybe even harmful to have protein powder for children under 14.
Young kids should instead learn how to make their own balanced meals rather than simply reach for a protein shake to balance their nutrition. For instance, these nutritious foods already contain a healthy amount of protein. A four-ounce chicken breast has 36 grams. Four ounces of hamburger or 4 ounces of tuna both contain 28 grams. A six-ounce steak has a hefty 42 grams of protein. Whole, natural foods can certainly provide a pre-teen the correct protein amount.
But is protein powder healthy for older kids, namely for active teens over age 14 competing in sports? If a teenager asks, “Do I need protein powder,” what is the answer? Well, it’s absolutely okay—as long as the young person consumes it in moderation. See, the body cannot absorb large amounts of protein at one time, regardless of age. A lot more is not always a lot better and could deplete the body of precious minerals.
Still, many teenagers, especially ones who do a lot of weightlifting or do powerful sports like football, can turn to protein to enhance their workouts. A scoop of whey protein powder might be an intelligent choice as a supplement to an already good diet. It provides all the essential amino acids for healthy growth and development. But again, the key word is “supplement.” If a teenager is eating pizza and fries all day, protein supplements might not be a good idea; the first step is cleaning up his or her diet then supplementing.
So if a teenager’s diet is already pretty good, by all means, they can take protein powder.
Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard is pretty much the world’s bestselling protein powder—and for good reason. While it’s not the cheapest at $30 for a 3-pound tub, that price also gives you 28 (32 gm each) servings and each one is a very respectable 24 grams of protein. This is the one I use myself, and it mixes easily and tastes rather good (for a supplement, at least) when mixed with milk or Gatorade or even water. It’s probably the best whey protein for kids over 14.
Now, if you’re a kid or if you’re a parent who doesn’t want to spend a lot, we recommend Body Fortress Whey. For around $30, you get 5 pounds tub. It will give you 50 servings of 26 protein grams, which is among the most economical protein supplements for children.
Does protein powder go bad?
Every protein powder brand has a different shelf life, but usually the supplement expires a year from when it was purchased or manufactured. For some, it can even last two to three years if it is stored in a secure and cool environment.
Although the powder can be safely consumed in the coming year or two, it does not always maintain its vitamins and nutrients, which can break down after many months of being stored.
The question “Does protein powder go bad?” should be changed to “How to maintain protein powder’s maximum freshness?” To ensure it lasts longer, keep the container sealed for as long as possible before using it.
How to Store Protein Powder
When storing protein powder, make sure it is properly sealed without any exposure to air or moisture. It is more susceptible to moisture due to its texture, so it’s important to keep it in a dry and cool environment like a pantry.
Like most dehydrated foods, protein powder does not spoil easily or quickly. To test the quality of the product, simply smell it and see if it’s lost its original scent. Expired protein powder often can smell like wood or the plastic it’s stored in.
The best way to determine if it’s still good is to check the protein powder expiration date. By law, sealed foods must have an expiration date to warn consumers before consumption. Many suppliers even sell expired protein powder that can be up to a year old that is still healthy to consume and contains plenty of nutrients and vitamins.
If you’re buying protein powder in a jar or tub with a twist seal, you already have the perfect container to keep it fresh for as long as you can. If you’re able, just buy enough protein powder so you can finish it within a few months (say, 6 or less months) to insure maximum freshness.
If you’re buying protein powder in bulk and it comes in a bag, it’s probably best for you to place it in an airtight container to maintain maximum freshness. After all, even if it doesn’t expire, its freshness and potency degenerate a bit with each stored month if it’s not in a sealed and dry place.
Depending on how much protein powder you have, you can buy a smaller protein shake container or a larger one.
Hope you’ve found your best protein powder. Now hit those weights!