The Best Protein Powders of 2022 – SI Showcase

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Choosing the right protein powder can be tough. Whether you have specific dietary restrictions, prefer plant-based protein, or want something that packs in a ton of delicious flavor, you’ll find a protein powder to meet your needs. To help you make an informed decision, we’ve created this comprehensive, nutritionist-backed guide to the best protein powders on the market.

What is Protein?

Protein, alongside carbohydrates and fats, is one of the three macronutrients. It is of particular importance because it plays a role in almost all biological processes of the body. Protein itself is composed of chains of amino acids which function in the body to build human tissues, produce hormones and enzymes, maintain fluid balance, and much more. For athletes, consuming an adequate amount of protein helps build muscle, which both increases strength and aids post training recovery.

The dietary benefits of protein are:

  1. Increased Satiety. This means that you’ll feel full for a longer period of time.
  2. Greater Lean Body Mass. Increased protein ingestion preserves muscle mass.
  3. Increased Metabolic Rate. Protein takes the most energy to digest, so you’ll be upping your metabolic rate post protein consumption.
  4. Decreased Body Fat Conversion. While in a caloric surplus (i.e., eating more calories than your body needs in a day), protein is stored as body fat at approximately 65 percent efficiency; compared to carbohydrates and fat, which are stored at approximately 80 percent efficiency and 95 percent efficiency, respectively. This is because protein requires a percentage of the energy it provides the body for digestion and absorption into the muscles.

The World Health Organization advises a protein intake of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. This means that a 150-pound person would aim to consume only 54 grams of protein per day to meet their dietary needs. The vast majority of people eating a conventional Western diet easily achieve this in a day. However, this recommendation does not consider weight training and/or athletic performance goals. This protein intake is enough to maintain the muscle mass of a relatively sedentary person but it is most definitely not enough to support or maximize muscle growth. This is where taking a protein supplement, such as protein powder, can have a tremendous benefit in your daily regimen.

Should I Use Protein Powder?

Consider your health and fitness goals. For instance, a long distance runner needs a different amount of protein than an Olympic weightlifter. Here are some recommendations:

Athletes Who Aren’t Aiming to Change Their Weight

Athletic performance-oriented individuals who aren’t concerned with gaining or losing weight should aim for the following daily protein intakes, expressed in grams of protein per pound (g/lb.) of body weight.

  1. Sedentary or low-intensity activity = 0.4 g/lb.
  2. Endurance Training (moderate/heavy training) = 0.5 – 0.7 g/lb.
  3. Strength & Power Training = 0.6 – 0.8 g/lb.

Muscle Building/Weight Gain Program

During a “bulking” phase, where you are aiming to gain weight and build muscle, you are consuming excess calories and therefore have carbohydrates and fats to burn as fuel. This type of plan has a protein sparing effect; because your body won’t need to use protein as energy, you will not need to consume excess protein. The protein recommendations for a bulking program are 0.7-1 g/lb. of body weight.

Fat Loss Program

During a “cutting” phase you are taking in less food (energy) than your body is burning, which places you in a caloric deficit to lose weight. While you are in a caloric deficit, you have less overall body fat and glycogen stores, which are the energy reserves for the body. In this scenario, your body is much more likely to break down muscle tissue as a source of energy since you no longer are getting energy from excess carbohydrates and fats. For this reason, it is advised to increase protein consumption. The protein recommendations are 0.8-1.2 g/lb. of body weight.

Body Recomposition Program

During this program you are looking to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Although you might not see your overall weight change during this process, you should be able to see progress over time in the mirror. On this program you will be using a maintenance level of calories (i.e., the number of calories your body needs in one day to stay at the same weight you are now) with the same protein requirement as a cutting phase.

If you’re already consuming enough protein to support your activity level and goals, you do not need a protein powder. However, if you find yourself falling short of that mark, let’s find a supplement that works for your goals.

What to Consider When Choosing a Protein Powder

When looking for a protein supplement, you want to think about more than just the amount of protein per serving. Take into account a number of different factors such as the ingredient quality, macronutrient numbers, amino acid profile, taste and cost. It’s also good to look at manufacturing and third party testing—in most cases, supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so NSF Certified for Sport is the gold standard to look for.

Muscle protein synthesis, or muscle growth, is stimulated by resistance training along with the intake of amino acids from protein; in particular the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These three amino acids make up about one-third of the body’s muscle protein, and have been shown to help build muscle by increasing the rate of protein synthesis and decreasing the rate of protein degradation in resting human muscle tissue.

The amino acid leucine is particularly important because it stimulates an enzyme called mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) which triggers new muscle growth. Three grams per meal, for a total of 15-20 grams per day, has been shown to be the amount necessary to stimulate mTOR and muscle protein synthesis. Leucine is most commonly found in animal sources, including eggs, milk, fish, and meats.

When to Eat Protein

For optimal protein intake, it’s best to focus on overall protein consumption throughout the day rather than being incredibly preoccupied by the amount of protein consumed per meal. This is important for people who follow different dietary protocols such as time restricted eating, one meal a day (OMAD), or intermittent fasting. However, based on the research, if we want to be as optimal as possible, then 3-5 meals containing protein spread evenly throughout the day is likely best for maximizing muscle protein synthesis and better for digestion as a whole. This is where having a protein supplement like protein powder can be an important asset to anyone’s health and fitness program.

Ahead is our in-depth list of 13 protein powder supplements we’ve tested and reviewed ourselves. All protein powders listed below were produced in a cGMP (current good manufacturing processes) facility and are tested by third party labs. The supplement industry is not currently regulated by the FDA, and so these processes ensure that the supplement is sourced, formulated, labeled, and packaged according to the leading safety standards.

For comparison purposes, all proteins shown below were compared by price per 20 grams of protein.

Animal-Based Whey Protein Powder Supplements

Transparent Labs

Transparent Labs offers a grass-fed whey protein isolate that contains no artificial colors, sweeteners or flavors. Whey isolate is different from concentrate because it is processed to reduce the fat and lactose content, leaving mainly high quality protein. This offers consumers a low calorie, high protein shake option. In addition, whey protein isolate is often preferred by consumers who have difficulties digesting lactose since a majority of the lactose is removed during processing. This product is sweetened with stevia leaf extract and the chocolate peanut butter flavor was one of the best tasting protein powders I have ever tried. This product was a little clumpy in a classic shaker bottle so using a blender is advised for mixing this powder. The brand’s eight flavors include Cinnamon French Toast, Salted Caramel, and Mocha. I would have to agree with the 1685 reviews, and an average rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars on the company’s website, that this is one of the best protein powder supplements currently on the market; you can feel confident trusting that this protein powder checks all the boxes of a high quality protein supplement.

Key Info:

  • Per Serving: 140 Calories, 28g Protein, 3g Carbohydrates, 1g Fat
  • Gluten Free, No Preservatives
  • $60/ 30 servings 
  • Price per 20 gram serving of protein: $1.43
Biosteel Whey Protein

BioSteel offers a whey protein isolate-dominant formula (whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, whey protein hydrolysate) that contains no artificial colors, sweeteners, or flavors and is sweetened naturally with stevia leaf extract. Like the Transparent Labs drink, whey isolate undergoes a secondary processing stage to convert concentrate into isolate here, which removes some of the fat and lactose. This supplement has over 5 grams of BCAAs per serving and comes in flavors such as Fruity Cereal, Cookies ‘N’ Cream, Chocolate, and Vanilla. The chocolate flavor was creamy and delicious and mixed easily in a shaker bottle. BioSteel supplements have been NSF International (National Sanitation Foundation) certified for sport, meaning they have been certified as safe under the current anti-doping protocols.

Key Info

  • Per Serving: 120 Calories, 24g Protein, 3g Carbohydrates, 1g Fat
  • GMO Free, Soy Free, Gluten Free, rBGH Free
  • $30/ 14 servings 
  • Price per 20 gram serving of protein: $1.50
Kaged Protein

Kaged Muscle offers whey protein isolate that contains no artificial colors or flavors. This product contains pure whey protein isolate; however, it is flavored with sucralose which causes the product to taste very sweet and can possibly cause gastric distress for sensitive individuals. That being said, if you can tolerate the artificial sweetener, at only $1.16 per 20 gram serving of protein this supplement is a great option for those looking to maximize their budget. This product doesn’t offer a full amino acid profile breakdown, which we would like to see, but it does have 12 grams of essential amino acids, 8.3 grams of non-essential amino acids, 5.7 grams of BCAAs and 4.7 grams of conditional amino acids per serving. Kaged muscle offers the standard chocolate and vanilla flavor options but also includes chocolate peanut butter, s’mores, and my personal favorite the cinnamon french toast.

Key Info:

  • Per Serving: 120 Calories, 25g Protein, 3g Carbohydrates, 0.5g Fat
  • GMO Free, Gluten Free
  • $45/45 servings
  • Price per 20 gram serving of protein: $1.16 —the best value in our test
Naked Blend Protein

Naked Protein offers a protein blend of egg, whey and casein that contains no artificial colors, sweeteners or flavors. This blend of protein powder can be a benefit for people who go an extended period of time between meals. The addition of the egg and casein proteins, due to their molecular structure, slows the digestion of the protein in the stomach and allows for a time-release effect. This is a no-frills protein powder with no filler ingredients, just a high quality powder with 25 grams of protein per serving and only 1 gram of carbs and 1.5 grams of fat. As a bonus, it contains 3 grams of the amino acid leucine per serving, which has been shown to promote muscle protein synthesis. One thing to note is that this is an unsweetened product, with no flavor — so you likely will not be throwing it into a shaker and sipping on it. This powder blends easily and is a fantastic option to add to a morning smoothie with some fruit for flavor.

Key Info:

  • Per Serving: 110 Calories, 25g Protein, 1g Carbohydrates, 1.5g Fat
  • GMO Free, Soy Free, Gluten Free, Paleo & Keto Friendly, Growth Hormone Free (no rBGH or rBST)
  • $27/16 servings
  • Price per 20 gram serving of protein: $1.38
Optimum Nutrition

Optimum Nutrition (ON) offers a whey protein isolate dominant formula (whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, hydrolyzed whey protein) which, due to the ultrafiltration process to remove excess carbohydrates and fats, has been shown to absorb more readily than whey concentrate alternatives. However, it does contain artificial flavors and sweeteners like acesulfame potassium. For those on a budget, this is a solid protein supplement choice from a company that has been in the supplement industry since 1986. ON products have been Informed Sport Certified, which means their products are regularly tested for banned substances and are safe for athletes that undergo mandatory anti-doping controls. The flavors I have personally tried include chocolate mint, chocolate peanut butter, cookies and cream, double rich chocolate, strawberry banana and vanilla ice cream. They have all tasted great and are at a price point that is hard to beat.

Key Info:

  • Per Serving: 120 Calories, 24g Protein, 3g Carbohydrates, 1.5g Fat
  • Gluten Free, No artificial growth hormones.
  • $38/29 servings
  • Price per 20 gram serving of protein: $1.06

Vegan and Vegetarian Protein Powder Supplements:

Vega Protein

Vega offers a vegan protein powder consisting of a matrix of pea, pumpkin, alfalfa and sunflower protein containing all 9 essential amino acids. The powder is a well-rounded supplement developed for athletes as it also includes ingredients like tart cherry, turmeric and probiotics which have been shown to aid in enhancing recovery and digestion. This protein is NSF International certified for sport, for athletes following anti-doping protocols. This supplement was co-founded by vegan triathlete Brendan Brazier who has been embracing the power of plants since 2001 when the company was founded. Vega Sport Premium Protein powder not only covers the macronutrients and amino acids found in a conventional whey protein powder, but exceeds the overall nutrition due to all of the additional plant based ingredients. The flavors currently offered include vanilla, chocolate, mocha, berry, and peanut butter. So far I have only tried the vanilla flavor and it didn’t disappoint; it has a creamy vanilla flavor, mixed well, and tasted great.

Key Info:

  • Per Serving: 160 Calories, 30g Protein, 4g Carbohydrates, 3g Fat
  • Gluten Free, Vegan
  • $35/14 servings 
  • Price per 20 gram serving of protein: $1.96
Ascent Protein

Ascent offers a high quality plant protein powder combining pea, pumpkin and sunflower protein. This matrix includes 4 grams of BCAAs including 2 grams of leucine. Offering the standard chocolate and vanilla flavors, this powder mixes well and uses organic stevia leaf extract as the sweetener. Ascent protein is not classified as a “supplement” and is instead categorized as a food and therefore regulated by the FDA. This means that the manufacturing and testing is the gold standard for supplement companies. This product is also Informed Sport certified. Ascent also offers whey protein options in addition to its plant protein supplements. In my opinion, Ascent has the best tasting plant protein currently on the market; I also know that they are in the process of releasing a chocolate peanut flavor for their plant protein line as well.

Key Info:

  • Per Serving: 150 Calories, 25g Protein, 8g Carbohydrates, 3.5g Fat:
  • Certified Organic, Gluten Free, Diary Free, Vegan, Soy-Free, No Artificial Ingredients
  • $42/18 servings 
  • Price per 20 gram serving of protein: $1.87
NorCal Organic Pea Protein

NorCal Organic offers a sole ingredient supplement of yellow pea protein isolate. Unlike some other plant proteins, pea is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all 9 essential amino acids, and additionally is quite high in the BCAA leucine (> 2g). This product is unsweetened and unflavored and therefore is not meant to be mixed with water and consumed. The benefit of this product is that you know exactly what you are getting since there are no added colors, flavors or sugars. Almost all the calories are coming directly from the pea protein. This also helps from a cost analysis making this the cheapest “per serving” protein powder on the list and great for consumers looking for a high quality vegan product without the unnecessary frills. This product mixes well with water in a blender bottle with some vigorous shaking but a blender is preferred. However, since it’s unflavored, I prefer mixing this product with orange juice instead of water and drinking it on my way to work in the morning.

Key Info:

  • Per Serving: 100 Calories, 22g Protein, 1g Carbohydrates, 1.5g Fat
  • Vegan, Gluten Free, Allergen Free, Dairy Free, Soy Free, No added colors, flavors, or sweeteners
  • $68/35 servings 
  • Price per 20 gram serving of protein: $0.91
Orgain Protein

Orgain offers a protein mix of pea, brown rice and chia seeds. The nine different flavors are naturally sweetened with erythritol and stevia extract, so the powder tastes good and isn’t too sweet. The possible downside is that this protein powder does contain 15 grams of carbohydrates and four grams of fat to accompany the 21 grams of protein. For athletes these extra nutrients might be a benefit, but it does mean that this product has a higher calorie to protein ratio than some other supplements on this list. In addition, the amino acid profile is around three grams of BCAAs per serving which is a little lower than some other protein supplements on the market. Overall, this is a good tasting vegan/vegetarian supplement for those looking to add some extra protein into their diet. Additionally, for those consumers looking to get more than just protein from their powder, Orgain offers combinations of protein with additional benefits such as Protein & Superfoods and Protein & Greens.

Key Info:

  • Per Serving (150 Calories, 21g Protein, 15g Carbohydrates, 4g Fat)
  • Vegan, Gluten Free, Dairy-Free, Soy Free, Non-GMO, No artificial ingredients
  • $34/20 servings 
  • Price per 20 gram serving of protein: $2.76

Bonus Picks:

Navitas Organic Hemp Powder

The sole ingredient in the supplement from Navitas Organics is certified organic hemp powder. This is another product that is unflavored and is not meant to be simply mixed with water and drank. To be honest, it’s hard to even call this a true protein powder supplement due it only having 13 grams of protein per serving — instead I see this product as more of a smoothie additive along the lines of chia, flax or spirulina. It would be a fantastic addition to any shake, smoothie, or topping a yogurt bowl for some added protein. The benefit of this supplement is that hemp is a complete vegan protein and is an excellent source of both minerals and fiber. This is a fantastic product, but if you are looking for something with a high amount of protein per serving then other powders may be a better solution to fit your specific dietary needs.

Key Info:

  • Per Serving (120 Calories, 13g Protein, 11g Carbohydrates, 3g Fat)
  • Vegan, Gluten Free, Dairy-Free, Soy Free, Non-GMO, No artificial ingredients
  • $17/11 servings 
  • Price per 20 gram serving of protein: $2.31
Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides

Vital Proteins’s Collagen Peptides is a protein-containing supplement designed to provide the benefits of collagen. Research has demonstrated that adding collagen peptides to your daily regimen may help with bone density and skin, ligament, tendon, hair and nail health. The amino acid profile listed has around one gram of BCAAs per serving and therefore would not be ideal for a muscle building application and it is not advertised as such. This product mixes great in anything from water to juice to milk and has absolutely no flavor.

Key Info

  • Per Serving: 70 Calories, 18g Protein, 0g Carbohydrates, 0g Fat
  • GMO-free, gluten free, dairy free; no added colors, flavors, or sweeteners
  • $28/14 servings 
  • Price per 20 gram serving of protein: $2.11
Phorm

The reason that 1st Phorm Level 1 is separate from the above list is that it is advertised as a meal replacement powder instead of a protein powder. This means that it purposefully has additional ingredients to up its caloric content. Additionally, this type of supplement is used by people who have trouble gaining weight or need a quick and easy high-calorie shake due to their busy jobs or schedules. However, this product really is in the middle of protein powder and a meal replacement supplement since it only has an additional seven grams of carbohydrates and two grams of fat per serving, totaling only 140 calories. People who are looking to gain weight should find a meal replacement powder with more overall calories, or bulk this one up by adding ingredients such as oats, seeds, or peanut butter to this supplement in the form of a shake. One major advantage of 1st Phorm supplements is that they offer a bunch of enticing flavors including mint ice cream sandwich, cinnamon cookie batter, caramel latte and chocolate banana if you want to add a little flavor variety to your routine. This product is a whey, milk, and casein blend and although it contains artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners, the flavors are fantastic and I would highly recommend either the mint ice cream sandwich or the cinnamon cookie batter flavors.

Key Info:

  • Per Serving: 140 Calories, 24g Protein, 7g Carbohydrates, 2g Fat
  • $55/30 servings 
  • Price per 20 gram serving of protein: $1.53

Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.


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