If you’re a fitness n00b, you may only associate protein powders with Arnold Schwarzenneger, and all the bodybuilders at Muscle Beach, slappin’ their thighs in Show Shine oil. Fun, slippery, swole times. All that’s cool, but there’s also not one right way to get your protein powder on, nor do you have to be a bodybuilder to reap their benefits. Protein powders are an easy, tasty way to boost the nutrition of your morning routine, and there are more varieties and flavors on the market than ever—but you've got to pick the right one for your needs. Feeling a bit lost in protein world, we consulted Craig Doty, a NASM Certified Personal Trainer in New York City, the LA-based health and wellness trainer Eleanor Garrett, and other fitness buffs for a whoooole bunch of details on what their favorite protein powders are.
“Think of them as the construction workers of the body,” says Doty about the macronutrients our bodies love in protein, and the powders built around them; “[They] provide the body with the necessary nutritional energy to go about day to day activities,” he explains—like repairing muscles. That being said, he also notes that “the average person can only take in about 20-30 grams of protein per sitting”–which doesn’t mean you can’t technically keep downing protein shakes, but it won’t do much for you. It’s not about consuming more, it’s about consuming smarter.
Here are some of the best protein powders for getting boosted, as recommended by both our workout genies, and thousands of enthusiastic reviewers for the most popular, highly rated protein products on Amazon.
The Best Whey-Based Protein Powders
Whey protein is a staple when it comes to popular powders, lauded for its benefits when it comes to strength training and healing from injuries, according to the Mayo Clinic. While it can be a big-time help for those making ~*~gains~*~, it's not suitable for vegans since it's derived from dairy.
One fitness expert we spoke to says they “simply utilize [protein powders] when I am in the mood and depending on the situation. This could look like adding a scoop of vanilla whey to my breakfast oatmeal, or grabbing a protein shake and some beef jerky from a food stand in the airport in between flights.” Some of their favorite whey powders are by Bare Performance Nutrition, and MTS for taste, price accessibility, flavor range, and ~mixability.
The Best Casein Protein Powder
Like whey, casein powder is derived from milk, but it works a bit differently; casein is absorbed much slower than whey protein, which is more fast-acting, but studies show that casein also has a bunch of other bioactive compounds not found in other protein sources that can boost your gut health. Parker cites Optimum Nutrition as a go-to brand when it comes to building and maintaining muscle.
Then there’s Dymatize’s casein protein powder, which has a 4.7 star review on Amazon, and is a great budget option if you’re shopping around the $30 range. “I can attest that it does it's job,” says one reviewer, “In the morning I typically feel less hungry than if I don't take it, and as a result I'm less sore, etc. I also don't get any bloating, etc.”
The Best Vegan Protein Powders
For vegan protein powders, which are typically made from soy or peas, Doty enjoys Owyn Dark Chocolate Protein shakes, “which are 100% plant-based,” he adds, and “provide nearly half of your daily intake of omega-3, which supports eye and brain health along with preventing heart disease.”
Both Garrett and Doty also recommend Vega Sport, which is a vegan protein powder made of peas. “[It] has 30g of protein per serving, and a variety of flavors,” says Garrett, “I like how clean the ingredients are. Many of my clients suffer from digestive issues like IBS and find this product digests well.”
The plant-based protein powder at Ritual is hands-down the most beautiful protein powder we’ve ever seen, and that’s refreshing in itself. The brand’s daily shake is designed “to support satiety and help build lean muscle mass” and is made with non-GMO ingredients (like USA-grown peas), is third-party tested, and is really shaking up the protein powder game with its ~*~aesthetic~*~ design. Get ‘em while they’re on promo!
They also make a protein powder that is designed specifically for swole lords over 50. It includes calcium HMB, which has been reported to “reduce muscle catabolism and promote gains in fat-free mass and strength.”
The Top-Rated Protein Powders on Amazon
Finally, for a little smorgasbord of some top-sellers on Amazon, we’ve got Optimum Nutrition [toots air horn] coming in clutch with a protein powder enriched with vitamin C, D, and zinc with a 4.5 star rating and 45,000 reviews. As one reviewer wrote, “I've gotten thicker than a snicker. So much mass. And it tastes WONDERFUL.” Damn.
If you’re not looking to drop more than 25-ish bucks on a protein powder, but don’t want to put garbagio in your guts, give products by Orgain a try. The brand’s organic, plant-based powders have earned them a 4.6 star rating on Amazon with over 40,000 reviews, with many saying it’s “ridiculously easy” to mix, with little to no chalkiness.
Cuties love Quest. You may only know the bars from the checkout counter at the bodega, or the inside of your crush’s fanny pack, but did you know that Quest also makes a cinnamon crunch protein powder? There’s a reason this baby has 4.5 stars, and all 19,000 of them are thanks to the shredded, happy reviewer adults who would still die for Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Yum, dude.
If you want to dip your toes into the world of whey, Jock Mölk (who are you, Jocko???) makes a grass-fed, minty chocolate whey protein powder with a 4.7 rating and over 3,000 glowing reviews for a protein powder worthy of its own Nordic folklore saga (or Sublime tribute song). “I Mölk two scoops in the morning. I Mölk two scoops at night,” writes one fan, “I Mölk two scoops in the afternoon. It makes me feel all right. I Mölk two scoops in times of peace and two in time of war. I Mölk two scoops before I Mölk two scoops and then I Mölk two more.”
Any protein powder that integrates the words “cake batter” and “matrix” into its marketing is welcome in this house. BSN’s whey protein powder has over 11,000 reviews and a 4.7 rating on Amazon, with fans saying, “I've been through several brands over the last 10 years or so of using protein supplements […] but of all the brands I've tried this has been by far my favorite, and the best tasting.”
Happy bench pressing, swole ones. See you on the monkey bars.
This story includes product links that may generate affiliate commission for VICE.