Protein powders are a common staple in many an athlete’s training plan. Fitness enthusiasts across the board are now turning to protein powders, too. But how on earth is anyone supposed to decide which type/brand to go for?
If you’re a little overwhelmed by all the products on the shelves, maybe this will help.
What to look for in a protein powder
When it comes to protein, Whey is generally recognised as the don by most fitness and nutrition professionals. This is mostly because it represents major proteins in human breast milk – as opposed to cow’s milk, which is mainly casein. (It does come from cows, though – not humans!)
Whey is a source of essential amino acids, which are hugely important in the maintenance of muscle. It’s an excellent post-workout choice because of its rapid absorption into the body and high levels of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). It’s generally the easiest protein to digest and will get to your muscles the fastest.
Whey powders often combine isolates and concentrates. Isolates are considered purer, so those types are often more expensive.
Casein can take 2-4 hours to digest, so is not recommended for use during or after workouts, where you’d want something faster to digest. It’s good as a pre-bed protein, as the slow release can get to work while you’re sleeping, helping to reduce the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that happens after a good workout. (Eating some cheese before bed does the same thing.)
Soya is a popular choice for those wanting to avoid milk products. It’s a source of phytooestrogens, so may help alleviate menopausal symptoms. Hemp, pea and rice are also non-milk protein options. Hemp seeds are rich in chlorophyll, magnesium, potassium, iron and B vitamins. It also contains a comprehensive amino acid blend.
When it comes to picking the powder to go for, taste is also normally pretty high up the list. It can be jam-packed with good stuff, but if it tastes nasty, you’re going to struggle with actually drinking it.
We’ve spent the last few months trialing a number of different protein powders, looking for the ones that really stand out. Looking for the one that will earn itself a permanent spot in our own gym bags. Here’s what we’ve discovered.
(It’s pretty long, but we’ve got a table at the end putting them all side-by-side.)
Multipower 100% Whey
This tastes amazing. Only one other powder on our list beat Multipower 100% Whey on taste.
Each (30g) serving provides 24g of protein, including 5.7g of naturally occurring BCAAs, and 3.8g of glutamine. With a low carb and fat profile of 1.4g and 1.3g respectively, this powder is perfect for supporting muscle growth and getting lean. A 30g serving is 115 calories.
A 2kg tub will set you back £64.99, which works out to £0.03/gram.
Kinetica Whey Protein
The strawberry Whey Protein from Kinetica tastes great and is a good consistency.
Each (30g) serving contains 23g protein, 1.4g carbs and 2.5g fat at 118kcal. This includes 5.7g of BCAAs, which are the building blocks of muscle. Each pouch also contains a number of the other essential and non-essential amino acids.
A 2.27kg tub costs £74.99, which works out to £0.03/gram.
Neat Nutrition Lean Protein
The vanilla Lean Protein from Neat Nutrition tastes pretty nice. It comes out thicker than most of the protein powders, which is great, but doesn’t mix very well so you’ll need to give it a proper beating in the shaker or try blending it.
Each 30g serving has 115 calories, 24g of protein, 2.2g of carbs and 3g of fat. This protein powder is great during a workout, including 500mg of Acetyl L-Carnitine and 500mg matcha green tea to provide an energy boost.
A 1kg pouch costs £34, which is just over £0.03 a gram.
The strawberry flavoured Promax Lean protein from Maxi Nutrition tastes pretty good.
A 60g serving of Maxi Nutrition’s Promax Lean has 240 kcal, providing 38.6g of protein, 10.8g of carbs and 4.7g of fat, meaning it provides the most protein per serving of any of the products we looked at (but also has double the serving size of most).
Comparatively, 30g would provide: 120 calories, 17.g protein, 5.4g carbs and 2.4g fat.
A 1.2kg tub will cost you £44.99, the equivalent just under £0.04 a gram.
Herbalife 24 Rebuild Endurance
The vanilla Herbalife 24 Rebuild Endurance protein shake doesn’t taste great, but you get used to it after a while.
Each (50g) serving provides 10g protein, including nearly a gram of BCAAs, 36g carbs and 0.38g fat. It also provides a good dose of vitamins B6, B12, C and E.
For comparison, a 30g serving would give you: 6g protein, 21.6g carbs and 0.2g of fat.
Rebuild Endurance is designed to be consumed post-workout, within half an hour. Specifically designed for long duration aerobic activities, such as marathons or triathlons.
A 1kg tub costs £64.95, working out to about £0.06 a gram.
MyProtein Hurricane XS
The Strawberry Cream flavoured Hurricane XS from MyProtein tastes a bit sweet and it comes up a little thin when mixed with water. But don’t let that deter you, this one is a favourite among those trying to build some serious bulk.
A 70g serving has 263 calories, 29g protein, 24g carbs and 2.4g fat. To compare, this means a 30g serving would provide 113 calories, 12.4g protein, 10.3g carbs and 1g of fat.
It also provides a 5g creatine hit, which is used in the supply of energy formation in muscles. Creatine can help power you through high intensity workouts.
A 2.5kg pouch will cost you £32.99, making it the cheapest of the 10 brands we looked at – earning the King of the Shakes crown in the price department. It works out to £0.013 a gram.
Bulk Powders Pure Whey Isolate 90
The Chocolate Cookies Pure Whey Isolate 90 from Bulk Powders tastes amazing. Actually amazing. By far the best tasting protein shake we’ve ever tried. We’re officially crowning this one King of the Shakes in the taste department. It does take a proper beating to get it mixed smooth, though.
A 30g serving provides 115 calories, 26.12g protein, 1.2g carbs and 0.67g fat. The high protein content to low carb and fat profiles makes this ideal for anyone wanting lean muscle growth. And to get 26g of protein out of a 30g serving is pretty good – meaning it earns King of the Shakes in the protein department, too.
A 2.5kg pouch will cost you £43.49, working out to £0.017 a gram – making it the second cheapest product we looked at after the My Protein powder.
Naturya Hemp Protein Powder
The trick to the hemp protein powder is in what you mix it with. Don’t try and drink it by itself, because it tastes like grass; but it works pretty well in a green smoothie.
A 10g serving provides 5g of protein, 2.6g of carbs and 1.2g of fat at 44.7 calories. Don’t try putting more than that in your smoothie unless you really like the taste of grass. If you can get the quantity right, you can’t even taste it. For comparative purposes a 30g serving would give you: 15g protein, 7.8g carbs
A 300g pouch will cost you £7.73, working out to about £0.025 a gram.
The Naturya Organic Greens Blend is a great way of really boosting the nutritional value of a green smoothie.
As an added bonus, this one is suitable for vegans.
Pulsin Rice Protein
The brown rice Protein from Pulsin is raw, vegan, gluten-free, soya-free and has no added sugars or sweeteners, which makes it perfect for anyone on a vegan or clean diet. The only problem is that it tastes really bad, so you need to find ways of using it where you can’t taste it.
Try putting it in food. It’s good in stews and soups. Mix a tablespoon into something with a lot of flavour and a lot of liquid and leave it to cook for a while, stirring it in.
Each serving (10g) has 37.5 calories, 8g of protein, 1g of carbohydrates and 0.1g of fat. Of this, 2.09g are BCAAs. It also has a low Glycemic Index, meaning a single portion will have a relatively little impact on blood sugar levels. One serving has the same effect as eating 0.02g of glucose.
To compare: a 30g serving will give you 112.5 calories, 24g protein, 3g carbs and 0.3g of fat, which is all pretty good going.
A 1kg pouch will cost you £26.99, that’s £0.027 a gram.
We tried a lot of different protein powders over the last few months. And while none of them were bad, some certainly stood out from the crowd.
Our overall winner is a tie between the Bulk Powders Choc Cookie, winning on the taste and protein content fronts, and the Multipower 100% Whey, with its 5.7g of naturally occurring BCAAs – matched only by Kinetica and Pulsin.
MyProtein’s Hurricane XS is the cheapest of the pack and also comes with a creatine hit, to help boost your workout.
Naturya’s hemp protein is a great way of fortifying green smoothies with protein, without making them taste weird. And it’s vegan, which is a bonus.
We’ve come to the conclusion that vegans have some really limited options on the protein-front. So we’re going to do a separate test hunting out all the vegan options, looking for one that actually tastes nice and has a decent protein profile.
The protein powder you go for will depend on what you want to get out of it. Looking at the protein to carb ratios, the extra ingredients and the BCAA profiles will help you find one fit-for-purpose.