While few, if any, amateur athletes need protein powder to support their exercise regime, it can be a highly convenient way to ensure you have all the fuel required to repair and build muscle after a workout.
However, picking between the huge range of protein powders available is difficult. We spoke to Dr Daniel Fenton, GP and clinical director at London Doctors Clinic, about what people should look out for when choosing a protein powder. Fenton’s in-depth advice is below, but here are the key things to consider when selecting your powder.
First, check the amount of protein you get per serving – that’s the key number. Then compare the concentration and profile of amino acids (or BCAAs). You want a complete source of protein that contains the nine essential amino acids, ideally with a good-sized portion of leucine. Check the amount of carbohydrates, fats and sugars in the powder. These need to be in line with your general approach to your diet. Finally, scout the ingredient list carefully for additives like thickeners, preservatives, sweeteners and fillers. Generally, the fewer of these the better.
The Best Deals On Protein Powder
Myprotein – 45% Off
The Myprotein January sale doesn’t want to end with the 45% discount extending into February. While Myprotein’s THE Whey+ (was £35.99, now £19.79) is a top option, it’s also well worth checking out the more refreshing Clear Whey and range of protein bars.
The Best Protein Powders
We’ve tried a lot of protein powders, and you’ll find our assessment of each one’s nutritional composition and our tasting notes in the protein powder reviews section below. But if you want the short version, here’s what we recommend.
1. Best Whey Protein Powder: Myprotein Pro THE Whey+
Only the finest ingredients have been used to create this powder, which delivers 26g of protein per 32g serving via “beadlets” that gradually release muscle-building BCAAs. It mixes easily without lumps and although the texture’s a touch grainy the chocolate brownie flavour is a winner.
Buy from Myprotein | £35.99 for 960g
2. Best Budget Protein Powder: Bulk Powders Pure Whey Protein
The concentrate whey in this powder might not be the more refined types you’ll find in pricier options (isolate, hydrolysate and native), but it’s incredible value considering the 24.2g of protein per 30g serving, and with a wide range of flavours you should find one that suits.
Buy on Amazon | £19.99 for 1kg (currently reduced to £7.79)
3. Best Casein Protein Powder: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Casein
Each 32g serving of this powder contains 24g of protein, which is sourced from premium micellar casein to ensure a slow delivery to your muscles over time, making it the ideal option for a pre-bedtime shake.
Buy on Amazon | £14.95 for 450g
4. Best Vegan Protein Powder: Healthspan Elite Complete Vegan Protein
Along with 20g of protein per 27g serving this powder delivers 100% of your recommended daily intake of B12, which is important because it’s a virtually impossible vitamin to get enough of on a vegan diet. The protein is sourced from a combination of pea, pumpkin and brown rice to provide a complete source of essential amino acids.
Buy on Amazon | £24.99 for 1kg
5. Best Recovery Protein: SiS REGO Rapid Recovery+
The 24g of protein in a 70g serving of this powder is just the start of what you get. It also contains 38g of carbs to help your body recover from intense endurance activities. It’s one for fans of citrus too – the lemon flavour is head and shoulders above the rest.
Buy from SiS | £16 for 490g
Picking between the huge range of protein powders available is difficult, especially when each and every one of them makes grand promises about the effect they will have on you.
You might assume that all of them do the same job, but that’s not the case. Coach spoke to Dr Daniel Fenton, clinical director and GP at London Doctors Clinic, about the differences between protein powders, how much price matters and whether they contain any ingredients you should be wary of. We then assessed the best protein powders out there using Fenton’s criteria and tasted them too so you have a better idea of what you’re buying.
What are the key things people should look out for when choosing protein powder?
“How much protein you obtain from each serving, the amino acid profile, the cost, taste and number of additives are a few key factors. I tend to focus on yield – the actual amount of protein you obtain from each serving – and amino acid profile.
“I suggest you choose a low-fat, low-carbohydrate, high-protein powder. While you require all three to aid muscle development, balance is key.
“The difference in protein content in various powders can be phenomenal. Do not simply pay for a brand name – the proof is in the numbers. Look carefully at the concentration and type of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) included in the protein. Leucine has been shown to be one of the most important BCAAs so it should contain decent quantities.”
What are the differences between the two main types of protein – whey and casein?
“Muscle growth is determined by simple science: protein (muscle) breakdown vs protein synthesis. If the synthesis of new muscle protein is greater than the breakdown of muscle protein, you will get a net gain of muscle mass.
“Whey is typically processed very rapidly into amino acids, which will reach peak levels within an hour of consumption and therefore assist muscle synthesis very quickly. However, the peak levels also fall very quickly.
“Whey is considered an anabolic protein because it rapidly accelerates protein synthesis so it’s great for quick muscle regeneration, but has very little effect on naturally occurring muscle breakdown after a workout.
“Casein can take several hours to be metabolised and as a result creates a slower release of proteins to help muscles recover and grow. It is often referred to as an anti-catabolic protein, because it also helps to prevent excess protein breakdown.
“The downside is that casein will remain in the stomach for a substantial period of time, and one can appreciate that it is difficult to complete a high-intensity workout with a full stomach.
“In essence, balance and timing are key for maximum gains. Ignore those who say ‘casein is the key’, or ‘only whey works’ – scientifically, this is simply untrue. Both work very well if used appropriately, complementing your workout and your own natural metabolism.”
What should you get if you pay more money for protein powder?
“There is a natural tendency to think that more expensive products are better – but this is a fallacy. Content is more important than cost. All protein powders will contain some additives including thickeners, preservatives, sweeteners and fillers.
“I would strongly recommend taking a look at the label before you purchase. While your main focus is gaining muscle, you should aim to avoid putting nutritionally-redundant chemicals into your body. Here are a few of the things to look out for.
“Avoid artificial sweeteners, which includes sucralose, aspartame and saccharin. The presumption is that these are better for you than sugar but this is not quite true. There is no good evidence that they reduce weight gain, type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome and some studies actually show an increased risk of adverse health outcomes.
“Milk powders are a cheap bulking agent widely used in protein powders. They are high in lactose sugars which is terrible if you are lactose intolerant. This can contribute to gastrointestinal upset including bloating and loose stools.
“Oils and fats are added to protein supplements to increase richness; they are non-essential ingredients which can contribute to hypercholesterolemia [high cholesterol]. It is fairly common to see high cholesterol levels in bodybuilders and athletes despite their immense fitness levels and generally healthy eating – taking protein powder with added oils is thought to be a contributing factor.”
Is it worth looking out for extra benefits from protein powder such as vitamins and minerals, or fibre?
“The simple answer is no! While these make for an excellent selling point, if you are eating a balanced diet alongside the protein supplement you should not need additional vitamins.
“Is there a limit to how much protein the body can absorb from a serving?
“The human body is an impressive machine, which likes to maintain a balanced constant internal environment. We can fill ourselves with protein, but we will only absorb as much as we require for muscle synthesis.
“The Department of Health recommends approximately 55g of protein a day for male adults and a little less for females. Obviously, if we exercise at high intensity, muscle turnover is higher and protein demand is therefore greater, so we will often require more than this. But if we consume too much protein, the body will simply metabolise and excrete it. This means you could literally be flushing money and protein down the pan.”
Maximuscle Max Whey
While many of the nutritional stats of this powder are fairly standard – there’s 23.5g of protein in a 30g serving, and sugar is kept to 1g – it does contain an above-average amount of BCAAs at 7g per serving, including over 3g of leucine. The protein is mostly from whey concentrate, though there is some isolate in the mix as well.
Banoffee taste test: Credit to Maxinutrition for nailing the banoffee flavour here, rather than just serving up either banana or toffee. Credit also for having a banoffee option, alongside the usual Neapolitan trio. We found more shaking than usual was needed to rid it of big lumps, however, and the texture wasn’t silky smooth even after a vigorous effort.
Buy from Maxinutrition | £20 for 480g
Mars protein bars made some kind of sense when they launched, but Mars-flavoured protein powder? We’re not so sure… but here it is anyway. It contains 20.6g of protein in each 35g serving, sourced from whey concentrate, and sugar is kept to 3.7g per serving, with sucralose and acesulfame K sweeteners used.
Taste test: We’ll tell you what it doesn’t taste like – a Mars bar. It’s a bland, vaguely-sweet mess of a shake, with the powder not mixing all that well either. We’d skip this one.
Buy from Protein Pick And Mix | £24.99 for 875g
Hey, look! They made Snickers protein powder too! The same nutritional info from the Mars powder applies, except there’s slightly more protein in a serving (20.9g) and the flavour is listed as chocolate, caramel and peanut, rather than just chocolate and caramel.
Taste test: Hey, look! This one is pretty grim too! It’s a bland, vaguely-sweet mess of a shake, with added peanut flavour.
Buy from Protein Pick And Mix | £24.99 for 875g
Myprotein Clear Whey Isolate
Once it’s been pointed out to you, it does seem odd that after a sweaty workout you drink a thick, milky protein shake. Myprotein’s far less viscous Clear Whey Isolate offers a positively refreshing alternative, with flavours like mojito and peach tea. There’s 20g of protein in a 25g serving, which is sourced from hydrolysed whey isolate.
Rainbow candy taste test: While the shake produced from the powder isn’t wholly clear, it lives up to its billing as a refreshing post-workout treat. The rainbow candy flavour was fruity and a little sour – an all-round delight in other words. The powder mixed quickly, though a few lumps were left floating on the surface.
Buy from Myprotein | £19.99 for 500g
Supreme Nutrition Diet Whey
The calorie count in this shake is low at 123 per 30g serving, but that’s not the only reason for the “diet” claim in its name – it also includes fat-burning ingredients like green tea extract and acetyl L-carnitine. Indeed it proudly boasts of containing the equivalent of five cups of green tea per serving, which seems like a lot of green tea in one go. Alongside all that green tea there’s 23.4g of protein, which is sourced from whey concentrate.
Strawberries and cream taste test: This ended up a little lumpy despite vigorous attempts to shake it into submission, but the taste was pleasant enough and avoided the cloying sweetness that arises from going full strawberry. Never go full strawberry.
Buy from Supreme Nutrition | £34 for 1kg
One Pro Nutrition Whey Protein + Collagen
We know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Why on Earth is there collagen in this protein powder? Is that a thing?” Well, according to One Pro, collagen helps ensure a speedier recovery after a workout, and strengthens your ligaments as well. There are other unorthodox additions, which include acai and goji berries for extra vitamins and minerals, and lactospore bacteria to boost gut health. There is 24g of protein in a 35g serving, and a mere 3g of sugar in a serving, with stevia also used to sweeten the shake.
Strawberry taste test: There’s nothing especially dramatic to report here, but no news is good news – the shake mixes easily and has a pleasant taste. Lovely.
Buy from One Pro Nutrition | £13.99 for five 35g sachets
Myprotein Pro THE Whey+
You know a protein powder means business when “THE” is in capital letters and there’s a plus sign involved. To be fair, only the best ingredients have been used, with a mix of isolate and hydrolysed whey and micellar casein providing a mighty 26g of protein in each 32g serving. Myprotein also uses “beadlets” for a phased delivery of the BCAAs in the powder for maximum impact on muscle growth.
Chocolate brownie taste test: The good news is that it mixed quickly in water with no lumps, and while the texture was a little grainy once mixed it wasn’t unpleasant. The chocolate brownie flavour was as similar to the real thing as you could feasibly expect and the taste could be made even richer if mixed with milk.
Buy from Myprotein | £35.99 for 960g
Bulk Powders Pure Whey Protein
If you’re on the hunt for a bargain look no further than Bulk Powders’ whey powder, which comes in a massive variety of favours, including novel options like tiramisu, and packs 24.2g of protein into a 30g serving. The 82% whey concentrate isn’t as pure as you’ll find in more expensive options, but there are 5.3g of BCAAs in a serving, and sugar is kept low at 1.5g, with sucralose used to sweeten the mix.
Buy from Bulk Powders | £11.99 for 500g (currently reduced to £7.79)
Precision Engineered Whey
Hydrolysed whey, concentrate and isolate are all used to create this powder, which delivers 19g of protein per 24g serving. The sugar count is kept down to 1g per serving, with a stevia-based sweetener used instead.
Birthday cake taste test: A whole lot of that stevia-based sweetener must have gone into the mix, because this is a very sweet drink. The powder mixes well with only a small amount of water needed per serving (we got by on 125ml) and the texture is smooth. The flavour starts out fairly mild but quickly turns cloyingly sweet, but then that’s probably what you’re after if you’re buying a birthday cake-flavoured powder.
Buy from Holland & Barrett | £29.99 for 908g (currently reduced to £13.99)
Natural Nutrients Whey Protein Isolate
This powder uses whey isolate and delivers 24.7g of protein per 30g serving, which is about as good as it gets in terms of protein per gram. There’s 3.2g of leucine in a serving, and 5.6g of BCAAs in total. There’s really nothing else of note in there – fibre and carbs clock in at 0.5g apiece, with stevia used as the sweetener.
Vanila taste test: The powder mixes very easily but the taste tested our tolerance for sweetness to its limits.
Buy on Amazon | £33.99 for 1kg
PhD Smart Protein
The hook with this powder is that the oat flour it contains makes it an excellent ingredient for whipping up a protein-packed baked treat, and it’s also easy to make into a mousse rather than a shake if you prefer a thicker post-workout pick-me-up. Each 30g serving contains 19g of protein and 116 calories, and sucralose is the sweetener used to keep the sugar count low at 0.9g.
Lemon drizzle cake taste test: We assumed this would just taste of lemon, but there is definitely a cake flavour in there as well. It’s a pleasant, if slightly too sweet, taste, while the texture is satisfyingly thick.
Buy on Amazon | From £17.50 for 900g
Kin Nutrition WHEYLESS Whey Protein
This supplement is made with 90% whey isolate and delivers a solid 23g of protein in a 30g serving. Kin has also aimed to set itself apart by adding fibre (via flaxseed powder) and probiotics to aid digestion. It’s a welcome touch, even if the 1.3g of fibre you get in a serving is still pretty measly.
Vanilla taste test: It’s vanilla, Jim, and exactly as we know it. A standard but nonetheless pleasing flavour, although we were a little underwhelmed by the consistency of the powder – even a vigorous shaking left some clumps at the bottom.
Buy from Kin Nutrition | £34.99 for 1kg
SiS Advanced Isolate+
Each 40g serving of the Chocolate Orange flavour of SiS’s Advanced Isolate packs in a massive 32g of protein, including 9g of BCAAs of which 5g is leucine (the amount of protein varies a little with different flavours). The carb count is low at 2.7g per serving (0.9g sugars), though sucralose is used to add some sweetness and there’s a mere 0.9g of fat per serving.
Buy from SiS | £45 for 1kg
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey
ON’s popular Gold Standard Whey provides 24g of protein per 30g serving, with the whey being a easy-to-mix blend of isolate, concentrate and hydrolysed isolate. Each serving contains 5.5g of naturally occurring BCAAs including our old friend leucine, and 4g of glutamine and glutamic acid, which is another supplement that helps support muscle growth. There’s just 1.1g of fat in each 113-calorie serving and 1.8g of carbs. Two artificial sweeteners – sucralose and acesulfame K – are used to counter the lack of sugar.
Buy on Amazon | £45.95 for 2.27kg
Multipower 100% Pure Whey Protein
The whey complex in this protein powder is primarily whey isolate and the powder has been instantised, which makes it easier to mix with water. The 30g serving contains 24g of protein, including 5.7g of BCAAs. It’s low in fat at 1.3g per serving and carbs at 1.4g per serving, and the sweeteners used are sodium cyclamate, sodium saccharin and acesulfame K.
Buy on Amazon | £25.45 for 900g
Scitec Nutrition 100% Whey Protein Professional
There’s nothing especially novel about this protein powder aside from its impressive range of flavours (kiwi banana, anyone?), but it offers a solid package of 22g of protein per 30g serving. There’s just 2g of fat and 1.4g of carbohydrate in a serving, with the sweetness provided by acesulfame K and sucralose.
Buy on Amazon | £40.99 for 2.35kg
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Casein
Micellar casein is used in this premium powder, which is designed to be taken before bed or between workouts to provide a slow release of muscle-building BCAAs. The 30g serving contains 24g of protein including 9.6g of amino acids, and there are seven different flavours available.
Buy from Optimum Nutrition | £17.99 for 450g
Grenade Hydra 6 Protein
This 50:50 blend of whey and casein uses premium forms of both – whey isolate and micellar casein – to provide what could well be the ultimate mix of fast- and slow-absorbing protein. The isolate ensures the drink mixes easily and you absorb the whey rapidly after a workout, while micellar casein is digested more slowly than other forms of casein so you get a sustained hit of protein throughout the day or night. There are 5g of BCAAs and 2.2g of leucine per serving. Sucralose is used to sweeten the mix.
Peanut Nutter taste test: The name might suggest that the flavour is going to be overbearing, but the truth is quite the opposite – the nuttiness is pitched just right. The shake isn’t too thick or stodgy, either.
Buy on Amazon | £38.66 for 1.8kg
SiS Overnight Protein
This powder is a 50:50 mix of whey protein concentrate and milk protein isolate, with the latter being 80% casein and 20% whey. The whey protein is from milk and high in leucine. It’s a treat to drink hot or cold, but if you are going to drink it before bedtime then obviously warm is the way to go. The carbs and fat content is low – 3.1g and 2.3g respectively – but the powder does contain sucralose sweetener.
Buy from SiS | £48 for 1kg
The 20 in the name refers to the 20g of protein in a 30g serving, with that protein coming from pea, pumpkin and soy sources. Along with avoiding animal products, SiS has eschewed artificial sweeteners with this powder, using plant extract stevia (old news) and fruit extract lucuma (hello!) to add sweetness, restricting the sugar content to 1g per serving
Chocolate mint taste test: Definitely one of the very smoothest mixes we’ve come across in a plant-based powder, with no lumps at all after a swift shake. The flavour was a little thin but pleasant enough, although it does finish with the earthy aftertaste that is a fixture in vegan powders.
Buy from SiS | £30 for 900g
Form Performance Protein
In each 40g serving of this powder you get a mighty 30g of protein, sourced from organic peas, brown rice, hemp and algae. There’s also 5g of glutamine and 5g of BCAAs in a serving alongside one billion CFU (colony-forming units) of probiotics, for all you gut health fans out there. Each serving also only contains 154 calories and 0.1g of sugar, with stevia and thaumatin sweeteners used.
Tiramisu taste test: We momentarily forgot which flavour we were using when we first tried this one and were left baffled as to what it could be. “Sweet coffee” was our best guess, and funnily enough that’s a pretty decent description of the taste of tiramisu, which includes biscuits dipped in coffee. The powder mixed exceptionally well and despite being a little too sweet for us, was pretty nice.
Buy on Amazon | £26 for 520g
Tailwind Nutrition Rebuild Recovery
This vegan recovery powder provides all the protein, carbohydrate and electrolytes you need to get back on your feet after a tough endurance session. There’s 11g of protein and 43g of carbs in a 61g serving, along with 443mg of sodium to replenish what you may have lost through sweat.
Chocolate taste test: You can really taste the electrolytes here, which means the drink is slightly salty, but not unpleasantly so. The powder mixes easily and the drink isn’t too stodgy, making it easy to chug after a long run or cycle.
Buy on Amazon | £35.95 for 911g
Myvegan Vegan Protein Blend
Peas and fava beans are the protein sources in this vegan powder, with the combo ensuring you get a complete protein source. Each 30g serving contains 22g of protein and a mere 102 calories, with steviol glycosides used to provide sweetness in the absence of sugar.
Turmeric latte taste test: The flavour didn’t delight us, being milky and slightly earthy, but to be fair that is how we imagine a turmeric latte to taste, so it will probably hit the mark for fans of the beverage. The powder mixed well, with no lumps at all.
Buy from Myvegan | £14.99 for 500g
The protein in this shake is sourced from brown rice and peas, and there’s 18g in each 25g serving. That’s not all that’s in a serving, however, not by a long shot. Gorilla Juice’s powders also contain 14 different “superfoods,” including chlorella, alfalfa powder and yucca root. So there’s that.
Strawberry shabang taste test: This was a disappointment. The shake was thick and earthy, and the “shabang” in the name oversold the mild strawberry flavour. It wasn’t unpleasant to drink, though – just a little harder to get down than other, less viscous shakes.
Buy from Gorilla Juice | £34.99 for 750g
Bulk Powders Vegan Protein Powder
To ensure you get a complete protein, Bulk Powders has thrown five different sources of it into the mix for this powder – pea, brown rice, pumpkin seed, flaxseed and quinoa flour. The 35g serving contains 22.9g of protein and just 0.5g of sugar, with stevia used as the sweetener.
Apple strudel taste test: You might assume this would just be apple flavour, but there are definitely some strudel notes in there. It was very pleasant indeed, and we were impressed that Bulk Powders has such a good range of flavours, including unexpected treats like this strudel-y shake as well as white choc coconut, because that’s not always the case with vegan powders. However, some marks were lost when it came to texture, which was a little too thick for our liking.
Buy from Bulk Powders | £14.99 for 500g (currently reduced to £11.24)
Supernova Advanced Vegan Protein
There’s all kinds of stuff going on here. Way too much to get your head around, to be honest. The protein is sourced from peas and brown rice, that much we understand, but there’s also a whole load of adaptogens: medical mushrooms like chaga and cordyceps, along with maca and ashwagandha, all of which offer reportedly impressive benefits. We take all of those claims with a pinch of salt, but you get 20g of protein in a serving and all the essential amino acids needed for muscle growth, which is something you can hang your hat on.
Unflavoured taste test: The taste is reminiscent of plaster, but it doesn’t show through when you mix the powder into smoothies or add a couple of shots of espresso into the mix, as you always should when using unflavoured powder. Frankly, we’re not sure we’d trust anyone who drinks unflavoured shakes.
Buy on Amazon | £35 for 480g
Healthspan Elite Complete Vegan Protein
Pea, pumpkin and brown rice proteins are blended in this powder to provide a complete protein that contains all 20 amino acids. There are also added vitamins in the powder, including 100% of your recommended daily intake of B12, which is hard to obtain from food when eating a vegan diet. The powder comes unflavoured but you can add a flavour shot to your order for free. Each 27g serving contains 20g of protein, 100.7 calories, 1.5g fat and 2.8 of carbohydrates.
Buy from Healthspan | £24.99 for 1kg
Stealth Vegan Recovery Protein
This powder contains everything you need to recover from long exercise sessions which makes it ideal for runners and cyclists. Along with the 20g of protein per 50g serving, there’s 19.5g of carbs as well as electrolytes to replace those lost through sweat. The vegan protein is a blend of pea and rice protein, and the sweetener is stevia.
Mint chocolate taste test: The texture is a little thinner than we’d have liked, but that’s the norm with a recovery drink compared to a traditional protein shake. The mint overpowers the chocolate slightly, but that made the shake surprisingly refreshing after a long run in the sun, and the powder mixes very easily with water.
Buy from Stealth | £25 for 660g
SiS REGO Rapid Recovery+
A shake that’s packed with nutritional goodies to help you recover after your toughest training days. The hefty 70g serving contains 38g of carbs and 24g of protein (whey concentrate) including 6g of BCAAs. Leucine clocks in at 3g and l-glutamine at 5g per serving.
Lemon taste test: Perhaps surprisingly, after trying a few different flavours of the REGO powder lemon was the clear winner in the taste stakes. The texture is smooth and slightly creamy, and there’s none of the cloying sweetness that often scuppers fruity shakes. The powder also mixes with water without any difficulties.
Buy from SiS | £16 for 490g
Fullsteam Recovery Stak
This powder is designed to help endurance athletes recover after a long, tough workout, providing both carbohydrate and protein to replenish glycogen reserves and help your aching muscles to recover. Each 70g serving contains 17g of protein and 45g of carbs, along with a few other useful extras like vitamin C and choline, an essential nutrient so important that Dolly Parton wrote a song about it. A serving also contains 5g of sugar and we spotted sucralose in the ingredients list as well.
Cookies and cream taste test: The two flavours Fullsteam has opted for – strawberry, and cookies and cream – are liable to fall into the “aggressively sweet” bracket and that was the case here. That said, the powder mixed well with water and it was no great hardship to slurp down a sweet drink after a hard track workout in humid conditions.
Buy on Amazon | £35 for 2.1kg