Protein powders are the backbone of a great protein shake – or any other way you want to enjoy them – and provide that added oomph to get more out of your workout and bulk up faster.
The effects of different protein powders can be hard to judge, especially when switching between different brands, and people’s choices are often based around price, motivation, and the recommendation of that guy at your gym who’s just killing it.
Your body will treat proteins the same to a very large degree, so powders are best judged based on their nutritional facts, the trustworthiness of the company and brand, taste, and the quality of the protein you find in each case.
Before you get start comparing labels and selecting based on which has the biggest sticker promising the most protein for the cheapest cost, you should know that none of the claims plastered all over these bottles are checked by the Food and Drug Administration. Without FDA oversight, protein powder makers can put whatever they want on their products.
This makes it a good idea to always go with a well-known brand that has a long history of helping people you know to bulk up.
#5: Muscle Pharm – Combat Powder
Muscle Pharm’s Combat is a strong competitor when it comes to its amino acid profile and how well it mixes.
Combat is a time-released protein that claims to provide nutrients to muscles for up to 8 hours. Combat uses a blend of five proteins that digest at different rates to reach this eight-hour distribution: Egg White Albunem, Micellar Casien, Whey Concentrate, Whey Hydrosolate and Whey Isolate.
This blend will keep you full for a few hours after your workout, typically long enough to get to your next meal, giving it a good effectiveness rating
To improve its absorption, Muscle Pharm says it included a digestive enzyme that helps it course through your body. These supplements often add gas to the mix, but most reviewers have found Combat to perform well in this regard and also help to keep bowel movements regular.
Reviews of Combat Powder are very mixed when it comes to taste, ranging from praise to horror. The one consistency in these reviews is that Combat Powder mixes very well and has little to no gritty taste.
Mixed reviews on the taste and the current price – about $25 for a 2lbs pack jug – keep Combat in the #5 spot.
#4: Champion Nutrition – Pure Whey
Pure Whey from Champion Nutrition consistently scores high marks for its value, taste, how well it mixes, while providing a medium to good return on building muscle.
This protein runs very lean compared to other brands with a strong mix of essential fatty acids (EFAs) and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). It has a mid-range of protein per use, about 23g per scoop, and does not include aspartame. Overall, each serving contains only about 4g of carbs.
Champion’s Pure Whey mixes well with water and doesn’t thicken up or require a lot of effort if you’re just using a spoon. It digests well and doesn’t cause any GI or bowel concerns.
Taste is an area where Champion’s Pure Whey really shines. Reviews from all around the Web and even major bodybuilding magazines give it great marks for taste, especially the chocolate version. Vanilla also gets a lot of good reviews because it is a smooth formula that offers more protein and less carbs in each serving.
One of the downsides for Champion Nutrition Pure Whey is that its price varies across Websites and stores to a pretty large degree. There’s no consistent bet on a price point, so it’s worth browsing major retailers in your area.
The biggest con for Champion’s product is that there are better products out there for people wanting to bulk up. A few of those are below.
#3: Optimum Nutrition’s 100% Casein Protein
Optimum’s 100% Casein Protein is another protein build that focuses on slow digestion and keeping you full. It relies on a mix of EFAs and BCAAs to help muscles grow and avoid breaking down.
Each scoop provides 24 grams of casein protein, which takes the body about twice as long as to absorb as normal proteins. Optimum has added in Leucine and Aminogen into the mix to increase protein synthesis in muscles, improve nitrogen retention and reduce your appetite.
Users actually seem to prefer using this mix right before bed in order to feed the body the whole night. It is also one of the few that is promoted on weight-loss communities because it provides a longer feeling of fullness and can significantly cut down appetite.
It is perhaps the best meal replacement on the market, when it comes to protein supplements,
The main complaints about Optimum Nutrition’s 100% Casein Protein are that it doesn’t mix well and many of its flavors are either bland or a little hard to swallow.
Optimum is known for well-made products and this will often translates into its price. For 2lbs of the 100% Casein Protein, you’re looking at a cost between $30 and $45. When it comes to casein proteins, Optimum’s may be the best on the market, even if it isn’t the cheapest solution out there.
#2: BSN: Syntha-6 Isolate
BSN’s Syntha-6 Isolate is a whey protein powder that utilizes protein isolates to deliver pure protein and amino acids to the body.
BSN has a great marketing and promotion team, so Syntha-6 has become one of the most popular protein powders on the market and is a staple for newcomers to the bodybuilding and muscle sculpting world. The continued success has also pushed the company into creating more flavors, recently upping it to six that get great taste reviews.
Beyond whey, Syntha-6 also focuses on adding in vitamins A and C to help reduce stress on muscle tissue and increase oxidation rates. The formula also adds in other vitamins and minerals to promote rejuvenation and digestive health.
The mix provides 22 grams of protein per serving, putting it in the mid to mid-high range on the protein percentage scale, but the additional nutrients will help these proteins get through your system quickly and provide better recovery capabilities.
The blend also helps keep your digestion running smoothly, but users report better results when they eat more-balanced diets and don’t use other meal replacements. It is positioned as a good breakfast item or can be taken 30 minutes before a workout. It has helped some lose weight when using it as a meal replacement, while others happily recommend it to bulk up.
Unlike the other items that made this list, Syntha-6 comes in 3lbs and 5lbs containers. The 3lbs container costs around $30 to $35, putting its comparable price at roughly $20 to $24 for 2lbs.
There’s no real strike against Syntha-6 and it has perhaps the most applauded taste on the market. The only reason it doesn’t reach the #1 spot here is because a challenger provides slightly better protein and recover times.
#1: Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard 100% Whey
Optimum has grabbed another top spot in our look at the 5 best protein powders because it consistently offers a quality product. The company has you covered from pre-workout supplements through your nighttime choices like our #3 pick.
This time we’re looking at Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard 100% Whey protein.
Optimum’s product here offers one of the highest-quality blends of whey protein and “the best amino acids and BCAA’s in the business” according to Supplementing.com. This blend uses one of the purest forms of whey protein available, called whey protein isolates, and hydrowhey, which ProteinPowder’s review says is vital to gaining and building muscle mass.
Each scoop (or serving) provides 24 grams of protein, including a mix of the whey isolates, protein concentrate, and peptides. The mix doesn’t rely purely on the isolates because they are better absorbed in the presence of other types of protein. The mix also provides a strong selection of EFAs and BCAAs while promoting better nitrogen use and improved muscle development.
This product also gets high marks because it has an extremely low chance of side effects or safety concerns since it uses only proteins and amino acids.
This is a fast-absorbing protein, so it should be used to improve workouts and help you recover after an intense session.
Users give it high marks across the board, from usefulness and results through mixing and taste. It also scores well on price, costing between $25 and $45 for a 2lbs container.
For whey, Optimum has definitely hit the gold standard.
Choosing Your Best Protein
Protein powders come in all shapes and sizes, and different things are important to different people. You’ll have to pick your deciding factor, typically one of these: cost, taste, weight-loss, or adding muscle mass.
Different items in this list will meet those criteria with varying results, but all can help you add weight and recover from your workouts faster than using other products or nothing at all.
The best option is always to find a product that suits your needs and then add it in slowly to your workout. Keep those safe and controlled, because powders can’t help you work out smarter or prevent damage from injuries.