The 12 Best Protein Powders for Better Nutrition and Smarter Recovery

Mick Rouse
·6 min read

We went deep to find the best protein powder because the benefits getting enough protein can provide are huge—it can help build muscle, repair tissue, help manage weight. You can, of course, get protein many ways—if you want to eat tuna and hard-boiled eggs all day, that's your business. But because protein powder is more convenient and less expensive than basically any other source of the nutrient, the post-workout shake is essentially a universal truth at this point, the backbone to almost every gym goer's recovery plan.

Because of that, the market has been flooded with cheaply made and poorly sourced offerings. Some are loaded with sugar, others hide behind questionable proprietary blends that obscure exactly what's in it. So we decided to wade through the wide world of protein—everything from the whey protein readily available at your local drugstore to your favorite athlete’s plant-based powder of choice–to determine what products are actually worth putting in your body.

The Absolute Best Protein Powder

Optimum Nutrition "Gold Standard 100% Whey" protein powder

$59.00, Amazon

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We hate to just read off the tub here, but this is the actual gold standard. One of the most recognizable whey protein powders in the world remains one of our absolute favorites. Not only is it wallet-friendly, but Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard 100% Whey can be found just about anywhere, from GNC to Amazon to Walmart. With over 20 different flavors, you’ll be hard pressed to find at least one or two flavors that don’t satisfy your palate. What's more, the ON stuff is super easy to mix, so you’ll never find large clumps of protein powder clinging to the side of your glass or blender. With 24 grams of protein to help build muscle and 5.5 grams of branched-chain amino acids to help promote recovery, it’s the rare fitness supplement that checks off damn near every box.

The Best Protein Powder for Early Mornings

RSP "TrueFit Cold Brew Coffee" protein powder

$40.00, Amazon

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If you prefer to start your day with a training session bright and early, RSP’s TrueFit Cold Brew Coffee protein powder was made for you. More meal replacement than mere protein shake, RSP TrueFit boasts 20 grams of protein on top of a blend of 12 different superfoods that will leave you feeling full until lunch. And with their new Cold Brew Coffee flavor, you can cut down on all those morning coffee runs, because there’s 100 milligrams of caffeine derived from actual coffee beans—roughly a small Dunkin', just the right amount to kickstart your day after exhausting yourself at morning bootcamp.

The Best Vegan Protein Powder

Sprout Living "Epic Plant Based" protein powder

$27.00, Amazon

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GQ wellness columnist and all-around fit guy Joe Holder is admittedly picky when it comes to protein supplements. “It's hard to find one with a simple ingredients list that also tastes great and mixes well,” Holder says. One protein powder that passes his high standards: Sprout Living’s Epic organic plant-based protein powder. Made from yellow peas, sacha inchi, Jerusalem artichoke root, and sunflower, pumpkin, and cranberry seeds, this vegan-friendly choice offers 26 grams of protein with five grams of fiber and only one gram of sugar.

The Best-Tasting Protein Powder

Bare Performance Nutrition protein powder

$40.00, Amazon

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There are some truly insane flavors out there—ROOT BEER FLOAT! EXTREME CHERRY BLAST!—and more often than not you can taste the sickly-sweet artificial flavoring before the shaker bottle even touches your lips. But if you’re the type who wants their post-workout shake to taste like literal dessert, Bare Performance Nutrition has the best tasting flavors out right now. There’s Cinnamon Roll, Blueberry Muffin, and Nutter Bar Blast, which tastes so much like a Butterfinger that it’s actually slightly unnerving. Their combination whey-and-casein protein (88% whey, 12% casein) mixes perfectly with milk, so the days of having to bust out the blender and 15 different ingredients to ramp up the flavor of your protein shake are long gone.

8 More Protein Powders We Love

Dymatize Iso 100 Hydrolyzed whey protein powder

$30.00, Amazon

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Perhaps the most comparable product in terms of availability and range of flavors to Optimum Nutrition, Dymatize’s Iso 100 Hydrolyzed Whey Protein even has a Fruity Pebbles option. As in the cereal. And yes, it somehow tastes exactly like you remember Fruity Pebbles tasting when you were downing them watching Saturday-morning cartoons as a kid, but with less than one gram of sugar.

Optimum Nutrition "Gold Standard 100% Plant" protein powder

$30.00, Amazon

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Let’s be honest for a minute: The biggest knock on the majority of plant-based protein powders is the taste and texture. They’re often gritty with underlying notes of...is that dirt? Not so with Optimum Nutrition’s plant-based line. It mixes well, and without the dreaded chalky aftertaste the unflavored option is ideal for bulking your fruit smoothies.

Momentous "Endurance" protein powder

$55.00, Amazon

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Momentous "Strength" protein powder

$55.00, Amazon

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Not everyone trains the same way, which is why Momentous has created two separate whey protein offerings designed specifically for athletes logging miles on the track versus throwing weights around in the gym. While you’ll get the same amount of protein from both options, the Endurance Recovery protein provides an ample amount of carbohydrates for runners and cyclists. On the flip side, the Strength Recovery protein includes L-Glutamine, which research suggests could reduce muscle soreness after a big workout.

Ladder plant protein

$35.00, Amazon

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Co-created and developed by none other than LeBron James after his infamous cramping game in the 2014 NBA Finals, Ladder offers one of the best tasting plant proteins on the market, even when paired with just water. We prefer the chocolate flavor, which is lighter and smoother than 99% of the other chocolate-flavored protein powders out there.

Naked casein protein

$95.00, Amazon

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Whey protein often gets all the fanfare, but casein protein has its own special benefits. While both come from cow’s milk, casein is absorbed by the body at a slower rate than whey and contains bioactive peptides that help boost both your immune and digestive systems. If you’re a fan of the afternoon protein shake as a snack between meals, or you’re looking for a better alternative to ice cream before bed, Naked’s casein protein powder is the perfect option.

NorCal organic whey protein

$65.00, Amazon

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Created by local farmers in Northern California, NorCal Organic is committed to creating high-quality whey protein as responsibly as possible. By using cold-processed microfiltration and small-batch drying techniques while avoiding acid or bleach processing, NorCal Organic is able to produce a protein powder free of gluten, sweeteners, and preservatives.

ProteinSeries 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate

$59.00, Transparent Labs

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It’s always refreshing when you take a look at the nutrition facts label and can actually pronounce all the ingredients listed: Vitamin D, potassium, iron, calcium. Transparent Labs’ protein powder is free of artificial sweeteners, coloring, and preservatives while offering clean, grass-fed whey in a handful of great-tasting flavors, from salted caramel to cookies and cream.

Eat more, for starters. But there's slightly more to it than that.

Originally Appeared on GQ