If you’re looking to build strength and muscle mass, picking a good protein powder is a good place to start. In a landmark review of 49 studies and 1,863 participants, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicinethe data show that protein supplementation significantly enhanced changes in muscle strength and size when taken as part of a strength-training program.
But when you’re ready to start shopping and Google “best protein powder,” you’ll need to sort through literally thousands of results. As a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist, I want to help you out by recommending the best ones you should buy.
Today’s protein powders go well beyond whey, casein, albumin, and soy. There is also a myriad of vegetarian and vegan options made with pea, almond, and other plant-based proteins.
So which protein powder is the best? Well, it depends.
Technically, whey protein powders have the most research to support their role in building stronger muscles. However, if you eat a plant-based diet, there is mounting evidence that protein powders made from peas, hemp, soy, almonds, and other plants will also promote stronger muscles.
As you can see, the best protein powder isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. When I recommend a protein powder to my clients, I start by evaluating their overall nutritional needs, sport-specific requirements, and any dietary restrictions.
Depending on whether you’re looking for an animal-based protein powder or a plant-based protein powder, here are my specific recommendations for the best protein powders for stronger muscles and what I like about each of them. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don’t miss Eating Habits to Lose Abdominal Fat As You Age, Say Dietitians.
Decades of research shows that whey protein is one of the best building blocks to build muscle mass. This is because whey protein is rich in leucine, an amino acid that is responsible for stimulating muscle protein synthesis post-exercise. Whey is a fast-acting protein so it is digested quickly and goes into action, making it a great choice post-exercise.
Many of my clients like this product because the whey is sourced from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows. No synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides are used, and the ingredient list is short.
This protein powder provides 19 grams of protein, 1.5 grams of fat, just 2 grams of sugar, no added sugars. A serving has 2 grams of xylitol, a sugar alcohol used as a sweetener, and natural, non-calorie sweetener stevia leaf extract.
Quest Nutrition creates products for athletes who want all the positive nutrition they can get while minimizing low-quality added sugars.
The Quest protein powders are among my favorites because they keep added sugars down to just 1 gram. The protein powder provides 20 grams of protein, 1.5 grams of total fat, and 1 gram of sugar.
The protein in the product is a blend of long-lasting whey and more quick-burning casein. They also taste great and can be used in a variety of carb-controlled recipes.
Casein is the other main protein found in dairy products. Unlike whey, casein is digested and absorbed more slowly and is considered a protein powder that is taken best before bedtime. In fact, studies show that a taking casein protein before bed results in greater muscle size and strength gains, compared to athletes who did not take casein before bedtime. For a nighttime option, here are two of my favorites:
I like this casein protein powder because it packs in 25 grams of slow-digesting casein per serving. It’s great to have before bedtime so that it can work on aiding recovery overnight. It has a short ingredient list and is sweetened with monk fruit. A serving has 110 calories, no sugar or added sugar and 50% of your daily calcium requirements. Ascent products are also certified by Informed Sport-certified, a third-party supplement testing program.
This is one of my favorite casein-based protein powders. It’s best taken before bedtime and has 24 grams protein, 120 calories, 1 gram of total sugar, no added sugars, and 40% of your daily calcium requirements.
It comes in several great flavors like Chocolate Supreme and Cookies and Cream that will become your next favorite bedtime ritual.
READ MORE: Best Supplements to Take Before Bed, According to Dietitians
In a recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, female college students were randomly assigned to consume either an almond- or whey-based protein drink twice daily for one week. Results?
Both protein sources (almond and whey) were able to notably improve nitrogen balance, thus indicating that almond protein powder may be a functional plant-based alternative to animal-based whey protein.
For a great almond-based protein powder, I like Bob’s Red Mill Almond Protein Powder. For those who want a more natural product, this is it. With just one ingredient: Almond protein powder.
This protein powder provides 20 grams of protein and 180 per serving. It has 6 grams of filling fiber, 4 grams total sugar, no added sugars, and is a significant source of calcium, iron, and potassium. It can be incorporated into a variety of recipes making it a more versatile protein powder than many others.
RELATED: The Best Vegan Protein Powders for Your Muscle-Building Needs
If you’re wondering how much protein is ideal per day, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 0.5 to o.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 75 to 120 grams of protein per day.
For more strength gains, divide your total daily protein into three or four servings a day with at least 20-25 grams per serving. Eating more than 25 grams of protein in one sitting will not further enhance muscle protein synthesis and may only contribute to adding body fat.
Here’s an example: Breakfast with 25 grams protein; a protein powder after a workout with 20 grams. Lunch and dinner will provide 25 grams each (50 grams total). Then, you can have a pre-bed protein powder with another 20 grams protein. That totals 115 grams of protein.
And for more, check out 20 Ways to Get 20 Grams of Protein at Every Meal.