- High-quality whey protein powders have a taste you can tolerate, pack maximum protein with minimal extras, and work well in beverages and baked goods.
- The Cellucor Whey Protein Isolate & Concentrate Blend Powder is our top pick because it mixes smoothly, tastes great, and only costs three cents per gram of protein.
Protein, a macronutrient that every cell in your body contains, is essential for your health. If you’re an athlete, casual gym-goer, or just looking to lose a few pounds, protein can help you build and retain muscle, too. Taking whey protein is an effective and inexpensive way to add more protein to your diet.
In short, whey is the liquid leftovers that come from the cheese-making process. This liquid is dried into a powder, which is mixed with sweeteners while keeping the calories, carbohydrates, and fats to a minimum.
What is whey protein, why it’s beneficial, and how should you use it?
There are three main types of whey protein:
- Whey protein concentrate (WPC): This is a concentrated protein that keeps more of the nutrients. Most non-isolate proteins are comprised of WPC.
- Whey protein isolate (WPI): This is similar to WPC, but most of the carbohydrates, fat, and fat-soluble vitamins have been removed, so the powder has a higher percentage of protein. Typically, isolate is digested more quickly and, therefore, more agreeable for some. For that reason, most trainers and registered dieticians recommend opting for WPI, though it’s often more expensive.
- Whey protein hydrolysate (WPH): WPH is considered “pre-digested” since it breaks down peptides – the building blocks of proteins – to help with quicker absorption.
In addition to my research and experience in testing whey protein products, we consulted two experts for this guide: Jeb Stuart Johnston, the head strength coach at Brooklyn Strong and a nutrition coach at Stronger U, and Maryann Walsh, a registered dietician and the owner of Walsh Nutrition.
As for how much protein you need to consume, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is about a gram for every 3 pounds of body weight. So, if you weigh 180 pounds, that would equate to 60 grams of protein per day. Experts suggest taking up to twice that can still produce benefits. When it comes to fitness-specific goals, like gaining muscle or losing fat, Johnston recommends ingesting up to one gram per pound of bodyweight. His claim is backed up by a study by the University of Stirling.
“For someone who is trying to gain muscle mass and work out, taking in more protein can help speed up protein synthesis [the process in which your muscle fibers utilize protein to repair itself and grow],” Johnston said. “For a person who is strictly trying to lose weight, taking in more protein can help you to retain the muscle that you already have.”
Based on Johnston’s recommendations, a 200-pound man would have to consume 200 grams of protein per day. That’s equivalent to 2 pounds of chicken breast. Supplementing with whey protein, he explains, is a convenient way to get more protein without grilling up another piece of bland chicken.
About our expertise
The co-author, Andrew Gutman, is an associate editor at Muscle & Fitness magazine, has competed in a bodybuilding show and two Strongman competitions, and has been lifting weights regularly for over a decade. He’s tried dozens of different whey protein powders. Our guide features powders that have a taste you can stomach, a high protein content, and minimal fat, carbs, and calories. Guides Editor, Les Shu, is a former research chief at Men’s Fitness who oversaw the fact-checking of the magazine’s nutrition and exercise articles.
Here are the best whey protein powders you can buy:
- Best whey protein powder overall: Cellucor Whey Protein Isolate & Concentrate Blend Powder
- Best sugar-free whey protein powder: Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydrowhey
- Best-tasting whey protein powder: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder
- Best fat-free whey protein powder: Myprotein Impact Whey Isolate Protein
- Best digestion-friendly whey protein powder: Dymatize ISO 100 Whey Protein Powder
Updated on 01/10/2020 by Rick Stella: Updated prices, links, and formatting.
Is whey protein consumption safe?
Before you increase your protein intake significantly, you should check with your health-care professional since people with certain maladies, such as calcium deficiencies or low blood pressure, could experience adverse effects from whey protein.
It’s also important to note that protein powders aren’t regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and some companies dilute their protein with useless fillers, which is why certain brands subject themselves to third-party testing as a way to verify the quality of their product. To know if a protein is tested, look for a seal from either NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Choice. That’s not to say that untested proteins are a subpar product, but it’s good to be aware. You are, after all, putting this stuff into your body. Other than looking for brands that are third-party tested, here are different ways to spot a quality protein:
- Ensure that protein is the first ingredient on the label. “When you look at a label, it’s in descending order so the ingredient in the highest amount will be found at the top of the list,” Walsh said. “Look for labels that have protein at the beginning with fewer ingredients accompanying them.”
- Typically, you want a whey powder that contains at least 20 grams of protein per serving. All of our picks do.
- Try to steer clear of excess sugar. As for artificial sweeteners, research on how they affect our weight and health is mixed.
The best overall whey protein powder
If you’re looking for a powder that mixes easily and tastes great, Cellucor Whey Protein Isolate & Concentrate Blend Powder is one of the best and most affordable options.
The Cellucor Whey Protein Isolate & Concentrate Blend Powder not only tastes good and has 24 grams of protein per serving, but it’s also the most affordable option in our guide at 71.4 cents per serving and 3 cents per gram of protein. Each serving also only has 1.5 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbs, and 120 calories.
There are seven flavors to choose from, including whipped vanilla, molten chocolate, and cinnamon swirl. Cellucor recommends mixing two scoops with five to six ounces of your preferred beverage, but you can adjust the amount of liquid to fit your tastes. The company also suggests mixing the powder with yogurt, oatmeal, and pancakes.
The Wirecutter test panelists liked the Cellucor Cor-Performance Whey because of taste. The reviewer notes that the texture is smooth, thick, and foamy, although some of its testers found it too sweet. BarBend’s reviewer found it mixed easily, tasted great, and was relatively inexpensive. However, he did note that there is a fair amount of sodium (130 mg) and didn’t like that it has sucralose, an artificial sweetener. – James Brains, reviewed by Andrew Gutman
Pros: Great taste, affordable, mixes smoothly, 24 grams of protein per serving, excellent for baking, third-party tested
Cons: 130 mg of sodium per serving, contains artificial sweeteners
The best sugar-free whey protein powder
The Platinum Hydrowhey by Optimum Nutrition may be expensive, but it mixes well and boasts 30 grams of protein per serving with zero grams of sugar.
A single serving of Optimum Nutrition’s Platinum Hydrowhey yields 140 calories, 30 grams of protein, one gram of fat, 3 grams of carbs, and no sugar. It’s made of hydrolyzed whey protein, which breaks down the protein into smaller pieces for better absorption and easier digestion.
You can choose from seven flavors: cookies and cream overdrive, chocolate mint, velocity vanilla, chocolate peanut butter, supercharged strawberry, turbo chocolate, and red velvet cake, which was the highest-rated flavor on Bodybuilding.com. I think that turbo chocolate tastes great, too.
There is no sugar in this product, but Optimum Nutrition does use artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and high-fructose corn syrup.
Customers praised Optimum Nutrition for making a protein that mixed smoothly and with virtually anything. The company claims that you can easily mix this protein with just a spoon, and I can confirm that this is true. While this may not sound like a strong selling point, I have forgotten my shaker bottle at home many times and have had to mix my protein with a spoon or knife at work. When I tried this with other brands, I always got clumpy, gross-tasting shakes. – Andrew Gutman
Pros: 30 grams of protein per serving, third-party tested, superb mixability, no sugar
Cons: Contains high-fructose corn syrup
The best-tasting whey protein powder
The Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder packs 24 grams of protein into each serving and is one of the better-tasting powders according to experts and buyers.
The Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder gets its sweetness from a little bit of sugar (1 gram per serving) and acesulfame potassium, which is an artificial sweetener also known as Ace-K.
Each serving has 120 calories, a gram of fat, three grams of carbs, and most importantly 24 grams of protein. Optimum Nutrition has also curated a number of recipes in which you can use the powder.
The Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey is The Wirecutter‘s top pick for whey protein powders. The reviewer found the powder met safety and accuracy criteria, had a pleasant texture, and tasted the best of the 10 powders in her taste test. Her main complaints are that you have to dig the scoop out of the container and the taste is a bit sweet. Several other expert sites also recommend this brand, including BarBend and USA Home Gym.
However, there are numerous complaints on Amazon from users that the formula has changed recently. One person pointed out that the blend of digestive enzymes was replaced by ingredients like salt and sucralose, an artificial sweetener. Another buyer argued that the formula has not changed for double rich chocolate (and the label backs this up). Yet, he does warn against flavors like cake batter, ice cream, and banana. – James Brains, reviewed by Andrew Gutman
Pros: Tastes good, relatively affordable, safe ingredients, third-party tested
Cons: Complaints about the formula changing, contains an artificial sweetener
The best fat-free whey protein powder
The Myprotein Impact Whey Isolate Protein is a great option if you want as much protein packed into each scoop as possible without extra fat, carbs, or calories.
Depending on the flavor you choose, the Myprotein Impact Whey Isolate Protein fits up to 22 grams of protein into each 25-gram serving.
It does this with little or no fat or sugar and only 90 calories per serving. The sodium content is also low at 25 mg per serving.
Labdoor independently tests dozens of whey protein powders, and the site recommended the Myprotein Impact Whey Isolate because it scored high in Labdoor’s ingredient safety, nutritional value, and product purity tests. The testers found there were 21.9 grams of protein in every 25-gram serving.
Active Territory said this powder provides the best value for his money in his experience. The reviewer notes significant muscle gains after taking 2 or 2.5 scoops per day.
Despite a high approval rating on Amazon from shoppers, there are a few complaints worth mentioning. One reviewer warned buyers to make sure they are getting the whey isolate and not just the whey concentrate. (If you follow our links, you should be fine.) Another buyer complained that the protein she received had different ingredients than what was advertised, so double-check before using. – James Brains, reviewed by Andrew Gutman
Pros: Safe ingredients, excellent product purity, a high concentration of bound protein, fat-free, low in sodium
Cons: Concerns about quality control, contains artificial sweetener, not third-party tested
The best digestion-friendly powder
If you’ve found protein powders leave your stomach feeling queasy, consider the lactose-free Dymatize ISO 100 Whey Protein Powder.
The Dymatize ISO 100 Whey Protein Powder is the only lactose-free option on our list but it’s not the only one that uses hydrolyzed isolate protein-the Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydrowhey does, too-which is supposed to help with digestion and absorption.
Each serving has 25 grams of protein, less than a gram of fat, 120 calories, and 2 grams of carbs, including less than 1 gram of sugar. There are 13 flavors to choose from, including cinnamon bun, fudge brownie, gourmet chocolate, and chocolate coconut.
Labdoor recommends the Dymatize ISO 100 as one of the best whey protein powders. In its tests, the powder had high scores for nutritional value and product purity, including less than one part per million of six harmful substances. Around 91% of the calories in this powder come from its protein content.
Best Pre-Workout for Women blog found the flavors were sweet, bold, and tasted as advertised. Her favorite is the cookies and cream flavor.
There are a few quality control complaints on Amazon from a few years ago about foreign objects in the powder and broken seals. The complaints are not found in more recent reviews, though. – James Brains, reviewed by Andrew Gutman
Pros: Lactose-free, 91% of calories are from protein, less than a gram of sugar and fat, third-party tested
Cons: Complaints of foreign objects found in the powder, contains an artificial sweetener, 160 mg sodium per serving
What else we considered
Animal Whey: I like Animal because the company doesn’t make gimmicky claims or rely on pseudoscience to sell its products. What you see is what you get, and what you get is 120 calories, one gram of fat, 2 grams of carbs, and 25 grams of protein per serving. Considering that Animal uses whey protein isolate as its primary protein source, it’s moderately priced and it’s third-party tested. I didn’t include this product, however, because it’s no better than any of the other picks. Compared to Optimum Nutrition or Dymatize or Cellucor, it’s slightly more expensive and isn’t as lauded by fans. It just barely missed the cut.
Pro Jym Protein Powder: A fan favorite – and a favorite of Johnston’s – Pro Jym is comprised of four different proteins: Whey protein isolate, micellar casein, egg albumin, and milk protein isolate. According to the creator, Dr. Jim Stoppani, Ph.D., this extends the rate of digestion for better protein synthesis. It comes in three flavors: chocolate cookie crunch – cookies and cream, and s’mores – and contains 150 calories, 3 grams of fat, 7 grams of carbs, and 24 grams of protein per serving.
Pro Jym missed the mark for two reasons. You pay more for three times the amount of fat and carbs as the Optimun Nutrition Platinum Hydrowhey, so it doesn’t fit into our minimum fillers criteria. Also, it’s not a pure whey protein powder, so I didn’t feel comfortable including it.
Performix ioWhey: I personally like this protein powder because it tastes great (my favorite flavor is fruity cereal), it’s easy on my stomach, and there are minimal extras. One serving of Performix ioWhey is 100 calories, zero grams of fat, 2 grams of carbohydrates, and 22 grams of protein.
My major issue is that Performix claims ioWhey is absorbed 36% more efficiently than other brands, which is why their protein per serving is on the low end. That sounds great but since the product isn’t third-party tested, there’s no way to know if this is true or if the company’s selling you less protein per serving. For the price per serving, you’re better off buying the Optimum Nutrition or Dymatize ISO 100 if you’re willing to shell out for a premium protein. – Andrew Gutman
Where to buy whey protein?
When it comes to buying your protein, one convenient ordering option is to purchase it through Amazon’s “Subscribe & Save” program, since it can save you up to 15%. You’re able to cancel your subscription at any time, too. What’s great about this program is that it automates ordering products that you replenish regularly.
For instance, if you take a serving of protein powder every day and there are 30 servings in a container, you can have a new tub delivered every month without lifting a finger.
Personally, I like to buy my protein from Bodybuilding.com. I usually try a different brand of protein each time I order more, so Amazon’s “Subscribe & Save” program doesn’t make sense for me, although it’s a smart option for many people. Bodybuilding.com has reliable customer reviews and it routinely offers deals on popular brands. As a bonus, it offers free shipping on orders over $75.
To figure out the cost per serving on your own, take the product’s price and divide it by the number of servings in the container. Since the amount of protein per serving varies by brand, it’s also useful to look at the cost per gram of protein. This is easy to calculate by dividing the cost per serving (as calculated above) by the number of grams of protein per serving. – Andrew Gutman