Which is the best protein powder for athletes? The highest in protein, lowest in sugar, and does it contain high quality ingredients? We compared over 50 different brands of protein powders, including all of the ones I was asked about most on my instagram Q&A last month. We’ve listed our top recommendations below, but the full comparison chart can be found here.
Each protein powder was reviewed using the criteria below to determine if we would recommend the product. We briefly discuss what we look for in each category below. This review was not sponsored in any way. I was not paid by these brands or compensated for this review.
Protein Content/Macronutrient Breakdown
We recommend athletes choose a protein powder that contains at least 20 grams of protein per serving. While some products do not provide the amino acid profile, we recommend looking for a product with at least 2 grams of leucine per serving to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. We also recommend products that contain minimal added sugar.
For whey protein, we recommend products that use solely whey isolates or a combination of isolate and concentrates. This is because whey concentrate can contain anywhere from 30-89% protein with the remaining coming primarily from fat or lactose, whereas whey isolate is >90% protein.
Whey protein powders have been known as the gold standard due to the quick absorption and digestibility, amino acid profile, and high leucine content. For plant-based protein powders, we recommend products that contain a blend of protein sources such as pea, soy, or brown rice to provide an adequate amino acid profile. Plant-based protein powders often have enzymes added to help increase the rate of absorption and digestion. Here’s a more thorough review of different plant-based protein isolates’ protein and amino acid content. We do not advise drug-tested athletes to consume products containing hemp to avoid any chance of testing positive for trace amounts of THC.
We recommend athletes look for products with minimal ingredients coming from whole food sources. We do not recommend athletes consume protein powders around training that contain artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, or carrageenan. These ingredients could lead to gastrointestinal (GI) distress such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, and upset stomach.
Third Party Tested for Athletes
There is zero regulation when it comes to supplements, so you must always use caution when using them. Athletes should only use products that go through a third-party certification, such as NSF certified for sport, Informed Sport, or Banned Substance Control Group (BSCG). These certifications are required for athletes to ensure they aren’t taking any illegal supplements; these certifications assure what’s listed on the package is what’s actually in the product. Even if you aren’t in collegiate or professional sports, I still highly recommend seeking out a protein with this certification. Why? Because that means the product is constantly going through rigorous testing to make sure it’s legit. If you are an athlete and don’t see your protein powder mentioned here, check this list of certified products here or check with a sports dietitian to assure you’re using a safe product. Individuals who are not drug-tested athletes (which we refer to in our chart and below as ‘active individuals’) can look for third-party certifications such as Informed Choice, USP, or NSF.
Our Top Recommended Protein Powders
For Drug-Tested Athletes:
These powders all carry NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport third party testing certification, making them a safe option for collegiate or professional athletes who are drug-tested for banned substances.
Ascent Protein Powder*
BiPro (whey protein)
Garden of Life Sport*
Klean Athlete (whey protein)
Ritual 18+ (plant-based)
Thorne (whey protein)
Vega Sport (plant-based)
*have both plant-based and whey options
For Active Individuals:
These powders, along with all of the powders listed above, are products we would recommend for individuals who are not drug-tested/do not require third-party testing specific to athletes.
Be Well By Kelly (beef protein)
Ora Organics (plant-based)
Simply Teras (whey)
*have both plant-based and whey options
For more information on why we recommend these products, check out our full comparison chart here. For one-on-one nutrition coaching, apply for our waitlist here.