Did you know that protein is present in every cell in the body? This essential nutrient is critical for building, maintaining and even repairing muscle. It also plays a role in supporting enzymes and hormones to keep the body functioning properly. Eating real, whole ingredients to up your protein intake (particularly eggs, seafood, beef, poultry, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy products and pork) is always the gold standard, no matter what.
That being said, there are specific situations — based on health status, life stage or training programs — when having a protein powder on-hand can help you meet your nutrient needs. While most people don’t need to take protein powder, active individuals may find that it can help promote female muscle gain alongside a balanced diet. But the protein powder aisle has rapidly expanded in recent years and since the supplement industry is poorly regulated, it can be difficult to find a quality option that meets your needs, tastes good and above all is what it says it is.
That’s why registered dietitians in the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab evaluated dozens of protein powders, prioritizing brands with third-party testing and wholesome ingredient lists. When determining your protein needs and choosing a protein powder, you can follow the recommended dietary allowance of protein for healthy individuals which is 0.8 g/kg of body weight per day, or about 10 to 35% of your daily calories. This can be increased if you are more active or elderly. If you’re using a protein powder for a medical reason or taking any medications, it’s always best to check with your doctor before starting a supplement regimen. Here are the best protein powders of 2022, according to registered dietitians.
1. Whey Protein Isolate, Vanilla Flavored
Designed to be mixed with liquid or blended into a smoothie, this whey protein isolate from Thorne contains all of the essential amino acids for optimal absorption. The brand adds digestive enzymes from papaya and pineapple and removes most of the lactose in this formulation for easy digestion too which is a common issue with whey-protein based powders. You’ll find a little sweetener (only two grams per serving) from evaporated cane sugar and stevia extract.
Lab results: We found that this protein powder from Thorne mixes well without clumping, had a nice flavor profile and was easy to digest. For a flavored protein powder, the ingredient list is short and uncomplicated. Not only that, but both the chocolate and vanilla flavored whey protein isolate options from Thorne are NSF Certified for Sport, meaning that they have been tested and certified for quality, purity and safety. The quality, NSF Certification and price under $2 per serving are just a few of the reasons why this pick secured the top spot in our tests. Their RecoveryPro powder, designed for supporting athletic performance, is also worth mentioning as it is NSF Certified for Sport too.
2. Pea Protein Unflavored Protein Powder
A top pick, this plain and simple vegan protein blend is made from organic yellow pea protein isolate — and nothing else, a key distinguishing factor from so many protein powders on the market. One scoop contains 120 calories, 24 grams of protein and 45% of your daily iron — a crucial mineral for supporting your body’s circulatory system. It’s also available in chocolate and vanilla toffee.
Lab results: We love that this powder from Now Foods comes in at the lowest price per scoop than any others on this list but doesn’t sacrifice quality. Our dietitians say that the simpler the protein powder, the better it is for anyone seeking a protein powder that supports weight loss. Your best bets will be unflavored, single-ingredient picks that you can add to any smoothie, shake, coffee or tea lattes to create a more substantial, protein-packed snack. This protein powder was a top pick with Consumer Lab which tests for accuracy of label claims, heavy metals and more. Plus, it is also Informed Sport Certified which means it has undergone rigorous screening for banned substances in sport. But one thing to note is its high sodium count. That being said, our experts appreciate that Now Foods also does their own extensive testing to ensure superior quality so you are getting exactly what it says on the supplement bottle.
3. Essential Protein
Formulated without GMOs, this unique vegan protein powder from Ritual is made with just a few ingredients including organic pea protein and organic coconut medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil. All ingredients, according to the company, are fully traceable from origin to customer. One scoop of this powder provides 20 grams of protein with a complete essential amino acid profile.
Lab results: A favorite in our tests, our experts loved the smooth texture and balanced flavor profile on this protein powder that mixed well in all liquids, including smoothies. We even found it tasted great when just combined with coconut water, but note that the cost per serving is on the higher side. The company is passionate about the impact it has on its consumers, the quality of ingredients it uses and its impact on the environment, going so far as to create the Ritual Certificate of Traceability which takes a close look at nutrient sourcing and more.
4. Sport, Certified Grass Fed Whey
In addition to providing 24 grams of grass fed whey protein per scoop, this protein powder from Garden of Life is full of organic premium ingredients and free from added sugars but does contain stevia. Available in both vanilla and chocolate, this pick is Non-GMO Project Verified and Certified Gluten-Free.
Lab results: Our experts say that the combination of whey and milk protein provides an ideal blend for recovery of any type, but this mix also provides BCAAs (to support muscle repair) plus added probiotics, which could help with GI issues over time. The powder is also NSF Certified for Sport, making it a go-to recommendation for athletes since it’s approved for use by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Garden of Life’s whey vanilla flavor is slightly sweet tasting but blends evenly in smoothies or on its own with water and ice.
5. Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate, Unflavored
Made from just grass-fed whey protein isolate, this unflavored powder easily goes in whatever you’re making, from overnight oats to smoothies and lattes — providing 30 grams of protein for only 130 calories. Since it’s quite concentrated, you can even use just half a scoop for a protein boost in your morning shake.
Lab results: Our experts love that the simplicity of the product plus the calcium content (whey is derived from animal or milk protein) provides the added boost you’re looking for, without any frills. It blends well and has a neutral flavor, but whey protein in general may be difficult to digest for some. This variety was also a top pick in Consumer Lab tests and passed testing for heavy metals, accuracy of label claims and more.