The Best Whey Protein Powder for People Who Genuinely Love Food

The Best Whey Protein Powder for People Who Genuinely Love Food

“Whey protein would technically be considered the ‘gold standard,’ and that’s because whey protein is a milk protein. Any animal-based proteins are going to be what we like to call a complete protein,” explains Grasso. It’s “complete” because it contains the nine essential amino acids we must get from the food we eat because our body doesn’t make them on its own, all of which play vital roles within the body—we’re talking everything from immune function and energy regulation to hemoglobin production.

Many protein sources (like legumes and nuts) deliver some but not all of the nine essentials, meaning you’d need to combine them to achieve the full spectrum. That’s the draw of a “complete” protein, and why people might turn to whey as a straightforward choice when looking for a way to supplement their protein intake. Grasso also notes that whey protein powders often have a higher amount of leucine, an amino acid that is particularly important for athletes or people looking to build muscle because of its role in muscle protein synthesis. Another pro? According to Syn, “whey is also considered a ‘fast-absorbing’ protein, which makes it preferred for post-workout recovery.”

If whey protein isn’t for you, whether you’re vegan or have a dairy allergy or sensitivity, note that it’s not the only supplement that’ll provide that complete amino acid profile. Many vegan protein companies add a variety of plant-based protein sources to their powder blends in order to ensure they’re delivering that full package, which they’ll usually note on their packaging. Plant-based complete proteins also do exist—these would be anything soy-based, says Grasso, like a soy protein isolate or a pea protein.

What should you look for in a whey protein powder?

Grasso and Syn both stress the importance of making sure your protein powder of choice is third-party tested. This is because dietary supplements like protein powders are regulated by the FDA only as food, not as drugs. To ensure that what’s listed on the label matches what’s actually in the product, you’ll want to look for a badge or note that indicates the product was tested by a third party: NSF, Informed Sport Choice, and GMP are some of the typical badges you might see. This is particularly important for athletes who want to ensure there are no banned substances in the supplements they’re taking, but it’s a good practice for all supplement users.

The second biggest thing to look out for when choosing a whey protein is the ingredient list. In general, Syn recommends opting for one “with little to no unnecessary additives, fillers, artificial ingredients, and added sugar.” Grasso also advises opting for shorter ingredient lists when possible, and she particularly looks out for artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols: “These things are not inherently bad for us, but things like acesulfame potassium or sucralose can cause headaches in some individuals.”

As for sugar alcohols, those are denoted by an “-ol” and include ingredients like erythritol, sorbitol, and maltitol. “We don’t digest those sugar alcohols, and so they actually enter our gut in the full molecular form, which can cause digestion upset, constipation, bloating, diarrhea, gas, all sorts of really fun GI things,” Grasso says. Not everyone will experience these symptoms, but it’s worth being aware of if you’ve ever found yourself worse for wear 30 minutes after downing your morning shake.

What’s the difference between whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate?

These are the two most common forms of whey protein you’ll see, and the choice between the two is another thing to consider when deciding which powder to go with. “Whey protein isolate is a filtered form of whey protein. It contains at least 90% protein and has less fat, carbohydrates, and calories than whey concentrate. It also contains very little lactose,” says Syn, which makes it a good option for those with lactose sensitivities. Whey protein concentrate sits at about 70%–80% in protein content and contains more lactose than isolate, but the trade-off is that it’s often cheaper.

Best chocolate whey protein powder: Thorne Whey Protein Isolate, Chocolate

Thorne Whey Protein Isolate, Chocolate

This whey protein isolate from supplement and at-home health test company Thorne won the chocolate flavor round of testing for a few reasons: Alkalized (a.k.a. Dutch-processed) cocoa creates a rich dark chocolate taste, and I found that the powder delivered a relatively creamy consistency even when mixed with plain water. While it’s one of the pricier options on this list, I thought it was worth the extra 10 or 15 cents per serving for the flavor alone. I appreciated that it’s sweetened with a mix of cane sugar and stevia, as opposed to the potentially head- or tummy ache-inducing sweeteners Grasso warns of (though it’s worth noting that stevia can cause these effects for some people). It’s also third-party tested, and because it’s an isolate, it makes it a great choice for the lactose sensitive.

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