Protein powder is one of the most commonly used workout supplements for increasing muscle growth, boosting strength, and lowering body fat content.
The science and logic behind it are pretty simple—muscles need protein to grow so, if you take more protein, your muscles will grow faster.
Yet, with so many brands selling protein powder, it’s not always easy to know which products work and which don’t.
Quality whey protein powders should be formulated with all nine of the essential amino acids needed to build strong, healthy muscle tissue.
Beyond that, you should look for specific ingredients, rule out products that don’t match your dietary needs, and find products that you can afford in the long run.
To help you narrow your search, we’ve reviewed 11 of the best protein powders for muscle gain. We’ve ranked them based on the quality of their ingredients and the effects they produce.
Check them out and start gaining muscle mass today!
Top 11 Best Protein Powders for Muscle Gain
There’s no denying that the Internet is awash with protein powders.
Narrowing hundreds of available brands down to a list of just 11 top powders was no easy task but after carefully testing each one, we were finally able to present our readers with the best of the best.
Check out our top picks and stay tuned below for more information on how we analyzed each product.
#1. Huge Whey Protein Powder
Out of all the products we tested, we couldn’t get enough of Huge Whey Protein. Made by Huge Nutrition, Huge Whey’s formula combines everything you want from a protein powder for muscle gain.
It’s incredibly lean, with only 1.5 g of fat, and only contains 120 calories, helping you build lean muscle without gaining body fat.
Depending on which flavor you take, you’ll get a full 23-25.5 grams of protein and 5 grams of branched-chain amino acids with each serving.
The majority of this protein comes from whey concentrate, although Huge Whey also includes the following ingredients:
- Alkaline cocoa powder
- Whey protein isolate
- Xanthan gum
These ingredients help boost your metabolic rate as you exercise and provide the building blocks needed to create healthy, new muscle mass.
Huge offers four novel flavors—cookies and cream, vanilla milkshake, strawberry cheesecake and chocolate peanut butter—helping to break away from the boringly traditional flavors. Click here to visit the official product page.
Start with a daily dose of 1 to 2 scoops after a workout and start seeing results within a few weeks. Remember, it’s always best to exercise before taking protein powder so it can work as a post-exercise recovery supplement.
2. Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate
Coming in just behind Huge Whey, we had to give second place to Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate. This product is made with whey protein isolated from 100% grass-fed dairy, packing in 28 grams of protein for every scoop.
To put that number into perspective, that means each scoop is 88% pure protein by weight.
Additionally, it only contains a single gram of sugar and half a gram of fat, making it leaner than most other products on the market.
Along with protein, each serving provides an added dose of iron, calcium, and potassium to support healthy bone density. But what we most liked about Transparent Labs Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate is how clean it is.
Other than being made from 100% grass-fed dairy, it’s also free of artificial sweeteners, colorings, and preservatives. Yet, despite its clean formula, it comes in seven delicious flavors:
- Milk chocolate
- Cinnamon Pastry
- Cereal Splash
- Chocolate Peanut Butter
The only downside to Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate is that it’s a little pricier than other options on the market.
Furthermore, if you are hoping to gain weight while you work out, it’s not the product for you. This protein powder is best for building lean muscle, rather than bulking.
Start with a daily dose of one 32 g scoop added to milk or water. You can purchase Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate from their official website, where it’s available in both 2-lbs and 5-lbs tubs.
3. Dymatize Elite
Next up on our list, we have Dymatize Elite. Dymatize makes a variety of products branded under the “Elite” name, including Elite Casein and Elite Whey. If you are looking for a whey protein powder, be careful you don’t buy the wrong product.
As you can probably tell, Dymatize Elite Casein is made with casein rather than whey protein. It’s harder to digest and has fewer branched-chain amino acids.
Elite XT is a combination formula made with a handful of elements from both Elite Whey and Elite Casein. Compared to the others, though, it has a higher percentage of artificial additives and a lower protein percentage by weight.
Dymatize Elite Whey contains 25 grams of protein and 5.5 grams of branched-chain amino acids in each serving, meaning its protein to weight ratio is roughly 69%.
This is slightly lower than the top 2 products listed above but it’s still a hefty dose of protein.
What Dymatize Elite really stands out for, though, is its massive range of flavors:
- Cinnamon Bun
- Butter Cream Toffee
- Café Mocha
- Gourmet Vanilla
- Vanilla Cupcake
- Cookies ; Cream
- Rich Chocolate
- Cocoa Pebbles
- Chocolate Fudge
- Chocolate Cake Batter
- Chocolate Mint
- Chocolate Peanut Butter
- Fruity Pebbles
- Smooth Banana
- Strawberry Blast
- Pina Colada
All of their products are tested and verified by informed-choice.org to show that they are clean from banned substances.
Our only gripe with Dymatize Elite Whey protein powder is that it contains more fat than other brands and relies on a lot of artificial sweeteners and processed ingredients. It also contains more sodium than a lot of other brands.
If you don’t mind consuming a fattier processed product, Dymatize Elite is an excellent way to get into protein powders, especially if you want a variety of flavors. Its protein percentage by weight is pretty good and provides a nice little boost with 5.5 grams of branched-chain amino acids.
4. MuscleTech NitroTech
Like Dymatize Elite, MuscleTech NitroTech whey protein isn’t one single product—it’s four. Yet, unlike Dymatize, all four of the powders branded as NitroTech are made from whey protein. They include:
- NitroTech Nighttime
- NitroTech Power
- NitroTech Ripped
The standard NitroTech whey protein powder contains 30 grams of protein and 7 grams of branched-chain amino acids. That being said, though, you’ll have to take slightly more powder to get that higher dose. With more powder, you’ll also consume slightly more fat and calories (2.5 g and 160 calories).
Nonetheless, there’s no denying how effective NitroTech really is. Unlike other protein powders, it combines features from other workout supplements, such as L-Leucine, L-Valine, and creatine monohydrate. This helps it stack well with other products you may be taking with your protein powder.
Currently, you can buy NitroTech Whey Protein in nine unique flavors, including:
- Chocolate Mint
- Milk Chocolate
- Toasted S’mores
It’s available online at Amazon and should be taken after a workout or between meals. According to MuscleTech, you’ll see the best results if you take 4 scoops a day over a six-week period.
This makes it slightly more expensive than other products but its effects are apparent.
5. MusclePharm Combat Protein
While most protein powders are formulated to help athletes and bodybuilders develop new muscle mass, MusclePharm Combat Protein was designed to help athletes recover after an intense workout.
It’s formulated based on the results of several scientific university studies, making it one of the few products designed with research in mind.
Each serving of MusclePharm Combat Protein contains a respectable 25 grams of protein but what sets it apart from other brands is that its formula forces your body to slowly break down the amino acids, guaranteeing longer growth periods rather than sudden bursts of muscular genesis.
We should point out that, although its formula is research-based, MusclePharm does contain artificial sweeteners (sucralose and acesulfame potassium) and a higher-than-usual dose of stabilizers.
These ingredients are completely safe but if you are after an organic or pure whey protein powder, this isn’t it.
Find MusclePharm Combat Protein online at Amazon and start with a single scoop after a workout to start seeing gains today. It comes in Chocolate, Vanilla, and Cookies N’ Cream flavors.
6. BSN Syntha-6
BSN Syntha-6 markets itself as an ultra-premium protein shake and currently stands as one of the most popular protein powder producers on the market.
Rather than formulating a product specifically for bodybuilders, BSN found success by creating a general formula suitable for all athletes.
Each serving contains 22 grams of protein, as well as an added 10-gram dose of branched-chain amino acids and essential fatty acids.
Yet, what stood out the most during our review is how well-liked BSN’s flavors are. Currently, they only offer six flavors—Banana, Cookies N’ Cream, Peanut Butter, Strawberry Milkshake, Chocolate Milkshake, and Vanilla Ice Cream—but nearly everyone noted how delicious they are.
Of course, this comes at a price. Compared to other brands, BSN Syntha-6 contains more calories and more fat than most other products on our list. Each serving contains 6 grams of fat, 15 grams of carbohydrates, and 200 calories.
If you are hoping to lose weight, we do not recommend this product. Furthermore, BSN Syntha-6 contains more artificial and processed ingredients than most other products.
We recommend using this product if you are trying to bulk up while also gaining muscle mass. Start with a daily dose of 1 scoop after a workout and soon you’ll see yourself grow larger and stronger.
7. Levels Grass-Fed Whey
Compared to BSN Syntha-6, Levels Grass-Fed Whey is nearly the exact opposite product. Although they both pack a huge dose of protein into a small scoop, Levels is completely organic and formulated without added sugars, sweeteners, or other artificial ingredients.
That way you can build clean, lean muscle mass without consuming processed compounds.
Each scoop of Levels Grass-Fed Whey contains 24 grams of protein and 5.4 grams of branched-chain amino acids, all of which come from pasture-raised, grass-fed American dairy cows.
Thanks to the way these all-natural ingredients are sourced, Levels Whey Protein contains more vitamins and minerals than synthesized, inorganic brands.
Additionally, Levels Grass-Fed Whey powder is safe for gluten-intolerant athletes, as well as anyone with soy allergies.
They offer nine different flavors, including Vanilla Bean, Vanilla Cinnamon, Cold Brew, Strawberry, Chocolate, Double Chocolate, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Chocolate Mocha, and, interestingly, an Unflavored variety.
According to Levels, their products are never bleached and contain less than 1% non-GMO sunflower lecithin, which helps their powders blend more smoothly into milk or water.
Find it for sale on Amazon and start with a single scoop a day after a workout to start seeing results.
8. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey
Optimum Nutrition markets their whey protein powder as the “Gold Standard” and for good reason. It’s currently the #1 best-selling whey protein powder in the world and few athletes have a bad word to say about it. Yet, despite its long history and impeccable marketing, its old school formula has changed once.
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey provides you with 24 grams of protein with each serving, as well as 5.5 grams of branched-chain amino acids and 4 grams of glutamine.
This sets it apart from other brands, meaning you don’t have to take an additional glutamine supplement.
The majority of the protein in Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard comes from whey protein isolates. These isolates have the highest density of protein, although they lack some of the more substantial muscular building blocks, such as peptides.
Gold Standard whey protein makes up for this by adding conjugated linoleic acid and phospholipids to help burn fat.
You can buy Gold Standard whey protein on Amazon in six different flavors, including Double Rich Chocolate, Chocolate Malt, Chocolate Hazelnut, Chocolate Peanut Butter, White Chocolate, and French Vanilla.
9. Body Fortress Whey Protein
At first glance, Body Fortress Whey Protein can be a bit misleading. The container advertises that it contains an unbelievable 60 grams of protein but, on closer inspection, each scoop contains only 30 grams. That being said, though, if you take a full two-scoop dose, you will get 60 grams of pure whey protein.
Compared to other products on this list, Body Fortress Whey Protein contains a moderate amount of fat (3 grams) but can’t recommend using it if you are in a cutting phase.
With 200 calories per scoop, a full 2 scoop dose will leave you with an additional 400 calories to burn off during your workout. Additionally, it contains a higher amount of sugar than other brands.
What stands out most about Body Fortress Whey Protein is how inexpensive it is. You can currently purchase a 5 lbs tub off Amazon for as low as $34.49, making it—by far—one of the best-priced options on the market.
If you are looking to get into protein powders but don’t want to invest an arm and leg, we highly recommend giving it a try.
Body Fortress offers 6 flavors, including Banana Cream, Cookies N’ Cream, Chocolate, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Strawberry, and Vanilla. Find it on Amazon and give it a try today.
10. Rule One Proteins
If you are hoping to burn fat as you build lean muscle mass, you should ideally look for a fat-free, low-carb whey protein powder. Unfortunately, a lot of products contain trace amounts of saturated and unsaturated fat, as well as sugars and other carbohydrates.
This is where Rule One steps in to save the day.
By combining both whey protein isolates and whey protein hydrolysates, Rule One has successfully formulated a unique protein powder blend that quickly burns into usable amino acids.
If that wasn’t enough of a selling point, Rule One protein is also entirely lactose-free. This is pretty rare among whey protein products, considering that whey comes from dairy.
The only negative thing we have to say about Rule One protein is that it doesn’t blend into milk or water very easily. Compared to other products we tested, Rule One was more likely to clump up and required more shaking to blend smoothly. Therefore, we recommend using a good shaker bottle to help break down the powder.
Find all eight flavors on Amazon and start with a single scoop per serving to start seeing results
11. Naked Whey
If you want a pure whey protein product, you won’t find anything purer than Unflavored Naked Whey protein powder.
In fact, it’s so pure that it doesn’t contain anything but whey protein concentrates. However, if you don’t mind a few added ingredients, you can also find chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry varieties of Naked Whey.
Naked Nutrition sources all of its whey protein concentrate from grass-fed, pasture-raised American dairy cows, making it one of the purest organic products on the market.
However, according to the manufacturer, you should take two scoops of powder to get results. This is slightly more powder than you’d take with other brands but the absence of processed ingredients means you won’t have to contend with negative side effects.
Each two-scoop dose contains 25 grams of pure whey protein and only 120 calories. This comes with an additional 2 grams of fat, which is pretty negligible considering it’s made entirely from dairy.
If you want to spice up your whey protein powder, Naked recommends mixing their Unflavored variety with coconut water or adding it to a fruit smoothie.
So, here’s the kicker—Naked Whey might be the healthiest product on our list but it’s also the most expensive.
We couldn’t rank it higher considering that a 5lbs tub is roughly 3x more expensive than other products on this list, currently selling for $94.99 on Amazon.
If you are willing to pay this price, though, it’s an amazing product and guaranteed to be high-quality and clean.
The Benefits of Taking Protein Powder
If you are not already taking a whey protein powder, you may not be familiar with its full range of benefits. In this next section, we’ll explain how taking a whey protein supplement can help you build stronger muscles, reduce your recovery time, and burn fat faster than if you were to just diet and exercise.
Protein Powder Boost Muscle Growth
The number one reason why bodybuilders and athletes take whey protein is to quickly build muscle mass and strength. When you exercise, you make microlesions in your skeletal muscle tissue. When these microlesions heal, your muscles expand and grow stronger. Yet, to grow stronger, your muscles require protein.
Whey protein powder provides the necessary amino acids your body uses to produce proteins. These amino acids act as the building blocks for new muscle tissue. Yet, whey supplements do more than just introduce more protein into your system. They also help regulate hormone production, particularly insulin and other anabolic hormones.
Some products also include ingredients such as creatine and leucine. Creatine is stored in your muscles and used as an immediate source of energy when you exercise. Check out our best supplements for muscle growth as well if you’re looking to gain size.
Leucine, on the other hand, is an amino acid that stimulates further protein synthesis, providing extra protein for your muscles
What sets whey protein apart, though, is how effectively it promotes muscle development. Compared to soy and casein proteins, whey has been found to produce noticeable short-term effects whereas other protein sources are only effective in the long term.
However, keep in mind that whey protein is not sufficient enough to supplement a healthy diet. If you are not already consuming a healthy amount of protein from your diet, whey protein shouldn’t be a crutch.
Focus on improving your diet and then begin a whey supplement.
Protein Powder Speeds Recovery
Anyone who’s spent time in a gym knows that some days you just don’t have the energy to put in a full workout. Sometimes, your muscles are fatigued and tired from your previous workout, especially if you went all out. This is where whey protein can help.
After a workout, your muscles are most often fatigued due to strain and injury. Although we tend to think of exercise as building new muscle, lifting actually creates mild damage to throw your muscles into hypertrophy.
It’s only when your muscles have recovered that they become larger and stronger. Yet, during that recovery period, you’ll feel unable to work out as well.
Whey protein speeds up the recovery period by providing all the micronutrients you need to build healthy muscle tissue.
Without the necessary protein and branched-chain amino acids, you’ll be out of action longer but by supplementing them, you’ll be ready to hit the gym again in no time.
Protein Powders Promotes Weight Loss
When we say that whey protein supplements can help you lose weight, understand that we don’t mean they’ll burn fat for you. You still have to exercise and stick to a healthy diet.
What we do mean, though, is that taking a whey supplement will help you feel fuller faster and for longer. This is because whey protein is exactly that—protein.
Researchers have well established that protein helps our bodies feel satiated far faster than carbohydrates and fat. Proteins are more complex on a molecular level, requiring more time to break down in the digestive system.
This leaves you feeling full without having to eat as much. On top of that, you’ll expend more energy by burning proteins than other macromolecules, helping you reach your desired daily caloric output.
How We Chose the Best Protein Powders For Muscle Gain
As stated early, it was no easy task narrowing hundreds of whey protein products down to a list of 11 top products. Before we could start testing, we had to set clear criteria to rule out inferior brands.
That way, we could ensure that all 11 protein powders shared here were up to scratch. Below, you can find the criteria we followed as we extensively tested each brand.
The first and most important factor we considered was each product’s quality. This meant testing which types of whey protein were used, the source of these proteins, and whether the product included any additives.
Whey protein powders are usually formulated with one or more types of whey protein. These include:
- Whey protein concentrate – Concentrated whey contains around 70-80% protein, small doses of lactose, and some dairy fat. It tastes the best but is the least healthy.
- Whey protein isolate – Isolated whey contains around 90% protein and has lower amounts of fat and lactose. It lacks the same vitamin and mineral content of whey concentrate, though, and doesn’t taste as nice.
- Whey hydrolysate – Whey hydrolysate is hydrolyzed to be easily digestible, causing a higher insulin spike after consumption
We gave extra points to brands that sourced their whey protein from organic and grass-fed dairy cattle and were sure to include a handful of brands that offer gluten-free, lactose-free, and soy-free varieties.
Most importantly, though, we were careful to assess each product for additives, including artificial flavorings, sweeteners, and dyes.
Although not directly harmful, we understand that most consumers prefer all-natural workout supplements and want to avoid consuming excess levels of sugar or processed ingredients.
After assessing the quality of each product, the next logical step was the test how much protein each product contains. If you are taking a supplement to increase your protein consumption, it makes sense that you want a product that packs as much protein-by-volume as possible.
Therefore, we were careful to find products with the highest levels of protein on the market.
Out of the products listed here, they all contain at least 20 grams of protein per dose. At the upper reaches, some products even contain as much as 30 grams per dose.
This is well above half of the average man’s daily protein requirements, putting you on track to quickly build muscle mass after an intense workout.
A lot of whey protein powders market themselves as ‘protein shakes’ but don’t let that trick you into thinking they taste amazing.
On its own, whey protein tends to be chalky and unpleasant tasting, so it’s important that you find a product that’s formulated itself to be healthy yet delicious.
If you take a look at our list, nearly all of the brands shown here have a wide range of flavors. Most of these flavors revolve around chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry but a few brands offer exciting flavors like fruity pebbles, banana, and cinnamon swirl.
We gave extra points to brands that ventured away from the standard three flavors.
Along with this, though, we had to ensure that the flavors were created using natural ingredients. Brands that relied on artificial sweeteners and additives lost points, as noted above.
Some brands also offer unflavored varieties. These are typically all-natural so we made sure to include them. If you purchase an unflavored whey protein, mix it into a fruit smoothie or coconut water to make it more palatable.
Workout supplements can get expensive, especially if you are stacking a few different products at a time.
Protein powder is one of the most common and essential products you’ll take, though, so it’s important to find a quality brand that isn’t going to cost an arm and a leg.
As we assessed the value of each product, we had to consider all three of the above points. Brands with higher protein content understandably cost a little more, as did higher quality products made from organic or grass-fed dairy.
But the price tag shouldn’t vary too much.
Most of the brands shared here come in 2 lbs or 5 lbs tubs of powder and we were careful to only include brands that cost between $45-$65 for a 5 lbs tub.
This provides enough protein powder to last around two months. The only exception was Naked Whey, which was markedly more expensive and therefore ranked lower on our list.
Why is Protein Important for Muscle Gain?
Proteins are one of the essential macronutrients our bodies need to grow and carry out healthy processes. They are made up of complex chains of amino acids that loop and fold into various shapes.
Some proteins carry out specific jobs while others build tissues. Without proteins, though, our bodies would not be able to work or grow.
When it comes to muscle growth, proteins directly build more tissue. Exercise—particularly lifting—creates small tears in existing muscle tissue.
When these microtears heal, our bodies fill them in with new tissue made of protein. Therefore, protein is essential for muscle gain.
Without protein, your body wouldn’t have the necessary nutrients to build new tissue or repair damaged muscles. For this reason, protein is essential for steady muscle growth.
Another interesting type of product are BCAA powders, they also provide your body with plenty of amino acids.
However, it’s not the only nutrient you need. Remember to consume a healthy diet rich in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and unsaturated fats to maintain healthy musculature.
Is Protein Powder Bad for You?
Workout supplements sometimes get a bad rap, especially when they’re lumped in with anabolic steroids. Yet, protein powders are nothing like other harmful supplements.
They’re simply extra protein to help your body grow and recover faster. So, let’s put the myths to rest—whey protein powder isn’t bad for you.
The biggest risk of taking a protein powder is dehydration. When you consume excess protein, your body eliminates it through urination. However, you have to drink more water to process excess protein. If not, you run the risk of becoming dehydrated.
This is easily avoidable, though, by drinking a healthy daily amount of water.
The only other risk people sometimes talk about is protein poisoning. This is highly misleading and based on a misunderstanding of what protein poisoning truly is. Protein poisoning is a form of acute malnutrition caused by a lack of dietary fat.
It’s usually onset after eating overly lean meats, such as rabbit, for an extended period—usually months or even years. As long as you maintain a healthy diet, there’s no risk of this happening while taking whey protein.
Frequently Asked Questions About Whey Protein Powders
Below, we’ve gathered a few of the commonly asked questions we get about whey protein powders.
Check out these four commonly asked questions and let us know if you have any more.
How much protein powder should I take per day?
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when taking a workout supplement. For most products, it’s safe to take 1 to 3 scoops a day but be sure to drink plenty of water and eat a healthy diet. Protein powders are not a suitable substitute for a regular diet.
What should I mix my protein powder with?
It all depends on you. Whey protein powders are made from dairy and already contain trace amounts of lactose and fat. If you are trying to cut, we recommend mixing your whey powder with water. However, if you want to make a delicious milkshake-like beverage, use skim or 2% milk.
Experiment with different mixes to find the best-tasting blend for you. We recommend using a shaker bottle to break up large clumps and to get a smoother, creamier product. Many protein powders do not mix easily into liquids.
When should I take my protein powder?
A lot of athletes prefer to take protein powder right after a workout. To be honest, though, it doesn’t really matter when you take it. As long as you consume the necessary amount of protein every day, your body will grow healthy, strong muscle tissue, regardless of when you take the supplement.
Nonetheless, taking a whey protein powder after a workout is a good way to remember your supplements.
A lot of athletes stack protein powder with other products that should be taken right after exercise so, if you are already taking other supplements, it’s smart to take them with your protein powder.
How many calories are in 1 scoop of protein powder?
No two products are exactly the same but most protein powders contain anywhere from 100 to 200 calories per serving. When burned, protein is converted into energy (calories) but most powders also contain other energy-rich ingredients.
Fattier and sugary whey protein powders produce more calories than others so, if you are trying to cut, avoid these brands.
How long does protein powder last?
Again, no two products are exactly the same. Always check the label to find the exact expiration date before using a product. If you are unsure where how to read the expiration date or cannot find it, a good rule of thumb is to use a tub of protein powder within two years of purchase.
After that, it’s likely to go bad.
Whey protein is isolated from dairy but, unlike dairy, it’s far more shelf-stable. If you are concerned that your whey protein has gone bad, give it a smell.
Like dairy, bad whey protein will have a rancid, spoiled smell. It may also change color or become clumpy. If you are still unsure, taste a small amount. Bad protein powder will taste bitter and off.
If you are an athlete wanting to quickly recover and build stronger, larger muscles, whey protein powder could be the product for you.
It’s packed with essential amino acids and proteins, all of which come from natural dairy.
Avoid the long search for quality brands by checking out these 11 products. They’re safe, tested, and guaranteed to produce the results you want.