Whey protein is one of the most studied and supported supplements for boosting muscle growth, sparing muscle during a cutting phase, and aiding post-workout recovery. It’s a highly bioavailable and fast-digesting form of protein recommended by the International Society of Sports Nutrition. But no matter how beneficial that post-workout shake is, you’re not likely to stick to the routine if your protein shake tastes like gritty chalk or doesn’t fit your specific nutritional requirements and standards. You need to find the best whey protein powder for your needs.
Below, we’ve rounded up the absolute cream of the crop (best-tasting protein powders, cleanest protein powders, animal-free protein powders for vegans and vegetarians, and more) so you can make an informed choice for the best whey protein powder for you.
Types of Whey Protein
Whey protein is a popular option since it’s widely available and easy to digest, but there are huge ranges in quality, according to Garay. You need to be mindful of a few things when searching for the best whey protein powder.
“I typically recommend my clients find a brand that’s third-party tested so you know what’s listed on the label is what’s actually inside the container—with nothing else,” she says. Whey protein does come from milk, so vegans and some vegetarians may want to consider a plant-based protein powder instead or check out the animal-free whey option in the list below.
Whey protein can be processed differently to create powders with different qualities. Each type of whey provides fast-digesting and highly bioavailable complete protein. The major differences are in the lactose content and how much protein by weight it contains.
“Isolate is more processed but offers a higher protein content as a result; concentrate is less processed, so the nutritional profile is more similar to what you would find in milk,” explains Jessica Garay, Ph.D., R.D.N., C.S.C.S. and owner of Major League Wellness.
Both are good sources of high-quality protein and leucine (crucial for the best protein powder for muscle gain).
“The difference really comes down to purity and cost,” adds Haray. “Isolate is really delivering protein without other nutrients and, as you might imagine, is more expensive.”
Whey concentrate contains a minimum of 25 percent protein, but can be as high as 35 percent, 55 percent, or 80 percent protein by weight. Since it’s less pure, it can contain more fat and lactose than other types.
Whey isolate consists of 90 percent protein, is lower in lactose, and is better for those sensitive to this milk sugar. Just note the best whey isolate protein powder is also typically more expensive than whey concentrate.
Whey hydrolysate is considered easier to digest as it’s been broken down more and, therefore, very quickly absorbed. Other forms of whey are also fast-absorbing, however, so the increased cost of hydrolysate may not be worth it for many people. Hydrolysate may be worth a try if you find other forms of whey hard to digest.
Who Should Use Whey Protein?
Active men who want to gain muscle or preserve muscle during a diet can benefit from adding a daily whey protein shake using the best whey protein powder.
Those Struggling to Meet Daily Protein Intake Recommendations
Anyone can use protein powder, but those who have a more challenging time getting enough through their regular food sources or who are active and need more protein than the general population can particularly benefit.
“Protein powder is a helpful way to close the gap between how much protein you need each day and how much protein you’re currently getting in your diet,” says Garay.
Those Looking to Build Muscle
Anyone wanting muscle gain should turn to whey protein for nutritional support.
“A key trigger for muscle building is leucine; basically, if muscle growth is the light, leucine is the light switch,” explains Destini Moody, RD, CSSD, LD, and author. “Whey protein is not only a rich source of this amino acid, but due to its fast absorption rate, it’s very efficient at getting to the muscles to help them repair and grow efficiently,” she adds.
So, active people should use the best whey protein in their post-workout nutrition regimen.
Note: There’s been a lot of conversation about if whey protein powder causes acne. Some research has established that milk and milk products can trigger acne. A small study of male bodybuilders found whey protein supplementation was linked to acne breakouts on their chest and back (not face). Some individuals will experience breakouts on their body and face as research suggests whey protein increases the production of IGF-1, a hormone that boosts sebum production, thereby causing acne breakouts.
Those Looking to Lose Weight
People trying to lose weight can also use whey protein’s satiating properties to control hunger and prevent overeating.
“As a dietitian, I recommend to my weight loss clients to drink a whey protein shake during snack times when they feel hungry to give them a feeling of fullness,” suggest Moody.
Those Looking to Recover
Finally, people recovering from sickness or injury or who eat a plant-based diet may have higher protein needs but often find it challenging to eat enough protein from food.
Moody likes to recommend the best whey protein for men who are injured to help mitigate muscle loss by giving the body the key amino acids it needs during the healing process.
“Since whey protein is typically wallet-friendly, using it as a meal replacement or simply as a supplement to meals can be a convenient way to meet the body’s protein needs,” says Moody.
What Are the Benefits of Whey Protein?
There are many benefits of using whey protein, a high-quality protein that’s naturally found in milk, along with casein.
Supporting Fundamental Muscle Building
“Whey has a similar composition to proteins in our own body, so we’re getting the exact building blocks we need when we ingest whey protein,” explains Garay. One of these fundamental building blocks is leucine, an amino acid that supports muscle building.
Repair and Grow Muscle Tissue
Whey is the most studied and supported protein source for anyone who has trouble getting enough protein in their diet or who is active and interested in maximizing their ability to repair, spare, and grow new muscle tissue.
“Not only is whey a source of all the essential amino acids we need, but it also absorbs into our system incredibly rapidly,” explains Moody.
Helps Reach Recommended Daily Protein Intake
With the general recommendation of protein intake being upward of 1 gram per pound of body weight, the amount of chicken breast you’d have to cram starts to climb, especially if you’re a big guy. The convenience of a shake helps you meet your needs in an easy and tasty format.
Moody says the best whey protein for men should have a high amount of protein (20 to 40 grams) in each serving, which usually comes as a scoop.
“It can also be used to make balanced meal replacement shakes or smoothies by providing high-quality protein,” she adds.
When to Take Whey Protein
To Build Muscle
“You can take whey protein any time of day, but it’s ideal to take it after exercise, especially if you did strength training or a super intense workout,” suggests Garay. Generally, the body shifts to muscle-building mode after exercise, and this is the time for whey protein (and leucine) to work their magic, according to Garay.
To Lose Weight and Curb Hunger
Moody says if you’re taking it for hunger control and weight loss, the best times to take it may be between meals or during breakfast to keep your hunger in check for the rest of the day.
To Fuel Before a Workout
The best whey protein can also be consumed before a workout, but the key is ensuring the building blocks are available during your post-workout recovery.
To Recover After a Workout
“If you’re taking it for exercise recovery and muscle gain, it’s most optimally taken within two hours after your workout is complete as this may be the optimal window to maximize the benefits,” says Moody. Taking whey protein after a workout with some fast-digesting carbs is best. Avoid adding fats or fiber to your post-workout whey to maximize digestion speed.
Muscle growth depends on eating enough protein daily, primarily when it’s spread evenly throughout your meals.
How to Use Whey Protein
Whey protein can be used in several ways, including adding it to milk (dairy, oat, almond, coconut, etc.) or water.
Mix it into oatmeal or yogurt or include it in the batter for pancakes, waffles, muffins, or mug cakes. Typically, chocolate and vanilla protein powders are best for smoothies and shakes, whereas non-flavored powders are optimal for baking.
Be sure to check the expiration date and be mindful of using within the recommended range (yes, protein powder does expire). Some powders last anywhere from six months to a year when stored properly (cool, dark place); others contain additives that extend the shelf life for longer but we recommend the cleanest protein powders you can find.
Now, let us introduce you to the best whey protein to buy now.
The Best Whey Protein Powders for Men in 2023
Optimum Nutrition is a crowd-pleaser with a dozen or more stellar flavors, including Double-Rich Chocolate, Delicious Strawberry, and Rocky Road. One stand-out feature is the excellent mixability of ON’s whey protein powders. You can mix any of the flavors with water or milk using just a spoon, and the result is a smooth, clump-free protein shake that tastes like an indulgent milkshake. These features make it one of Moody’s top picks.
Impact Whey from MyProtein is an excellent budget choice with many unique and classic flavors, such as Fruity Cereal, White Chocolate Peppermint, and Salted Caramel.
If you prefer to keep your supplements clean and free from additives (who doesn’t?), Transparent Labs has you covered with its 100% Grass Fed Whey Protein Isolate.
Most people love a good milkshake-flavored protein shake, and mixing your whey with milk can add essential nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D. However, milk can be a bad choice in the summer heat or when you want something more easy-drinking and refreshing. That’s where clear whey shines.
Thorne is a science-based nutrition research company that makes a range of supplements, including whey protein isolate, free from artificial flavors or sweeteners. The testing process behind Thorne’s whey protein is held to rigorous standards, including four rounds of testing.
Animal-free and whey protein are not two descriptors that are typically seen together, but Natreve Mooless has created a genius workaround. The brand uses a copy of whey DNA and a unique fermentation process that creates a molecular copycat of whey protein without using animal products.
Raw Grass Fed Whey is a simple product that does its job without all the additives. It’s a cold-processed, raw, grass-fed whey protein powder free of hormones, GMOs, soy, gluten, flavorings, or sweeteners.
Whey protein is known for boosting the recovery process, but research suggests you can increase the efficacy of your post-workout protein intake by pairing it with some easily digestible carbs. Research shows that when protein is paired with carbohydrates, glycogen stores are replenished better and faster, helping to increase muscle protein synthesis (the process that builds muscle) and slow muscle breakdown.
“If you’re looking for a product that offers an easily digestible, high-quality whey protein without too many additional bells and whistles, this is a good option,” says Garay, who also appreciates its third-party testing.
Unflavored whey protein powder is incredibly versatile. You can throw it in any smoothie, baked good, or savory dish (such as protein pizza crust, bread, or veggie burgers), and it won’t add a flavor or sweetness to the finished product. Plus, adding any fruit, juice, cocoa powder, peanut butter, or whatever strikes your fancy can concoct a new post-workout smoothie every time without the overwhelming top note of vanilla or chocolate.
Casein, the slower digesting dairy protein, is ideal for keeping your muscles topped up with protein over long stretches, improving feelings of fullness at the same time. While whey is the fast-digesting hare that gets to work immediately, casein is the tortoise that keeps things moving in the background.
FairLife Core Power ready-to-drink protein shakes are made from extra-filtered milk. Not only do you get whey protein, but casein is naturally present in the milk. Due to the filtering, the protein content is much higher than in regular milk, with reduced carbs to boot.
Hi! I’m a dedicated health blogger sharing valuable insights, natural remedies, and the latest scientific breakthroughs to help readers lead healthier lives. With a holistic approach to wellness, I empower individuals with accessible and actionable content, debunking myths and offering practical tips for incorporating healthy habits.