Nobody can have a healthy functioning body without protein. But, how much do you need and how do you go about choosing the best protein shakes for your needs? Protein shakes can be used to lose weight, build and maintain muscle, or as a supplement to nutrition needs. We review a wide range of protein powders including whey based protein shakes, vegan protein shakes, the best protein shake for men, women and children, as well as the best single ingredient protein powders.
Protein Powder Buying Guide
- Importance of protein
- Types of protein
- Sources of protein
- Daily protein needs
- Types of protein shakes
1. Importance of Protein
Apart from building, repairing and maintaining muscle tissue, protein is necessary for making hormones and enzymes, strengthening bones, cartilage, hair and is an important constituent of blood.
Protein is stored in the body in the form of muscle tissue. If you don’t consume enough protein daily, your body will break down muscle tissue. Too little protein also leads to the body actually storing more energy as fat.
2. Types of Protein
There are two types of proteins: plant and animal. As long as all essential amino acids are consumed, the body can use protein from both plant and animal sources. Proteins can be further divided into complete and incomplete proteins:
Complete proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids (EAAs) that are the building blocks for protein, and these cannot be produced by the body. Three of these nine amino acids– leucine, isoleucine and valine– are known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and are particularly important for muscle gain, weight loss and fatigue reduction.
3. Sources of Protein
Red meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy are the best sources of complete proteins. Although red meats are high in protein and a good source of vitamin B12, niacin, selenium, and zinc; they contain more saturated fat and the possibility of increased cholesterol levels may increase the risk of cancer.
Most non-meat based protein lacks all essential amino acids, but some simple combinations such as rice and beans, or peanut butter and wholemeal bread can give you all 9 amino acids.
Common plant-based complete proteins include quinoa, buckwheat (soba noodles), soy (tofu, edamame, tempeh), chia, hempseed, Ezekiel bread, Quorn and seitan. These are often found as source ingredients in plant-based protein powders.
4. Daily Protein Needs
How much protein you need depends on your body mass, age and level of activity.
The average daily protein needs of a sedentary (non-active) adult is a minimum of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.3 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For a 150 pound (68kg), sedentary person, this is 45 grams per day, or about 6.5 ounces of animal or complete protein a day.
Recently, there has been criticism of these guidelines, and analysis shows that most people need to increase their protein intake, and this will ensure better health as you get older. A recent study reveals that a significant amount of older adults in the US suffer from a lack of sufficient protein which affects ease of daily movement and meal preparation.
Recommended intakes of protein to meet health and activity needs may range from 15% to 25% of daily calorie needs or higher.
For a more individualized calculation of your daily protein needs as well as other macro and micro nutrients; use this free USDA Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) tool by entering your height, weight, age, and activity level.
5. Types of Protein Shakes
- A meal replacement
- A fortified protein shake
- A pure protein shake
For all of these, the protein content will be between 15‒25 grams. There is no point in taking in more protein in one sitting because the body is limited in how much protein it can synthesize.
A Meal Replacement
A MR should have 200‒400 calories with one third from protein. Protein should be at least 15g with all nine EAAs, and 25‒33% DV essential vitamins and minerals. Additionally, there should be at least 6g fiber and 6-15g fat.
Who should take this? – people who want to feel satiated from longer, control eating, lose weight, or feel that they may lack essential nutrients. This is a good choice if you often miss breakfast or skip lunch.
Protein shakes can help you maintain your figure or lose unwanted fat, especially belly fat! Multiple studies have shown that if 25% of your daily calorie needs come from protein, you can cut food cravings by up to 60%. Increasing protein from 15% to 30% of total calories, leads to people consuming 441 fewer calories per day!
A Fortified Protein Shake
This is a halfway option. They usually have added nutrients, fiber and/or digestive enzymes (lactase for whey). Compared to a meal replacement, calories will be lower and there will not be a complete nutrient profile of micro and macro nutrients.
Who should take this? – people who feel they need extra protein but could also benefit from added enzymes and a few nutrients. These are good for workouts or as a supplement taken with a meal.
A Pure Protein Shake
Apart from protein, these have a very limited nutrient profile. The product range is typically whey protein, casein, egg white protein, bone broth powers or single plant proteins derived from hemp, rice, pea, or a mixture of plant sources rich in proteins and EAAs.
Who should take this? – People who require extra protein minus the fats and cholesterol that protein rich foods often contain. These are also good for muscle building, physically active people, and those wishing to maintain a lean, healthy figure.
Whey-based protein is a well-studied option for athletes and those interested in muscle growth. Casein protein is a slower-digesting protein than whey and some research favors this protein type for younger athletes when protein is consumed by itself (without added fat or carbohydrates).
It’s better to avoid all high-intensity non-nutritive sweeteners even if they are approved by the FDA. Alcohol derived sugars such as xylitol or any ‘—itol’ sometimes cause bloating, cramps or even diarrhea, though erythritol appears to be the best choice with the least side effects.
There are also issues with certain types of stevia, so make sure the product you choose is 95 percent steviol glycoside to avoid counterfeit ingredients. It’s also best to avoid maltodextrin with shakes and drinks because it may cause sudden spikes in blood sugar and insulin.
A good-tasting protein powder can be a major deciding factor for continuing with a product. Understandably, some people want completely natural flavoring, but this can be limiting and sometimes misunderstood.
According to strict FDA labeling codes, natural, non-artificial flavoring must be derived from spices, roots, leaves, produce or animal products, and must match the label description. So, a natural strawberry flavor must be an extract from real strawberries.
Anything else is ‘artificial flavoring’ even if it’s an imitation vanilla derived from wood pulp, or a harmless maple flavor derived from fenugreek seeds. The point is, artificial doesn’t necessarily mean chemically synthesized.
Reviews of the Best Protein Shakes in 2020
It’s a challenge for anybody to pick out the most suitable protein shake, especially when there are so many good choices on the market. Our selection below is what we call “close wins”:
- Garden Of Life Meal Replacement – Best Protein Shake In 2020
- Designer Whey Natural 100% Whey Protein – Best for Men
- Loose And Slim Meal Replacement Shake – Best For Women
- KidzShake Vanilla Organic Protein Powder – Best For Kids
- RSP TrueFit Grass-fed Protein Shake – Best For Digestion
- NAKED Nutrition Protein Powder – Best Single Ingredient
Here are our picks for the Best Protein Shakes In 2020
1. Garden Of Life’s Meal Replacement – Best Protein Shake In 2020
We all have a lot of things to take care of every day. From family responsibilities, work, school and a hundred other items on the to-do-list. Why add more with worries about getting enough protein, vitamins or too many calories? Besides, when there’s no time to focus on just one thing, we need fewer and more diversely effective solutions.
The same goes for protein shakes. Why purchase a product which contains mostly protein when there are plenty of fortified protein shakes rich in micronutrients? That’s the definition of the ideal protein shake: natural as in the way we usually consume proteins, and still providing all 9 essential amino acids.
After careful consideration and evaluation, Garden Of Life’s Raw Organic Meal Replacement is the best product to meet all requirements:
- It’s vegan, suitable for everyone.
- It has a large range of vegetable and fruit nutrients– 13 vitamins and 8 minerals.
- The ingredients are organic.
- There are no artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors or chemicals.
- It contains all 9 amino acids in the right amount.
- It comes in 4 flavors and 3 sizes.
Strictly speaking, this product is more of a meal replacement as the label states, but the protein content and profile is as good as any protein powder. The only downside to this product would be the price.
Another product from Garden Of Life for more active people is Protein Powder Sport: It’s meant for athletes and has 30 grams of protein per serving, including 5g of BCAAs and a higher amount of antioxidants for muscle repair and recovery.
2. Designer Whey Natural 100% Whey Protein – Best for Men
Whey protein is often the best protein option for those who are supplementing for physical activity and muscle building. Also, men’s daily nutrition needs are slightly different than those of women, and we chose Designer Whey® Natural 100% Whey Protein for that very reason.
As discussed, the absolute minimum of protein required according to Daily Value recommendations is 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.36 / lb). So, the average male requires some 56g of protein per day while physically active men and athletes are often recommended 1.2g to 2.0g per kilogram of body weight (0.55g to 0.91g / lb). That’s about 1.5 to 2.5 times the recommended minimum.
Protein rich meats may also be high in saturated fats and unhealthy cholesterol, so it’s not a good idea to eat them in excess. For this reason, it is often a good choice for active men to get at least some of their protein needs from a good protein powder.
Why Designer Whey protein powder?
Designer Whey is a good choice because it has 2 of the 3 types of whey protein: whey concentrate and isolate. Compared to whey concentrate, whey isolate is more highly processed, faster acting and is easier to digest. Whey concentrate takes more time to process, while adding on a few more calories.
Designer Whey provides 20g of protein per serving from GMO free milk free from antibiotics and growth hormones (typically used on cows in the dairy industry). It is also free of all artificial colorants, flavors and uses stevia and monk fruit as a sweetener.
Best of all, it is fortified with extra calcium, vitamin D and 4 B vitamins. These are not only recommended for better men’s health, but they also help to synthesize proteins in post-workout recovery. Additionally, also for men, it has extra zinc for reproductive health as well as probiotics, digestive enzymes for the metabolism of the protein, and prebiotic fiber to support gut health.
Because there are only 110 calories per serving, it would be a good idea to also have a banana with this shake because men require additional potassium for better cardiovascular health. If you get the French vanilla flavor, blending in a banana would also do.
What’s also great about this product is that you can also buy sachets which are perfect for putting in your sports bag or taking to work.
If all you want is just the protein (minus all the extras), why don’t you try YougloResearch Pure Bone Broth Powder? It comes from 100% grass-fed cows, is rich in collagen for joint health and dairy free.
3. LadyBoss Lean Premium Protein Shake– Best For Women
Many brands have products designed specifically for women. Although labels might read ‘for women’, only a few actually provide specific nutrients at amounts recommended for women, so many can be used for both men and women. LadyBoss, however, is specifically formulated for women.
For many women trying to lose weight, carbohydrates and calories are a big focus. However, any macronutrient—carbohydrates or proteins—in excess can cause you to put on unwanted weight.
Limiting carbohydrates is important because if your intake doesn’t match your activity level, your blood sugar rises which requires your body to produce more insulin. While the hormone insulin helps to remove sugar from the bloodstream, it also promotes weight and fat gain because insulin also acts as a storage hormone, driving extra calories into fat stores.
Besides limiting excess calories and especially excess carbs, another way to lose fat effectively is to build more muscle. The more muscle you grow with muscle-building exercise, the more fat you can burn, even while at rest!
Another factor is the desire to eat food or typical food cravings. Protein also helps here because it makes you feel full or satiated. Other macronutrients such as fiber do the same. Being properly nourished with sufficient nutrients will further reduce food cravings, and to achieve this you need to have optimal digestion too.
At the end of the day, an ideal product for women should have more than 10g of protein per serving, be low in added sugars and calories. Additionally, plant ingredients can provide calcium and folate for reproductive health as well as fiber (prebiotics) for satiety and to support gut bacteria.
Why LadyBoss Premium Protein Powder?
They use premium grass-fed whey and unlike many other shakes targeting women, LadyBoss does not contain any artificial sweeteners. It’s nutrient profile is designed to match the needs of women and it has added dietary support with digestive enzymes. Although it contains 3g of added sugar, the calorie count of 100 is actually quite low.
At first glance the protein content is only 16g or 27% DV and calcium DV 6%. However, when mixed with a glass of low-fat milk this will change– which is something a lot of makers and shakers forget about! The average glass of low-fat milk contains 8g protein and a further 29% DV calcium. This shake is actually a little low on fiber for probiotic support, so eat some good fruits or vegetables for breakfast too.
4. KidzShake’s Vanilla Organic Protein Powder – Best Protein Shake For Kids
Why would a kid need a protein or supplement shake? Of course, it’s better when children get what they need from mother nature herself. However, in today’s often hectic family life, with busy schedules and both parents working, this is a safe, tasty and nutritious drink that will put your mind at rest.
Good nutrition depends on quality produce, which unfortunately comes at a price these days. Furthermore, we can’t always be in control of what our kids are putting into their mouths, let alone forcing them to eat the nutritious stuff they don’t want to! And, when they’re not around, we fret about, “How healthy was the school lunch?” or, “What did they eat at their friend’s house?” Sometimes, it’s just better to be on the safe side.
If you’re thinking about extra nutrition for your kids, protein shakes need to be convenient, fun-looking and flavorful, but they also serve a different purpose. At a young age, children need lots of nutrients and not just proteins.
There are two ways protein supplements are packaged: powders that require mixing as in a shake, and on-the-go drinks. Many choose on-the-go protein shakes for their convenience, delicious taste, and of course, cool logos. However, they are slightly more expensive and come in small cans or bottles of 1 serving each.
Powder forms offers some benefits. They are more affordable, you can teach your children about environmental waste and besides, having to store 24 disposables in your refrigerator may not be practical. Best of all, you can easily make the shakes yourself for breakfast and that way you know that your child is actually drinking it!
Why Dr Rach’s KidzShake?
Our top choice therefore is Dr Rach’s KidzShake with organic protein powder, featuring 11 vitamins, 6 minerals with 10 grams of proteins and 90 calories per serving. The powder contains no GMOs, no fillers and no preservatives. What’s more, it is rich in probiotics, omega-3s, digestive enzymes, and fiber. Although Vanilla Cream is the most popular flavor, it is completely lactose and gluten free!
The best part? It’s available in 6 flavors!
If you would still prefer the on-the-go variety we can recommend this 12 pack Orgain Kids Protein Nutritional Shake. It contains 8g of organic milk and whey protein, 21 vitamins & minerals and 200 calories per serving. Also, it’s non GMO, carrageenan free, soy free and no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Orgain also offers an on-the-go plant-based protein shake as well.
5. RSP TrueFit Grass Fed Protein Shake – Best Protein Shake For Better Digestion
When it comes to improving digestion, two easily mistaken terms that appear in articles are prebiotics and probiotics. Probiotics are actual bacteria, whereas prebiotics are the fibers that feed the bacteria. This TrueFit protein shake gives the best quantities of both and that is why we chose it for you.
As mentioned above, prebiotics are foods that provide the right kind of fiber to enrich the bacterial environment inside your digestive tract. In layman’s terms, it’s something that makes the bacteria in your belly happy, and happy bacteria equals happy eating.
“Probiotics” is the term term that refers to these beneficial bacteria. We already have them in our gut but for several reasons, it is necessary to add extra.
Why RSP TrueFit grass-fed protein shake?
With that cleared up, let’s take a look at the selection: RSP TrueFit Grass Fed Protein Shake. This product comes in one flavor only and is packed with probiotics and fiber (prebiotics) to help bust belly bloat and improve digestion. Although the vitamin and mineral content doesn’t look very comprehensive, it is a great option for those who dislike taking probiotics in tablet or capsule form.
This shake also has 8g of fibre and 25g (50% DV) of protein– both of which are pretty high for protein shakes outside of the mass muscle bulk category. Moreover, this RSP product is made with organic ingredients with no artificial flavors and it’s gluten free.
This is a great breakfast or snack choice for both busy men and women. Don’t forget to eat good fibrous foods like fruits and vegetables during the day for their higher nutritional and prebiotic content.
6. NAKEDNutrition Protein Powder – Best Protein Shake With A Single Ingredient
No, we hadn’t forgotten about the single-ingredient protein shake! One of the main reasons for choosing this kind of product is to avoid allergic reactions and sensitivities such as lactose intolerance. Naked Rice is another excellent product.
The thing is, consumers often don’t clearly understand what a single-ingredient protein powder actually is. A product with ‘whey protein’ on the label may still contain different sources of dairy protein – like concentrate, casein and others. It’s best to have a glance over the ingredients list before purchasing.
A key concept behind the brand NAKEDNutrition is, “Nutrition with nothing to hide”. Its focus is to create products from a pure source, and then finely ground to a powder. The following are single-ingredients used in their products:
- YELLOW PEA and BROWN RICE: yellow split pea and brown rice are considered complete proteins when paired together.
- MILK WHEY and CASEIN: both these proteins, extracted from cow’s milk, are complete proteins. Casein is processed more slowly by the body.
- GOAT WHEY: similar to cow milk, goat milk whey protein contains all 6 essential amino acids.
As can be seen, there are vegan and non-vegan options. The best option, suitable for most people is NAKED RICE or NAKED PEA – not just in terms of the amino acid profile, but also for those worried about allergies and lactose intolerance.
NAKED RICE and PEA both have all 9 essential amino acids (3-BCAAs) though not in concentrations high enough to equate to complete proteins by themselves. The ideal choice would be to combine these two products together.
Both products have also been tested for heavy metals by an independent lab.
Alternatively, for a single ingredient protein powder, we also highly recommend Nutiva Hemp Protein. It’s branched-chain amino acid profile isn’t as good and it only has 15g of protein per serving, but it is much higher in fiber, iron, magnesium and zinc. It is completely organic with no sweeteners or additives.
A Comparison Table Of The Best Protein Shakes in 2020
|Product||DV PROTEIN |
|Garden of Life Meal Replacement||20g / 40% DV||Meal Replacement||Complete nutrients. Probiotics and enzymes. Vegan / Organic|
|Designer Whey Protein||20g / 40% DV||Fortified Protein Shake||Added nutrients for men. Organic.|
|LadyBoss Premium Protein||15g / 27% DV||Fortified Protein Shake||Balanced nutrition for women. Organic.|
|Dr. Rach’s KidzShake||10g / 20% DV||Fortified Protein Shake||No sugar. High DV nutrition. Organic.|
|RSP TrueFit Grass Fed Protein Shake||25g / 50% DV||Fortified Protein Shake||Probiotics and 8g of fiber. Organic.|
|NAKEDNutrition Protein Powder||25g / 50% DV||Rice Protein Powder||Allergy and lactose free. Vegan / Organic.|
Our selection of the best protein powders included a mixed plant protein, various whey based proteins, and the best of single ingredient protein powders. If you have anything to add, or would like to ask a question, please you the comment feature below. We are always here for you.