Nobody can have a healthy functioning body without protein. But, how much do you need and how to go about choosing the best protein shakes for your needs? Protein shakes can be used to lose weight, build and maintain muscle, or to supplement nutritional needs. We review a wide range of protein powders including whey protein shakes, plant-based vegan protein shakes, the best protein shakes for men, women and children, as well as the best single ingredient protein powders.
Protein and Protein Powders
- Importance of protein
- Types 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 namely, plant and animal. As long as you get all essential amino acids, your body can benefit from either source. Animal proteins, however, do have a higher bioavailability, which means your body can utilize them more easily and efficiently.
Proteins can be further divided into complete and incomplete proteins.
Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids (EAAs). These amino acids are the building blocks for protein, and cannot be produced by the body. Three of the EEAs are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) namely, leucine, isoleucine and valine. These are particularly important for muscle gain, weight loss, and fatigue reduction.
3. Daily Protein Needs
How much protein you need depends on body mass, age, and level of activity.
The average daily protein recommendation 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. This is about 15% to 25% of daily calorie needs or higher.
Recently, there has been criticism of these guidelines, and analysis shows that most people need to increase their protein intake. A recent study reveals that many older adults in the US have insufficient protein which affects ease of daily movement and meal preparation.
Use this free USDA Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) tool to calculate your full nutritional needs.
4. Types of Protein Powders
Whey protein is the most popular protein powder in the US, whereas planet-based protein powders are becoming increasingly popular. Other protein powders include casein, egg white protein, and bone broth protein powders.
Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein powder is a by-product of cheese making when milk is separated into liquid whey and casein solids. The least processed powder is whey concentrate and it contains more fats and carbohydrates. Whey isolate is a more processed or pre-digested type of whey. The body absorbs whey protein at a faster rate than other protein powders. It’s also a very effective protein in weight loss programs.
See our reviews on Best Whey Protein Powders.
Plant-based Protein Powders
Plant protein powder is extracted from a variety of legumes, seeds, and vegetables rich in amino acids. Protein powders come as single-plant protein or mixed-plant protein powders.
Single source plant proteins, except for soy, do not contain all EAAs in sufficient quantities to be considered a complete protein. Therefore, plant-based protein powders tend to be mixed protein powders—typically a mixture of pea and rice or other high protein plant-based sources.
See our reviews on Best Vegan Protein Powders.
Casein Protein Powder
Casein is also derived from milk, but has one unique property. When it travels to the stomach, it forms a gel that slows down protein absorption in the body. Some research favors this protein type for younger athletes when consumed without added fat or carbohydrates. Casein protein powder has higher calcium content, more cholesterol and lactose residue depending on the method and degree of processing.
Egg Protein Powder
Egg protein power comes from egg whites. The white contains more than 50% of the protein in eggs and, unlike the yolk, has no cholesterol. There are also few vitamins or minerals, so egg white protein powders tend to be more or less pure protein. Egg white protein is a good animal source protein for those who are lactose intolerant. It’s particularly rich in amino acid arginine. Arginine improves blood flow, cardiovascular health, and boosts athletic performance amongst other benefits.
Bone Broth Protein Powder
Bone broth soup has probably been around since the dawn of cooked food. Made from either bovine or chicken, easy to drink bone broth powders come in typical shake flavors. The unflavored variety can, like an instant soup, be mixed with hot water. They are higher in fats and cholesterol, but good for gut health, and people who need joint support from collagen.
5. Types of Protein Shakes
- A meal replacement
- A fortified protein shake
- A straight protein shake
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 for 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.
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 are lower and there isn’t a complete nutrient profile of micro and macro nutrients. Typical plant-based protein powders, and fortified whey protein powders fit into this category.
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 Straight Protein Shake
Apart from protein, these have limited micronutrients. The product range is typically whey protein, casein, egg white protein, and bone broth powers.
Who should take this? – These are the best choice for muscle building, physically active people, and those wishing to maintain a lean, healthy figure.
How to Choose the Best Protein Powder
Protein serving amount – most protein powders give between 15 and 30 grams of protein per serving. This is sufficient because the body is limited in how much protein it can synthesize within a given time frame.
Servings – always check serving measurements because some products use one scoop and others two. Make sure the number of servings per container and their protein value is worth the price for you.
Source ingredients – make sure the protein source is suitable for you. Whey concentrate and casein proteins may trigger lactose allergies, while bone broth protein could be from chicken or beef. Plant based protein powders have more micronutrients.
Amino acid profile – a product that lists amino acid values is generally more trustworthy, especially with regards to amino acid spiking. Look for added BCAAs if you need the product for muscle gain and sports performance.
According to strict FDA labeling codes, natural flavoring must come 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 imitation vanilla from wood pulp, or a harmless maple flavor from fenugreek seeds.
It’s better to avoid all high-intensity non-nutritive sweeteners even if 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. Make sure your product is 95 percent steviol glycoside to avoid counterfeit ingredients.
See our product selection guide for what types of ingredients and products we avoid.
3. Third Party Verification
Regardless of what supplements you buy, you should always check for third party verification. This is especially recommended for powder supplements, but particularly plant protein powders. These may sometimes be contaminated with heavy metals like cadmium. See our listing of third party verifications at the end of the reviews.
Reviews of the Best Protein Shakes in 2020
Here is our selection of the best protein shakes. Our best protein powder is a plant-based vegan protein powder suitable for all. Other picks include a fortified whey protein powder for men and women, a special selection for children, and other popular choices for casein, egg white, and bone broth protein powders.
- Garden Of Life Raw Organic Protein Powder – 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
- Cognitune Bone Broth Protein – Best Bone Broth Powder
Here are our picks for the Best Protein Shakes In 2020
1. Garden Of Life Raw Organic Protein Powder – Best Protein Shake in 2020
Garden of Life Raw Organic is a well formulated and balanced protein powder. It’s a mixed plant protein with a blend of pea, brown rice protein, and over ten sprouted seeds. As a plant-based protein, it’s suitable for all people, and is also certified organic, vegan, GMO free, sugar and gluten free.
Pea and brown rice protein combined make a complete amino acid profile. Rice leucine has a high bioavailability, and together with 4g of BCCAs, this powder is a good choice for amateur sports people and regular workouts. There’s a full amino acid values on the label.
One serving is 22g of proteins and there are 20 servings per bottle. This is basically enough for one person taking a daily supplement 5 days a week. It may be on the pricey side for some, but Garden of Life products are third party verified for quality and nutritional statements.
This product does not qualify as a meal replacement because of limited calories and micronutrients. There are only 110 calories per serving, but if you need more you can mix up a smoothie. There is also 0g of cholesterol and sugar, and only 2g carbohydrates.
As a plant protein, the iron content is 6g or 35% DV, which is quite okay for men as long as they check their additional iron intake. A nice thing about this product is that it’s fortified with 400IU of Vitamin D (10mcg / 50%DV Vitamin D). This is a safe amount for most people, especially considering widespread Vitamin D deficiency. The Vitamin D comes from vegan friendly mushroom cultures.
Other significant nutrients include zinc, selenium, and vitamin E. It also has a blend of digestive enzymes including protease for protein, lipase for fats, and lactase for milk if you blend a smoothie. There are also 3 Billion CFU probiotics added, and it’s sweetened with stevia and erythritol. Erythritol is one of the better choices for non nutritive, high intensity sweeteners.
Assurances and User Reviews
Raw Organic Protein comes in three varieties: chocolate, vanilla, vanilla chai and unflavored. Although there are better tasting plant protein powders, many don’t come with the same assurity and nutritional value. People, however, are split on the taste of the new formula.
The powder mixes well with a typical chalkiness to it, but not too gritty. For the vast majority, this powder produces no stomach issues, and many felt it had improved their gut functioning.
Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein Powder is certified by USDA Organics, Informed Choice and is also certified Vegan, GMO free, and NSF gluten free.
2. Designer Whey Natural 100% Whey Protein – Best for Men
Designer Whey is a mixed whey protein fortified with vitamins and minerals that suit physically active men in particular. It has a Vitamin B complex to boost energy and to help in the synthesis of proteins, as well as other minerals to aid post workout recovery.
Protein rich meats may also be high in saturated fats and unhealthy cholesterol. 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.
The average male requires some 56g of protein per day, while physically active men and athletes are often recommended 1.2 grams to 2.0 gram per kilogram of body weight (0.55g to 0.91g / lb). That’s about 1.5 to 2.5 times the recommended minimum.
Designer Whey includes whey concentrate and isolate. Whey concentrate is synthesized more slowly by the body compared to pre-digested whey isolate. This makes Designer Whey ideal for a prework out drink. The whey concentrate also adds more to the calories count and calcium content.
Designer Whey provides 20g of protein per serving. The whey milk is free from antibiotics and growth hormones (typically used on cows in the dairy industry). It’s also free of all artificial colorants and flavorants, and uses stevia and monk fruit as a sweetener. The 32 oz pack provides enough for about a month, and the product is quite reasonably priced.
Designer whey is fortified with Vitamin D, four B vitamins, and other minerals such as zinc (25% DV), phosphorus (20% DV), and magnesium (25% DV). These are not only recommended for better men’s health, but also help to synthesize proteins in post-workout recovery. There are also additional probiotics, digestive enzymes for better protein metabolism, and prebiotic fiber to support gut health.
Flavors and Variety
Designer whey comes in seven flavors: three chocolate flavors, three vanilla, a strawberry flavor, and an unflavored option. There are three sizes available—12, 32 and 64 oz—but 32 oz is the best option for a monthly supply. The 64 zo pack is more readily available in Summer strawberry flavor than the other options.
There is also an extra low calorie version, which contains some soy lecithin. Their premium sports whey Isolate also contains soy lecithin, but it also has 32g protein per serving, 9.6g BCCAs, 5.5g leucine, and is certified by Informed Choice.
Assurances and User Reviews
Designer Whey gives a full listing of amino acid values. It’s also certified GMO free, gluten free, and is made in the USA. Most people are satisfied with the taste and how the powder mixes. French vanilla is the most popular flavor, the gourmet chocolate second, while the strawberry and coconut vanilla taste a little artificial.
3. Aria Women’s Wellness Protein Shake – Best For Women
Many brands have products that read for women, but not many provide specific nutrients in amounts recommended for women. Aria is low in calories, fats, sugars, and carbohydrates, so you can add your own as required. It is fortified with additional calcium, vitamin D, iron, floate, biotin and phosphorus—which are all specifically beneficial to 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. Insulin is secreted to deal with excess glucose from carbohydrates and synthesized proteins. Insulin also acts as a storage hormone, causing extra calories to be stored as fat.
Another key to weight loss and appetite control is extra protein and fiber. Both of these make you feel full or satiated, and proper nourished from sufficient micronutrients will further reduce food cravings. To achieve this, you need good digestion support as well.
Why Aria Women’s Wellness Protein?
Aria Wellness contains 15g of protein which is a good recommendation for women. The protein comes from GMO free soy and hormone free bovine milk—both high quality complete proteins. When mixed with a glass of low-fat milk your protein intake will increase by 8 grams and calcium by a further 29% DV. This will amount to half the daily recommended intake.
Aria Wellness is fortified with vitamin D3 (30% DV) to support calcium absorption. Iron (10% DV) is supported by cofactor vitamin C which is also a key antioxidant. Other key nutrients for women include folate (100% DV) and biotin—a B-vitamin that helps convert food into energy. Additional phosphorus supports bones, teeth, protein synthesis, and carbohydrate regulation in the body.
There is also a blend of digestive enzymes, and the product is sweetened with 0 calorie stevia. This shake is a little low in fiber for prebiotic support, so eat fruits and vegetables, or add extra fiber to your diet. Unfortunately, this product only comes in two flavors and in 12 oz cans of 16 servings, but it is reasonably priced.
4. KidzShake’s Vanilla Organic Protein Powder – Best Protein Shake For Kids
In today’s often hectic family life, with busy schedules and both parents working, children may also miss out on the vital protein they need. Kidzshake is a safe, tasty, and nutritious drink that will put your mind at rest. It has more than just protein, including 11 vitamins, probiotics, fiber and omega-3 fats. There are no artificial additives or extra sugar.
There are two ways protein drinks 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 packs or bottles of 1 serving each.
Powdered forms 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?
Dr Rach’s KidzShake has 11 key vitamins, most of which are 50% DV or over, so at least half of minimum vitamin needs are taken care of. Vitamin D is only 20% DV because it is best to avoid over supplementing with this. Water soluble Vitamin C is 250% DV, but this is well within safe limitations.
Minerals are supplemented in smaller values with a good measure of calcium (16% DV) and folate (38% DV) —both of which are important for supporting healthy growth.
The protein is 10g per serving which is a sensible amount suitable for most young people. The protein is from whey concentrate, whey isolate, and organic brown rice. This combination has a low glycemic index, is free of gluten peptides, and guaranteed lactose free.
Another key feature of this product are 4 billion CFU enteric coated probiotic spores. This means the probiotics have a coating that is resistant to stomach acids in order to safely reach the digestional tract. The drink is sweetened with a blend of stevia, monk fruit, and xylitol which helps to reduce cavities. The best part—it’s available in 6 flavors.
Kidzshake products are third party tested and verified by independent ISO/IEC accredited labs for all nutrient counts, yeasts, and molds.
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. Ascent Native Micellar Casein Protein Powder – Best Casein Powder
Because casein is a slow absorbing protein, it maintains better balanced protein levels in the body, which also results in lower insulin spikes. This helps to prevent muscle loss during periods where the body breaks down muscle to obtain energy.
Casein is 80% milk protein and there are additional health benefits associated with milk-derived bioactive peptides in obesity, cardiovascular health, and diabetes management. Casein has also proven more effective than whey protein in resistance muscle gain and fat loss.
Why Native Fuel Casein Protein?
Apart from being just pure casein protein, Native Fuel contains no artificial flavors or sweeteners. There are three natural flavors to choose from, and nutritional content and ingredients can vary between them.
The Vanilla Bean flavor is sweetened with monk fruit extract and has 45mg (15% DV) cholesterol. The Chocolate flavor is much the same except it has stevia added. The Chocolate Peanut Butter option has peanuts, stevia and monk fruit, but the cholesterol is less at 25mg (8% DV).
The product is certified by Informed Choice and complies to sports doping regulations. It’s also certified gluten free for gluten peptides.
6. Now Sports Nutrition Egg White Protein – Best Egg Protein Powder
Now Sports is a high quality protein which carries top verifications and is also competitively priced. Apart from 20g protein, there are 4.2g of BCCAs, 0g fats and sugar, a minimal amount of cholesterol, and only 3g of total carbohydrates. It’s a straight up protein power that is particularly good for a pre workout boost.
Egg white protein, like any protein, has its unique benefits which are often overlooked. Unlike plant proteins, there is hardly any micronutrient profile other than a little calcium. Compared to whey, a well processed egg protein has less fat and no cholesterol. It’s a great choice for a complete animal protein which is not dairy based.
Compared to whey protein, egg white protein generally has lower amounts of EAAs. However, it contains a significant amount of Arginine which is an amino acid that helps to open blood vessels. Therefore, it’s often a popular choice for a pre workout protein.
Egg protein, although not processed as quickly as whey, is one of the most efficient proteins in terms of how it is used by the body. Egg protein also has a lower effect on raising insulin levels than other types of proteins.
Why Now Sports Egg White Protein?
Now Sports egg white protein has added BCCAs, which make it a comparatively good choice for physical training. It’s produced in a GMP facility and is certified for purity, potency, and banned substances by Informed Choice. It’s also very well priced for the value and assurity it offers.
You can get this product in two flavors namely, cream vanilla and chocolate. The unflavored version comes in a 1.2 lb container with 16g protein per serving and a 5 lb container with 25g of protein per serving.
The flavored versions use natural flavoring, with xylitol and stevia as sweeteners. The xylitol may not be suitable for some as it can create bloating, gas, or stomach upsets. Non GMO sunflower lecithin is used as an emulsifier, and it mixes well with a thickish texture.
7. Cognitune Bone Broth Protein – Best Bone Broth Powder
Cognitune is a high quality and affordable bovine bone broth protein. The product is derived from grass fed, pastured cows with little risk of heavy metal contamination. Their ingredients are third party tested and verified, and the product is made in America. They are also certified non GMO, gluten and soy free.
The popularity of bone broth protein powders has increased over the last few years due to interest in Paleo and Keto diets, as well as other health related trends. Bone broth powders by themselves are not so suited for sports performance or muscle gain—unless supplemented with extra BCCAs—because of their relatively lower EEA ratios. They are, however, beneficial for other reasons.
Bone broth powders are generally rich in amino acids which help build collagen. The most important is glycine—a non essential amino acid—that accounts for some 20% of bone broth protein. Glycine’s benefits include anti-inflammatory properties, it helps to regulate blood pressure, and improves serotonin secretion. Bone broth glucosamine content also helps with joint mobility.
Why Cognitune Bone Broth Protein?
Each serving contains 20g of protein with just 80 calories and a low sodium content (150 mg / 7% DV). There’s an additional 1g of organic turmeric root powder included for its anti inflammatory and anti oxidation properties. Cognitune Bone Broth also carries a full listing of amino acid values. Some people may not want to take a bovine based product, therefore we can also recommend Ancient Nutrition. It’s the most popular selling bone broth powder, and is made from chicken. It’s a little pricier, but comes in six convenient easy to drink flavors. The amino values aren’t listed on the label, however, Ancient Nutrition is verified and approved by ConsumerLab.
A Comparison Table Of The Best Protein Shakes in 2020
|Product||DV PROTEIN |
|Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein||22g / 29% DV|
|Mixed plant protein||110 Calories, 400 IU Vit.D, Vegan, USDA Organic.|
|Designer Whey Protein||20g / 40% DV|
|Fortified Protein Shake||110 Calories, Vit.B rich, 400 IU Vit.D.|
|Aria Women’s Wellness Protein||15g / 30% DV|
|Fortified whey & rice protein||80 Calories, Iron, Folate, Calcium, Vit.D 400 IU|
|Dr. Rach’s KidzShake||10g / 20% DV|
|Fortified whey & rice protein||90 Calories, 0g sugar, 11 vitamins, 6 minerals, gluten & lactose free.|
|Ascent Native Micellar Casein||25g / 50% DV|
|Casein protein||110 Calories, 45mg Cholesterol, Calcium 60% DV|
|Now Sports Egg White Protein||20g / 40% DV 24 servings||Egg white protein||100 Calories, Added BCCAs, 0g Fat & Sugar|
|Cognitune Bone Broth Protein||22g / 29% DV|
|Bovine broth protein||80 Calories, Grass raised bovine, Turmeric.|
Third-party Consumer Organizations And Verifications
GMP: The Good Manufacturing Practices seal ensures consistently good product quality.
NSF: The Sanitary Foundation seal certifies that manufacturers meet accepted NSF public health standards.
Informed-choice.org: Their seal certifies product label claims and that sports products conform batch by batch to anti-doping laws.
USP: The United States Pharmacopeia mark includes compliance with FDA/GMP standards as well as verifying nutritional content claims. You can search for their USP verified products.
Vegan.org: This is the most common Vegan mark found on products. Bea products, bone char filtered sweeteners, products tested on animals, and animal derived GMO are NOT considered vegan.
Non GMO Project: The most widely recognized GMO free label. You can also search for approved products on their website.
Bcorp: B Corporation mark companies meet social, environmental, and public transparency standards, as well as legal accountability.
Labdoor: Labdoor independently test products to verify purity and product claims. Test data is freely available on their website as well as product rankings.
ConsumerLab: Consumer Lab provides free product guides for health and nutritional supplements. They also independently test categories of products to identify top performers. Test results are for subscribers only.
Our selection of the best protein powders included a mixed plant protein, 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 use the comment feature below. We are always here for you.