April 13, 2021
The best protein powders for building muscle in 2021

The best protein powders for building muscle in 2021


There are hundreds, if not thousands, of protein powders on the market. The sheer number of choices makes buying protein powder a dizzying process. Protein powder can also be pricey, which makes choosing even more difficult — how do you know you’re getting your money’s worth? 

I’m here to help. This guide to the best protein powders, based on years of experience trying various brands and products, will help you choose a protein powder that tastes great, mixes well, doesn’t contain any sketchy ingredients and doesn’t break your bank. 

Read more: 5 critical things to know before buying supplements

True Nutrition

Servings per container: 14 servings per pound (you can purchase mixes in 1-pound increments)

Grams of protein per serving: Depends on the mix you create

Why I chose it: With hundreds of possible combinations, True Nutrition is the best service for serious athletes who want to know exactly what’s in their protein shake and create a personalized blend custom to their fitness goals. 

True Nutrition’s protein personalization service allows you to customize your powder in 5% increments per ingredient. For example, you might create a powder that is 25% whey protein isolate, 25% pea protein isolate, 10% MCT oil powder, 10% super greens powder and 5% oat starch powder. 

You can also boost your blend with ingredients like turmeric for added micronutrients, as well as choose from a light, regular or heavy flavor intensity. When you’re tweaking and adjusting your diet to reach a specific goal, a service as granular as True Nutrition can help tremendously. 

You can name your protein mixes, too, and create multiple protein powders for different goals. For example, I could create one called “Amanda’s Post-Workout Muscle-Building Protein” and another called “Amanda’s Meal Replacement Protein.” 

True Nutrition provides you with a dynamic ingredients list and nutrition facts as you adjust your personalized protein powder, generating the final nutrition facts label before you purchase. Prices vary according to the ingredients in your blends. 

Amazing Grass

Servings per container: 15 servings per 12.2-ounce container

Grams of protein per serving: 15

Why I chose it: Of all the plant-based proteins I’ve tried, Amazing Grass Amazing Protein is the only one that didn’t make my mouth feel chalky, sticky or gritty. It also has more protein per serving than many vegan protein powders. 

Protein powder was one of the first products to get a plant-based makeover when vegan and vegetarian diets started to become more popular. Amazing Grass has been around for quite some time — I think I first tried the company’s super greens in 2014. I’ve been taking the greens on-and-off ever since, so this was one of the first brands I looked to for a plant-based protein.

With 15 grams of plant-based protein per serving, 100% daily value of biotin, 25% daily value of iron and vitamins B and C, Amazing Grass Amazing Protein provides ample nutrition for a protein shake. 

And, despite the name, this plant-based protein does not taste one bit like grass. The chocolate rose flavor has a rich taste and velvety texture, a welcome surprise after trying many chalky, bland plant-based proteins. 

At more than $2 per serving, it’s pricey, but you can subscribe and save 20% on each container (making the price about $26 per tub) if you like it.

Ascent

Servings per container: 27 (in a 2-pound bag)

Grams of protein per serving: 25

Why I chose it: With a minimal ingredients list that includes natural sweeteners and whey protein isolate, Ascent whey protein is a top pick. Its mixing capabilities also impress: This protein mixes great in water, milk, oatmeal, yogurt and smoothie bowls.

Whey protein is the most popular type of protein powder. It mixes easily, generally tastes good and is proven to boost muscle growth. Ascent whey protein in particular has risen to the top of my favorites list after years of trying different whey proteins.

Sweetened with monk fruit and stevia leaf extracts, Ascent whey protein tastes rich and sweet without the aftertaste in whey proteins sweetened with sucralose or other artificial sweeteners. It mixes exceptionally well, too. In the few months I’ve been using Ascent whey protein, I’ve mixed it with water, almond milk, regular skim milk, oatmeal, Greek yogurt and smoothie bowls. Not once have I run into gritty clumps of powder. 

Ascent is Informed Sport Certified, which means all of its products undergo third-party, independent testing for banned substances, such as anabolic agents (steroids) and narcotics, and allergens. 

Ascent

Servings per container: 25 (in a 2-pound bag)

Grams of protein per serving: 25

Why I chose it: This moderately priced but high-quality casein protein doesn’t clump up or feel like drinking glue. It also tastes great, thanks to the stevia and monk fruit extract sweeteners.

Casein is a slow-digesting protein that results in a slow, steady release of amino acids into the bloodstream. Bodybuilders often take casein protein before bed, because it’s thought to help with tissue regeneration and muscle synthesis during sleep. 

A big problem with casein protein powder is that it often gets clumpy or super viscous, making it unpleasant to drink. The upside? Drinking casein before bed can prevent you from feeling ravenous upon waking up, a great benefit for people who exercise early in the morning. 

In my past experiences with casein protein powder, I never stuck with one for long, even when I was getting into physique training. I just couldn’t down the thick shakes. 

When I found Ascent, I hesitantly decided to try casein again, and I’m glad I did. Ascent casein protein mixes better than any other casein protein I’ve tried. When I use a shaker bottle with water, I don’t get any clumps and it’s not too thick to drink. This is probably the result of Ascent’s blend of acacia, guar and xanthan gum in the powder.

Naked Nutrition

Servings per container: 76 (comes in a 5-pound tub)

Grams of protein per serving: 25

Why I chose it: The single-ingredient label will satisfy protein-seekers who want transparency and purity. Plus, the company’s operation supports small-scale farmers.

Plenty of protein powder tubs sport labels with claims like “pure,” “isolate” and “100%.” But not many of those protein powders actually contain 100% protein. Naked Nutrition Grass-Fed Whey actually does. 

The nutrition facts label on this product lists a single ingredient: whey protein concentrate. It contains no sweeteners, no thickeners, no emulsifiers, no additives at all. The macronutrient profile is impressive at 25 grams of protein, 3 grams of carbs and 2 grams of fat per serving. 

Naked Nutrition seems to be all about transparency and includes heavy metal testing and allergen testing results on all of its product labels. 

In terms of taste, Naked whey surprised me. I usually mix protein powder with just water or milk, so I don’t generally enjoy unflavored protein — in plain water, unflavored protein just looks and tastes weird, despite the “unflavored” descriptor. However, Naked Nutrition whey protein dissolves exceptionally well in water and milk. It’s even better when blended into a smoothie or mixed with chocolate milk.

Optimum Nutrition

Servings per container: 6 single-serve packets

Grams of protein per serving: 24 

Why I chose it: It’s not the best protein brand out there, but it’s the best well-rounded whey protein that comes in single-serve packets. 

Traveling with protein powder can get annoying. Bulky tubs and crinkly mylar bags aren’t exactly easy to pack, and scooping out servings into baggies for each day of your trip gets tedious (and wasteful if you don’t reuse the plastic bags). Single-serve protein powder packets are an easy solution, although still not as environmentally friendly as buying in bulk. 

Surprisingly, I didn’t come across a great selection of single-serve protein packets in my search. None of the top picks on this list offer single-serve packets, or else one of them would be in this place. 

Optimum Nutrition, however, is a long-standing brand with a good reputation. Most major vitamin and supplement stores stock it, including GNC, The Vitamin Shoppe and Vitamin World. I used Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard whey protein for several years and never had any issues with it. The flavors taste good, the powder mixes decently and the macronutrient ratio is good (only 3 grams of carbs to the 24 grams of protein). 

Some protein powder purists have qualms with Optimum Nutrition for mixing whey protein isolates, concentrate and peptides, as well as using the artificial sweetener acesulfame potassium, but those are nonproblems for the average person. 

In any case, this is a solid, no-frills whey protein you can buy in convenient travel-friendly packets. 

Also tested

The following protein powders have mostly great qualities, too, but for one reason or another they didn’t make my top cut. In most cases, it was a matter of flavor, texture or how well they mixed with liquids and other ingredients. But those things are subjective, so one of these protein powders might be the right choice for you. 

Whey protein powder

Casein protein powder

Vegan protein powder

Personalized protein powder

Why you should trust my picks 

I’ve been buying and trying protein powder since getting into fitness in 2012 — nearly a decade ago. There are 17 different protein powders listed in this guide and I’ve tried them all. Some I’ve used for years, others I’ve used for a few months.

While my top picks are of course somewhat subjective (things like flavor and texture are different to everyone), I also used objective measures to inform my picks. I looked for proteins with more than 20 grams per serving (except for plant protein) and ingredient labels free of questionable additives. Each of the top protein powders listed is backed by good reviews from other buyers online and has a solid brand reputation. 

Finally, I’m held to professional standards by the certifying agency that awarded my personal trainer license, and I’m obliged to provide advice that will best help people reach their fitness goals — and these top picks can 100% help you consume more protein to fuel muscle growth and strength

Read more

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.



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