Protein is one of the three macronutrients and, as such, is vital to a healthy, well-rounded diet. Alongside the other two macronutrients – carbohydrates and fat – it will provide your caloric load.
Many of us need far more protein than we actually eat – the typical Western diet is far better geared towards fat and carbohydrate consumption than it is to lean protein. It is therefore a good idea for everybody to eat more protein (I’ll go into why this is shortly), including good quality, abundant sources in their daily diets.
However, athletes in particular need to eat plenty of protein. They need it to recover from training and to feed growth and development.
This isn’t always easy, however. An average bodybuilder or powerlifter will need to eat roughly 1-2 grams of protein per day per pound of bodyweight. To give you some perspective on this, it is common for such lifters to weigh in excess of 200 pounds, and a medium egg generally contains about 5-6 grams of protein.
That would be forty eggs per day at a conservative estimate!
It would be impractical (and environmentally ruinous!) for a bodybuilder or powerlifter to eat their daily intake in food alone. This is where supplementation comes in – I personally take in anything from 24-50% of my daily protein from supplements.
And there are few protein supplements so well known, well developed, well researched, and effective as whey protein.
Why Bother With A High Protein Diet?
Adequate protein intake is valuable to everyone (and often not hit, as fat and carbs are over-consumed and healthy protein sources neglected). It is the most important nutrient for ideal development – it is the foundation of every living cell in the body, indeed to every DNA strand. The human body uses protein to build and repair tissue, including bones, blood, skin, cartilage and muscles. It also uses it to create the enzymes and hormones we need to function.
Protein assists the metabolic process and plays a key role in cellular processes, and optimises immune function.
Under-consuming it can therefore have drastic results.
Adequate protein intake is particularly important for athletes and those looking to build muscle. Protein is specifically important for hypertrophy – muscular growth. It forms the building blocks of muscle. Without it, there is no muscle.
In fact, those looking to elicit hypertrophy need much more protein than most people – often as much as 2-3 times as much. I personally consume between 160-200 grams per day, depending on my goals at any one time.
Whey protein is a godsend when trying to hit these figures. It is pretty much a necessity for all athletes.
Whey Protein: Our Top Picks
Let’s take a look at our best whey protein picks. There is something for everyone here and something to suit all budgets. We have listed our favourites in order, so our top pick is at the top and so on.
MyProtein Impact Whey Protein
MyProtein’s Impact Whey Protein packs a good punch. Each serving gives you 21g of complete protein, including all essential amino acids, 3.6g of glutamine, and 4.5g of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs – which naturally occur in protein and help to better repair and build muscle).
It’s also pretty lean, meaning that it contains little other macronutrient volume but protein. It comes in at only 103 calories per serving, with 1.9g of fat and a single gram of carbs. It’s therefore perfect for anybody looking to boost their protein intake without it being too calorically impactful – those going through lean bulks and cuts, in particular.
This quality has been recognised, as has the value you get with each purchase. The independent tester Labdoor ranked it Grade A for both, giving a degree of objectivity to its claim to being one of the best protein powders going.
There is also a bit of a dizzying array of available flavours – over forty, in fact. I’ve tried a good few, particularly favouring Vanilla and Strawberry Cream, and have liked pretty much all of them. The powder mixes well, leaving no chunkiness or sediment – simply a smooth, clean tasting drink that is particularly tasty blended with milk.
All in all, this is genuinely one of the best whey proteins going, and one of the best value-for-money fitness supplements I’ve ever been able to find.
FoodSpring Whey Protein
FoodSpring, a fairly new German company, are aiming to one-up the rest of the supplement industry by taking sports nutrition to the next level.
They’re doing a pretty decent job of it, too. They have a great range of high-quality sports supplements, including vitamins, minerals, healthy snacks including energy bars, cookies, spreads, mueslis and, of course, protein powders.
Their protein powder is delicious, and it mixes really well, giving you a smooth, well-balanced, tasty shake. I was a little surprised by this. When I first opened my first tub, I was put off immediately by its earthy scent. It wasn’t unpleasant by itself, but I’ve had earthy-smelling protein powder before and it generally hasn’t mixed well and has tasted like, well, earth. Anybody who has tried pea protein will know what I’m talking about.
However, the flavours were crisp, clean and very naturalistic. There is also none of the excessive sweetness you get with some brands, where the sucrose and aspartame practically fizzes across your tongue!
I would recommend the chocolate peanut or chocolate coconut flavours for those with a sweet tooth, vanilla or neutral for those looking to customise their own shakes, or raspberry or mango for a refreshing, fruity hit (I personally like the latter two a great deal!).
Each 30g serving gives you 22.9 g of protein – this isn’t the leanest, but it’s still pretty decent. It’s also an incredibly well-sourced form of whey, as they get it from an international company called Fonterra. Fonterra use New Zealand milk, which comes from cows who eat 85% grass and spent 90% of their time in fields.
They are new, so they don’t have many industry certificates. This could put consumers off. I would generally tread cautiously around a company that can’t back up their claims with peer-tested, external evidence. However, having tried it, I’m very confident in the products they have to offer – they clearly put a lot of effort into getting high quality supplements together, much to the consumer’s benefit.
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard
Optimum Nutrition are one of the biggest brands going for athletic supplementation. Their Gold Standard is, well, quite simply the Gold Standard of whey protein. It’s one of the best known, most consumed protein powders in the world, and consistently ranks as a number one seller on both Bodybuilding.com and Amazon.
What’s the reason for this?
Well, pedigree and branding both count. They have been around since the earliest days of mass bodybuilding appeal, with over 30 years on the scene – they are a bit like the Gold’s Gym of protein supplementation in this regard. They also position themselves accordingly, touting themselves as something of an OG brand.
They back it up, however. Their products are genuinely spectacular, and the Gold Standard isn’t an empty boast – it really does work well as a yardstick for excellence.
One scoop gives you 24 grams of protein, three to four grams of carbs (of which one is sugar) and a gram of fat. So far, so good. These are stats to make anyone happy.
They also have a good record with third party testers, so that these figures are pretty reliable.
But it’s what goes into the protein content that is really special. Simple, yet formidable. They blend three kinds of whey, each with its own benefit. Mixing them gives you a potent mix, including plenty of BCAAs and the non-essential amino acid glutamine (being ‘non-essential’ means it can be synthesised by the body, not that it’s unimportant in any way – glutamine is actually very helpful in exercise recovery!).
These figures make Gold Standard a good pick for anybody trying to load up on low-impact protein, wanting to get in as much possible at a low caloric yield. You will be able to recover from hard training, building muscle well, without having to worry too much about excess calories.
The flavours are also nice, and the mixture blends very well. It’s one of the best-tasting, best-textured shakes going. I personally prefer their strawberry flavour, but they’ve got a laundry list of chocolates, nut butters, cookie type flavours and vanillas in their catalogue.
PhD Nutrition Diet Whey Protein
PhD Nutrition are clearly aiming at a certain look – their name would have any casual observer think that, in a world of meatheads and ‘roid rage, they are the calm, collected, scientifically valid option.
This is true to an extent – they are all of those things, offering scientifically researched, well thought out products that work incredibly well. However, as this list will hopefully show you, this is more the norm than the exception. Though PhD are generally far more scientifically intricate, they are not alone in basing their work on hard research and evidence.
Well, it’s not so much that their products set them apart. They just happen to be really good examples of their type.
Their diet whey protein gives you 35g of protein per serving, with a very clever mix of whey protein, milk protein concentrate, soya protein isolate, designed for maximum effect. The 7g of carbs you get are low GI, so the shake you make from it should keep you feeling full for a very long time. This will all help you to maintain lean muscle whilst dipping into the calorie deficit needed to lose weight.
A touch of sugar (just 2g) will also gives you a little pick me up, without too much of an insulin spike, satisfying cravings and giving you something to work with as you walk into the gym.
There is more scientific wizardry at work, too. There are plenty of added nutrients in their formula that are designed to help with fat loss whilst boosting athletic performance and energy levels. These include green tea, CLA, l-carnitine, waxy vol and flaxseed.
Their diet whey protein is only available in five flavours: vanilla, strawberry, Belgian chocolate, white chocolate, and chocolate orange. However, they are all delicious. They are a little on the sweet side for me, but are still very palatable and will suit most people’s tastes very well. The mixture comes out smooth, with no lumps, though the flaxseed gives it a little bit of graininess.
If you’re looking to lose fat whilst maintaining muscle, keeping your energy levels high and performing well in the gym throughout, PhD’s Diet Whey Protein is a solid bet.
USN Whey Protein
There is a lot to recommend about USN’s whey protein. It is amongst the purest premium whey supplements on the market. Their formula features the revolutionary MyoMatrix blend: this is a patented, incredibly potent blend of whey protein isolate and concentrate.
A single 34g scoop will give you 24g of this good stuff, which is, of course, very good.
USN go beyond simple, high-quality, pure whey, however. Their formula contains Tolerase. This is a neat little digestive enzyme proven to improve lactose digestion, especially in those who struggle to process lactose. If you’re lactose intolerant, but still want the benefits of pure whey protein, this is the one for you.
The formula also mixes really well, giving you a velvet smooth shake that tastes like you should be getting it in a nice milkshake bar somewhere, not blended in your kitchen as a health supplement. The flavours are all nice – powerful, without tasting synthetic or overly sweet. You really can tell that you’re drinking a premium product.
USN’s whey protein is high-impact without many added calories, it digests well, it is formulated for absolutely optimal muscle growth, and it tastes delicious. What’s not to love?
Well, the price, unfortunately. All this quality comes with a steep price tag, unless you manage to find it on offer somewhere. USN charge a great deal for their whey protein – arguably too much. This isn’t because it’s not worth the money, it’s just that the utility gained from their formula falls short of making up that added cost. A product half the price would give you 90% of the benefits.
If that extra 10% is worth the added money, and if you have the money to spend, and if you feel you would benefit from their blend and the added digestive comfort, you will get a fantastic product here. But don’t sweat it if you want to go cheaper – as long as you’re consistent with your training and diet, you will make the gains you want.
THE PROTEIN WORKS Whey Protein 80 (Concentrate) Powder
I’ve usually got a bag or two of The Protein Works’ whey concentrate in my cupboard.
They were founded in 2012 by a trio of ex-directors from MyProtein, and they seem to share the same ethos as their erstwhile employer – they combine good quality sports supplements with innovative design and great value for money.
Their concentrate has a good profile to it. A 25g scoop will give you 100 calories. This will include 19.8g of protein, 2.3g of carbohydrates, and 1.5g of fat. These are spot on for any lean growth phase – I use their shakes to bulk up my daily protein intake without any fear that my other macros will be busted.
It’s also very impressive when you consider that The Protein Works don’t use any fillers or thickeners in their products.
The taste and texture work very well, too. If I’m honest, I could look at the best protein supplement going and, if it wasn’t nice to drink, I wouldn’t bother. I’m just not dedicated enough, especially when there are some really lovely, palatable options around.
The Protein Works’ whey powder mixes very smooth, with very few lumps. The Protein Works seem very keen to promote their products based largely on taste, which is understandable – they are terrific. This is also where a lot of the aforementioned innovation comes into play – with flavours like Apple Cinnamon Swirl, Butterscotch Ripple and Caramel Macchiato, you know you’re in for a treat.
I personally like Lemon Shortcake – it’s light, cool and refreshing, especially during a workout.
It’s also one of the cheapest brands going (another reason I tend to favour them myself). You can get 4kg for a little shy of fifty quid – or for around 1p per gram, which is insane. Myprotein are barely any cheaper, and they are sort of the industry standard on value for money.
The resealable bags also work as they are meant to – this is a surprisingly rare treat.
The Protein Works are one of my favourite supplement brands. This is one of my favourite whey products.
Bulk Pure Whey
Here we have another really reasonably priced item. Bulk Pure Whey comes in at around thirteen quid for 500g (for their unflavoured whey – their flavours can be a little more). Their 2.5kg bags are even cheaper still, with 83 full servings at around sixty pence apiece.
The unflavoured powder gives you 24.2g of protein per 30g serving, while the flavoured varieties offer 22.9g of protein. This is all very much on the good side of standard – you will be able to hit your macros very easily using Bulk Pure Whey.
I personally prefer the Strawberry flavour – it’s the most natural tasting one, and is quite playful and refreshing. However, Vanilla and Chocolate are also lovely, and you can even get a few surprising ones like Lemon Meringue and Banana Fudge to liven up your day.
It dissolves well, either with shaker or blender, and mixes well both with water and milk. You don’t get any lumpy bits, as have been common with whey protein products in years past, and the taste and smooth texture give you a very naturalistic, even flavoured shake.
The ingredients are also pretty robust, especially considering the product’s price. The whey protein powder used in the product is sourced directly from a European dairy, using grass-fed cow’s milk, and that it contains 80 per cent whey protein. It’s also rich in BCAAs, which will be vital for muscle building and recovery from hard training.
A very solid option for very little money – I like it a lot.
PBN Whey Protein
PBN are another relatively new staple to the market, and I’ve quite often got some of their whey protein knocking about. I really like the value for money, of course, the flavour is good, and the nutrition profile is fantastic.
Each pack gives you 33 servings, and each serving gives you 23.3g of high quality protein, blended from whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate (with a few thickeners, sweeteners and fillers thrown in – not great, but fine). PBN source top drawer ingredients and blend and package everything in the UK, according to the highest standards of quality.
Each sip is value for money without stinting on quality.
I’ve always found that PBN whey protein mixes very well with water, which is what I generally do (it’s great to sip at the gym as you train), though it goes well with milk and milk substitutes, too. You get a pretty even, smooth shake, free from unwanted lumps if you use a shaker cup or blender. I’ve tried whisking it before, which gives you lots of floating lumps that will turn your stomach.
The taste isn’t top quality – it can’t hold a candle to brands like The Protein Works. However, it’s fine, it’s palatable, and it tastes quite fresh and clear. It’s a little sweet for me, but it doesn’t taste at all synthetic.
Whey protein should be a staple of any athlete’s supplement regime. Please note that it is a supplement – it should never form the sole source of high quality protein. Lean meat, oily fish, eggs, and plenty of protein rich veg should feature regularly in any healthy diet. However, if you’re looking for a top-up, something to help you hit some quite ferociously high macronutrient requirements, then it is a must.
The powders on this list represent some of the best in the world. They are all palatable, at the least – many are actively delicious. They all have the kinds of lean nutritional breakdowns needed to allow for lean bulks or caloric deficits if needs be. You can always add extra ingredients like nut butters, fruit, fruit juice or cream if you need your shakes to hit a bigger caloric impact.
They will all help you to recover well and build quality muscle. Incidents of training fatigue will be decreased, athletic performance and power output will be increased, and body composition will go in the direction you want it.
All this, and none of them break the bank. There is very little that can go wrong.