Health & Fitness | August 10, 2022 12:06 pm

There Are Too Many Protein Powders. These 7 Stand Above the Rest.

From the best for packing on muscle to the best for pairing with your morning coffee

There Are Too Many Protein Powders. These 7 Stand Above the Rest.
Form, Transparent Labs, NorCal Organic

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It’s a good time to be in the market for a protein powder.

Over the last decade or so, brands have emerged that actually care about the origin of their ingredients, and the optionality they can offer their customers. In the old days, protein powders were all sort of the same: dusty simulations of vanilla or chocolate that you chugged down in the name of gains. They were almost exclusively whey protein, and usually contained additives or preservatives; you had little choice but to lump them in with milk and those Dole frozen bags of mixed fruit.

It wasn’t a bad system, but it wasn’t great. The more recent offerings fuel a post-workout routine you’ll actually want to stick to — or a morning routine, or an afternoon snack routine, or a workplace boost routine. You get it. Versatility is now the name of the game, which has been achieved thanks to diversity of ingredients and thoughtful, more transparent practices. (One of our favorites, in fact, is called Transparent Labs.) There are now protein powders made from flaxseeds, or mixed with mushrooms, or containing the full family of berries. No trip to the frozen section of the grocery store necessary.

The only problem? As ever, there are 4,000 options available in the field. Typing “best protein powders” into Amazon is downright masochistic. So we’ve sampled and researched the superior options out there for you, and assigned each of our seven favorites a superlative, from “best for packing on muscle,” to “best for mixing into oatmeal and waffles.” You can’t go wrong with any of them, but you deserve to know exactly what each can bring to the table.

Transparent Labs

Best for packing on muscle: Transparent Labs Mass Gainer

As the branding might suggest, Transparent Labs has nothing to hide. Decades of GNC stuffing its aisles with dubious formulas has eroded the trust of some consumers, but a scoop of Transparent’s Mass Gainer will turn that around in a flash. Transparent Labs sources real ingredients like sweet potato, grass-fed New Zealand whey protein, and coconut, and has taken a firm stance against artificial sweeteners, added sugars, hydrogenated oils, fillers, and preservatives. One serving of Transparent Labs Mass Gainer packs a sizable 53 grams of protein and over 700 calories. If you’re trying to add some mass in a responsible, sustainable way, look no further.

Kachava

Best for replacing a full meal: Ka’Chava Plant-Based Protein

Ka’Chava knows how to stuff a Nutritional Facts sheet. The brand’s ethos boils down to the concept that something quick and filling don’t have to necessitate cheap and shitty ingredients. There’s less of a focus here on guzzling protein — though two scoops will generally yield 25 grams, across Ka’Chava’s seven different blends — and instead a devotion to assembling a diverse and legitimate meal. Some of Ka’Chava’s ingredients (like maca root or sacha inchi) are ancient adaptogens that don’t normally find their way into an American diet; the rest are 100% organic iterations of the fruits, vegetables and seeds that we know and love. A bag is pricey, but how much would it cost you to procure every one of those ingredients at Whole Foods? Oh, and a bonus — the company has protected over 100,000 acres of rainforest.

NorCal Organic

Best for knowing where it came from: NorCal Organic Whey

It’s easy to forget that traditional protein powder is an animal product. Scooping the chalky substance from a tub covered in neon writing and exclamation points seems very far removed from the life of a cow. But at NorCal Organic, a collective of family farmers in California’s Humboldt and Del Norte counties, the role of their special Jersey cows in producing whey protein isn’t overlooked. The cows are treated humanely, grazing year-round on clover, rye, and other native grasses, and the quality of the protein — which doesn’t need to be pumped with any artificial amino acids (a common practice in the industry) — reflects that commitment.

Ladder

Best for training like the pros: Ladder Whey Protein

Love or hate LeBron James, you can’t deny that his sustained excellence (as he nows heads into his age-38 season) is simply remarkable. Ladder has played a significant role — James began developing the company in 2014, following a bout of debilitating cramps in the NBA Finals. Four years later, a team that now includes running coaches from Nike, scientists from UNC, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger, developed a gluten-free, soy-free, NSF-Certified protein powder. We’re big fans of the optionality while ordering: you can choose between chocolate and vanilla, whey or pea protein and a sampler, on-the-go-packets, or the full bag with a scooper.

Bulletproof

Best for mixing with coffee: Bulletproof Collagen Protein

The jury on collagen protein is still out, but research suggests that upping one’s intake can strengthen ligaments and tendons, tighten skin and encourage more robust head of hair. Suffice to say, this is a secondary protein experiment, and one that’s best blended with a drink you were going to have anyway. See how you fancy a scoop in your afternoon coffee. And with the protein-coffee trend well-established over the last year, consider a brand that also trades in quality coffee: Bulletproof. If you’re not a fan of Dave Asprey, the former Bulletproof CEO who believes he’s going to live to the age of 180, other good options on the collagen peptide front include Vital Proteins and mindbodygreen.

OWYN

Best for getting superfoods into your diet: OWYN Protein Powder

OWYN stands for Only What You Need. There isn’t a single ingredient in the brand’s list that you wouldn’t be able to pronounce, which is a great sign. This one’s all vegan; the protein arrives from peas, pumpkin seeds and flax oil. No additives, either — OWYN keeps its sugar levels down by relying on monk fruit extract. Most impressive, though, is that they somehow managed to sneak in a greens blend of broccoli, spinach and kale. (Many athletes divide and conquer with one protein shake and one veggies shake. Here, you’re all set.) All told, it’s 20 grams of protein against 180 calories, bringing it well under the caloric qualifications of a filling meal replacement. But that can be a good thing, too. Slug this after a workout (it’s affordable enough to drink every day) and then move on to cooking real food.

Form

Best for mixing into oatmeal or waffles: Form Nutrition Superblend Protein

Form would also win our “Best Packaging” superlative, had we elected to award one. As for the superlative it did win, that’s a roundabout way of saying this stuff tastes really freaking good. With flavors like “Chocolate Salted Caramel” and “Toffee,” which Form somehow coaxed out of blends that include brown rice, hemp and fruit powders, the protein powder is a natural addition to the power breakfast. Expect 20 grams of protein — but more importantly, 11 vitamins, and three minerals. Like OWYN, this one is completely vegan.

Hermosa

Best for wanting to drink it everyday: Hermosa Protein Powder

The lone foreign import on this list (though that won’t stop you from shipping some in, we’ve checked!) Hermosa is the answer to an oft-Googled search phrase in London: “What sort of protein powder does Barry’s Bootcamp use?” It’s been Hermosa at the HIIT mecca’s popular Fuel Bar since 2014. Devotees extoll the smoothness of the shake, and seem to prefer the chocolate to the vanilla.