The best protein powders to gain muscle and boost fitness, tried and tested

·12-min read
best protein powders 2022
best protein powders 2022

To decide on the best protein powder for you, it helps to ask: what are protein powders for? Protein is a nutrient needed all over the body to help build, repair and maintain tissue. It is made up of chains of amino acids, nine of which are termed ‘essential’ since your body can’t make them itself.

For a healthy body, the recommended nutrient intake (RNI) is 0.75g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day. If you don’t typically eat many animal-based sources, protein powders can help you hit that target. And they’re not only for people who go to the gym.

Who should take protein powders?

“Protein supplements are used by all sorts of performers and athletes from football, tennis and golf players to stage performers and dancers,” says Shane Collins, founder of Circuit Society gym and co-founder of NUA Health supplements. “But we all cause damage to our muscles every day just by walking around and lifting things, and certainly when we train. Protein helps repair that damage.”

In other words, they’re for everyone. Choosing the right one for you comes down to what it’s made from. With the exception of vegan protein powders, most are made from whey (a by-product of cheese production), which comes in three different forms.

Whey concentrate is the most common form and is often the cheapest, according to Rachel Butler, head nutritionist at Natural Fitness Food. “It typically has low fat and cholesterol content but the protein levels can vary from 40 to 90% depending on the brand,” she says. “If your goal is to build muscle, a whey concentrate with a higher protein content is probably the best to go for.”

Whey isolate is more refined, and therefore more expensive. “Whey isolate is refined in a process that will remove the fat and the lactose from the compound,” says Butler. “That makes it one of the leanest options, meaning it usually comprises of upwards of 90% protein content.”

Whey hydrolysate is whey protein that’s been put through hydrolysis. “That is, the addition of water to allow for the protein to be broken down into its smaller building blocks,” Butler explains. “This means it can be absorbed by the body much faster and at higher rates.” Needless to say, it’s on the costlier end of the scale.

Vegan protein powders are the fourth option. Pea, hemp and soy are popular sources but there are plenty of others. “What’s key here isn’t just looking at the protein content, but the quality,” says Butler. “You can tell that by looking at its essential amino acids – it’s ‘complete’ if it contains all nine. To achieve this, you’ll want a blend of at least two protein sources.”

Head to the FAQ section at the bottom to find out which protein powders are best for weight loss and building muscle. Read on for our pick of the best protein powders for 2022.

How I tested the best protein powders

Testing best protein powders
Testing best protein powders

With my fitness routine focused on strength training and sports, I was able to test the protein powders after exercising and as snacks throughout the day. I tried the vegan protein powders with oat milk or water and the whey options with semi-skimmed milk. After hearing from the experts, I tested each powder for the quality and length of its ingredient list, its protein content, any genuinely useful extras (including micronutrients) and, of course, taste.

Which is the best protein powder?

The best protein powders for 2022

1. MyProtein Impact Whey

£25.99 for 500g, MyProtein

Best overall

MyProtein Impact Whey
MyProtein Impact Whey
  • Protein: 80 percent (20g whey concentrate per 25g serving)

  • Carbohydrates: 6.4 percent (1.6g per 25 serving, of which 1.6g sugars)

  • What else is in it? Leucine

As a whey concentrate, MyProtein’s Impact Whey offers good value for money and at 103 calories per serving, it may be useful for those adhering to a calorie deficit. Each serving contains over 2g of the branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) leucine, which plays a key role in muscle synthesis.

With 40 flavours including ‘cereal milk’, rocky road, chocolate nut and coconut, this is certainly one for those who get bored easily. Many of these flavourings are artificial (more palpable in some cases than others), but there aren’t any unnecessary extras bulking up the ingredient list. All in all, it’s a great choice for newbies and seasoned pros alike.

£26

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MyProtein

2. Bulk Clear Whey Isolate

£24.29 for 500g, bulk

Best protein powder for weight loss

Bulk Clear Whey Isolate
Bulk Clear Whey Isolate
  • Protein: 80 percent (20g whey hydrolysate per 25g serving)

  • Carbohydrate: 4.8 percent (1.2g per 25g serving, of which 0.2g sugars)

  • What else is in it? Anti-foaming compound

Whether vegan or whey, clear protein powders are a great alternative to the milky texture of traditional protein shakes. In flavours such as passionfruit or apple and blackcurrant, this tastes just like a refreshing fruit squash when mixed with cold water.

Your ability to lose body fat is largely down to being in an energy deficit, meaning no number of added extracts will help you lose weight if you are still consuming more calories than you’re burning. Clear protein such as this can help you achieve this while still taking in sufficient protein to maintain your hard-earned muscle mass. And while just 86 calories per serving, Bulk’s still delivers as much protein as many other powders on the market.

£24

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Bulk

3. Innermost The Strong Protein

£29.95 for 600g, Innermost

Best protein powder for muscle growth

Innermost The Strong Protein
Innermost The Strong Protein
  • Protein: 85 percent (34g of whey concentrate/whey isolate/casein per 40g serving)

  • Carbohydrates: 2 percent (0.8g per 40g serving, of which 0.8g sugars)

  • What else is in it? Creatine monohydrate, magnesium

While one scoop of protein powder won’t turn you into an Arnie figure overnight, Innermost have curated theirs to give you the best chance of building muscle efficiently. Combining whey concentrate and isolate with casein, a slower-digested type of protein, ensures a longer absorption into your muscles over time. What’s more, the added creatine monohydrate is another common supplement in any keen weight lifter’s gym bag – it has been widely studied and research shows it can help improve strength and promote faster muscle recovery. Combined with other bonus ingredients such as magnesium, which plays a role in energy production and normal muscle function, this is a winning blend for gains.

£30

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Innermost

4. The Protein Works Complete 360 Meal

£9.50 for 500g, The Protein Works

Best meal replacement powder

The Protein Works Complete 360 Meal
The Protein Works Complete 360 Meal
  • Protein: 30 percent (30g whey concentrate per 100g serving)

  • Carbohydrates: 46 percent (46g per 100g serving, of which 2.7g sugars)

  • What else is in it? MCTs, flax seed

Putting its own spin on the term ‘fast food’, The Protein Works’ Complete 360 Meal is a convenient way to secure all your macros and micros (including all-important fibre) in one go. Alongside its substantial protein content, the oats in the blend – while introducing a slightly chunkier texture – add a good dose of slow-release carbs to help keep you fuller throughout the day. Meanwhile, its added extras include coconut-derived MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) – a supplement popular among athletes and bodybuilders for its potential role in boosting weight loss and energy levels.

Complete 360 Meal’s flax seed contains brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and contributes to the 10g total fibre content (the NHS recommends we get 30g per day). This will aid your digestion, alongside the handy added probiotic.

£10

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The Protein Works

5. Misfits Plant-Powered Protein Powder

£20 for 500g, Misfits

Best protein powder for women

Misfits Plant-Powered Protein
Misfits Plant-Powered Protein
  • Protein: 66 percent (19.9g pea and sunflower protein per 30g serving)

  • Carbohydrates: 6.3 percent (1.9g per 30g serving, of which 0.4g sugars)

  • What else is in it? Probiotics, vitamin B12

There isn’t much that makes a protein powder better for women than any other – often, it just comes down to marketing and branding. That considered, Misfits’ vegan protein contains a probiotic strain that may help ease digestion and a small study found that this particular strain improved symptoms in those with IBS (more common in women than men).

As well as its probiotic, the added vitamin B12 is important for those eating less or no animal products to help avoid deficiency and be put to use producing red blood cells. And while tasting great in flavours such as salted caramel or cookies and cream, this is cheaper than many others on the market.

£20

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Misfits

6. Hermosa Whey Protein

£30 for 420g, Hermosa

Hermosa Whey Protein
Hermosa Whey Protein

Best tasting protein powder

  • Protein: 73 percent (22g whey concentrate per 30g serving)

  • Carbohydrates: 13 percent (3.9g per serving, of which 2g sugars)

  • What else is in it? Stevia

With 22g of protein per serving, Hermosa offers slightly less than some of its competitors on the market. But with a limited ingredients list on its chocolate or vanilla offerings, the brand prides itself on good quality, uncomplicated ingredients.

Its whey concentrate protein is sourced from Lake District grass fed cows. Meanwhile, the key to its great taste lies in its all-natural sweetener – the stevia plant. Sourced in South America and purified in Europe, with full traceability throughout, stevia does away with the saccharine, slightly artificial taste many protein powders provide. And as a testament to its great flavour, you’ll find Hermosa propping up the ‘Fuel Bar’ at the UK branches of global celebrity-favourite fitness studio, Barry’s.

£30

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Hermosa

7. Form Performance Protein

£26 for 520g, Form

Best vegan protein powder

Form Performance Protein
Form Performance Protein
  • Protein: 75 percent (30g pea, brown rice and pumpkin seed protein per 40g serving)

  • Carbohydrates: 5 percent (2g per 40g serving, of which 0.1g sugars)

  • What else is in it? BCAAs and curcumin

Diversifying its protein content across three sources – pea, brown rice and pumpkin seed protein – makes for a powder that delivers an impressive 30g per serving, particularly high for a vegan option. It also ensures a complete profile of all nine essential amino acids, allowing your muscles optimum chance for recovery and growth. Its added extras include 5g of branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs) per serving, as well as curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) with its anti-inflammatory potencies.

Form’s protein also contains digestive enzymes amylase, protease, lactase, lipase and cellulase to help counteract GI issues such as bloating that some people may experience when consuming protein powders.

£26

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Hermosa

8. MyPro THE Whey

£48.99 for 900g, MyProtein

Best premium protein powder

MyPro THE Whey
MyPro THE Whey
  • Protein: 79 percent (25g whey isolate/whey concentrate/whey hydrolysate per 31.8g serving)

  • Carbohydrates: 8 percent (2.7g per 31.8g serving, of which 1.2g sugars)

  • What else is in it? MyZyme™ enzyme complex

With its 25g blend of whey concentrate, isolate and hydrolysate, THE Whey from MyPro – part of the MyProtein universe – places (and prices) itself at the more luxe end of the scale. Designed to deliver high-quality protein to your muscle fibres quickly, it’s a solid choice for those wanting to hit their hypertrophy goals (essentially just increasing the size of your muscles).

Meanwhile, MyPro’s signature MyZyme™ blend of enzymes is designed to help counter any digestive issues and contribute to good gut health. All that aside, with flavours such as dark chocolate and strawberry milkshake, this stuff really does taste quite delicious.

£49

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MyProtein

FAQ

What is the healthiest protein powder to drink?

No one protein powder will be healthier than any other, unless you are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy. “In which case, I would usually suggest one of the many vegan blends on the market,” says Butler, adding that a shorter ingredient list is best for any.

Wondering if a daily shake is too much? “As long as you’re not completely relying on them over whole food protein sources, which will contain more micronutrients, it’s fine to use a protein powder every day,” says Butler. If you’re bored, try some in your morning porridge or smoothie.

Which protein powder is best for weight loss?

“Calorie control is a huge part of any weight loss programme and protein shakes can help as a low-calorie snack,” says Collins. “Consuming enough protein can help to reduce muscle wastage and ensure that the weight you are losing is fat and not muscle.”

With its higher protein percentage, whey isolate may be your best bet, Butler suggests. “If you’re eating in a calorie deficit, it will help give you high protein content while cutting down on unnecessary extras.”

Which is best for building muscle?

“’Mass gainer’ protein powders may seem the obvious choice for those wanting to build muscle,” says Kristoph Thompson, director of S8 Training, which offers courses in PT and sports nutrition.

“However these contain many more calories from fat and carbohydrate than they do from whey isolate and concentrate,” Thompson explains. “Whilst these may help to increase mass, it is most likely the increase will come from fat rather than muscle.”

So what’s best? “Building muscle requires resistance training, sufficient protein and a small calorie surplus,” says Thompson. “In theory, any type of protein powder can be used to boost protein intake, but a protein powder with added creatine may help maximise training performance and therefore gains.”

Is vegan protein healthier than whey?

As discussed, a vegan option is of course healthier if you’re not able to consume dairy. But for those who can and are willing, whey has plenty of benefits for the body.

“Whatever your goal is when taking protein powders, nothing beats having a good quality, complete protein source,” says Butler. “Whey is the gold standard there.”

For more ways to reach your fitness goals, read our guides to the best exercise bikes and the best running shoes for women.

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