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Updated November 30, 2020

Top 10 Best Protein Powders Compared (2020)

On the surface, protein powders appear all the same to many people. Do NOT make the mistake of being one of those people. There are many critical differences between the different types of protein powder.

In this article, we will discuss the best protein powders on the market and explain how each one earned its ranking spot on this list based on expert SFP (Supplement Facts Panel) analysis conducted by our certified Nutrition & Wellness Consultant, as well as personal testing and experimentation.

It all starts with the protein blend itself…what source of protein is being used? Concentrate, Isolate, or Hydrolysate? If you don’t know the crucial differences between the three, this article is exactly what you need!

Protein Powders compared (10 highest rated products)

Product

Coupon Code

Best for

Rating

Pricing

Transparent Labs

None

Lean muscle mass, recovery, grass-fed

5.0/5.0

Rule One Protein

TSRRULE1

Lean muscle mass, grass-fed

4.4/5.0

Naked Whey

None

Lean muscle mass, isolate

4.0/5.0

IsoPure Zero Carb

None

Muscle mass, budget

3.9/5.0

Garden of Life Protein Powder

None

Dieting, recovery

3.9/5.0

Syntha 6

None

Muscle mass, bulking

3.8/5.0

Combat Powder

None

Muscle mass

3.7/5.0

ISO 100

None

Lean muscle, low carb

3.6/5.0

Vega Sport Protein

None

Muscle recovery

3.4/5.0

Optimum Gold Standard

None

Muscle mass, budget

3.3/5.0

What are the different types of protein powder?

  • Concentrate
  • Isolate
  • Hydrolysate (hydrolyzed isolate)
  • Casein
  • Hemp protein
  • Pea protein

Protein powder ingredients breakdown

Many people feel overwhelmed by how many different types of protein powder are available. It can seem like a pretty daunting task to choose one, but as an NWC who spent over 10 years studying sports nutrition, I can tell you it’s not as complicated as it looks. Allow me to explain…

1. Whey protein isolate

When I say choosing the best protein powder is simple, this is what it comes down to. Whey protein isolate is the key. Isolate is the purest form of protein in existence, meaning it contains virtually no other ingredients side from protein itself. Other forms of protein contain high concentrations of fat, fillers, and other unhealthy ingredients.

The reason whey protein isolate is so pure is because it has undergone the process of Cross-flow Micro-filtration. This process filters out all of the unhealthy ingredients and purified the protein. Other popular protein sources such as concentrate, pea protein, and hemp protein have NOT undergone this process, which makes them less pure.

2. Whey protein hydrolysate

The only form of protein that one could argue is better than isolate is whey protein hydrolysate, also known as hydrolyzed whey protein isolate. The only difference between the two is that hydrolysate has undergone the process of Enzymatic Hydrolysis. It’s essentially just taking the purification process one extra step further.

Enzymatic Hydrolysis breaks down the purified protein particles into tiny little pieces, which leads to more efficient digestion and absorption of the protein. I strictly recommend whey protein isolate and/or hydrolysate based protein powders for these reasons.

3. Whey protein concentrate

The unfortunate truth is that whey protein concentrate is the most commonly used protein source on the market. This is because of how cheap it is. Supplement companies save a lot of money by using concentrate instead of isolate.

Avoid whey protein concentrate at all costs. It may be cheaper, but it’s truly not worth the money you save. It has an extremely high fat content and contains high concentrations of many other unhealthy fillers that will interfere with your body’s ability to digest and absorb the protein.

In fact, these ingredients that have not been filtered out are so disruptive in the digestion process, that they can actually negatively effect your gastrointestinal health significantly. So not only is whey protein concentrate inferior to isolate, it’s actually bad for you. 

4. Branched chain amino acids

Branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs, are naturally occurring in all types of whey protein. BCAAs are the building blocks of muscle and are essential for muscle growth and recovery. Some of the most prominent and important BCAAs in protein powder are Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine.

However, this another area where there’s a very important distinction between whey protein concentrate and isolate or hydrolysate. Whey protein isolate naturally contains a much higher concentration of BCAAs, which is another aspect of it that makes it superior to other protein powder types.

5. Casein

Casein is an extremely slow digesting protein powder. This is generally a bad thing because faster digesting protein powders are able to deliver the nutrients to your muscles faster, which is key.

The only instance in which Casein is preferable is if you’re going to drink a Casein shake before you go to bed so that your muscles can slowly absorb nutrients while you sleep. Casein is not a good protein source when it comes to immediate post workout supplementation.

What are the best protein powders? Here’s our 2020 top 10 list:

Taking all of the above information into account, we analyzed all of the most popular protein supplements on the market to determine what the top 10 best protein powders are this year. Below, we will individually analyze each supplement’s protein blend and break down the Supplement Facts Panel.

1. Transparent Labs Protein (best protein powder overall)

transparent labs grass fed protein jarTransparent Labs makes an extremely high quality 100% pure whey protein isolate product. Plus, if you’re into grass-fed protein sources, their protein powder has that additional benefit. We don’t put a whole lot of weight into the grass-fed aspect when it comes to protein powders, but if you do, this could be the perfect product for you.

The protein blend does not contain any hydrolysate, but since it is 100% pure isolate, this is about as good as a protein blend can possibly get. It contains no concentrate, no casein, no BS. It also provides a higher than average amount of protein per serving at 28 grams (standard is 25 G).

Due to the 28 grams of pure isolate in every serving, Transparent Labs Grass-Fed Isolate naturally contains a very high amount of BCAAs. There’s also no fat, no sugar, and only 2 grams of carbs per serving, which is a very clean nutritional profile.

Ingredients:

  • Whey protein isolate
  • Leucine
  • Valine
  • Isoleucine
  • Glutamine

Transparent Labs Protein Review

See Current Pricing

2. Rule One Protein (best for whey isolate and hydrolysate combo)

Rule One Protein Powder jarRule One Protein is one of the best protein powders on the market without a doubt, and we believe there is a strong case for it being the #1 top protein powder. The protein blend is a combination of whey protein isolate and whey protein hydrolysate, which as you now know, are the two purest forms of protein in existence.

Most of our top recommendations are 100% whey protein isolate supplements, but we feel Rule One Protein has a slight edge over the rest because of the fact that part of the blend is hydrolysate. This means that you’re getting the benefits of the Enzymatic Hydrolysis process – faster digestion and absorption, which leads to more efficient muscle growth and recovery.

Due to the purity of the blend, Rule One Protein naturally provides an exceptionally high amount of BCAAs, which makes that much better of a product. The rest of the nutritional profile is also very clean. It contains no fat, sugar, or carbs, and has a very low sodium count. We strongly recommend Rule One Protein.

Ingredients:

  • Whey protein isolate
  • Whey protein hydrolysate
  • Leucine
  • Valine
  • Isoleucine
  • Glutamine

Rule One Protein Review

See Current Pricing (use code TSRRULE1)

3. IsoPure Zero Carb (best low carb protein powder)

Isopure Zero Carb jarIsoPure Zero Carb is one of the purest protein powders out there, as the name suggests. In fact, the name really already explains the most important points I have to make about this protein powder. It uses 100% pure whey protein isolate, and contains zero carbs. Those are the highlights of this product, but here’s the down side…

It contains a very high amount of sodium per serving at 240 milligrams. That’s over twice the amount of sodium our top ranked protein powder contains. It may not seem that significant, but assuming you are supplementing with the protein powder every day (as you should be), it really adds up over time and can cause some fat gain.

Ingredients:

  • Whey protein isolate
  • Valine
  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Glutamine

IsoPure Zero Carb Review

See Current Pricing

4. Naked Whey (best whey protein concentrate option)

Naked Whey Protein Powder jarNaked Whey is a very solid protein powder in terms of the nutritional profile as a whole. The protein in use is all grass fed, which is great. However, as I mentioned before, grass fed is not necessarily a big concern if your goal is to gain muscle.

The biggest problem with Naked Whey is the fact that the protein blend is 100% whey protein concentrate. This is a major issue for me. The blend contains no isolate and no hydrolysate whatsoever, which is bad news.

As a result of the use of concentrate, the BCAA count is lower, the fat content is higher, and the protein is not going to be digested and absorbed efficiently. This could inhibit muscle growth and recovery, and more importantly, it could negatively effect your gut health.

Ingredients:

  • Grass fed whey protein concentrate
  • Valine
  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine

Naked Whey Review

See Current Pricing

5. Garden of Life Protein Powder (top organic option)

Garden of Life Protein jarGarden of Life Protein Powder is a pretty popular product amongst vegans due to the fact that the protein blend strictly contains Pea Protein and Brown Rice Protein. If you’re looking for a Pea Protein based supplement, this could be the one for you, but I generally do not recommend Pea Protein.

Yes, it’s vegan, but the problem with Pea Protein is it does not contain anywhere near as many nutrients as standard whey protein sources like isolate and hydrolysate. The BCAA count is way lower, and the benefits with regard to muscle growth and recovery are nowhere near as significant.

Based on the blend, I would not recommend Garden of Life Protein Powder unless you literally can not consume whey protein due to some sort of allergy.

Ingredients:

  • Pea protein
  • Brown rice protein
  • Buckwheat sprout
  • Quinoa
  • Chlorella
  • Chia seed

Garden of Life Protein Powder Review

See Current Pricing

6. Syntha 6 (good supplement for people on a budget)

Syntha 6 Protein Powder jarSyntha 6 is honestly a pretty average protein powder, and I generally would not recommend it. However, since the protein blend utilizes cheap protein sources, the supplement is pretty inexpensive. If you’re on a budget and have to choose a lower quality product, Syntha 6 can get the job done. But here’s why it’s so average…

This is one of the dirtiest protein blends I’ve seen in a long time. It contains whey protein concentrate, isolate, calcium caseinate, micellar casein, milk protein isolate, and egg albumen. If it didn’t contain any isolate at all, I wouldn’t have added Syntha 6 to this list. The blend just severely lacks purity.

To be clear, I do not recommend Syntha 6 unless you truly don’t have an extra few bucks to spend on a higher quality protein powder.

Ingredients:

  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Micellar casein
  • Milk protein isolate
  • Egg albumen

Syntha 6 Review

See Current Pricing

7. Combat Powder (good option for bodybuilding)

combat powder jarCombat Powder by Muscle Pharm is another solid budget option, but it is certainly not an elite protein powder by any means. The reason we like Combat Powder is because the blend contains both isolate and hydrolysate as its two most prevalent protein sources. Based on that, the blend looks very promising at first.

However, take a closer look and you’ll see they dirtied this blend up with some other inferior protein sources including concentrate. I wish the blend didn’t go bad towards the end, but this is overall a solid product.

The only other issue I have is that it contains 5 grams of carbs per serving, which is pretty high. If you’re looking for a low carb protein powder for lean muscle mass, Combat Powder is not the answer.

Ingredients:

  • Whey protein isolate
  • Whey protein hydrolysate
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Egg albumen
  • Micellar casein

Combat Powder Review

See Current Pricing

8. ISO 100 (good sugar free option)

ISO 100 Protein Powder jarISO 100 is another protein powder by Dymatize where the blend is explained in the name. ISO 100 means 100% whey protein isolate. That’s a very pure protein blend, which is why you could make the argument it should be higher up on this list.

However, the problem is it contains artificial flavoring and soy, which could potentially cause fat gain and inhibit testosterone production. If you are trying to gain muscle, you do not want to risk messing with your testosterone levels. Plus, you generally want to avoid artificial flavoring as it is almost always very unhealthy.

Ingredients:

  • Whey protein isolate
  • Artificial flavor
  • Soy lecithin
  • Sucralose
  • Stevia

ISO 100 Review

See Current Pricing

9. Vega Sport Protein (decent 100% natural option)

Vega Sport Protein jarVega Sport Protein is frankly only on this list so that we could provide our readers with a second vegan option. When it comes to vegan protein powders, this is a pretty good option. However, there are a few pretty significant issues with the nutritional profile.

First off, the protein source is Pea Protein, which is inferior to whey protein as we discussed before. Perhaps even worse than that though is the 400 milligrams of sodium per serving (4x the amount of sodium compared to our top rated protein powder).

To make matters worse, it also contains 6 grams of carbs and 3 grams of fat in every serving. The high sodium, fat, and carb counts are going to add up over time and could cause weight gain (fat, not muscle).

Ingredients:

  • Pea protein
  • Pumpkin seed protein
  • Sunflower seed protein
  • Alfalfa protein
  • Soy
  • Tree nuts

Vega Sport Protein Review

See Current Pricing

10. Optimum Gold Standard (solid post workout shake)

Optimum gold standard jarGold Standard by Optimum Nutrition is perhaps the most overrated protein powder of all time. It deserves a spot on this list due to the legendary break through supplement that it was during its time, but at this point, there are plenty of protein powders that are way higher quality than this one.

The Optimum Gold Standard protein blend is a mixture of isolate and concentrate, which is not great. It’s concerning that a company with this much money wouldn’t just make the blend 100% isolate when they know it’s the right thing to do.

I don’t mean to bash Gold Standard. The blend is solid, but it’s not what people make it out to be.

Ingredients:

  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Whey peptides
  • Cocoa powder
  • Artificial flavors

Optimum Gold Standard Review

See Current Pricing

Our conclusion/final points/key takeaways

At the end of the day, what you want in your protein powder is a super clean strictly isolate or hydrolysate blend. Equally as importantly, you do not want high sodium, fat, sugar, or carb counts. Therefore, the ideal combination is low sodium/fat/sugar/carb profiles and 100% pure isolate/hydrolysate blends, and you only get that combination with the top two ranked protein powders. After the #2 rank, you step down in class significantly.

See the lowest price for our top recommendation here: Transparent Labs Official Website

FAQs

Is there arsenic in protein powder?

The super high quality protein powders made by reputable sports nutrition brands do not contain arsenic, and they have Certificates of Analysis on their websites to prove that. However, there are certainly some low quality protein powder supplements out there that contain arsenic. Just make sure you choose the right brand!

Do protein powders contain heavy metals?

Protein powders generally do not contain heavy metals unless the manufacturer simply fails to disclose the fact that their product contains heavy metals, which is rare. Generally, this is not a concern as long as you are buying from a reputable brand.

Do protein shakes make you fat?

If the protein powder contains high levels of sodium, fat, sugar, or carbs, then yes, it could cause fat gain. However, protein shakes in general do not make you fat. For example, the top ranked options on this list contain ZERO sugar/fat/carbs and very low sodium to prevent fat gain.

Should I drink protein shakes before or after workouts?

Protein shakes are meant to be consumed after workouts. The ingredients they contain are designed to accelerate the process of muscle growth and recovery. It won’t do much for you if you drink it before a workout, but protein shakes are tremendously helpful after a workout.

Is protein powder bad for your kidneys?

High quality protein powders are not bad for your kidneys because protein sources like isolate and hydrolysate can be easily digested. However, protein sources that are difficult for your body to break down such as concentrate can cause problems.

How often should you drink protein shakes?

Protein shakes generally should be consumed every day immediately after your workout. Even if you don’t work out one day, you can still use a protein shake for meal replacement or even just to up your protein intake for that day.

Are protein shakes good for breakfast?

Protein shakes can actually be great for breakfast. They might not be very filling, but if you are trying to lose weight, opting for a protein shake at breakfast time can be a solid strategy. That is, assuming it is a clean protein supplement with zero/low sugar and fat counts.

Is it bad to drink 2 protein shakes a day?

No, it’s not bad, especially if you are trying to gain muscle. In fact, it can sometimes be helpful to double scoop your protein powder after a workout to maximize muscle gain. Your body can technically handle up to roughly 40 grams of protein at once.

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Joe Costello
Nutrition & Wellness Consultant
Joe Costello is a Nutrition & Wellness Consultant, certified by the American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA), author, and internet blogger. Joe has more than 9 years of experience in the sports nutrition industry and over 3 years of experience as a supplement and nutrition blogger. As a certified NWC who specializes in dietary supplements, Joe strives to deliver accurate, comprehensive, and research-backed information to his readers.

You can find more of Joe’s work including his E-Books about fitness and nutrition at his official website joecostellonwc.com, or connect with him on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Vimeo, or YouTube. Joe Costello is one of the founders of TheSupplementReviews.org and years after the creation of the site, partnered with TEK Naturals, a nutritional supplement company.