Navigating the deluge of training supplements is no easy feat, so if you’re struggling to find the best whey protein powder for building muscle faster and more efficiently, you’re not alone.
Choosing the right whey protein powder for you is dependent on a range of factors, including budget, ingredients, macronutrients, mixability and flavour. But with so many whey protein powders on the market, it's easy to feel lost in the sports nutrition aisle.
Panic not, because the Men’s Health team has tested some of the most popular whey protein powders out there, including Bulk, Hermosa and Battle Ready Fuel. Our list of the best caters for every need, whether you’re after a budget buy, a filling post-workout smoothie or something a little lighter on the stomach.
But first, here’s everything you need to know about whey protein, from what it’s made from to how much you need and when you should be consuming it.
What Should I Be Looking for In Whey Protein?
Before you part with your hard-earned cash, it's important to understand what it is you are buying, and, most importantly, what to look for when you're looking for the best whey protein.
After all, what's the point in sifting through the digital aisles of your go-to sports retailers and parting with your money when you don't know what you're investing in? It's cash worth parting with, as research suggests that whey protein, when partnered with regular resistance training, can help the user maintain lean mass while increasing strength all over the body. Below, we line up everything you need to know about when it comes to shopping for whey protein. Consider this your inside scoop.
Why Whey Protein?
Milk contains two main types of protein: whey and casein. Whey is found in the watery portion of milk. Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolate from whey and is considered a complete protein. In other words, it contains all 9 essential amino acids.
As you know, the body can't produce these amino acids, which is why a well-rounded diet (or supplement) is so important for muscle gain. Whey protein generally contains low levels of fat and carbohydrates (lactose) which helps minimise gut distress. Research has even shown it can play a pivotal role in weight-loss.
There are three types of whey protein that you need to know
Whey protein concentrate: WPC contains more nutrients than any other type of way, due to the way it's manufactured
Whey protein isolate: Isolate is usually quicker to digest than WPC or WPH (below) and is generally more suitable for people with lactose intolerance. Most of the fat and carbohydrate content has been removed.
Whey protein hydrolysate: 'Hydro whey' to some, WPH is designed to break down proteins into a state that makes them easier for your body to absorb.
So, How Much Whey Protein Do I Need?
Your age, goals and weight are just a few factors that'll determine how much protein you will need to build muscle. Not sure how much is enough? Our complete guide to protein will help.
It's worth noting here, however, that the majority of your protein intake, and macronutrients in general, should come from your diet. Supplements are there to do just that: supplement. Real foods, for example, contain more nutrients, fibre and minerals and are far easier to digest.
Understood. When Should I Use Whey Protein?
Your muscles' ability to absorb nutrients can be most receptive in the hour immediately after your workout. That's not to say chugging down a shake a couple of hours later won't work, far from it, but if you can, get that shake down as soon as possible and then get on with your day.
At this point, you'll recall a similar theory when it comes to whey protein. It goes a little like this: “The idea that you can build muscle faster this way came from research in the early 2000s, which showed that muscle protein synthesis – the mechanism by which you build mass – was stimulated by consuming whey protein within an hour of finishing a workout,” explains sports dietitian Rick Miller. “But the benefits that scientists found were so small that they would barely be noticeable over a 10-year period.”
"Following a tough session, the rate of protein synthesis will remain raised for 24 hours,” Miller says. “During that time, your body will be sensitised to protein and will automatically build muscle.”
Men's Health Lab Approved
For the 2022 Men's Health Sports Nutrition Awards, we asked a panel of testers – made up of gym goers and experts – to try a range of whey protein powders to find the very best on the market. They tested them out for four weeks, before rating them on nutritional content, impact on athletic performance and ease of use.
Our testers also judged on flavour, texture and aroma, because finding a protein powder that tastes decent isn’t always easy. Extra points were awarded for packaging, clarity of instructions and nutritional guidance.
Our 2022 winners have been stamped with the esteemed Sports Nutrition Awards badge below, while our runners-up feature the MH Lab Approved badge on their pictures. The remaining whey protein powders have been handpicked by our MH editors, so you're bound to find one worth trying.
Hermosa Whey Protein Powder
Per 30g serving: 125kcal, 20g protein, 4.5g carbohydrates, 2.6g fat
Just in case Hermosa's boss packaging alone doesn’t convince you to take it home, the Cadbury Dairy Milk-esque chocolate flavour certainly will. Our champ packs 20g of protein per serve and is brimming with essential amino acids to help improve performance. The whey comes from grass-fed cows, making it seriously creamy, and first-timers will appreciate the included scoop and easy-to-follow instructions.
Battle Ready Fuel Military Whey
Per 30g serving: 117kcal, 23.71g protein, 1.8g carbohydrates, 1.5g fat
This low-carb, low-fat option from Battle Ready Fuel lets you top up your protein without feeling weighed down. Chocolatey with notes of caramel, our testers found it smooth, creamy and not overpoweringly sweet. It contains a digestive enzyme complex that makes it easy on the stomach and saves you from that bulk bloat. To quote one tester: “there is nothing I dislike about this product”.
PE Nutrition Performance Whey Protein
Per 30g serving: 108kcal, 21.5g protein, 2.5g carbohydrates, 1.2g fat
An impressive performance for its price point, our testers particularly liked the vanilla blend (but there's also chocolate, banana, strawberry, salted caramel and cookies & cream to choose from). Made using three types of whey – concentrate, hydrolysate and isolate – it offers a punchy 21.5g of protein with just 108kcal due to minimal carbs and fats, and it’s naturally lower in lactose than some other powders. Testers described the texture as ‘milkshake-like’. We’re going to call it the Stacked Donald’s shake.
Bulk Pure Whey Protein
Per 30g serving: 114kcal, 22g protein, 3.6g carbohydrates, 1.2g fat
Previously known as Bulk Powders, Bulk is one of the most popular nutrition brands in the business, but does its pure whey protein live up to the hype? Oh, yes. It’s loaded with protein (22g), essential amino acids and BCAAs (5g) to help your body to repair, recover and build muscle after a tough session.
Our testers said it was ideal for an energising post-workout shake or a filling snack to keep you on track between meals. They appreciated the ratio of protein, carbs and fats per serving, and described it as a good all-rounder. The chocolate flavour proved tasty yet subtle, but there are over 20 other flavours to try if this one isn't for you, including iced latte, rocky road and lemon meringue.
Foodspring Whey Protein
Per 30g serving: 113kcal, 23g protein, 2.2g carbohydrates, 1.4g fat
One serving of Foodspring’s whey protein will provide 24g protein from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows, plus 9.8g of essential amino acids for building muscle proteins after exercise. The refreshingly short ingredients list is free from added sugar and added hormones, and it’s non-GMO too. Our testers loved the umami taste of the chocolate flavour and scored it top for mixability, but they preferred blending it with milk as it felt too thin in water.
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey
Per 31g serving: 116kcal, 24g protein, 1.3g carbohydrates, 1.4g fat
Optimum Nutrition is known for its supplements, and for good reason. This whey protein powder packs a mega 24g protein, essential amino acids (a building block for protein) and 5.5g of BCAAs to enhance performance and boost muscle growth.
Flavour-wise, it's smooth and chocolatey, without tasting artificial or sickly. It also earns a big tick for convenience – our testers raved about how easy it was to prepare, measure out and mix. Overall, a strong choice.
Barebells Vanilla Milkshake
Per 330ml serving: 191kcal, 24g protein, 13g carbs, 4.6g fat
This pre-mixed Barebells shake's sweet vanilla flavour, with notes of cocoa butter and white chocolate, proved a big hit among our testers, who also rated its smooth, creamy texture.
It doesn’t just deliver on flavour though, packing an impressive 24g protein per serve. Its sugar and fat content is higher than the other products on our list, but it’s great for chucking in your gym bag and guzzling after a high energy session. Break up any lumps by giving it a good shake first.
Bulk™️ × Millions® Clear Whey
Per 27g serving: 95kcal, 20g protein, 1.8g carbs, 0.2 fat
Inspired by the nostalgic sweets of the 90s, Bulk’s collab with Millions is a treat for the tastebuds. Our testers found the strawberry flavour super sweet and fruity, but there’s also bubblegum, apple and cola.
Give it a go if you don’t enjoy the thicker, milky texture of most whey proteins as it’s thin and slightly syrupy, like an electrolyte drink. It’s also the lightest powder on our list – just 95 calories and 0.1g sugar per serving. Oh and a respectable 20g protein, so it’s ideal for when you’re cutting.
Solgar Whey To Go Natural Protein Powder
Per 29g serving: 130kcal, 20g protein, 10g carbohydrates, 1g fat
One of the more premium products in our roundup, Solgar’s natural protein powder is made with grass-fed whey from pasture-raised cows in New Zealand (fancy) and offers a good 20g protein per serve.
It's on the pricier side but if you’re looking to invest in a high-quality whey protein, our testers said it ticked every box in terms of taste (a rich, natural cocoa flavour), texture (no lumps reported) and ease of use. It's a bit watery, though, so mix it with milk if you prefer a thicker shake.
Optimum Nutrition Hydro Whey Protein Isolate
Per 39g serving: 141kcal, 30g protein, 3g carbohydrates, 1g fat
As ON's "most advanced whey protein", the Hydro Whey Protein Isolate comes with a whopping 30g of protein per scoop — 10g more than other brands. ON claim that the process in which this whey protein is made helps the body absorb it faster, with added BCAAs.
Dymatize Nutrition Elite Whey Protein
Per 35g serving: 133kcal, 25g protein, 2.1g carbohydrates, 2.2g fat
With a slightly lower protein counter and higher carbohydrate count, some guys will disregard Dymatize's Elite Whey Protein. It could be a bad move as, when mixed with milk, it changes to a consistency that's not too dissimilar to a milkshake. With flavours like chocolate fudge, cookies and cream, banana, vanilla and strawberry, it's a game-changer when it comes to flavour.
Bulk Pure Whey Isolate 90
Per 30g serving: 107-110kcal, 24g protein, 1g carbohydrates, 1g fat
Containing a whopping 24g of protein per scoop, Bulk's Whey Isolate is hard to beat when it comes to upping your macro intake on the regular. Loaded with five-star reviews, this whey protein is a customer favourite, as whey protein isolates are far higher in protein due to an increased production process. Bulk also provides quick delivery and a range of flavours including chocolate, chocolate peanut, chocolate orange, banana, strawberry, salted caramel, vanilla and white chocolate. Not bad.
Reflex Nutrition Instant Whey Pro Protein Powder
Per 25g serving: 90kcal, 20g protein, 1.1g carbohydrates, 0.5g fat
This is Reflex Nutrition's flagship whey protein powder, and has been for nearly two decades, made from whey protein concentrates and isolates as well as milk protein concentrate. The whey protein is also hormone and antibiotic free, as it's made from the milk of grass-fed cows, making it richer in omega-3 fatty acids and high in CLA. Handily, it's also suitable for vegetarians.
MyProtein – THE Whey
Per 29g serving: 114kcal, 25g protein, 1.8g carbohydrates, 0.5g fat
MH opted for the chocolate flavouring of MP’s THE Whey. Naturally, there are other flavours – from Decadent Milk Chocolate to Salted Caramel – but we went with the likely choice. Packing 25g of protein per 29g serving, it mixes well with no signs of remaining lumps which makes for a welcome post-workout shake that tastes richer (and, admittedly, more genuine) than a lot of competing brands. The 6.5g of BCAAs per serving are a welcome boost, which will aid muscle repair.
Maximuscle Max Whey Protein Powder
Per 30g serving: 113kcal, 22.5g protein, 1.4g carbohydrate, 1.5g fat
A fantastic no-frills whey powder from Maximuscle. The inclusion of BCAAs helps build muscle more efficiently than leucine on its own, while the packaging has clear and simple guidelines making this powder perfect for first-timers. The chocolate taste is sweet without being cloying, but benefits from mixing with milk instead of the suggested water.
A solid protein count, and a great taste makes this product a solid first-time buy without restricting itself to gym newbies. A quality powder ideal for general use.
Bio-Synergy Whey Hey
Per 35g serving: 126kcal, 19.29g protein, 9.29g carbohydrates, 1.3g fat
Offering up a solid 19.29g of protein per 35g serving, Bio Synergy Whey Hey offers a decent extra dose of protein to any diet. The flavour is for coffee lovers; think coffee cake. Straight off the bat, it tastes great with water, but add some milk or even coconut water and you get an extra shot of creaminess without a sickly flavour. It mixes well too, even when stirred into yoghurt of porridge.
It's also enriched with BCAAs, is gluten-free and has only 108 calories per serving. A well balanced powder from Bio Synergy that mixes well and tastes great, if you like coffee. It’s caffeine-free though.
Applied Nutrition ISO XP 100% Whey Protein Isolate
Per 25g serving: 93kcal, 22.4g protein, 0.4g carbohydrates, 0.2g fat
Packing 22.5g of muscle-building whey protein, Applied Nutrition ISO XP houses a scoop that packs more protein, and better flavours, than the brand has offered before. With next to no sugar, carbs or fat, it's ideal for those watching their calorie intake, plus each serve is loaded with 5.5g of BCAAs. Whether you're a gym rookie, seasoned CrossFit zealout or an all-star squat rack regular, this slots well into your diet, mixing well with water or milk.
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