We tested this popular nutritional supplement to find the best on the market. Discover how to use protein powders safely, and when to seek advice.
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Once used exclusively by bodybuilders, protein supplements have grown in popularity so much that it's now common to see people of all ages, genders and body types consuming protein shakes in and out of the gym.
We put protein powders to the test to find the best on the market, then asked a nutritionist for her opinion and tips on how to use them safely. Read on to see her advice.
Once you've determined whether a protein supplement is right for you, discover which powders are best. You might also enjoy our review of the best protein bars.
Best protein powders 2019
MyProtein impact chocolate brownie whey protein
Best value protein shake
Pros: mixes well, wide range of flavours, vegetarian
Cons: some flavours use sucralose
The ingredients list is reassuringly short, and although the flavour we tested was sweetened with sucralose, there are stevia-sweetened options available if you prefer (there's also an unflavoured option if you'd rather avoid any unnecessary extra ingredients). It’s also suitable for vegetarians.
Impressively, this powder is available in over 40 different flavours – we tested the chocolate brownie one, which was a winner. The powder mixed beautifully, forming a milkshake-like consistency that would be ideal for those who like a thicker shake. The flavour was like a lovely, just-baked brownie with a rich milk chocolate aftertaste, making it easy to drink and very filling.
With 40 servings per 1kg packet, it's also good value for money at around 55p per scoop.
Each 25g serving of MyProtein impact whey protein delivers 21g protein from whey protein concentrate, and contains 103 calories, 1.9g fat (1.3g sat fat) and 1g carbs (1g sugar). Nutritional information based on the unflavoured version.
Amazon (£15.79 for 1kg)
MyProtein (£21.99 for 1kg)
Pulsin natural vanilla whey protein
Best protein powder with subtle flavour
Pros: vegetarian, gluten-free, mixes well
Cons: more expensive
The flavour of this product is nice and subtle – it has a heady vanilla scent, but the taste isn't overpowering and it's not too sweet, so it's great for smoothies or milkshakes as it won't overwhelm other ingredients. The powder dissolves quickly and easily in water without creating lumps, but if you like a thicker shake, it's best mixed with milk.
It is on the more expensive side as compared to the other powders – a 250g packet provides 10 servings, coming out at approximately £1.49 per shake – but if you're not a fan of strong, overly sweet shakes, it might be a sound investment.
Each 25g serving of Pulsin whey protein provides 21.7g protein from whey protein isolate, and contains 98 calories, 0.1g fat (0g sat fat) and 1.9g carbohydrates (0.6g sugar).
Vive peanut butter natural plant protein blend
Best vegan protein powder
Pros: vegan, only three ingredients, no artificial sweeteners or sugar
Cons: some might not like the unsweetened taste
With an all-natural list of just three ingredients – brown rice protein, pea protein and peanut flour – this is a great option if you're looking for an additive-free powder. It's unsweetened, which is something of a double-edged sword – it's ideal if you're keen to avoid artificial sweeteners or sugar, but your palate might need to adjust to the lack of sweetness you'd find in conventional shakes.
As you'd expect, it has a strong peanut flavour and tastes really natural. We mixed it with water, which resulted in a relatively thin texture. However, the packet suggests combining it with milk and a banana to create a naturally sweeter (and presumably thicker) shake. A spoonful mixed into porridge for breakfast is also delicious, and it would be a welcome addition to smoothies and baked goods, too.
A 1kg packet provides around 34.5 servings, making it roughly 73p a pop.
A 29g serving of Vive natural plant protein blend delivers 20g of plant protein, and contains 103 calories, 1.9g fat (0.4g sat fat) and 4.1g carbs (1.8g sugar).
Vive (£25 for 1kg)
Amazon (£27.99 for 1kg)
Protein World banana split whey protein concentrate
Highest protein option per serving
Pros: vegetarian, slightly higher in calories and carbs
Cons: on the pricier side, contains sucralose
This shake is really easy to drink and doesn't taste overbearingly sweet, despite containing sucralose. It has a good consistency – on the thinner side, but still offering a creamy finish. The powder dissolves well without leaving any lumps, and forms a light foam on top after shaking.
True to its name, this drink tastes just like a banana split in liquid form. All in all, the experience is more like drinking a banana milkshake than a protein supplement, earning it a definite thumbs-up.
A 1.2kg packet provides 30 servings, coming out at £1.16 per shake.
A 40g serving of Protein World whey protein concentrate delivers 30.7g protein from whey protein concentrate, and contains 162 calories, 3.2g fat (1.8g sat fat) and 2.4g carbs (1.8g sugar). The slightly higher protein, calorie and carb content make it a good option for those who want to increase their overall calories and macronutrient levels as part of a balanced meal plan.
The Protein Works velvet vanilla naked diet whey protein 90
Best low-calorie, low-fat protein powder
Pros: high ratio of protein to fat and carbohydrates, low in sugar
Cons: not the cheapest option
We tried the velvet vanilla flavour, which is lovely – it's quite custardy in flavour, and sweet enough without being overly so, despite being sweetened with stevia. The powder foams up quite a lot after shaking, so you might like to let it settle before drinking. Made with 150ml water, it was on the thinner side – try mixing with milk if you prefer a thicker shake.
A 1kg packet provides around 33 servings, so each scoop costs roughly £1 – a good middle-of-the-range option.
A 30g serving of The Protein Works naked diet whey protein 90 powder delivers 24g protein from whey protein isolate, and contains 119 calories, 2g fat (1.7g sat fat) and 2.5g carbohydrates (2.2g sugar). This is a good option if you're looking to increase your protein intake without bumping up your other macronutrients, when consumed as part of a balanced meal plan.
The Protein Works (£32.99 for 1kg)
Amazon (£32.99 for 1kg)
Protein powder health advice
How to use protein powders safely
Supplements such as protein shakes need to be consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet, and not used as a substitute for whole food. Nutritionist Kerry Torrens explains, ‘Protein powders are highly processed and lack the micronutrients and other beneficial nutrients of whole, natural food. We should all aim to achieve our protein from a well-balanced diet, but for short-term use or in certain circumstances, protein supplementation may be considered.'
Who could benefit from using a protein supplement?
If you're regularly getting enough protein from your diet, adding a supplement might not make a noticeable difference to your health. However, those who are either unable to regularly eat enough protein due to decreased appetite or illness, or who have increased protein needs as a result of high-intensity exercise might benefit from taking a supplement.
Kerry explains, 'One example, which is probably not an obvious one, is the elderly. This group often has a greater need for protein, but a lower appetite. Increasing protein intake in a form that is palatable and suits their lowered appetite may be effective in protecting against muscle loss. That said, in this group other aspects, such as kidney health and osteoporosis, need to be considered and monitored – it’s worth checking with a GP that protein supplements are safe and suitable for each individual.’
Who shouldn’t take protein supplements?
Children shouldn’t take protein supplements unless directed by a dietitian. The NHS advises that consuming too much protein in the long term is linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis, and may worsen existing kidney problems.
Some people find protein powders difficult to digest – it’s best to include them gradually into your diet, and see how you get on. Although allergens should be stated on the label, anyone with allergies should be cautious about using a new supplement, as there is an obvious risk of cross-contamination in factories. Those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or being treated for existing medical conditions should consult their GP before starting new supplements.
Is it possible to take too much protein?
Yes. The Department of Health advises adults to avoid consuming more than twice the recommended daily intake of protein (55g for men and 45g for women). Always read the label of any protein supplement carefully, stick to the recommended serving size, and be mindful of other protein sources in your diet. If you’re concerned that you might be consuming too much protein, speak to your GP.
How to choose a protein powder
Choosing a suitable protein powder will depend on your personal requirements and goals. For example, if you're looking to gain weight or build muscle, you might want to consider a 'mass-gainer' product that is higher in calories and carbohydrates. Look for a product to fit your dietary requirements and double-check allergen labelling on the packet.
When choosing a protein powder, make sure that you buy from a reputable company, ideally based in Europe, as those that are based outside of Europe may not pass the same safety standards as those within. If you’re in any doubt about the safety of a product, speak to your pharmacist or GP.
What we looked for in protein powders
Taste and texture: is the flavour pleasant to drink? Does it dissolve well?
Type of protein: whey or plant-based? Concentrate, isolate or hydrolysate?
Nutrient profile: how much protein per serving? What about calories, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates and sugars?
Type of sweetener: does it contain sugars, artificial sweeteners or neither?
Dietary requirements: vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free?
Value for money: how does it compare to others on a cost-per-serving basis?
All powders were prepared as per the instructions on the packet using cold water as the liquid, and mixed thoroughly by hand in a shaker before being served in a glass. We included 16 samples from a range of retailers with differing nutritional information, protein types and price points in this review.
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This review was last updated in November 2019. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.