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Recently, we put whey protein powders to the test. As registered dietitians, we get asked weekly about our recommendations in protein powder, including whey protein powder and plant-based protein powder. So, for the last six months, our team has been evaluating, tasting, and crunching numbers and ingredient lists so we can confidently say that these are the Best Whey Protein Powders out there based on quality, optimum nutrition, dissolubility (how well they dissolve), and taste. Also, see our post on Best Plant Based Protein Powder.
Dietitian-Approved Whey Protein Powder Review
If you’ve ever performed an online search for whey protein powder or stood in the aisles of a nutrition store staring at container after container of protein powder, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. There are just so many options. So how do you know if a protein powder is the right one for you? How do you know if the nutrient amounts and ingredients are of good quality? In this deep-dive analysis to find the Best Whey Protein Powder, we did all of that research for you. We found impressive products full of high-quality, sustainably raised whey. And we sampled whey protein powder blends with whole-food add-ins, digestive enzymes, interesting flavors, antioxidants blends, and more. We also tasted our fair share of whey proteins that fell into the “not-so-impressive” category, with a lot of unnecessary additives, yucky aftertaste, and poorly sourced ingredients.
What is whey protein?
Whey is one of the main, natural proteins found in dairy milk. Whey is typically turned into a powder after it is separated from the rest of dairy milk during the cheese-making process (remember “curds and whey”?). It contains a high amount of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Since whey comes from an animal source, it contains all nine essential amino acids. Whey also tends to blend nicely into liquids, which are a few reasons why it is preferred by many people who want to boost their protein intake. Whey protein supplements are often consumed by adding to smoothies, liquids, and baked goods, such as muffins or energy balls.
Does Whey Protein Powder Contain Lactose?
Whey protein powder is made from milk, so it does contain lactose, but not a significant amount. Comparatively, whey contains a lot less lactose than other dairy foods like milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and ice cream. People with lactose intolerance, a common digestive problem, may or may not have trouble digesting whey protein. And, depending on how it has been filtered, some whey protein powders contain a little lactose while others have none. For people who lack the digestive enzyme lactase (which breaks down lactose) or who have a sensitivity to lactose, a whey protein isolate is often the best whey choice. For people who are highly sensitive to lactose, and vegans or dairy-free eaters who are seeking a 100% non-lactose protein powder, see our review of the Best Plant-Based Protein Powders.
Here are the most common types of whey protein used in protein shake blends:
- Whey concentrate: Contains 80% protein and a small amount of lactose
- Whey isolate: Contains 90% protein and less lactose than whey protein concentrate
- Whey protein hydrolysate: Contains a similar amount of lactose as whey concentrate, but is considered to be a “predigested” form of whey since it has undergone partial hydrolysis, a process necessary for the body to absorb protein. Whey hydrolysate is digested faster than whey concentrate or whey isolate
Our criteria to find the best Whey protein powder
We considered and discussed at length the following criteria as we created this comprehensive list of our top dietitian-recommended Whey Protein Powder:
- taste – this was criteria number one; if it didn’t taste good, it didn’t make the cut. We tested whey protein powders mixed with just water, shaken with dairy and non-dairy milks (such as almond milk), and blended into smoothies
- protein source – we checked to make sure the source and amount of whey protein in the powders was appropriate and of high quality to supply a variety of essential and non-essential amino acids, and complete protein profiles that weren’t based on soy or pea isolates
- ingredient quality – we favored powders that were made from the whey of grass-fed cows and organic milk (for top nutrition) and those that were sourced responsibly and provided ingredient traceability
- certifications and 3rd-party testing – when it comes to nutritional powders and other supplements, certifications and verified 3rd-party testing are some of the best ways to ensure the quality, truthfulness, and good manufacturing practices of what’s in the product. That is why we favored whey protein powders that had certifications (ie: certified organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, certified gluten-free, etc.) and those that could prove they had undergone 3rd-party lab testing
- efficacy – we checked the calories, amino acid profile, vitamin and mineral profile, carbs, fats, fiber, probiotic blends, and much more to make sure the numbers and variety of these nutrients was in an appropriate range for how whey protein powders are commonly used
- sweetener – through our sampling of dozens and dozens of whey protein powders, we discovered there are not many blends available that don’t include a sweetener. Most powders are sweetened with stevia or monk fruit (lo han guo) or a combination of those. Sometimes we found the sweetener level to be appropriate, while other times the sweetener was off-putting, overwhelming, or created a gross aftertaste. Read below for our recommendation of best whey protein powder that doesn’t contain any stevia, monk fruit, or artificial sweeteners
- price and availability – we made note of the price per serving, as well as how easily someone can purchase each product at a local store or directly online
The 7 best Whey Protein powders
According to The Real Food Dietitians
Here are our recommendations for whey protein powders in six main categories, plus our recommendation for the overall best whey protein powder. Scroll down to read more about why these brands stood out to us so you can find a form of whey protein that is best for you.
Garden of Life Organic Whey Protein Grass Fed
Best Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder: Garden of Life Organic Whey Protein Grass Fed
We really like Garden of Life because of their standards, ingredient traceability, and high quality protein products. While you can get higher amounts of protein in their sport- and fit-focused powders, we think their regular organic grass-fed whey is appropriate for most people, and it tastes great, too.
- About the protein: The protein comes from the whey of pasture-fed, grass-fed Jersey cows. Two scoops (31 to 40 g) provides 21 grams of protein per serving, including 18 amino acids and 4.7 grams of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)
- Other nutrient highlights: This whey protein also includes 2 billion CFU of probiotics from a bifidobacterium strain for easier digestibility
- Certifications: USDA Organic certified, certified gluten free, kosher, American Humane Certified, and NSF certified (Garden of Life has many gold standard certifications)
- About the sweetener: The flavored versions contain 0 grams of added sugars and are sweetened with organic erythritol and stevia. Garden of Life also has an version of this product that is sweetened with organic cane sugar (no stevia), and it contains 9 grams of added sugar and a light vanilla flavor
- Cost per serving: $2.75 – $3.33 per serving (12 servings per carton)
- Flavors: Vanilla, Chocolate Cacao, Strawberry, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Lightly Sweetened No Stevia
Best Post-Workout: Ascent Native Fuel Whey
Best Post-Workout Plant-Based Protein Powder: Ascent Native Fuel Whey
Jessica has been using Ascent whey for years as her go-to post-workout recovery protein after a Crossfit gym workout. This powder blends nicely and has great flavor with a very subtle stevia taste.
- About the protein: The protein is a mix of whey isolate protein blend and whey protein concentrate. A single scoop (33 g) provides 25 grams of high-quality protein and complete amino acid profile, including 5.7 grams of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and 2.7 grams of leucine for athletes and anyone needing muscle growth and muscle mass building and recovery
- Other nutrient highlights: This is a basic protein powder blend without any unnecessary additions or fillers; we appreciate the simple ingredient list and the high protein concentrate
- Certifications: Certified gluten free and third-party tested by Informed Sport Certified
- About the sweetener: This powder contains 1 grams of added sugar; it is sweetened with stevia. The unflavored version has no added sweeteners
- Cost per serving: $1.55 (27 servings per bag)
- Flavors: Unflavored, Vanilla Bean, Chocolate, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cappuccino, Lemon Sorbet – and seasonal flavors are sometimes available
Best Budget-Friendly: Orgain Clean Whey Protein Powder
Best Budget-Friendly Plant-Based Protein Powder: Orgain Clean Whey Protein Powder
If you’re looking for a high-quality, organic, and grass-fed whey protein for a very reasonable price, this is it. Orgain serves up a complete amino acid profile and a trademarked creamer base for easy, non-clumpy blending into liquids and smoothies.
- About the protein: The protein source is whey protein concentrate from New Zealand. A two-scoop serving (41 g) delivers 21 grams of protein and complete amino acid profile, including 5 grams of branched-chain amino acids
- Other nutrient highlights: This powder contains some prebiotic ingredients and 2 grams of fiber; it contains sunflower lecithin as an emulsifier
- Certifications: Though this product is not USDA Organic certified it contains many organic ingredients, and other products from this brand are USDA Organic certified
- About the sweetener: This whey protein is sweetened with organic erythritol and stevia
- Cost per serving: $1.60 (20 servings per carton)
- Flavors: Vanilla Bean, Creamy Chocolate Fudge
Best Without Stevia, Monkfruit, or Artificial Sweeteners: Puori Pasture Raised Whey Protein Powder
Best Plant-Based Protein Powder Without Stevia, Monk fruit, or Artificial Sweeteners: Puori Pasture Raised Whey Protein Powder
In our search for best protein powders, it was off-putting to see just how many products contain an unpleasant aftertaste from stevia leaf, monk fruit, sugar alcohols or other zero-calorie sweeteners. We quickly realized there was a need to track down the best-tasting, highest quality plant-based protein powder that doesn’t contain stevia, monk fruit, or another natural or artificial sweetener. We were so excited when we tried Puori and loved the taste. This is the best whey protein powder without stevia or other sweeteners.
- About the protein: The protein comes from pasture raised whey protein concentrate. A single scoop (30 g) provides 21 grams of protein and a complete amino acid profile
- Other nutrient highlights: We loved that this clean powder contains just five ingredients, including organic coconut sugar and vanilla seeds
- Certifications: Puori has received Best-in-Class certifications from the Clean Label Project, a national non-profit with the mission to bring truth and transparency to food and consumer product labeling, also GMP quality assured
- About the sweetener: The sweetener here is organic coconut sugar, which adds just 1 gram of added sugar (3 grams of total sugar) per serving
- Cost per serving: $1.93 (30 servings per bag)
- Flavors: Bourbon Vanilla, Dark Chocolate
Puori would like to offer you 20% off your order with code PUORIxRFD20
Best for Baking: Simply Tera’s Organic Whey Protein
Best For Baking Plant-Based Protein Powder: Simply Tera’s Organic Whey Protein
We’ve done a lot of baking and recipe testing with whey and plant-based powders used as an ingredient to boost the protein content of muffins, waffles, pancakes, cookies, energy balls, and more. The ultimate goal is always to have a great-tasting recipe with a higher protein amount and without a chalky aftertaste and overpowering flavor from the protein powder. We have achieved just those kind of great results when testing protein-boosted recipes using Simply Tera’s whey protein, which it is our top recommendation in this category.
- About the protein: We love that the whey protein concentrate in Simply Tera’s protein powders comes from Organic Valley’s cooperative of USDA organic family farms. A two-scoop serving (28 g) provides 19 grams of protein, including 18 amino acids.
- Other nutrient highlights: This is a very simple blend, which is why it incorporates into recipes and baked goods so nicely
- Certifications: These whey powders are USDA Certified Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, kosher, certified gluten free, and packaged in 100% recycled post-consumer plastic (we love that)
- About the sweetener: There are 0 grams of added sugars in a serving; the powder is sweetened with organic stevia; the Unsweetened version contains no stevia or added sweeteners
- Cost per serving: $2.50 – $2.80 per serving (12 servings per carton)
- Flavors: Unflavored Unsweetened, Bourbon Vanilla, Dark Chocolate; Simply Tera’s also has Goat Whey Protein, which may be easier to digest for people with dairy sensitivities
Best for Pregnancy & Postpartum:
Organic Valley Prenatal & Postnatal Support Smoothie Mix
Best Plant-Based Protein Powder for Pregnancy & Postpartum: Organic Valley Prenatal and Postnatal Support Smoothie Mix
Since she was pregnant with her third baby during this whey protein powder review, Jessie was our guinea pig for sampling all of the prenatal and postnatal protein powders. She found that this smoothie mix from Organic Valley tasted best and provided a good amount of essential pregnancy and postpartum nutrients (folate, DHA, and choline) when mixed with dairy milk.
- About the protein: This protein comes from organic nonfat milk powder and organic whey concentrate. A single scoop (20 g) provides 9 grams of protein and only 80 calories, so this is best served as a between-meal snack rather than a meal replacement (ideal for pregnant women who want to space out smaller meals and snacks throughout the day). This increases to 17 grams of protein and 200 calories when mixed with 8 ounces of 2% dairy milk, which also increases the natural choline content
- Other nutrient highlights: We appreciated that this smoothie mix contained fish oil (from sardines and anchovy) to increase the omega-3 fatty acids (DHA), as well as organic ginger, and supplemental folic acid, containing 335 mcg (60% of the DV) for folate, a nutrient essential for the nerve, spinal cord, and brain development of unborn and newborn babies. The postnatal support mix also contains fenugreek seeds, which some research has connected to boosted milk supply
- Certifications: USDA Organic certified
- About the sweetener: These powders contain 1 gram of added sugars from organic unrefined cane sugar and organic stevia
- Cost per serving: $1.42 (14 servings per carton)
- Flavors: Chocolate (Prenatal Support), and Vanilla (Postnatal Support)
BEST OVERALL: Natreve Grass-Fed Whey Protein Powder
Overall Best Plant-Based Protein Powder: Natreve Grass-Fed Whey Protein Powder
Taking all criteria into consideration, Natreve Grass-Fed Whey Protein Powder was our clear winner. Our team of registered dietitians confidently names this the Best Whey Protein Powder based on taste, nutrient profile, ingredient quality, flavors, company mission, and cost.
- About the protein: The source is grass-fed whey protein isolate from grass-fed New Zealand cows. One scoop (39 g) provides 28 grams of protein and a complete amino acid profile
- Other nutrient highlights: This whey powder includes 2 grams of sustainably sourced marine collagen, as well as an organic greens powder of kale, broccoli, and spinach to add vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This powder also contains a 6-strain blend of of lactobacillus, streptococcus, and bifidobacterium to provide 1.1 billion CFU of probiotics. We also love that it contains 5 grams of fiber per serving
- Certifications: This product is not USDA Organic certified but is made from mostly organic ingredients. It is Non-GMO Project Verified and third-party tested by Informed Sports Certified
- About the sweetener: Zero grams of added sugar; the flavored versions are sweetened with stevia while the unflavored version contains no sweeteners
- Cost per serving: $2.50 per serving (18 servings per carton)
- Flavors: Unflavored and Unsweetened, French Vanilla Wafer Sundae, Fudge Brownie, Strawberry Shortcake, Peanut Butter Parfait
Natreve would like to offer you 10% off your order with code REALFOOD10
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Jessica, Stacie, and Jessie all have a registered dietitian (RD / RDN) credential, and used professional analysis and home taste tests to create this unsponsored list of whey protein powder recommendations. Product samples were both provided and purchased. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use our photos without prior written permission. If you wish to reference this content, please link back to the source here on The Real Food Dietitians. Thank you!