Best protein powder 2021: best whey and vegan protein for muscle building, weight loss and recovery

T3 ranks the best protein powder supplements based on taste, consistency, protein content and more

Best protein powder
(Image credit: Huel)

Did you think the best protein powder is only good for building muscle? You're very, very wrong. As well as boosting muscle mass, increasing your daily protein intake can also be beneficial for recovery from training and weight loss too. All manners of sportspeople, including bodybuilders, runners, cyclists and more can benefit from taking the right protein supplement. The below list contains what we think are the best whey and vegan protein powders options to buy right now.

Taking protein powder supplements is almost as essential for workouts as wearing the best workout shoes. In this guide, we rounder up the best vegan and whey protein powder options available on the market today.

Most people associate protein powder with bodybuilding but protein supplements, such as the best weight/mass gainers and the best protein bars, can be used for more than just building bulky muscles. Protein helps muscle recovery in general, not just when you pump iron in the gym, so runners, cyclists and other endurance athletes can also benefit from taking protein after their training sessions. Make sure you have a portion ready in your favourite gym bag.

Protein can also help you lose weight fast. Losing weight can go hand in hand with getting fit, and if you want to get fit, you should definitely check out our guide now. Nowadays, you can find many different protein powder varieties, let it be whey protein, casein protein or vegan protein, derived from a range of sources, like cow milk, pea, egg, hemp and more.

Best protein powders (whey)

best protein powder: Bulk Pure Whey Isolate

(Image credit: bulk)

1. Bulk Pure Whey Isolate

Maximum protein content = maximum gains

Type: Whey
Protein (per serving): 26g
Sugars (per serving): >1g
Fat/serving (per serving): >1g
Calories (per serving): 108 kcal
Reasons to buy
+Very high protein content+Low fat
Reasons to avoid
-Two flavours only

Each 30-gram serving of the bulk Pure Whey Isolate delivers 26 grams of protein and only miniscule amounts of sugar and fat, making it the No.1 choice for people who tend to meticulously plan their meals. 

According to bulk, Pure Whey Isolate uses "premium whey protein isolate sourced from European, grass-fed dairy cows" so one would hope it's decent quality. The milk and therefore the protein powder is also said to be free from hormones, antibiotics and genetic modification.

The product is sweetened with Sucralose as opposed to Stevia so if you're opposed to the taste of the latter, you can rest assured the Pure Whey Isolate doesn't have any funny aftertaste. At least not more than your average protein powder.

best protein powder: Foodspring Whey Protein PowderT3 Award

(Image credit: Foodspring)

2. Foodspring Whey Protein Powder

Happy cows = great protein (evidently)

Type: Whey
Protein (per serving): 24g
Sugars (per serving): 1.3g
Fat/serving (per serving): 1.1g
Calories (per serving): 112 kcal
Reasons to buy
+Mixes really well+Whey sourced from grass-fed cows+Interesting flavours+Good amino acid profile
Reasons to avoid
-Premium price tag

Two details set the Foodspring protein powder apart from the competition: protein source and composition. Foodspring claims that all whey protein included in this product is from cows that spent at least 90% of their time outside and free to graze the pastures of New Zealand. This obviously makes the Foodspring Whey Protein more sustainable and quite frankly, a better product overall than most of the powders available on the market today.

Secondly, the Foodspring Whey Protein mixes really well, even with water, so no need to invest in the most elaborate protein shakers in order to get an end-product that is not just slightly flavoured liquid sprinkled with little clumps of protein powder. This might not mean much to some but for people who consume protein shakes on a daily basis, an powder that dissolves easily is heaven-sent.

Naturally, the Foodspring Whey Protein has a pretty good macronutrient profile: each 30-gram serving packs 24 grams of protein and only just over 1 gram of sugar and fat (1.3 and 1.1 gram, respectively). The powder is sweetened with Stevia so there is no funny aftertaste either, another positive in out books!

Much like any other premium protein, the Foodspring Whey protein comes in relatively small containers and carries a large price tag: you will have to pay the premium price for the quality ingredients. The larger container is 750 grams and if you take two servings today, you'll consume the whole tub in less then a fortnight. For this reason, the Foodspring Whey Protein is recommended more for maintaining muscle mass/dieting purposes as opposed to body building. For those people, this protein is an excellent choice.

best protein powder: Organic Protein Company Whey ProteinT3 Award

(Image credit: Organic Protein Company Whey Protein)

3. Organic Protein Company Whey Protein

No nasties here

Type: Whey
Protein per serving: 19.8 grams
Sugar per serving: 0.6 grams
Fat per serving: 1.3 grams
Reasons to buy
+Organic goodness+High in protein
Reasons to avoid
-Froths up quite a lot

The Organic Protein Company Whey Protein is a good example of why organic supplements have more benefits than just being healthier than their regular counterparts. Sure, the protein used in the Organic Protein Company Whey Protein is derived from grass-fed cows and contains no additives, but it also delivers on texture, micronutrients and – most importantly – protein content.

Each 25-gram serving of the Organic Protein Company Whey Protein contains just under 20 grams of protein and only 0.6/1.3 grams of sugar and fat, respectively. This powder also mixes well and can be used with either milk or water; or you can just go crazy and use it with porridge or even savoury stuff (the unflavoured variety is best for this purpose).

Talking about flavour, the Organic Protein Company just came out with a brand new flavour to accompany the more traditional vanilla and chocolate varieties: strawberry, elderberry and beetroot. The new flavour is hopefully first of many upcoming exciting varieties, but if you excuse me, I must go now to have my third serving of strawberry, elderberry and beetroot protein today.

The Organic Protein Company Whey Protein contains all the essential and branched chain amino acids you need for muscle building and repair and it is also hormone free, gluten free, soya free and GMO free.

The downside? It costs twice as much as your run-of-the-mill whey protein. £22 for a 400-gram bag is definitely not cheap but in return, you can rest assured you don't pump your body full of chemicals, preservatives and unnatural additives.

best protein powder: USN Blue Lab 100% WheyT3 Award

4. USN Blue Lab 100% Whey

The best tasting whey by far

Type: Whey
Protein per serving: 26g
Sugars: 1.6g
Fat: 1.9g
Reasons to buy
+Great taste+Mixes well+Packed with amino acids
Reasons to avoid
-Not suitable for vegans-Expensive 

The caramel chocolate flavour tested here is by far one of the most convincing flavours where whey protein is concerned and, thankfully, it lacks that nasty chemical taste that other cheaper rivals seem to possess.

It blends extremely well with water and is specifically engineered for some of the most demanding athletes on the planet, meaning it contains quality ingredients and shuns much of the chemical bulk found in rival powders.

An impressive 26g of protein in a single scoop should be enough to suit most needs, but we found ourselves opting for a second portion just to thicken up the drink a little and add some punch to the flavour.

Easy to guzzle, packed with important amino acids and incredibly low in fat and sugar content, this is our pick of the whey bunch for quick and effective results.

best protein powder: Dioxyme Grass-fed Ultra Whey ProteinT3 Award

(Image credit: Dioxyme)

5. Dioxyme Grass-fed Ultra Whey Protein

Quality protein for quality muscle builders

Type: Whey
Protein (per serving): 27g
Sugars (per serving): 3g
Fat/serving (per serving): 0.7g
Calories (per serving): 135 kcal
Reasons to buy
+Choke-full of BCAAs and EAAs+Intense flavour+Mixes well+High protein content+Keto, paleo and eco friendly
Reasons to avoid
-Definitely not the cheapest

One imagines the product designers at Dioxyme as scientists and doctors in white lab coats, mixing different ingredients in vials, holding them up in the light to see how well they mixed. This is because every detail of Dioxyme products seem to be engineered to perfection: the ingredients, the nutritional profile, the taste, all working together in perfect harmony.

A good example of this tinkering is the Dioxyme Grass-fed Ultra Whey Protein. It is full of the best quality ingredients you might want to include in your dream protein powder, not to mention it just tastes great. Even if only mixed with water, the Dioxyme Grass-fed Ultra Whey Protein will have a phenomenal, rich taste that satisfies the taste buds with every gulp.

The Dioxyme Grass-fed Ultra Whey Protein is a combination of whey isolate 93 and whey concentrate 80: these take up 80% of the mix. The sweetener is organic stevia but even the rest of the ingredients are either non-GMO or organic. Definitely no nasties here. 

Each 38-gram serving contains 27 grams of protein, 3 grams of sugar and less than 1 gram of fat. The amino acid profile is also impressive: there is no less than 18 different amino acids crammed into this products. All protein is sourced grass-fed cows and the product itself is paleo-, keto- and eco-friendly too; or so does Dioxyme claims.

A slight criticism – and the only one we can offer – is that although Dioxyme ships to the UK, you will need to pay custom tax which will be added to your total. Considering that the product is not cheap as it is, this might put some people off. If you are in the US, we strongly recommend upgrading your protein game and switching to Dioxyme, going forward.

best protein powder: Naked Whey ProteinT3 Award

(Image credit: Naked Nutrition)

6. Naked Nutrition Whey Protein

Clean gains

Type: Whey
Protein (per serving): 25 grams
Sugar (per serving): 2 grams
Fat (per serving): 2 grams
Calories (per serving): 120 kcal
Reasons to buy
+As clean as it gets+GMO, soy and gluten free+No hormones, rBGH or rBST
Reasons to avoid
-You have to flavour the protein shake yourself

You should supply your body with protein from a variety of sources but let's face it, you will have at least a protein shake or two a day. If that's the case, you might as well keep these muscle-building drinks as clean as possible. You don't want to ruin your gains with cheap protein powders, choke-full of hormones and additives.

Naked Nutrition's whey protein is as clean as it gets. In fact, this protein powder has only one ingredient and that is whey protein, sourced from grass-fed cows from small dairy farms in California, according to Naked Nutrition. We haven't been invited to check out the farms themselves so we have to take the manufacturer's word for it.

Some basic stats about the Naked Whey protein: it's GMO, soy, gluten and hormone free plus there are no rBGH or rBST present in the product either. It is also cold processed through an acid and bleach-free operation to make sure the final product is pure as snow. Not the snorty variety, though.

One serving of this magic powder (again, not the one that makes you over-excited) has 25 grams of protein and only 2 grams of sugar and fat (each). The only downside of Naked Whey is that you will have to flavour your shakes yourself or go for the 'Less Naked' version which has a bit more sugar in it.

The same unflavoured nature makes the Naked Whey ideal for cooking: protein pancakes, homemade protein balls and fruit shakes will all be cleaner using the Naked Whey protein powder.

Just for the record, Naked Nutrition has a vegan protein powder too called Naked Pea, which is cheaper and contains – you guessed it – pea protein. Actually, the Naked Pea has more protein content than the whey version: there is 27 grams of protein in each 30-gram serving. Not bad.

best protein powder: ON Gold Standard 100% WheyT3 Award

7. ON Gold Standard 100% Whey

Old school whey protein favoured by athletes

Type: Whey
Protein per serving: 24g
Sugars: 1.2g
Fat: 1.1g
Reasons to buy
+Widely used by pro athletes+Packed with amino acids+Good quality protein
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks flavour

Optimum Nutrition is trusted by plenty of professional athletes around the world and its Gold Standard whey sits at the very top of its range.

With 24g of protein and 5.5g of BCAAs, it delivers a hefty dose of muscle-building nutrients with each scoop, although it's not exactly the most delicious thing to get down your gullet.

It mixes easily with water but the chocolate flavour does a mediocre job of representing a sweet treat. However, there are 17 flavours to choose from, so it's likely some are better than others.

best protein powder: SF Nutrition Lean Whey ProteinT3 Award

(Image credit: SF Nutrition)

8. SF Nutrition Lean Whey Protein

Lean AF

Type: Whey
Protein per serving: 21 grams
Carbs (sugar) per serving: 2.5 (0.7) grams
Fat per serving: 2.2 grams
Reasons to buy
+Subtly-sweet+Whey from grass-fed cows+No artificial sweeteners, no artificial flavours or no added sugar
Reasons to avoid
-Not cheap

SF Nutrition's Lean Whey Protein is not organic, nor is it vegan, but it is definitely worth your attention. The SF Nutrition Lean Whey Protein is one of the most naturally-tasting protein powder I had the pleasure to test and it's refreshing not to be offered a bazillion different flavours when it comes to buying a bag of protein. Let's face it, even the wackiest of flavours will taste boring by the time you finished that 2.5 kilo bag.

The tested flavour – Dark Chocolate – peaked my interest as I'm a big fan of fatty, high-cocoa chocolate (yet to try Montezuma's Absolute Black) so I was curious if the SF Nutrition powder delivered something that tasted similar than those type of sweets (in this case, bitters). And although it didn't quite taste like that, I must admit it's a relief as I'm not sure if I could stomach a bitter-tasting protein powder.

As for flavour, the SF Nutrition Lean Whey Protein is closer to how cocoa powder tastes like: subtle, ever so slight sweet twang and a bit of an earthiness, but not even remotely as earthy and gritty as meal replacement powders. It also has a decent amount of protein in each serving (21 grams) which is not crazy high but definitely good enough for a lean protein.

I recommend mixing a scoop with some Greek yogurt and mixing it with a spoon; the result will be a mousse-style dessert that's not too sweet but has plenty of carbs in it for a pre- or post-workout snack. 

best protein powder: Bio-Synergy Whey BetterT3 Award

9. Bio-Synergy Whey Better

Low fat, low sugar, admittedly rubbish name

Type: Whey
Protein per serving: 27.2g
Sugars: Trace
Fat: Trace
Reasons to buy
+Low in sugar and fats+High protein
Reasons to avoid
-Not a great taste

Unlike the previously mentioned product from Norvia, the awkwardly named Whey Better range from Bio-Synergy strips away any sign of fat and sugar for one of the cleanest protein drinks around.

The chocolate flavour isn't particularly convincing and tastes pretty thin when mixed with water, while the ingredients list can look a little scary for those averse to chemical-sounding additives in their drinks.

Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamin Hydrochloride and the tongue-twisting Cyanocobalamin are all forms of additional vitamins and minerals, but the ingredients list makes the more plant-derived products more approachable on paper. 

Best protein powders (vegan)

best protein powder: Huel Complete ProteinT3 Best Buy Award badge

(Image credit: Huel)

1. Huel Complete Protein

The best vegan protein in town

Type: Plant-based
Protein/serving: 20 grams
Carbs/serving: 3 grams
Fat/serving: 1.4 grams
Calories/serving: 105 kcal
Reasons to buy
+Tastes great+Jam-packed with EAAs and BCAAs+High protein content
Reasons to avoid
-Not quite as smooth as whey protein

The Huel Complete Protein is a bit different from the rest of the vegan protein lot. For one, its macro- and micronutrient stats are on point and it contains 20 grams of protein, 9 grams of EAAs and 5 grams of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) per a 105 calorie serving. It also tastes rather pleasant for a protein powder that's not whey.

Sure, it’s a bit sludgy and has a slight vegan twang to it, but overall, it’s pretty enjoyable to drink. Just a note, especially for people like me who like to mix their protein powder with only a small amount of water: you might want to add a bit more water to the Huel Complete Protein so it doesn't get too congealed to a level when it wouldn't come out of the shaker. Adding over 200 ml of water should do the trick but feel free to experiment to find the best protein shake consistency for you. Or go crazy like me and mix it with Greek yoghurt to recreate The Mountain's dinner. Your call.

In addition to all that, the Complete Protein a “nutritionally complete” plant-based protein powder, meaning it contains all 26 essential vitamins and minerals, as well as being a source of fibre, carbs and fats. This powder truly is the protein powder version of 'standard' Huel, a leaner, less calorific option for those who don't necessarily want to replace a meal with Huel but would still like to enjoy the benefits of it.

For those of you who are planning on packing on weight, we recommend the Huel Black Edition.

best protein powder: The Protein Works Vegan WondershakeT3 Award

(Image credit: The Protein Works)

2. The Protein Works Vegan Wondershake

Vegan wonder for plant-based gains

Type: Plant-based
Protein/serving: 21 grams
Carbs/serving: 1.3 grams
Fat/serving: 0.7 grams
Calories/serving: 89 kcal
Reasons to buy
+Virtually no sugar content+Lean+Lots of exciting flavours
Reasons to avoid
-Texture could be even smoother

Vegan protein powders have come a long way and if you are a lifter with a plant-based diet, you can choose from many products in this day and age since all the major supplement manufacturers have at least one vegan protein powder to their repertoire.

Given the higher calorie amount found in The Protein Works' Vegan Wondershake, it can be added to our best weight gainer list too, but for the time being, we'll just leave it here.

The Vegan Wondershake has it all that made Vegan Protein Extreme great: it's high in protein (85%), low on sugar, virtually fat free and above all, has an acceptable taste.

Not just acceptable: it actually tastes good, especially in comparison to some other popular vegan meal replacement products. It is not recommended for weight loss, though, due to the high calorie content but if you are exercising more vigorously, definitely give the Vegan Wondershake a try.

best protein powder: Form Performance proteinT3 Award

3. Form Performance Protein

A tasty, high protein vegan option

Type: Plant-based
Protein/serving: 30 grams
Sugars/serving: 0.1 grams
Fat/serving: 2.9 grams
Reasons to buy
+Amazing taste and texture+Plant-based protein +Added probiotics 
Reasons to avoid
-Comparatively high fat content

As protein supplements go, we will stick our neck on the line and say the chocolate peanut offering from Form is genuinely enjoyable to drink, boasting a texture and flavour that isn't far off a proper milkshake.

It's also completely vegan-friendly, gluten-free and is derived 100 per cent from plant-based products, meaning there is a pleasing lack of chemicals on the ingredients list.

In fact, a single serving packs a whopping 30g of protein from brown rice, Algavia and hemp, with Stevia and Thaumatin sweeteners and natural flavours used to make the experience enjoyable.

Each serving also contains a complete amino acid profile and additional probiotics to help boost the immune system of anyone working hard in the gym or out on the field.

Blend it with water and it's enjoyable. Mix it with almond milk or another dairy-free alternative, throw in a banana and you have a genuinely tasty treat that's delivering a hefty dose of protein with every gulp. 

best protein powder: My Protein Vegan Protein BlendT3 Award

(Image credit: My Protein)

4. My Protein Vegan Protein Blend

Vegan blend fully loaded with BCAAs

Type: Plant-based
Protein/serving: 24g
Sugars/serving: N/A
Fat/serving: 0.3g
Calories/serving: 102 kcal
Reasons to buy
+Chilli Chocolate flavour!+Low on carbs and fats+Virtually no sugar
Reasons to avoid
-Only two flavours

The My Protein Vegan Protein Blend is crazy low on carbs – only 0.5 gram per serving – and has no sugar in it, at all. Like, zero amount. If you are looking for a clean protein powder, whether whey or vegan, the My Protein Vegan Protein Blend won't disappoint.

The Vegan Protein Blend is a blend of pea and fava bean protein isolates, in case you were wondering. It comes in two flavours, your everyday strawberry and the more adventurous chilli chocolate.

Not to mention, the My Protein Vegan Protein Blend only contains 102 calories per serving, but still packs 5 grams of naturally occurring BCAAs. Not bad at all.

best vegan protein: The Plant EraT3 Award

(Image credit: The Plant Era)

5. The Plant Era

One thicc organic vegan shake

Type: Plant-based
Protein/serving: 21g
Sugars/serving: 0.2g
Fat/serving: 2.2g
Calories/serving: 119 kcal
Reasons to buy
+High in protein+One serving covers half of your daily B12 vitamin needs+Virtually no sugar
Reasons to avoid
-Plant based flavour might put some people off

To some degree, it's crazy to think that in 2020, plant-based protein powders can provide the same macro composition as their whey counterparts. On the other hand, given how popular the vegan diet is, it's really no wonder so many great vegan protein alternatives are available to buy.

One great example of this is the organic vegan protein mix from The Plant Era. Probably the best thing about it is just how thick it gets, even when just mixed with water: it feels more like a meal than a shake, excellent for bringing satiety levels down without succumbing to snacking.

As well as being thick, the The Plant Era organic protein also has the right macro numbers: each 30-gram serving has 21 grams of protein, only 2.2 grams of fat and virtually no sugar plus it also covers 50% of your daily B12 vitamin needs. The Plant Era protein also contains all 20 amino acids (essential and non-essential) to enhance your recovery and health.

The flavours are interesting too: there is dark chocolate and my favourite strawberry & basil to choose from. Granted, the flavours are not super strong and there is plenty of 'plant-based' flavour present, which is something you might be familiar with if you ever tried meal replacement powders before. The Plant Era organic protein is not as gritty as those but most certainly has an earthy flavour to it.

That aside, there really isn't a reason why you shouldn't try The Plant Era organic protein, even if you don't take vegan protein most usually. A little variety always helps.

best protein powder: Vega Clean ProteinT3 Award

6. Vega Clean Protein

Not the tastiest but, as the name suggests, super clean

Type: Plant-based
Protein per serving: 25g
Sugars: 0.2g
Fat: 2.3g
Reasons to buy
+Low in sugar+Natural ingredients+Easy to digest
Reasons to avoid
-Weak taste

Made from pea, hemp, alfalfa and pumpkin, the Vega Clean Protein really does live up to its name, while a distinct lack of sugar and fat make it one of the healthiest choices to go for.

Unfortunately, there is a hefty compromise on texture and taste, with the chocolate flavour tested here not really doing much for these tastebuds.

It requires a more vigorous mix than some of the other powders featured on this list but we did find it one of the easiest on the stomach, perhaps thanks to an additional digestive enzyme derived from pineapple.

Best protein powder: man on bench holding new Huel shaker bottle

(Image credit: Huel)

What you need to know about protein powder

There is a saying in gym-circles that goes like this: abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen. This is true not only for abs, but most of your other muscles too. To build lean muscle mass, you have to take protein, ideally sourced from a variety off whole foods. And workout with the best dumbbells, best barbells and best kettlebells. Obviously. 

Good sources of protein include lean meats such as chicken breast and lean steak, fatty fish like salmon, nuts, seeds (e.g. flaxseed, hemp seed), eggs and more. To aid muscle recovery and therefore gains, you will need to supply your body with protein on a regular basis, since we haven't got protein reserves.

What is the right amount of protein is a constant source of debate among professionals but the general consensus at the moment states that you'll need to take anything between 1.8-2.2 grams of protein per body kilogram per day if you do rigorous training. 

Navigating the minefield of protein shake terminology can be a nightmare, as there are numerous types that all work differently and each is designed to be used at different times of day.

Whey and casein are two of the most common protein types, with the latter acting as a slow release protein that is usually taken before bed and assists the body in repairing and building muscle during rest.

Whey protein is by far the most popular fast-acting choice and can be taken at any time of day to meet your protein requirements. It's usually fashioned from a dairy derivative but many vegan plant-based options are now widely available.

When looking to invest, make sure you spend some time studying the nutritional information on the tub. Steer clear of added sugar, emulsifiers, chemical sweeteners and other nasties that are often included in cheaper products to bulk them out.

How to use protein powder

There are lots of contradicting schools of thought surrounding the optimum time of day to quaff a shake, but most agree that post-workout is a great time to get a shot of whey protein into the system.

The least calorific way to prepare a protein shake is to blend the powder with cold water in a shaker or blender, which typically leads to a thinner consistency and weaker flavour, but contains almost zero fat.

Of course, you can blend with cow's milk or vegan alternatives, bung in some peanut butter, a dollop of chocolate ice cream, a handful of cherries and whizz it into a blender for a truly opulent treat, but the waistline probably isn't going to thank you for it.

Either way, we recommend using a protein shake blender to achieve maximum consistency. You can just use a regular blender but these were designed for chopping ingredients as opposed to mixing them, resulting in a coarser shake. 

There are also lots of online resources for those who wish to get creative and sprinkle some protein powder into their bakes and culinary creations, but we'd advise sticking to cold water and downing the stuff for the quickest and most convenient results.  

Have one for breakfast, take it at lunch or drink before going to bed to top up the protein in your diet, but ensure you stick to the recommended daily allowance and don't overdo it.

Excessive protein intake can put additional strain on your kidneys and liver, which have to work harder to process the surplus nutrients.

How bad is protein powder for you?

Whey protein is not bad for anyone, as long as it is used correctly. Protein powders have a high 'bioavailability', meaning that the protein found in them can be absorbed very quickly. Having protein powder as the only source of protein is a bad idea for sure, but having a shake a day when your body needs protein the most – after workouts – can help muscle protein synthesis, a.k.a. gains.