All protein powders are definitely not created equal. Between actual nutritional content, added ingredients, potential contaminants, and the all-important flavor profile, finding the perfect post-workout protein powder can be a minefield.
After my coach and a nutritionist told me I needed an extra serving of protein in my diet, I went on the hunt for my perfect protein powder. Hundreds of studies have expounded the virtues of whey — the traditional powerhouse protein option — for its amino acid profile. And science doesn’t lie.
But fear not: Even if you’re vegan or simply can’t stomach a protein shake, there are alternatives that work. As an avid triathlete and certified cycling coach, I’ve tried and tasted each of the following options. And this list includes a favorite for every type of athlete.
The Best Protein Powders
Best Whey Protein: Isopure Low Carb Protein Powder
The Dutch chocolate flavor of Isopure Low Carb Protein Powder ($69) has one of the most true-to-chocolate-milk tastes I’ve tried in a protein powder. Sipping it after a brutal training session actually feels indulgent instead of cringe-inducing.
After surveying every pro athlete I know, including recently retired mountain biker Amanda Batty, this flavor won best-tasting. And no, she’s not sponsored! A single scoop provides 25 g of protein, along with added vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, E, B12, and K; magnesium; zinc; selenium; and biotin.Check Price at Amazon
Best Single-Serving Protein: MTN OPS Ammo Trail Packets
MTN OPS is a big name in the world of mountain hunting and mountaineering, and their wide variety of meal, energy, and pre- and post-workout options is well-loved by the athletic community. As are these single-serving packets of their whey protein meal replacement.
For $50, you get 20 servings that can survive in your car, your backpack, and your pantry. The trail packs come in fewer flavors than regular Ammo — which needs to be refrigerated — but the ease of access, versatility, and pocket-stashing size of these packs is worth a try. The powder itself has a five-star rating with more than 230 reviews. Not too shabby.Check Price at MTN OPS
Best Protein for Smoothies: Bob’s Red Mill Whey Protein Concentrate
Another unflavored option, Bob’s Red Mill Whey Protein Concentrate ($64) is perfect for blending a smoothie without creating odd flavor mashups. It’s actually a top-secret favorite among many pro athletes who use it instead of their sponsor-correct ones!
Mixed with dark chocolate almond milk, a scoop of peanut butter, and half of a frozen banana, you basically get a milkshake for your workout recovery. With zero added flavor, color, or sweetener, this is about as basic as it gets.Check Price at Amazon
Best CBD Protein: Floyd’s of Leadville CBD Isolate Recovery Protein
The health and wellness mainstage has embraced CBD as a champion inflammation-fighting compound. And Floyd’s of Leadville combined it with the brand’s whey protein powder to create a tasty protein shake ($3-30). It provides 25 mg of CBD atop 27 g of protein in post-workout muscle recovery and anti-inflammation.
Mixed with water, it’s thick enough to resemble chocolate milk and tastes like it, too, thanks to organic raw cacao flavoring the whey isolate. It’s also one of the few protein powders that use organic evaporated cane juice as a sweetener versus artificial sweeteners or no-cal options like stevia. But the taste benefits from a carb count of only 10 g.Check Price at Floyd’s of Leadville
Best Vegan Protein: Vega Protein & Greens Chocolate
Mix in greens with your vegan protein thanks to Vega’s reasonably tasty blend ($29). It’s a bit more grassy (thanks in part to the greens) compared to the other options here. But it tastes just fine when blended into a fruit smoothie. As an athlete who has tried a lot of vegan options over the years, I still choose Vega as my go-to.
And unlike most vegan proteins, Vega’s is soy-free! It relies instead on non-GMO pea protein, brown rice protein, and sacha inchi protein to offer up 20 g per serving. The greens include organic alfalfa powder, spinach powder, broccoli powder, and organic kale powder. And stevia sweetens the whole mixture.Check Price at Amazon
Best Protein for Coffee: Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides
Unlike whey protein — which you should not dissolve in hot water — collagen is meant to be dissolved in heated liquids like coffee or even stirred into oatmeal. The unflavored version of Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides ($46) stays true to its marketing and is completely undetectable when mixed into a cup of coffee.
For the adventurous, however, the vanilla version adds a bit of flair to an otherwise basic black coffee (a dash of cinnamon makes it even better!). The unflavored version has one ingredient: collagen from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows. And it provides 20 g of protein with nothing else. It’s basically the easiest way of boosting your protein intake without noticing.Check Price at Amazon
Best Pre-Mixed Protein Shake: CLIF Protein Recovery
After workouts, when you can’t make a shake but need carbs to boost you through the next session and protein to satiate hungry muscles, CLIF Protein Recovery ($25) essentially acts like a shelf-stable glass of chocolate milk. It also has essential electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. As someone who’s spent a lot of time in the pro racing scene, CLIF Protein Recovery is one of the only sports nutrition products I’ve seen racers buy — even when they weren’t sponsored!Check Price at Amazon
Best Animal-Based Protein: Wilderness Athlete Paleo(ish) Beef Protein
The folks at Wilderness Athlete derive this Paleo-ish protein from grass-fed beef ($40), and it’s sweetened with Stevia. The build of this protein makes it friendly for the Keto aficionado, low-carb followers, and other diet-focused folks.
It has a 4.5-star review, but it’s currently only available in the Carnivore Cocoa flavor. Reviewers say this is easier on the stomach than other proteins and the taste is well-loved. With only 15 servings, this is a bit more expensive than some of the other listed products. But for folks with sensitive stomachs, it might be worth the additional cash.Check Price at Wilderness Athlete
Molly Hurford is a coach and journalist in love with all things cycling, running, yoga, nutrition, and all else movement-related. She’s a USA Cycling and PMBI-certified coach and a registered yoga teacher with the Yoga Alliance. She races cyclocross, road, and mountain bikes, and triathlons from sprint distance to Ironman. and running races from 5Ks to 50Ks in the mountains.
Molly is obsessed with getting more women psyched on adventure and wellness, and hosts talks and coaches clinics and camps for cyclists. She’s also the author of multiple books on cycling and nutrition, runs TheOutdoorEdit.com, and co-hosts The Consummate Athlete Podcast. Her most recent project, Shred Girls, is a young adult fiction series focused on getting girls excited about bikes.