Healthy Eating

The 6 Healthiest Protein Powders According to an RD

Find out which is best for you and your needs!

By: Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC

Protein powders are a go-to for a range of people — from committed bodybuilders to busy people who are simply trying to live a healthy lifestyle. This protein-rich powder is added to a slew of recipes like smoothies, desserts, and oatmeals, and they can provide a boost of an important amino acid in a simple and convenient way. 

If you are new to the protein powder world and you want to understand which protein powders are the healthiest, read on to learn all you need to know.

RELATED: 6 Signs You’re Not Eating Enough Protein 

Are Protein Powders Healthy?

One stroll down the protein powder aisle at your local health food store, and you will find a sea of options, including vegan-friendly ones, those made from milk-based proteins, and even ones made of cricket (… yep, you heard right). While trying to find the best protein powder for your needs may leave you scratching your head, know that all of them will give your body a boost of this important nutrient that supports muscle growth, satiation, and many other functions. 

Protein powders can certainly be a healthy addition to an overall healthy and balanced diet. Especially for those who have higher protein needs, leaning on protein powders can help people avoid nutritional gaps simply by sprinkling some powder in their food. To make sure the protein powder you are choosing is the safest, ensure your pick is third-party tested, does not include any questionable ingredients that are not FDA approved, and does not contain ingredients that do not agree with you, like caffeine. 

Which Protein Powders Are Best?

If you are in the market for a protein powder and you want to know which variety is best, your first step is to understand that what is “best” for you may not be “best” for someone else. The good news is that among the many protein powder varieties out there, there is a perfect match for people who follow a vegan lifestyle, want to maximize their muscle growth, want to leave a low carbon footprint, or meet the needs of many other goals. 

Among the many protein powder varieties out there, here are some that are worth considering. 

Whey Protein

Whey protein is a protein that comes from milk. So, while it isn’t the “best choice” for people who avoid dairy foods or who don’t tolerate lactose sugar, whey protein offers some unique benefits for everyone else. 

One reason why whey protein is such a popular choice is because it contains all of the branched-chain amino acids, an important feature for bodybuilders and other athletes specifically, as these aminos may support muscle growth and recovery. This protein powder is also so popular because it typically mixes well in liquids, thanks to it being a water-soluble nutrient. Whey protein is digested quickly, making it a nice choice when you need protein ASAP.

Casein Protein

Like whey protein, casein is a milk-based protein and contains the ever-popular branched-chain amino acids. But unlike whey protein, which digests quickly, casein is absorbed more slowly in the body, offering a major satiety factor. Because of the slow digestion, casein is a great choice for long periods without fuel. Some data shows that taking casein before bed may help prevent muscle breakdown. 

Egg Protein

No matter whether you are choosing a whole-egg protein supplement or an egg-white version, egg protein is a high-quality choice that many people lean on. For those who are living a dairy-free lifestyle, egg protein is a nice option and provides all of the essential amino acids while being quickly digested (almost as quickly as whey). 

Soy Protein

Soy protein is made from soybeans, and it is a plant-based choice that is tolerated well by many people. This protein choice does contain branched-chain amino acids, although the quantity is less than dairy and egg-based choices. Taking soy protein has been linked to stimulating muscle growth. 

Hemp Protein

Produced from the hemp plant, this protein contains omega-3 fatty acids, which may help keep chronic inflammation at bay. Plus, this protein naturally contains many amino acids. While it doesn’t naturally contain all of the essential amino acids or the amino acids that your body can’t make, many brands add amino acids into the mix, ultimately making it a complete protein source for people who are trying to eat more plant-based foods.  

Pea Protein

Made from split peas, this plant-based protein contains branched-chain amino acids and is a nice option for those wanting a dairy-free and versatile protein choice. Pea protein absorbs more slowly than whey and may be a positive addition to a weight management diet thanks to the satiety factor this protein provides. 

How to Add Protein Powder To Your Diet

  • Add a scoop to your smoothie 
  • Mix it into baked goods like muffins, breads, and cookies
  • Add it to energy bites or bliss balls
  • Stir or blend it into your coffee or latte
  • Mix it into pancake batter for protein pancakes
  • Use it in chia pudding or overnight oats
  • Mix it into your yogurt bowl or warm breakfast oats

The Best Protein Powder To Meet Your Needs 

These days, you have more protein powder choices at your fingertips than you can likely count. And among the many varieties on our protein powder shelves, the most popular ones — whey, casein, egg, hemp, soy, and pea — can be your best bet, depending on your own personal needs. As long as your protein powder selection meets your dietary goals, you tolerate it well, and it is manufactured by a reputable company that uses third-party testing, you can rest assured that you are getting your protein boost by adding a scoop or two of whichever protein powder you choose into your smoothies, muffin batter, and any other recipe where protein powder belongs.