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Protein powders have become a staple in the nutritional regimens of competitive athletes and recreational gym-goers alike.

These products serve as a convenient and high quality source of protein. Yet, with seemingly endless options to choose from, you may wonder which is best for building muscle.

The products in this list were selected based on the following criteria:

  • Quality. The product is formulated with high quality ingredients and free of unnecessary fillers.
  • Taste. The product offers a variety of flavors to suit different preferences.
  • Price. The quality of the product aligns with the cost.
  • Manufacturing standards. Companies adhere to current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) as determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They may also utilize third-party testing.

Here are 10 of the best protein powders to build muscle in 2021.

Best whey protein option

Legion Whey Plus

Price: $$$

Legion Whey Plus is a whey isolate produced with milk from small dairy farms in Ireland.

Whey isolate is over 90% protein by weight and relatively low in lactose, whereas whey concentrate contains 25–89% protein, plus more lactose (1, 2).

Legion Whey Plus lists all ingredients on the label and doesn’t use fillers. In addition, it’s third-party tested by Labdoor and cGMP-certified, ensuring that it’s free of banned substances and contaminants.

This product comes in 11 flavors, as well as an unflavored option.
One scoop (28.9 grams) provides:

Calories100
Protein22 grams
Fat0 grams
Carbs3 grams

Best casein protein option

Ascent Native Fuel Micellar Casein

Price: $$$

Ascent Native Fuel Micellar Casein is a high quality protein powder that claims to use only natural ingredients.

Casein comprises 80% of the protein in milk, whereas whey makes up around 20%. Your body digests casein significantly more slowly than whey due to its protein composition, so people tend to take it before bed for sustained protein digestion throughout the night (3, 4).

Notably, Ascent processes grade A milk in the company’s own facilities to turn it into protein powder, whereas most manufacturers buy preprocessed protein.

In addition, this product is third-party tested by Informed Sport to ensure suitability for athletes and recreational gym-goers.

It comes in three flavors — chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, and vanilla bean.

One scoop (36 grams) provides:

Calories120
Protein25 grams
Fat1 gram
Carbs5 grams

Best vegan protein option

PlantFusion Complete Plant-Based Protein Powder

Price: $$$

If you’re vegan, it may be challenging to meet your daily protein needs. One way to get enough is to include a plant-based protein powder in your diet.

Although vegan protein powders were initially criticized as flavorless, their palatability has improved significantly in recent years.

PlantFusion Complete Plant-Based Protein Powder is highly rated for quality and taste. It blends vegan proteins, including pea, quinoa, and algae, with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) to make a complete protein.

BCAAs comprise the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which are the only amino acids that can be broken down within your skeletal muscle (5).

In addition, PlantFusion Complete Plant-Based Protein Powder includes enzymes to aid digestion and is free of major allergens like dairy, soy, and gluten. It comes in four flavors (6, 7).

Lastly, it’s organic, produced in a cGMP facility, and third-party certified by NSF International.

One scoop (30 grams) provides:

Calories120
Protein21 grams
Fat3 grams
Carbs2 grams

Best grass-fed protein option

Garden of Life Sport Grass-Fed Organic Whey Protein

Price: $$$

Garden of Life sources its whey protein for this product from Truly Grass Fed, an animal welfare-friendly and 95% grass-fed dairy farm in Ireland.

Grass-fed dairy has been shown to be higher in certain beneficial nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), than conventional dairy (8).

Garden of Life Sport Grass-Fed Whey is certified organic, free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and carries two third-party verifications from NSF International and Informed Choice to ensure that it’s free of banned substances.

Moreover, it packs 2 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of probiotics to promote gut and immune health (9, 10).

It comes in traditional chocolate and vanilla flavors with no artificial flavors.

One scoop (32 grams) provides:

Calories120
Fat0.5 grams
Protein24 grams
Carbs6 grams

Best budget-friendly protein option

NutriCost Whey Protein Concentrate

Price: $

NutriCost Whey Protein Concentrate is a no-frills protein powder that provides the muscle-boosting benefits of whey protein for cheap.

Its minimal ingredient list includes whey protein concentrate, natural flavorings, sodium chloride (salt), sucralose, and acesulfame potassium.

What’s more, this product is produced in a cGMP-certified facility and third-party tested by Analytical Research Laboratories to ensure safety for athletes.

It comes in unflavored, as well as vanilla, chocolate, and chocolate peanut butter, varieties.

One scoop (32 grams) provides:

Calories130
Protein25 grams
Fat2.5 grams
Carbs2 grams

Best tasting protein option

Ghost Whey Protein

Price: $$$

To make unique flavors, Ghost partners with popular brands like Chips Ahoy and Nutter Butter to include cookie pieces in some of their protein powders. The company offers eight flavors in total.

Using a blend of whey isolate and whey concentrate, Ghost supplies the amino acids your body needs. Additionally, this product boasts a blend of digestive enzymes to aid digestion (11, 12, 13).

Ghost Whey Protein is produced in a cGMP-certified facility and third-party tested by NSF International to confirm ingredient safety.

One scoop (34.5 grams) provides:

Calories130
Protein25 grams
Fat1.5 grams
Carbs4 grams

Best low carb protein option

Isopure Low Carb Carb Whey Isolate

Price: $$$

Some people limit their carb intake based on their workout and macronutrient goals.

Isopure Low Carb Whey Isolate provides the same high quality whey protein isolate as other protein powders without the added carbs.

What’s more, it’s produced in a cGMP-certified facility and free of lactose and gluten. It also comes in numerous flavors.

One scoop (33 grams) provides:

Calories100
Protein25 grams
Fat0.5 grams
Carbs1 gram

Best egg white protein option

NOW Sports Egg White Protein

Price: $$

While whey remains the most common type of protein powder, other high quality types exist — one of which is egg white protein powder.

NOW Sports Egg White Protein provides an excellent alternative for people who avoid dairy products. It’s third-party tested by Informed Choice and Informed Sport, ensuring high quality ingredients that are free of banned substances.

That said, its limited flavors — chocolate and vanilla, in addition to unflavored — may leave something to be desired.

One scoop (28 grams) provides:

Calories110
Protein20 grams
Fat0.5 grams
Carbs4 grams

Best unflavored protein option

Naked Whey

Price: $$

While some people enjoy flavored protein powders, others prefer unflavored ones that can be added to foods and beverages without imparting a taste.

Naked Whey fits this bill perfectly with its single ingredient — whey protein concentrate.

This protein powder is sourced from Rumiano Cheese, a California-based company whose products come from cows that have been pastured more than 300 days per year and over 19 hours per day.

In addition, Naked Whey is third-party tested by Informed Choice.
One scoop (30 grams) provides:

Calories120
Fat2 grams
Protein25 grams
Carbs3 grams

Best protein option for weight gain

Core Nutritionals Grow

Price: $$$$

To gain weight, you have to consume more calories than you expend on a regular basis.

For those who struggle to get enough calories, supplements called mass gainers contain additional calories on top of a standard dose of protein.

Core Nutritionals Grow is a unique mass gainer composed of whole food ingredients like sweet potato, oats, avocado oil, medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, and whey protein concentrate — all in the form of a powder.

It provides an excellent source of protein and calories, which you can consume around workouts or as a snack throughout the day.

Core Nutritionals Grow is produced in a cGMP-certified facility and free of maltodextrin and other fillers, making it a trusted product among fitness professionals. Plus, it packs digestive enzymes and comes in two flavors — Chocolate Bliss and Peanut Butter Pie.

Three scoops (156.7 grams) provides:

Calories597
Protein40 grams
Fat13 grams
Carbs80 grams

Since there are so many protein powders on the market, it can be difficult to determine which is best for building muscle.

Here are a few factors to consider:

  • When will you consume it? Whey is best on either end of a workout, whereas casein is preferable when you desire a sustained release, such as before bedtime.
  • What’s your budget? Protein powders vary greatly in price. Determine your budget, then find options within that range.
  • Does it come in flavors you like? If you have specific taste preferences, do your research to see if a given protein comes in the flavor you want.
  • Does the company use third-party testing? Third-party testing ensures that the product is free of banned substances and harmful contaminants.
  • Is the product manufactured in a cGMP-certified facility? This label ensures adherence to high manufacturing standards set by the FDA.
  • Do you have any dietary restrictions? Some protein powders contain potential allergens or substances you may be sensitive to, so it’s best to read the label carefully before purchasing.
  • Are all ingredients openly listed? Some companies use proprietary blends to hide specific ingredients and amounts used. It’s best to avoid these products due to this lack of transparency.
  • Is it properly dosed? A good rule of thumb is to look for a protein powder with at least 20 grams of protein per serving to promote muscle gains in combination with resistance exercise (14).

Some athletes and recreational gym-goers struggle to meet their protein needs from whole foods alone.

Protein powders provide a high quality source of protein that you can take around workouts or between meals to promote muscle gain.

When shopping for protein powder, focus on the quality, taste, price, and manufacturing standards. For the best options, consider one of the products in the list above.