Protein powders have long been a convenient and often tasty way for people to increase their protein intake.
However, not all protein powders support these goals equally.
Here are the 6 best protein powders for men.
Whey protein is one of the most popular protein products on the market.
It’s a milk-based protein that’s quickly digested and easily absorbed by your body, making it the perfect choice around your workouts.
Whey protein is considered a complete protein, as it contains all nine essential amino acids necessary for optimal health.
It’s particularly high in the amino acid leucine, which turns on processes in your body involved in building muscle (3).
Owing to its high leucine content and quick digestion, whey protein increases muscle protein synthesis — the process by which your muscles grow — more than other types of protein, specifically casein and soy (4).
Dymatize Nutrition makes a great product that packs 25 grams of high-quality whey protein per scoop.
Summary Whey protein digests quickly and is easily absorbed by your body, making it an ideal protein source for your workouts. It also aids fat loss by promoting feelings of fullness and decreasing the loss of lean muscle mass when dieting.
Like whey, casein is a milk-based protein that contains all the essential amino acids your body needs. However, your body digests casein protein much slower than the rapidly digested whey protein.
This is because casein forms curds in your stomach once exposed to stomach acid. These curds are not easily broken apart and take your body much longer to digest and absorb.
While casein protein doesn’t increase muscle protein synthesis to the same extent as whey, the continuous supply of amino acids helps prevent muscle breakdown and supports muscle protein synthesis longer (15).
This makes casein protein particularly useful for promoting muscle growth during fasting, for example before sleep or between meals.
And because aging is associated with a loss of muscle mass, older men may especially benefit from the muscle-preserving effects of casein protein (19).
Here is a quality casein powder by Optimum Nutrition that also provides 60% of your daily calcium needs.
Summary Casein is a complete protein that comes from milk. Your body takes much longer to digest and absorb casein than it does whey. This makes casein beneficial for supporting muscle growth during periods of fasting.
Whey-casein protein blends combine the fast- and slow-digesting properties of whey and casein protein powder.
With a whey-casein blend, you get the best of both worlds: a spike in muscle protein synthesis from the rapidly-absorbed whey and a prolonged decrease in muscle breakdown from the slowly-absorbed casein (20).
In one study, 16 men at rest drank 20 grams of whey protein blend or 20 grams of whey-casein protein blend (21).
The researchers took muscle samples from the men two hours before and several hours after consumption and found no difference between the two groups in muscle protein synthesis, suggesting the blend is just as effective as whey protein when resting.
However, it’s unclear if protein blends are as effective as whey protein for increasing muscle protein synthesis around exercise.
In a ten-week study, 68 men received whey-casein protein blend or an equal amount of casein protein while undergoing lower-body resistance training (22).
Results showed that those consuming the whey-casein blend experienced less muscle fatigue compared to the casein group. Still, no differences in muscle size or strength were detected between the two groups.
The percentage of protein from whey and casein varies between products on the market. More often than not, the whey-casein blends contain more whey than casein.
Summary Whey-casein protein blends contain both whey and casein. Research suggests that they offer the same muscle-building properties as whey or casein protein alone.
Soy protein is one of the most common plant-based protein powders on the market.
While it’s a complete protein, it’s low in a few key amino acids needed for building muscle.
Several studies in men have compared the effects of soy protein to whey or casein for increasing muscle protein synthesis.
Though whey and casein reign superior, soy can still stimulate muscle protein synthesis, making it a good plant-based alternative for men who follow a vegan diet or who don’t consume dairy (23, 24, 25, 26).
However, soy protein contains compounds called phytoestrogens.
These compounds are thought to lower levels of testosterone, leading many men to avoid soy protein for fear that it will compromise their hard work in the gym.
Summary Soy protein is a good plant-based alternative to dairy proteins for increasing muscle protein synthesis. In moderate amounts, soy protein does not appear to decrease testosterone levels in men.
Similar to milk proteins, pea protein contains all essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
However, the milk proteins have a much better amino acid profile for increasing muscle size and strength compared to pea protein (29).
Despite this, pea protein powder is one of the best plant-based alternatives for men who are vegan or have an intolerance or sensitivity to milk proteins.
One 12-week study in 161 men undergoing upper-body resistance training three times per week with a rest day between each session found that pea protein led to similar gains in muscle size and strength as whey protein (29).
These results suggest that pea protein is a good plant-based alternative to milk-based proteins for building muscle size and strength.
Summary For men who follow a vegan diet or don’t tolerate milk proteins, pea protein is a good alternative for increasing muscle size and strength.
Rice protein is another plant-based alternative to milk-based protein.
Despite being low in a few of the essential amino acids, rice protein can still help you build muscle.
In a study in 24 men, researchers examined the effects of rice protein or whey protein on muscle recovery and body composition (30).
The men completed a full-body workout three times a week for eight weeks. Following each exercise session, the men immediately consumed either a rice or a whey protein drink.
At the end of the study, men who consumed the whey protein drink gained 7.04 pounds (3.2 kg) of lean body mass while the men who drank rice protein gained 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg).
The whey protein group also increased their strength more than the rice protein group.
While this study had no placebo group, it does suggest that, while not superior to whey protein, rice protein can still help you gain muscle size and strength.
Summary Rice protein is low in some of the essential amino acids but can still help you gain muscle size and strength.
With the abundance of protein powders on the market, you may be wondering which one is best for you.
If you can tolerate dairy, whey, casein and whey-casein blends are the best options for losing fat and gaining muscle.
However, if you can’t tolerate dairy or if you follow a vegan diet, plant-based proteins like soy, pea and rice are the best protein sources.
For the best results, make sure to consume enough protein throughout the day and exercise at least three times per week.
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