Recently, we put whey protein powders to the test. As registered dietitians, we get asked weekly about our recommendations in protein powder, including whey protein powder and plant-based protein powder. So, for the last 18 months, our team has been evaluating, tasting, and crunching numbers and ingredient lists so we can confidently say that these are the Best Whey Protein Powders out there based on quality, optimum nutrition, dissolubility (how well they dissolve), and taste. Also, see our post on Best Plant Based Protein Powder.
Dietitian-Approved Whey Protein Powder Review
If you’ve ever performed an online search for whey protein powder or stood in the aisles of a nutrition store staring at container after container of protein powder, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. There are just so many options. So how do you know if a protein powder is the right one for you? How do you know if the nutrient amounts and ingredients are of good quality? In this deep-dive analysis to find the Best Whey Protein Powder, we did all of that research for you. We found impressive products full of high-quality, sustainably raised whey. And we sampled whey protein powder blends with whole-food add-ins, digestive enzymes, interesting flavors, antioxidants blends, and more. We also tasted our fair share of whey proteins that fell into the “not-so-impressive” category, with a lot of unnecessary additives, yucky aftertaste, and poorly sourced ingredients. We hope that our months of chugging protein shakes as resident expert taste testers helps you make an informed choice when choosing a protein powder.
Want to skip right to the good part and see which protein powder received our vote for Best Overall? Click here to see the winner
Looking for dietitian-approved recommendations for protein bars? Here we share our favorite protein bars and why we love them.
What is whey protein?
Whey is one of the main, natural proteins found in dairy milk. The other protein is casein protein, in case you were wondering. Whey is typically turned into a powder after it is separated from the rest of dairy milk during the cheese-making process (remember “curds and whey”?). It contains a high amount of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Since whey comes from an animal source, it contains all nine essential amino acids. Whey also tends to blend nicely into liquids, which are a few reasons why it is preferred by many people who want to boost their protein intake. Whey protein supplements are often consumed by adding to smoothies, liquids, and baked goods, such as muffins or energy balls. Whey protein is suitable for vegetarians and is a popular dietary supplement used to support muscle gain, muscle recovery, and reduction of body weight or weight loss (when used in combination with a caloric deficit).
You may associate whey protein with body builders or those focused on sports nutrition or spend hours in the gym resistance training but the truth is, it can be used by anyone looking to meet their daily protein needs in order to improve their overall health and wellness.
Does Whey Protein Powder Contain Lactose?
Whey protein powder is made from milk, so it does contain lactose, but not a significant amount. Comparatively, whey contains a lot less lactose than other dairy foods like milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and ice cream. People with lactose intolerance, a common digestive problem which may cause bloating among other symptoms, may or may not have trouble digesting whey protein. And, depending on how it has been filtered, some whey protein powders contain a little lactose while others have none. For people who lack the digestive enzyme lactase (which breaks down lactose) or who have a sensitivity to lactose, a whey protein isolate is often the best whey choice. For people who are highly sensitive to lactose, and vegans or dairy-free eaters who are seeking a 100% non-lactose protein powder, see our review of the Best Vegan Protein Powders where we share our top picks for powders featuring brown rice and pea protein.
Here are the most common types of whey protein used in protein shake blends:
- Whey concentrate: Contains 80% protein and a small amount of lactose
- Whey isolate: Contains 90% protein and less lactose than whey protein concentrate
- Whey protein hydrolysate: Contains a similar amount of lactose as whey concentrate, but is considered to be a “predigested” (or hydrolyzed) form of whey since it has undergone partial hydrolysis, a process necessary for the body to absorb protein. Whey hydrolysate is digested faster than whey concentrate or whey isolate
Our criteria to find the best Whey protein powder
We considered and discussed at length the following criteria as we created this comprehensive list of our top dietitian-recommended Whey Protein Powder:
- taste – this was criteria number one; if it didn’t taste good, it didn’t make the cut. We tested whey protein powders mixed with just water in a shaker, shaken with dairy and non-dairy milks (such as almond milk), and blended into smoothies
- protein source – we checked to make sure the source and amount of protein in the powders was appropriate and of high quality to supply a variety of essential and non-essential amino acids, and complete protein profiles that weren’t based on soy or pea isolates
- ingredient quality – we favored powders that were made from the whey of grass-fed cows and organic milk (for top nutrition) and those that were sourced responsibly and provided ingredient traceability.
- certifications and 3rd-party testing – when it comes to nutritional powders and other supplements, certifications and verified third-party testing are some of the best ways to ensure the quality, truthfulness, and good manufacturing practices of what’s in the product. That is why we favored whey protein powders that had certifications (ie: certified organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, NSF Certified for Sport, certified gluten-free, etc.) and those that could prove they had undergone 3rd-party lab testing for contaminants such as heavy metals
- efficacy – we checked the calories, amino acid profile, vitamin and mineral profile, carbohydrates (carbs), fats, fiber, probiotic blends, and much more to make sure the numbers and variety of these nutrients was in an appropriate range for how whey protein powders are commonly used
- sweetener – through our sampling of dozens and dozens of whey protein powders, we discovered there are not many blends available that don’t include a sweetener. Most powders are sweetened with stevia or monk fruit (lo han guo) or a combination of those. Sometimes we found the sweetener level to be appropriate, while other times the sweetener was off-putting, overwhelming, or created a gross aftertaste. Read below for our recommendation of best whey protein powder that doesn’t contain any stevia, monk fruit, or artificial sweeteners. We opted not to test those that contained artificial flavors or sweeteners such as Sucralose or aspartame
- price and availability – we made note of the price per serving, as well as how easily someone can purchase each product at a local store or directly online
The 7 best Whey Protein powders
According to The Real Food Dietitians
Here are our recommendations for whey protein powders in six main categories, plus our recommendation for the overall best whey protein powder. Scroll down to read more about why these brands stood out to us so you can find a form of whey protein that is best for you.
Puori PW1 Pasture Raised Whey Protein Powder
Best Overall and Best Without Stevia, Monk Fruit or Artificial Sweeteners: Puori PW1 Whey Protein Powder
In our search for best protein powders, it was off-putting to see just how many products contain an unpleasant aftertaste from stevia leaf, monk fruit, sugar alcohols or other zero-calorie sweeteners. We quickly realized there was a need to track down the best-tasting, highest quality whey protein powder that doesn’t contain stevia, monk fruit, or another natural or artificial sweetener. We were so excited when we tried Puori and loved the taste. This is the best whey protein powder without stevia or other sweeteners and the one we reach for whenever we need to add a boost of protein to a smoothie or recover after workouts.
- About the protein: The protein comes from pasture raised whey protein concentrate. A single scoop (30 g) provides 21 grams of protein and a complete amino acid profile
- Other nutrient highlights: We loved that this clean powder contains just five ingredients, including organic coconut sugar and vanilla seeds
- Certifications: Puori has received Best-in-Class certifications from the Clean Label Project, a national non-profit with the mission to bring truth and transparency to food and consumer product labeling, also GMP quality assured. Knowing that every batch is tested for purity and quality and is free of heavy metals, bisphenols, glyphosate, pesticides, residual solvents, and antibiotics gives us peace of mind
- About the sweetener: The sweetener here is organic coconut sugar, which adds just 1 gram of added sugar (3 grams of total sugar) per serving
- Cost per serving: $1.93 (30 servings per bag)
- Flavors: Bourbon Vanilla, Dark Chocolate
Puori would like to offer you 20% off your order with code PUORIxRFD20
Garden of Life Organic Whey Protein Grass Fed
Best Organic Whey Protein Powder: Garden of Life Organic Whey Protein Grass Fed
We really like Garden of Life because of their standards, ingredient traceability, and high quality protein products. While you can get higher amounts of protein in their sport- and fit-focused powders, we think their regular organic grass-fed whey is appropriate for most people, and it tastes great, too.
- About the protein: The protein comes from the whey of pasture-fed, grass-fed Jersey cows. Two scoops (31 to 40 g) provides 21 grams of protein per serving, including 18 amino acids and 4.7 grams of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)
- Other nutrient highlights: This whey protein also includes 2 billion CFU of probiotics from a bifidobacterium strain for easier digestibility
- Certifications: USDA Organic certified, certified gluten free, kosher, American Humane Certified, and NSF certified (Garden of Life has many gold standard certifications)
- About the sweetener: The flavored versions contain 0 grams of added sugars and are sweetened with organic erythritol and stevia. Garden of Life also has an version of this product that is sweetened with organic cane sugar (no stevia), and it contains 9 grams of added sugar and a light vanilla flavor
- Cost per serving: $2.75 – $3.33 per serving (12 servings per carton)
- Flavors: Vanilla, Chocolate
Best Post-Workout: Ascent Native Fuel Whey
Best Post-Workout Whey Protein Powder: Ascent Native Fuel Whey
Jessica has used Ascent whey for years as her go-to post-workout recovery protein after CrossFit workouts and heavy lifting sessions to help build muscle and recover faster. This powder blends nicely and has great flavor with a very subtle stevia taste and like all of the protein powders we recommend, it contains no banned substances. It blends well with just water in a shaker bottle so it’s an easy way to get that protein in on your way home from the gym to hit that window for optimal muscle protein synthesis (30-60 minutes post workout).
- About the protein: The protein is a mix of whey isolate protein blend and whey protein concentrate. A single scoop (33 g) provides 25 grams of high-quality protein and complete amino acid profile, including 5.7 grams of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and 2.7 grams of leucine for athletes and anyone needing muscle growth and muscle mass building and recovery
- Other nutrient highlights: This is a basic protein powder blend without any unnecessary additions or fillers; we appreciate the simple ingredient list and the high protein concentrate
- Certifications: Certified gluten free and third-party tested by Informed Sport Certified
- About the sweetener: This powder contains 1 grams of added sugar; it is sweetened with stevia. The unflavored version has no added sweeteners
- Cost per serving: $1.55 (27 servings per bag)
- Flavors: Unflavored, Vanilla Bean, Chocolate, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cappuccino, Lemon Sorbet, Unflavored – and seasonal flavors are sometimes available
Best Budget-Friendly: Orgain Clean Whey Protein Powder
Best Budget-Friendly Whey Protein Powder: Orgain Clean Whey Protein Powder
If you’re looking for a high-quality, organic, and grass-fed whey protein for a very reasonable price, this is it. Orgain serves up a complete amino acid profile and a trademarked creamer base for easy, non-clumpy blending into liquids and smoothies.
- About the protein: The protein source is whey protein concentrate from New Zealand. A two-scoop serving (41 g) delivers 21 grams of protein and complete amino acid profile, including 5 grams of branched-chain amino acids
- Other nutrient highlights: This powder contains some prebiotic ingredients and 2 grams of fiber; it contains sunflower lecithin as an emulsifier
- Certifications: Though this product is not USDA Organic certified it contains many organic ingredients, and other products from this brand are USDA Organic certified
- About the sweetener: This whey protein is sweetened with organic erythritol and stevia
- Cost per serving: $1.60 (20 servings per carton)
- Flavors: Vanilla Bean, Creamy Chocolate Fudge
Best for Baking: Simply Tera’s Organic Whey Protein
Best For Baking Whey Protein Powder: Simply Tera’s Organic Whey Protein
We’ve done a lot of baking and recipe testing with whey and plant-based powders used as an ingredient to boost the protein content of muffins, waffles, pancakes, cookies, energy balls, vegan protein bars and more. The ultimate goal is always to have a great-tasting recipe with a higher protein amount and without a chalky aftertaste and overpowering flavor from the protein powder. We have achieved just those kind of great results when testing protein-boosted recipes using Simply Tera’s whey protein, which it is our top recommendation in this category.
- About the protein: We love that the whey protein concentrate in Simply Tera’s protein powders comes from Organic Valley’s cooperative of USDA organic family farms. A two-scoop serving (28 g) provides 19 grams of protein, including 18 amino acids.
- Other nutrient highlights: This is a very simple blend, which is why it incorporates into recipes and baked goods so nicely
- Certifications: These whey powders are USDA Certified Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, kosher, certified gluten free, and packaged in 100% recycled post-consumer plastic (we love that)
- About the sweetener: There are 0 grams of added sugars in a serving; the powder is sweetened with organic stevia; the Unsweetened version contains no stevia or added sweeteners
- Cost per serving: $2.50 – $2.80 per serving (12 servings per carton)
- Flavors: Unflavored Unsweetened, Bourbon Vanilla, Dark Chocolate; Simply Tera’s also has Goat Whey Protein, which may be easier to digest for people with dairy sensitivities (note it still contains dairy allergens so it is not suitable for those with dairy allergies)
Best for Pregnancy & Postpartum:
Organic Valley Prenatal & Postnatal Support Smoothie Mix
Best Whey Protein Powder for Pregnancy & Postpartum: Organic Valley Prenatal and Postnatal Support Smoothie Mix
Both Jessie and Stacie sampled the prenatal and postnatal protein powders during their pregnancies. They both found that this smoothie mix from Organic Valley tasted best and provided a good amount of essential pregnancy and postpartum nutrients (folate, DHA, and choline) when mixed with dairy milk.
- About the protein: This protein comes from organic nonfat milk powder and organic whey concentrate. A single scoop (20 g) provides 9 grams of protein and only 80 calories, so this is best served as a between-meal snack rather than a meal replacement (ideal for pregnant women who want to space out smaller meals and snacks throughout the day). This increases to 17 grams of protein and 200 calories when mixed with 8 ounces of 2% dairy milk, which also increases the natural choline content and adds calcium
- Other nutrient highlights: As registered dietitian nutritionists we appreciated that this smoothie mix contained fish oil (from sardines and anchovy) to increase the omega-3 fatty acids (DHA), as well as organic ginger, and supplemental folic acid, containing 335 mcg (60% of the DV) for folate, a nutrient essential for the nerve, spinal cord, and brain development of unborn and newborn babies. The postnatal support mix also contains fenugreek seeds, which some research has connected to boosted milk supply
- Certifications: USDA Organic certified
- About the sweetener: These powders contain 1 gram of added sugars from organic unrefined cane sugar and organic stevia
- Cost per serving: $1.42 (14 servings per carton)
- Flavors: Chocolate (Prenatal Support), and Vanilla (Postnatal Support)
Most Unique Protein Blend:
Molly, our Community Manager, loves Just Ingredient Whey Protein Powder for adding to her daily smoothies. The unique blend of Grass-Fed Whey protein , collagen and plant proteins from pea and chia seeds makes this our choice for the most unique protein blend of all the whey proteins we tested and enjoyed. The flavors are subtle and do not contain any artificial sweeteners, thickeners, or sugar alcohols. They also offer an impressive variety of flavors to choose from.
- About the protein: The majority of protein comes from 100% Grass-Fed whey protein sourced from New Zealand and Europe. Other protein sources include organic pea protein, collagen peptides, chia seed protein, and pumpkin seed protein. One (37-gram) serving contains 24 grams protein
- Other nutrient highlights: What makes this protein powder unique is the addition of chia seed, a complete protein that provides all 9 essential amino acids plus fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Pumpkin seed protein also contains all 9 essential amino acids plus tryptophan which is a precursor to the ‘feel good hormone’, serotonin
- Certifications: Just Ingredients protein powder is certified gluten-free. Just Ingredients uses third party testing to certify their protein powders are free of gluten, heavy metals, and microbiological contamination
- About the sweetener: There are 0 grams added sugars in this protein powder and it’s sweetened with monk fruit and stevia leaf
- Cost per serving: $1.99 per serving (30 servings per bag)
- Flavors: Chocolate, Coconut Chocolate, Creamy Peanut Butter, Mint Chocolate, Just Plain, Roasted Peanut Butter, Lemon Birthday Cake, Mountain Berry, Snickerdoodle, and Vanilla Bean
Just Ingredients would like to offer you 10% off your first order with code REALFOOD
Frequently Asked Questions
Technically, you can drink a protein shake any time of the day however, if your goals are for muscle growth or maintenance of lean body mass then consuming a shake 30-60 minutes after a strength or endurance workout is ideal.
Protein shakes can also be consumed as part of meal that would otherwise be low in protein.
Honestly, the best whey protein to take if you’re interested in growing or maintaining muscle is the one you enjoy! If you don’t like the taste or texture then you’re not going to take it. We recommend choosing a protein powder that suits your tastes and your budget.
We are incredibly partial to Puori Pasture-Raised Whey Protein Powder because of the company’s dedication to transparency and the Clean Label Certification. The Clean Label Project® uses data and science to reveal the true contents of consumer products like protein powder. Products are tested in an accredited analytical chemistry laboratory for 130 harmful environmental and industrial contaminants and toxins and these results are published online for the public to see. You can learn more about Puori’s product tests here.
Knowing that every batch is tested for purity and quality and is free of heavy metals, bisphenols, glyphosate, pesticides, residual solvents, and antibiotics gives us peace of mind. While Puori may be just a bit more expensive than other brands, this level of testing and transparency makes it worth it our minds.
Protein powders are classified as a dietary supplement so they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) like foods and drugs are. For this reason, it’s important to seek out brands that voluntarily undergo third-party testing to receive certifications for purity, safety, and quality.
Jessica, Stacie, and Jessie all have a registered dietitian (RD / RDN) credential, and used professional analysis and home taste tests to create this unsponsored list of whey protein powder recommendations. Product samples were both provided and purchased. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use our photos without prior written permission. If you wish to reference this content, please link back to the source here on The Real Food Dietitians. Thank you!