9 Expert-Approved Protein Powders That Actually Taste Good

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If you’re leveling up your strength training or looking for filling snack ideas, you’ve probably heard someone sing the praises of protein powder. It’s fair if the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the stuff is a chalky, barely drinkable shake, but there are actually lots of great options out there. In fact, there might be too many options. There are plant- and animal-based protein blends, powders with additional ingredients like fruits and veggies, and more flavors than you’d find on Starbucks’s secret menu. That’s why we spoke to registered dietitians with sports nutrition expertise to get the inside scoop (pun intended) on all the different types of protein powder—and how to choose the right one for you and your wellness goals.

Our top picks

  1. Best Overall, Whey: Klean Athlete Klean Isolate
  2. Best Overall, Vegan: Garden of Life Sport Organic Vegan Protein Powder
  3. Best Budget: Orgain Organic Vegan Protein Powder
  4. Best for Cooking: NOW Sports Nutrition Pea Protein
  5. Best Texture, Whey: Thorne Whey Protein Isolate
  6. Best Texture, Vegan: Sunwarrior Pea Protein Powder With Amino Acids

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What to look for in a protein powder

When you start shopping for protein powders, you’ll first need to choose between animal-based powders or plant-based varieties. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but there are a few key differences to consider.


Most registered dietitians consider whey—a component of milk—the “gold standard” for protein supplementation, Angie Asche, MS, RD, CSSD, owner of Eleat Sports Nutrition and author of Fuel Your Body: How to Cook and Eat for Peak Performance, tells SELF. That’s partly because it is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids your body needs to function. It’s also generally easy to absorb and digest, provided you don’t have a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance, Asche says.


If you are vegan, dairy-intolerant, or prefer to eat fewer animal-derived foods, you can try plant-based protein powders instead. These options generally feature peas, beans, soy, and brown rice as the main ingredients, making them a great dairy- and lactose-free alternative to whey. Just keep in mind that certain plant protein sources are considered “incomplete,” Asche says. That’s why a lot of plant-based powders combine multiple protein sources, which can create a complete profile (think: peas and rice).

What to avoid in a protein powder

For the most part, what you skip comes down to your own preferences—this writer, for example, avoids most chocolate-milk-flavored protein powders due to their way-too-sweet aftertaste. But there are a few things that experts suggest checking the label for before making your purchase.

Sugar alcohols and other sweetener substitutes like stevia and monk fruit, are relatively common in protein powders because they don’t add many calories or cause blood sugar spikes like regular sugar. These ingredients, as well as thickeners like carrageenan, can potentially upset your stomach, causing gas, bloating, or diarrhea, Asche says. Not everyone will find these ingredients hard to digest, but it’s something to keep in mind. Plus powders that contain real sugar instead of artificial sweeteners (like sucralose) can be helpful in that they provide your body with a boost of protein and carbohydrates. And that combo of protein and carbs can be especially beneficial for post-workout recovery, sports dietitian Renee McGregor, RD, tells SELF.

For some peace of mind about the quality, look for protein powders that are NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Choice Certified, Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and owner of Kelly Jones Nutrition and Student Athlete Nutrition, tells SELF. These third-party tests confirm that a powder’s label accurately reflects its ingredients, and that it doesn’t contain contaminants like heavy metals or dangerous or banned substances.

The best protein powders

The following protein powders, all of which were recommended to SELF by sports nutrition experts, should make meeting your protein intake requirements (more on that below!) as easy and tasty as possible. Find the one that suits you best, grab a shaker bottle, and fuel your body.

Best Overall, Whey: Klean Athlete Klean Isolate

Klean Athlete Klean Isolate

  • Pros: NSF Certified, convenient packaging, formulated with recovery in mind
  • Cons: Pricey, contains sugar substitutes

Both Asche and Jones point to the third party-certified brand Klean Athlete as a high-quality choice for straightforward, muscle-building whey protein powders. With its Klean Isolate powder, the brand keeps things relatively simple—the ingredients list is short and the flavor options are classic. For an additional performance boost, this gluten-free powder also contains a little sodium, “which is important for rehydration and recovery after training,” Jones explains. And, from a totally practical standpoint, we like that this powder comes in a resealable bag as opposed to a cumbersome tub, so it’s easy to pack up if you’re traveling or refueling at the gym.

  • Animal-based | Key ingredients: whey protein | Protein per serving: 20 grams | Flavors: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, unflavored

Best Overall, Vegan: Garden of Life Sport Organic Vegan Protein Powder

Garden of Life Sport Organic Vegan Protein Powder

  • Pros: NSF Certified, Informed Choice for Sport Certified, complete protein profile, helpful added ingredients
  • Cons: Limited flavor options, contains sugar substitutes

Garden of Life is another brand that comes highly recommended by multiple experts, due to its reputable testing practices and third-party certifications, and it makes some of the best vegan protein powders you can try. The brand’s Sport variety has a high protein content per serving (with peas and beans as its sources), and includes a number of ingredients that may aid nutrition and fitness goals: probiotics to support gut health, and a blend of antioxidant-rich fruits like tart cherries and blueberries, which can help with muscle recovery. Reviewers report that it blends particularly well into smoothies with frozen fruit.

  • Plant-based | Key ingredients: organic pea protein, organic sprouted navy bean, organic sprouted lentil bean, organic sprouted garbanzo bean, organic cranberry seed protein | Protein per serving: 30 grams | Flavors: chocolate, vanilla

Best Budget: Orgain Organic Vegan Protein Powder

Orgain Organic Vegan Protein Powder

  • Pros: Complete protein profile, lots of flavor options, reviewers report it has a smooth consistency
  • Cons: Contains sugar substitutes

Jones likes Orgain’s organic plant-based powder for its relative affordability and availability (you can stock up at retailers like Target, Costco, and Amazon) and its blend of protein sources. It contains peas, brown rice, and chia seeds, which provide a complete amino acid profile. This protein powder is also a good source of iron, which is a major plus in Jones’s book, especially for menstruating athletes who are at greater risk of developing an iron deficiency. For those concerned about texture, reviewers write that the powder creates a smooth shake—and some go so far as to note that it’s the best tasting protein powder they’ve tried.

  • Plant-based | Key ingredients: organic pea protein, organic brown rice protein, organic chia seed | Protein per serving: 21 grams | Flavors: café latte, chai latte, chocolate coconut, chocolate peanut butter, churro caramel swirl, cookies & cream, creamy chocolate fudge, fruit cereal, horchata, peanut butter, peppermint hot cocoa, pumpkin spice, strawberries and cream, vanilla

Best for Cooking: Now Sports Nutrition Pea Protein

Now Sports Nutrition Pea Protein

  • Pros: Easy to add to other flavors and ingredients, Informed Choice for Sport Certified
  • Cons: Doesn’t have a complete protein profile, unflavored variety isn’t great for drinking straight

Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, founder of Greenletes and author of Planted Performance, likes Now Sports because it completes third-party testing on all its products. (Asche and Jones recommend this brand for the same reasons.) This pea protein powder has literally one ingredient, and the fact that it’s unflavored makes it especially versatile—it’d make a great addition to your next high-protein baking project. If you actually want to taste your protein, Now’s Plant Protein Complex also comes in delicious flavors like chocolate mocha.

  • Plant-based | Key ingredients: yellow pea protein | Protein per serving: 24 grams | Flavors: unflavored

Best Flavor Options: Ascent 100% Whey Protein Powder

Ascent 100% Whey Protein Powder

  • Pros: Convenient packaging, reviewers report it’s flavorful, tasty, and easy to mix, Informed Choice for Sport Certified
  • Cons: Contains sugar substitutes

Another preferred brand of Asche’s, Ascent makes both whey and plant-based protein powders, so you should be able to find one that fits your preferences. The former features a unique combination of regular whey protein and native whey protein, which is less processed and may contain more of the milk’s protein. These blends are overwhelmingly well-reviewed on the flavor front—reviewers call them “delicious,” “outstanding,” and “not too sweet.” They also come in a convenient bag that you can zip up and store without losing a ton of pantry space.

  • Animal-based | Key ingredients: native whey protein, whey protein | Protein per serving: 25 grams | Flavors: lemon sorbet, chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, cookies & cream, strawberry, vanilla, unflavored

Best Higher Protein Option: Orgain Vanilla Sport Plant-Based Protein Powder

Orgain Vanilla Sport Plant-Based Protein Powder

  • Pros: Complete protein profile, formulated for recovery
  • Cons: Limited flavor options, contains sugar alcohols, reviewers report a slightly chalky texture

Orgain’s sport powders contain more protein—30 grams—than the brand’s standard options (which clock in at 21 grams), making them an especially good option for anyone working to build muscle, Jones says. Plus, she adds, their ingredient lists are relatively simple, which is a rare (and welcome!) find in extra high-protein supplements marketed for muscle growth. One thing the Sport Plant-Based Powder has in common with Orgain’s regular vegan powder is a decent amount of iron. It also contains recovery-boosting tart cherry and gut-soothing ginger.

  • Plant-based | Key ingredients: organic pea protein, organic brown rice protein, organic chia seed | Protein per serving: 30 grams | Flavors: chocolate, vanilla

Best for Additional Nutrients: Vega Sport Premium Vegan Peanut Butter Protein Powder

Vega Sport Premium Vegan Peanut Butter Protein Powder

  • Pros: NSF Certified, complete protein profile
  • Cons: Contains sugar substitutes, reviewers report a slightly gritty texture

Asche recommends Vega Sport’s plant-based protein powders to the athletes she works with because they’re NSF Certified—and we think just about anyone should consider giving them a try, too, given their range of tasty flavors (hello, peanut butter) and nutritional perks. In addition to its protein content, this vegan powder contains a nice amount of calcium (15% of the recommended daily allowance, or RDA), iron (35% of the RDA), and ingredients that can help you recover from your workout, like tart cherry.

  • Plant-based | Key ingredients: pea protein, pumpkin seed protein, organic sunflower seed protein, alfalfa protein | Protein per serving: 30 grams | Flavors: peanut butter, berry, chocolate, mocha, vanilla

Best Texture, Whey: Thorne Whey Protein Isolate

Thorne Whey Protein Isolate

  • Pros: NSF Certified, blends smoothly, convenient packaging
  • Cons: Limited flavor options, contains sugar substitutes

Available in both animal-based and vegan offerings, Thorne’s protein powder is another one of Asche’s favorites—especially since it’s NSF Certified for Sport. Its whey blend checks essential boxes like a straightforward ingredient list and quick-dissolving texture (according to reviewers). And the brand thoroughly tests its products for efficacy in clinical trials and collaborates with the Mayo Clinic on nutritional research and testing. A nice (albeit superficial) bonus is the brand’s cool, minimalist look and packaging—it’s yet another expert-approved powder in a space-saving bag.

  • Animal-based | Key ingredients: whey protein | Protein per serving: 21 grams | Flavors: chocolate

Best Texture, Vegan: Sunwarrior Pea Protein Powder 

Sunwarrior Pea Protein Powder With Amino Acids

  • Pros: Complete protein profile, reviewers report it blends smoothly
  • Cons: Not tested by third parties, chocolate and vanilla blends contain sugar substitutes, limited flavor options

Sunwarrior isn’t NSF certified, but Asche still likes it for people who are recreationally active (and probably aren’t as concerned about third-party testing). The brand’s Classic Plus line uses a combination of quinoa, brown rice, peas, amaranth, and chia seeds for its protein content, which amounts to a complete profile. Reviewers also note that it mixes really easily into protein shakes and smoothies, with little to no grit or chalkiness, and tastes great—especially the vanilla flavor, featured here.

  • Plant-based | Key ingredients: organic fermented brown rice, organic fermented pea protein, organic quinoa, organic chia seed, organic amaranth | Protein per serving: 17 grams | Flavors: chocolate, vanilla, unflavored

Do you really need protein powder?

Now that you know the best ones to try, let’s get into the potential benefits of protein powder. Protein is one of the three vital macronutrients (along with fats and carbohydrates) that we need in large amounts. It helps support our immune system and build and repair muscle, Jones says. So while you certainly need to consume enough of it, who needs protein powder, specifically?

“In a perfect world, we would obtain all of the nutrients we need each day, including protein, from whole foods alone,” Jones says. But in the real world, you might not always have time to shop for and prepare high-protein snack recipes, especially if you follow a vegetarian or vegan eating style. That’s where a protein powder can come into play—it’s a convenient way to get more of this crucial macronutrient in your daily diet.

If you’re not sure how much protein you actually need, the current RDA is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (or 0.36 grams per pound). Keep in mind, that amount of protein is the average minimum to prevent deficiency—if you’re an active person, you may want to shoot for closer to 1.4 to 2 grams per kilogram (or 0.64 to 0.91 grams per pound), Jones says.

Ample protein is particularly important if you exercise a lot, because it helps build strength, power, endurance, and muscle mass, Jones says. If you don’t get enough protein every day, your body will have a harder time increasing (and even maintaining) the size of your muscles. Protein also plays an important role in workout recovery, as it helps repair the micro tears in your muscles that occur after intense workouts.

If you do the math and realize you aren’t getting enough protein, adding a supplement like a powder to your routine could help. You may also want to consult your doctor or a registered dietitian to get a clearer idea of your individual protein needs.

How to incorporate protein powder into your diet

The simplest way to use protein powder is to mix it with your liquid of choice and drink it—but you can get a bit more creative too. Jones recommends blending it into smoothies, adding it to overnight oats, or even making your own protein bars. Asche adds pancakes and waffles to that list, too, and notes it can also boost already high-protein foods like yogurt. (We don’t see why you couldn’t add it to your favorite sweet treats like milkshakes, either.)

If you’re not sure when’s the best time to drink a protein shake, it’s actually pretty subjective. Jones says it’s most beneficial when you don’t have bandwidth to whip up a whole food source of protein, whether that’s for breakfast or after your workout. Asche echoes this recommendation, saying you don’t have to overthink it: “It matters more about how much total protein you consume throughout your day as a whole, versus the timing.”

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