Serious exercise requires serious nutrition.
If you’re looking to gain muscle quickly, you need to provide your body with the resources it needs to rebuild muscle fibers after long workouts. That means adding protein to your diet, and for many athletes, whey protein fits the bill.
However, not all whey proteins are created equal. We purchased compared five of the top brands—and enlisted most of our office to do blind taste tests. Here’s what we found.
Yes, taste is an important factor. You shouldn’t be slamming down protein shakes as fast as possible to get past the awful flavor; you should actually enjoy them, especially if you’re paying a hefty premium.
When comparing flavors, we considered how well the product matched the flavor description on the label, along with sweetness, smell, and aftertaste.
Protein powders can be a pain to mix, since whey protein doesn’t dissolve very easily in water. We attempted to determine how well each powder dissolved, whether it created clumps, and whether it left unmixed product at the bottom of the bottle.
Obviously, nutrition is a key factor. Protein powders help you build muscles by providing your body with essential nutrients and amino acids, but they don’t all contain the same ingredients.
We looked at serving size, calorie count, percentage of protein, sugar, fat, and carbohydrate content, along with the presence (or lack thereof) of branch-chain amino acids.
Are you getting your money’s worth? We compared the pricer per serving for all five powders to give you the inside scoop (if you’ll pardon the pun).
Whey+ protein powder is available is six different flavored formulas, along with an unflavored formula. We taste-tested the French vanilla varian. Immediately after opening the container, you can smell the vanilla flavoring, but not in a positive way. The scent is strong and slightly artificial.
Whey+ uses Stevia as a sweetener, so while it’s sweet, it’s sometimes overwhelming (it scored lowest for “natural sweetness” and “pleasant aftertaste” on our blind taste test). The vanilla flavor does come through, but given the artificial smell and sweetness, it doesn’t make for a great-tasting product in our opinion.
BSN offers nine different Syntha-6 flavor options, ranging from banana to chocolate cake. We tested the vanilla ice cream flavor, which went over quite well with the taste testers.
When you open a container of Syntha-6, you get a strong scent of vanilla with some sweetness. However, after it’s mixed with water or milk, it has a perfectly palatable flavor without any chemical aftertaste. It’s sweet, but the sweetness is balanced with the overall flavor of the mix.
If you want a variety of flavors, Optimum Nutrition has you covered. The brand offers more than 20 different flavors to choose from, so you won’t get tired of drinking the same protein drink over and over. For the sake of consistency, we picked their vanilla ice cream option for testing.
The powder has a pleasant smell, not too sweet and not too strong. When mixed, the vanilla is noticeable, but not overwhelming. There’s also a good balance of sweetness, so the shake’s quite easy to drink. We don’t think that anyone would mistake it for vanilla ice cream, but it’s certainly a treat after a hard workout.
Musclepharm Combat is available in six flavors. The vanilla option has a light, sweet scent with no strong artificial smell.
This powder changes significantly when mixed; the flavor doesn’t really correspond to the smell of the dry powder, but that’s not a bad thing. The vanilla comes through, and it’s not too sweet. It’s a fairly delicious drink that would be enjoyable at any time of the day. Our taste testers gave Musclepharm Combat the highest scores for aftertaste, natural sweetness, and overall taste.
Promix offers five protein powder flavors. Their no-nonsense packaging gives you the impression that they’re not going be launching any “ice cream” flavors in the near future.
Promix has a slight vanilla taste after mixing, but it’s not nearly as strong as any of the other powders we tried. That can be good if you’re looking for a very mild shake, but many consumers will want more of a flavor kick than what Promix is offering.
Legion Whey+ protein powder doesn’t mix especially well with water. We tried to mix with a spoon, but ended up with significant clumps of powder that wouldn’t dissolve, despite our best efforts. We also tried a shaker, which cut down on the number of clumps. Still, it didn’t completely eliminate them.
After mixing Legion Whey+ with the recommended amount of liquid (8-10 ounces), the shake felt fairly thin, so to optimize the consistency, you might need to add extra powder or use less liquid.
Because of these issues, Legion ended up in last place in our mixability test.
Syntha-6 fully dissolved during our mix test and had the best texture of any of the drinks we sampled. The directions call for one scoop of powder per 4 to 5 ounces of water. That may not seem like enough liquid, but it allowed for a creamy, milkshake-like consistency without clumps.
A Syntha-6 shake is thicker than the other proteins we tried, but that doesn’t affect its drinkability. In fact, it makes it more effective as an after-workout treat.
Gold Standard Whey didn’t fail the mix test, but it didn’t excel, either. While Gold Standard did mix better than Legion Whey+, we still found small bits of undissolved powder at the bottom of our glasses, even when using a shaker.
Gold Standard Whey suggests using 6 to 8 ounces of liquid, but the shake tasted a little bit thin.
Musclepharm Combat protein excelled in mixability, both in our writer’s test and in our blind taste test. Combat requires a little more water than the other proteins per scoop (8-12 ounces), but the finished product wasn’t too thin.
The powder fully dissolved when mixed in a shaker, and the resulting drink had a great texture. It was easy to drink and very enjoyable. Our taste testers said that Combat looked more appealing than any of the other powders, and it rated as “easiest to drink” in the manufacturer-suggested powder-to-liquid ratio.
Promix whey protein fell right in the middle of the pack. It wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t exactly blow us away.
The serving size for this protein powder is two scoops (other powders recommended a single scoop), so mixing required more liquid (12-16 ounces). Promix dissolved fairly well, leaving only a few small clumps of powder unmixed. However, some of the mix settled before we finished the drink, likely due to the significantly larger amount of liquid.
This protein powder is a great choice if you’re looking for a supplement that doesn’t contain any unnecessary ingredients. Legion Whey+ is made from 90 percent whey isolate, a nearly lactose-free whey derivative. That makes this powder much easier to digest.
Whey+ only uses antibiotic- and hormone-free milk, and it’s a non-GMO product. A single scoop serving only adds 100 calories to your intake while packing in 25 grams of protein. You won’t find any fats or sugars in this mix, and it only contains 2 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
There are no wasted calories with Whey+, just high quality protein.
Syntha-6 is a fairly complex powder. The mix utilizes six different protein sources and includes branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) as well as glutamine peptides, which aid in muscle repair.
A single scoop serving of Syntha-6 has 200 calories and 22 grams of protein. Syntha-6 has the highest fiber content of any of the products we tested (5 grams per serving). However, because Syntha-6 also contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) and essential fatty acids (EFAs), it also has a higher fat content than the other brands. These fats and fatty acids actually contribute to fat burning and muscle building, so they’re generally good news, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re carefully controlling your diet.
The protein and amino acid combo makes an excellent combination if you’re looking for a relatively complex supplement.
Gold Standard offers a great, well-rounded protein mix. It’s made with easily digestible whey isolate, along with essential, conditional, and non-essential amino acids. These amino acids affect how your body builds muscle, produces energy, and recovers from workouts.
One scoop of Gold Standard Whey has 120 calories and 24 grams of protein. It also only contains 1 gram of fat, 3 grams of carbohydrates, and 4 grams of sugar. Overall, this product provides you with a great basic outline for pre or post-workout nutrition.
For those who want a more specialized and time-released protein, Musclepharm Combat is and effective choice.
Combat contains a blend of both fast- and slow-digesting proteins to allow your body to stay fueled and energized for a longer period of time. One of the proteins, egg albumin, contains much needed branched chain amino acids (BCAAs).
You’ll find 25 grams of protein and just 130 calories in each scoop. This powder also has a little bit of fiber (1 gram per serving) as well as 2 grams of fat, 6 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of carbohydrates.
When looking for an all-natural protein powder, you can’t get much “cleaner” than Promix P. Promix prides itself on only using milk from year-round grass-fed cows. Their products don’t contain any soy, corn, gluten, GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, stevia, or natural flavors.
As we mentioned earlier, Promix P recommends a serving size of two scoops. Each serving has 25 grams of protein and 135 calories. This mix only has 2 grams of fat, 6 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of carbohydrates per serving, along with 19 different amino acids (including those oh-so-important BCAAs).
You can buy a 1.8 pounds of Legion Whey+ from Amazon for $38. With 30 servings in each container, you’re looking at each serving of protein costing about $1.27.
Legion Whey+ is on the higher end of the price spectrum, but if you’re really focusing on protein intake alone, it might be worth the money.
A 2.91-pound bottle of Syntha-6 costs $24 from Amazon. The 28 servings end up costing $0.86 each.
This is a great deal for what you’re getting. Syntha-6 is a high-fiber, high-protein, amino-acid-filled shake that tastes good and costs less than $1 per serving, which is why it’s our overall top choice.
You can find a 2-pound bottle of Gold Standard Whey on Amazon for $29. This container has 29 servings, which comes out to $0.98 each.
Gold Standard falls just under $1 per serving, but we think that’s a totally acceptable amount for this versatile protein powder.
A 2-pound container of Musclepharm Combat protein only costs $22 on Amazon. This bottle has a total of 27 servings that cost $0.81 each.
Musclepharm Combat was the least expensive protein powder we tested. Considering that it had superior mixability and exceptional ingredients, it’s the best overall value.
You can get a single pound of Promix P protein off Amazon for $19.99. As we mentioned, however, this powder recommends a two-scoop serving, so each container only has 13 servings. Each of these servings cost $1.54.
Promix P was the most expensive powder we tested. Still, this company prides itself on its use of natural, sustainable ingredients, so some consumers won’t mind paying a little more.
So, what’s the perfect whey protein for you? That will depend on your dietary preferences, workout goals, and budget, but in our opinion, Musclepharm Combat provides the best experience, while Finish First Syntha-6 offers the best all-around value. Just make sure to balance your supplement with the rest of your diet (and invest in a shaker bottle—they’re really worth the money).
P.S. Don’t forget the shaker bottle!
*Prices based on Amazon listings as of August 2017