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21 best protein powders for women according to nutritionists –  from whey protein powder to the best protein for vegetarians

Protein powders are a quick and easy way to increase your protein intake, ensuring your body has exactly what it needs to repair and build lean muscle post-workout. “They are a highly concentrated source of protein (as high as 90% protein for some powders), and are also calorie efficient (for the serving of protein achieved when compared to other sources),” MyProtein nutritionist, Jamie Wright told us. So, if you’re partial to a heavy HIIT workout or you hit the weights rack a few times a week, it might be worth investing in a protein supplement.

Gone are the days when the best protein powders were used for weight gain exclusively by body builders. Today, people of all ages, fitness levels and genders can be spotted sipping protein shakes in and out of the gym. But with so many forms of protein on the market – from whey protein isolate to casein protein powders and vegan protein powders – it can be difficult to know where to start. What to look out for on the ingredients list? Is it OK to have protein powder every day? Which brand of protein powder is best? We’ve been chatting to expert nutritionists and dieticians to get the inside scoop. Here’s everything you need to know. 

Which brand of protein powder is best?

What actually is protein?

Protein is a dietary requirement to support your overall health and aid with both weight loss and muscle gain. “Protein plays a key role in transporting messages around the body, hormone production, cell structure and muscle growth to name a few of its roles,” nutritionist Jenna Hope told us.

Do I really need protein powder?

According to the NHS and the British Nutrition Foundation, 0.75g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is the recommended amount of protein per day (that’s around 50 to 60g). That said, numerous new studies, including one by Nutrients paper, suggest that those protein guidelines are too low. If you’re really active, it turns out you might not actually be getting enough protein.

Jenna said: “Regular exercisers may require more protein than sedentary individuals in order to help replenish and repair the torn muscle fibres which occur naturally as a result of exercise. Those engaging in more than 150 minutes of exercise per week require around 1.2-1.5g of protein per kg of their body weight per day. Athletes requirements may vary depending on their sport and training regimes.”

Meat, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, dairy and seeds are all good sources of protein – but it can be difficult to achieve protein targets through food alone. Particularly if you’re vegan or vegetarian. Enter: the best protein powders for women.

Protein supplements can be added to yoghurts, porridge, milkshakes, and water), conveniently delivering high amounts of amino acids to your muscles – the building blocks for protein. Taking a protein supplement means you can boost your high protein intake without having to go OTT on chicken or chickpeas.

Are protein powders healthy?

As part of a balanced diet, yes. “Despite certain myths online, you can’t “overdose” on protein,” Jamie reassured us. “If you consume protein in place of other nutrients and or it was your sole source of nutrient and energy intake, then you could be at a greater risk of certain deficiencies. However, incorporating it within the context of a balanced diet will only uplift and compliment your wellbeing efforts.”

“The only real “danger” or “downside” would be for someone who perhaps was intolerant to lactose as the consumption of whey protein products could trigger unwanted gut related symptoms (like bloating, gassiness, acid reflux and more),” Jamie added. “Most protein brands, however, now provide lactose free powders and or specifically manufactured “isolate” varieties (which have gone through an added step in processing and are virtually free of any lactose) as well as including digestive enzymes to help minimise any possible gut related distress.”

Can you have protein powder every day? Yes. Healthy and active people can safely drink protein shakes every day – though they should not be consumed as a substitute for healthy and balanced meals. It’s best to drink them between meals, perhaps after your workout, rather than as a meal replacement. 

What are the top 5 protein powders?

There are four main types of protein powders: casein protein powders, whey protein powders, hemp powders and soy protein powders. So, which is best types of protein powder for you?

1. Whey Protein Powder

What is whey protein? Promise you won’t be put off if we tell you? Whey protein is actually the liquid bits scraped off of cheese. Yup, gross. But, according to the Journal of Applied Physiology, it’s the most effective protein for your body to use.

Impact Whey Protein

Clear Whey Isolate

Who is it best for? Whey protein powder is the best protein powder for high intensity workouts and weight lifting. Jenna told us: “Whey protein is absorbed most quickly and is therefore recommended after a high intensity workout throughout the day.”

Why is it good? The concentration of protein in standard whey protein powder is so much higher than any other options – we’re talking 60-70% higher than vegan protein powders. It’s to be expected, since it’s an animal product, but there’s a lot more leucine in it (an amino acid which triggers muscle growth and repair).

When to take it: If you work out a lot, you should have 15g of whey protein before your workout and 15g after. This will get it working faster.

The Fit Protein

Natural Pure Whey Protein

Top tips: If you have a dairy intolerance or you’re so not keen on much dairy, opt for Whey isolate which has had the dairy sugar removed.

Best whey protein products: My Protein’s Impact Whey Isolate is just £46.52 for 1kg and comes in more flavours than we could ever consider beginning to type – including unflavoured and peanut butter. It’s low in sugar, vegetarian and low in fat. My Protein also do a peach tea flavour whey isolate which is dairy free and perfect for juicier protein shakes. Bulk Powder has another great offering – their whey powder costs £11.99 and is available in chocolate and strawberry flavours.

2. Pea Protein Powder

What is pea protein? Pea protein is made by extracting the soluble protein from yellow split peas – a pea which is rich in fibre.

Form Performance Protein Chocolate Peanut

Pea Protein Isolate

Who is it best for? Pea protein is a vegan protein powder, so take it if you prefer to steer clear of animal products. It’s also a good choice if you suffer from bloating.

Why is it good? It’s really high in leucine – the killer ingredient we mentioned above – and as far as protein powders go, this one is up there with the best. In fact, a a study in The Journal of Nutrition found it to be just as effective as whey protein in building muscle mass over a 12 week period.

When to take it: You should take pea protein powder post work-out.

Top tips: Since it’s a little lower in amino acids than its whey counterpart, consider boosting its effectiveness by pairing it with another natural protein. You could add it to oat bran to make a protein porridge.

Best pea protein products: There are lots of pea protein products on the market, but the best choices are the My Protein Pea Protein Isolate (£17.99 for 1kg and available in three flavours) – it’s vegan, vegetarian and gluten free – or the Super Pea Protein Isolate from Bulk Powders which comes in at just £9.99 for 500g. Bargain. There’s also the world’s first clear vegan protein blend from My Protein UK – it’s a pea protein, made with real fruits and enriched with vitamins which makes a juice-like lemon and lime protein shake.

3. Casein Protein Powder

What is casein protein? Casein protein is similar to whey in that it is derived from milk and contains all amino acids.

Slow-Release Casein

Who is it best for? It’s often favoured among body builders because of its fat-blasting properties and it’s ideal for anyone who wants to get lean.

Why is it good? It’s digested slowly, says Jenna. This means it keeps you feeling fuller for longer. It also stops muscles from breaking down, so you can lose weight without losing muscle.

When to take it: Jenna told us: “Casein is released slowly and is therefore recommended to consume in the evening.” This is supported by a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise which found that ingesting 40g of casein pre-sleep improved protein repair rates by 22%.

Best casein protein products: My Protein’s slow-release casein protein costs £22.99, is available in four flavours and is formulated to work while you sleep. You’ll wake up feeling energised and ready to work out.

4. Hemp Protein Powder

What is hemp protein? Hemp protein is a vegan superfood powder made from ground hemp seeds. Jenna said: “Pea, hemp and brown rice are all vegan sources and tend to contain less protein per 100g than milk-derived protein. None of the vegan sources contain all 9 essential amino acids and therefore it’s recommended to purchase a mixed vegan protein powder.”

Hemp Protein

100% Hemp Protein Powder

Who is it best for? Vegans who are also looking to increase their omega -3 and -6 fatty acid intake.

Why is it good? It has 21 amino acids and quite a high fibre content, too – 8g per 30g scoop.

When to take it: This is down to personal preference and tolerance. Jenna recommends that Casein (keep scrolling for more information) is the only protein you need to take at night.

Top tips: There are a couple of downsides to hemp protein, so beware. It can cause bloating because of the high fibre content, and it also doesn’t have optimum amounts of protein in it (despite containing all 21 amino acids). You might want to consider pairing it with something like pea protein to increase your intake of leucine.

Best hemp protein products: If you decide hemp protein is the powder for you, we recommend the 100% hemp protein powder from My Protein UK.

5. Soy Protein Powder

What is soy protein? Soy protein is a protein that is isolated from the soy bean – soy beans are dehulled and defatted and processed into three types of soy protein: soy flour, concentrates and isolates.

Who is it best for? The fitness fanatics among you. Read: anyone who works out a hell of a lot.

Why is it good? Alongside your protein hit, guzzling a soy protein shake at the end of the workout will give you a boost of vitamins B12 and B6 – which both help eradicate tiredness. Although the health benefits of soy products have been disputed since sales began to soar, recent research has also shown that it can increase bone strength in women, as well as counteracting the negative impacts the menopause has on bones.

When to take it: After your workout.

Best soy protein products: This soy protein isolate is vegan-friendly and provides an incredible 26g of protein per 30g serving at an ultra low price.

After more supplements content? We’ve got the best probiotics for women according to a dietitian, collagen supplements to add to your checkout and sleep supplements containing only natural ingredients for a peaceful night’s kip.

For more from Glamour UK Commerce Editor Sophie Cockett, follow her on Instagram @sophiecockettx.

Scroll for our edit of the best protein powders for women, including protein snacks and protein mixes.