Those of you who want to build muscle mass and go at it during your strength training will find that protein shakes are quite the rage. Protein is the most essential building block (well, a block that breaks down into smaller blocks called amino acids actually) to building bigger, denser muscle mass
Because of it’s critical role in helping the body build more muscle, it’s also one of the sports supplements consumed in the highest quantities comparative to everything outside of whole foods.
But before we dive into the best places to shop for this bodybuilding staple and which brands have both the highest reviews and the best quality proteins, we need to do quick pre-shopping refresher so you know how best to do comparison shopping.
When you first start out lifting those little 2.5lb tubs will do. But as soon as you establish a solid schedule of being in the gym lifting heavy, training full-body 4-5 days a week, you’ll quickly realize buying dainty little 2.5 pounders isn’t very efficient. To maximize how far your dollar can stretch you need to buy bulk.
The image above is when Musclepharm released their Arnold line. Buying one getting one 50% off at the time was a dream for a gym rat like myself, stretching my dollar and making sure I always had protein on tap to fuel my gains.
If you’re getting serious about adding mass and maxing out your natty potential, then protein is your foundation and if you ain’t rich, then below are some of the best bulk brands that maximize cost-per-serving averages in your favor. But first, let’s understand what we’re talking about here when it comes to protein powder:
3 Main Types of Protein Powders Explained
The first thing to know about proteins is that some are better than others. Whey protein is one such mix that is naturally found in the liquid part of milk. When you make cheese, whey is formed as a byproduct.
This goes through a little bit of processing to become the whey protein powder that has been used in shakes, meals and protein bars. Since it does not taste all that great, manufacturers of these powders add flavors like chocolate and vanilla.
Whey protein is certainly a hot favorite among gym enthusiasts but even those who are looking to lose weight are now turning to whey protein powders. But you must make sure to go through the ingredients to ensure that there are no allergens or additive sugars.
There are three main types of whey depending on the way they are processed.
- Concentrate is 70 to 80 percent protein with some amount of lactose or milk sugar and fat. These products have the best flavors.
- Isolate is 90 percent protein or more. It does not have as much lactose and fat but also falls short on other useful nutrients.
- Hydrolysate, also called hydrolyzed whey, is pre-digested and is absorbed faster by our system. It causes an increase in insulin levels so consult your physician to figure out which one is the best for you.
The above are the three core types of protein, but there are a myriad of different blends of protein as well. For example, blending hydrolyzed protein with a concentrate is a great way to get a fast and medium digesting protein down in one serving.
In fact, there is a whole wide world of proteins out there besides the above core three milk-derived options. Just like varying your exercises and your schedule can help confuse your nervous system and stimulate more new muscle growth, diversity in diet is also key to a long and stable lifting career.
In addition to milk proteins there are also plant proteins, usually pea, hemp, or rice out there that are not only great for vegans but also create less gastrointestinal distress. The Plant Era is one of our favorite specialized organic vegan protein companies out there.
Conversely, if you hate plants there are also animal-based proteins, specifically powdered beef proteins, that definitely add a bit of “uniqueness” to your shake.
If going full bear-mode is more where you’re at then there are calorie-dense, high carbohydrate mass gainers out there that utilize at least one of the three milk proteins in addition to usually other types like egg white protein and casein protein as well as a high carb source like waxy maize or oftentimes, cheaper maltodextrin.
If you want a blend, either for better digesting or a more elongated digestion period, but don’t want the added carbs of a weight-gainer, then simple protein blends might be better for you.
Now that you have some basics in place, let’s look at the available products.
Optimum Nutrition (Gold Standard)
This product is known to work wonders for those who are looking to build lean muscle mass. Each scoop is packed with whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate and whey peptides.
The lean muscle mass is built because of the BCAAS or brand-chain amino acids in the product that is available in over 20 flavors of chocolate and french vanilla. You could also opt for a protein shake.
Now, each of these comes in one to 10-pound bottles and has carbs, sugar and fat. They are all gluten free and contain no sucralose even with the flavor.
Optimum Nutrition products have been tested for banned substances and you can rest easy knowing that the product has been found to be safe for human consumption. On’s protein is great before or after a workout. You can take it with your meals or between meals too for a little extra protein.
The next product is from My Protein, a supplement that is great for those who take their fitness goals seriously. It consists of protein, leucine and naturally-occurring glutamine in every serving.
The manufacturer claims that this is the highest-quality protein shake out there and has less than 2 grams of carbs and 1 gram of fat. It is gluten-free and vegetarian which makes it perfect for fitness-conscious folks of all dietary respects.
It is made with filtration systems that facilitate muscle growth. The whey proteins are a mix of isolate, concentrate and hydrolyzed protein along with essential amino acids that occur naturally in protein. It also has a natural enzyme called MyZyme which helps with digestion. It is available in chocolate and vanilla ice cream flavors.
This is a whey protein concentrate that is a great source of protein for those who want a little extra to build muscles and recover from the exhaustion after an aerobic workout session.
The concentrate is also a source of leucine and BCAA along with essential amino acids that are used in producing proteins in the body. They are also a free source of soy. Broadly speaking, you are meant to take 15 to 30 grams every day but check with your physician before you consume it.
This product has fat, carbs, vitamin A, calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium and potassium. It is free of sugar, yeast, gluten and corn.
The Protein Works
These good folks offer a range of sports nutrition products including but not limited to a variety of protein supplements. Whether you’re looking for protein shakes or snacks or powders, they have a lot of products.
The Vegan Protein, for example, is a 100 percent plant-based shake that is earth friendly and has five different sources of protein namely hemp, brown rice, sunflower, soy and pea. It has no sugar and is low in fat. It is certainly free of dairy but is also lactose, wheat and gluten-free and comes in a range of flavors.
Make a cake or bake a cookie. Whichever way you consume it, you consume protein blend through soya and pea protein isolates, hemp, sunflower and brown rice proteins.
For the flavor, they use sucralose as the sweetener and it also has DigeZyme, the digestive enzyme. Two or three servings a day is recommended but consult your physician for information specific to you.
This is a premium-quality whey protein concentrate that is economical and available in multiple flavors along with one option which is unflavored. It is built to maximize muscle growth along with speeding up recovery of tired or injured muscles to a certain extent.
This is made possible by the essential amino acids that are rich in leucine. It is a great post-workout shake (or make a smoothie, there are no rules here) that can be mixed in a shaker bottle.
This whey protein is easy to digest and provides about 24 grams of protein per serving which is incredibly useful when you’re doing strength training. The product is tested for safety and quality by a third party which should make you feel relaxed, if you weren’t already.
Skinny Yoked Summary
The most important aspect of picking a protein powder is to go through the ingredients of each product carefully. And if you’re lactose intolerant, well, we don’t have to tell you how quickly things can go south.
But whey protein powders are a great way to build muscles and even lose weight. In fact, some folks who have a protein deficiency also choose protein powders. Take a look at the selection, call your physician and make a decision. Good luck!