Build the bigger, stronger and leaner body you want by choosing the right post-workout protein powder to add lean muscle mass faster
If you regularly work out because you want to build a leaner, stronger and fitter physique, then you’ll already know how important it is to consume high-quality protein to give your body the fuel it needs to repair the cellular damage exercise causes to rebuild your muscles bigger and stronger.
But eating a stack of steaks or dozens of eggs each and every day is both expensive and time consuming (not to mention tiresome), which is why protein shakes, specifically those made from whey protein powder, are one of the most popular sports nutrition supplements in the world, whether you’re a weekend warrior or a pro athlete.
We’ve tasted and tested some of the best whey protein protein powders available to help you decide which products fits perfectly with your needs, but first here’s everything you need to know about whey protein, including how it can help you build bigger and stronger muscles faster.
What is whey protein?
Whey is a liquid left over from milk once it has been curdled and strained and so is by-product of the cheese-making process. Once consumed whey is rapidly digested then absorbed by your digestive system and so gets into you bloodstream and then your muscles very quickly, which is beneficial after training to initiate the recovery process. Whey comes in one of four forms, all of which are abundant in branch chain amino acids (BCAAs), and are essential for rebuilding and repairing the muscular damage caused by workout out. Whey protein powder is one of the most popular sports nutrition products in the world because of its availability, cost and effectiveness.
What are the different forms of whey protein?
Whey protein powder comes in four forms – concentrate, isolate, hydrolysate and native. Here’s what each term means.
Concentrate whey protein is typically lower in fat and cholesterol that other forms and have higher levels of carbohydrates from lactose, the type of sugar found in milk products, and bioactive compounds. Their protein content by weight can be anywhere between around 30% to 90%.
Isolate whey protein is processed to remove fat and lactose, but are also lower in health-boosting bio-activate compounds. The protein by weight content is 90% and higher.
Hydrolysate whey protein is pre-digested and partially hydrolysed, which means water is added during the production process to breakdown the constituent compounds to make them easier for the body to digest, but this also increases the cost.
Native whey protein is the purest form because it is extracted directly from skimmed milk and not a by-product of cheese production process like concentrate and isolate. It is very low in fat, lactose and bioactive compounds and the protein by weight content is typically 95% and higher.
Do I need whey protein?
If you are following any sort of exercise programme, whether it’s based around weights, cardio, or endurance training, then you need more protein than the UK government’s current recommendation of just 55g per day. Whey offers a quick and easy way to increase your daily intake, especially after your session when you might not feel like sitting down to a proper meal.
Can whey protein replace a proper meal?
A whey protein shake can be the perfect post-workout drink, or a high-protein snack between meals when hunger strikes, or you can even add a scoop of powder to yoghurt to boost your daily protein intake. But as with all supplements, the clue is in the name of supplements – they are designed to supplement and fill in the nutritional gaps of a complete and varied diet. Getting the majority of your daily dietary protein from natural foods, such as red and white meat, fish, eggs, dairy and other whole foods is the way to go, because you’ll also consume the essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients they contain that are vital to optimal health.
How much whey protein do I need?
Most serving suggestions are around 30g, and with good reason. Research suggests this is the ideal amount to repair the damage done through training and initiate muscle protein synthesis, or the process by which new muscle tissue is laid down. Research also shows that a diet high in protein can also help reduce body fat levels, so you’ll not only get bigger and stronger, but leaner to boot.
When should I take whey protein?
After a workout is the most obvious time to consume whey protein powder because that’s when your muscles need it most. Drinking a shake of whey mixed with cold water or milk within 30 minutes of finishing your training session will initiate the recovery process by flooding your bloodstream with amino acids, which kick-starts muscle protein synthesis (MPS) where these nutrients are quickly shuttled into your muscle cells where they are laid down as brand new muscle tissue.
The best whey protein powders
- 112 calories per 30g serving
- 23g protein
- 2.7g carbs
- 1.2g fat
It’s perfect for you if… you want a good value, easy-mixing and high-protein shake available in more flavours than you can name.
Each serving of Bulk Pure packs 23g of high-quality whey protein, sourced from the milk of grass-fed European cows, as well as 5g of ranched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) to help you beef up your physique without breaking the bank. It’s available in more than 20 different flavours so you won’t struggle for options and the formula mixes quickly and easily without any gag-inducing powdery lumps, which is ideal if you’re out and about without a blender and relying on your own shaking strength to get boost your protein intake.
Price per serving: 66p (based on 1kg bag)
Sizes available: 500g, 1kg, 2.5kg, 5kg
Flavours available: 20+, including Chocolate Orange, Banana Fudge, Salted Caramel, Rocky Road, and Tiramisu
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey
- 113 calories per 30g serving
- 23.9g protein
- 1.8g carbs
- 1.1g fat
It’s perfect for you if… you want a high-quality protein shake that tastes great and is low is sugar and fat.
ON’s Gold Standard Whey has been one of the world’s most popular protein powders over the last two decades – and with good reason. There’s almost 24g of fast-absorbing whey in each serving, with next-to-no carbs or fat, and high (5.5g) in naturally-occurring BCAAs and glutamine, a non-essential amino acid used in the biosynthesis of proteins. And there’s now more flavour options than ever: previously ON stuck to more “traditional” flavours, such as Chocolate, Strawberry, or Vanilla, but the widely expanded range now includes 14 options, including the lip-smacking Chocolate Peanut Butter.
Price per serving: 80p (based on 900g bag)
Sizes available: 900g, 2.25kg, 4.54kg
Flavours available: 14, including Caramel Toffee Fudge, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Vanilla Ice Cream, and Cookies and Cream
PhD Nutrition Diet Whey
- 91 calories per 25g serving
- 17g protein
- 2.8g carbs
- 1.4g fat
It’s perfect for you if… you want a great-value, low-calorie powder with a decent dose of protein and added fat-burning compounds.
Diet Whey is, as you might have guessed from its name, one of the lowest-calorie protein powders per serving on the market, and it boosts it better-body-building credentials by adding to the mix some proven fat-burning ingredients, including CLA, L-Carnitine and green tea extract. While that has a slight impact on tests, Diet Whey is still delicious and great value for money to boot.
Price per serving: 45p (based on 1kg bag)
Sizes available: 1kg, 2kg
Flavours available: 13, including Belgian Chocolate, Birthday Cake, Cherry Bakewell and Chocolate Peanut
USN Blue Lab 100% Whey Protein
- 128 calories per 34g serving
- 25g protein
- 2.5g carbs
- 1.7g fat
It’s perfect for you if… you want a high-quality protein powder with digestion-easing bonus ingredients – and don’t mind paying for the priviledge.
USN Blue Lab Whey ticks all the right boxes: high doses of quality protein, BCAAs, glutamine, relatively low in calories, carbs and fat, and mixes quickly and easily even with just wrist power. It is pricier than some of its rivals and comes in a relatively restricted number of flavour options (8), but it does also contain Tolerase, which is a compound that aids with the digestion of lactose (the type of sugar found in milk products) so can make your post-workout shake a smoother and less gassy experience.
Price per serving: 86p (based on 908g bag)
Sizes available: 908g, 2kg
Flavours available: 8, including Chocolate Caramel, Raspberry Ripple and Tropical Smoothie
Reflex Nutrition Instant Whey Pro
- 90 calories per 25g serving
- 20g protein
- 0.7g carbs
- 0.5g fat
It’s perfect for you if… you want a fast and effective low-calorie protein powder and aren’t too fussed about exotic flavour combos.
While Reflex’s flagship protein blend has less protein per serving than other brands (20g) and fewer flavour options, there’s also fewer calories, carbs and fats and more digesting-aiding compounds, including friendly bacteria LactoSpore, making it a smart choice if your goal is to build and maintain lean muscle mass.
Price per serving: 55p (based on 900g bag)
Sizes available: 900g, 2kg
Flavours available: 5+, including Salted Peanut Caramel, Mint Cream, and Strawberry & Raspberry
MyProtein Impact Whey Protein
- 103 calories per 25g serving
- 21g protein
- 1g carbs
- 1.9g fat
It’s perfect for you if… you want a protein powder that’s as impressive in flavour options as it is in muscle-building potential.
It’s impossible to talk about MyProtein’s Impact Whey protein powder and not begin with the incredibly high number of flavour options available, many of which you can’t get anywhere else (Sticky Toffee Pudding shake, anyone?). And unlike almost all other brands it’s also available unflavoured if you just want the muscle-building benefits without any of the fancy flavourings. A 25g scoop of the fast-absorbing powder contains 21g of protein, 4g of BCAAs and 2.5g of glutamine, with just 1.9g of fat and 1g of carbs, for a total of just 103 calories per serving. Bon appétit!
Price per serving: 46p (based on 1kg bag)
Sizes available: 1kg, 2.5kg, 5kg
Flavours available: 40+, including Banoffee, Blueberry Cheesecake, Chocolate Brownie, Sticky Toffee Pudding, and Strawberry Jam Roly Poly
Buy from Amazon, £18.49 for 1kg
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