Protein is an essential macronutrient, necessary for muscle growth, maintenance and repair. You’ll find it in a variety of foods, including meat, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy products.
From the latter comes whey protein powder—arguably the best supplemental protein, favoured for its excellent amino acid profile and high bioavailability.
Looking for the best whey protein powders? We’re here to help—read on for our top choices—based on quality, taste and cost—as well as helpful buying advice!
Top 3 Whey Protein Powders
Protein is protein, right? Not exactly—the origin, manufacturing process and type all matter. There are myriad whey proteins to choose from, and you could spend days researching them—but why would you, when we’ve done all the hard work? Without further ado, we present our most recommended whey protein powders.
1. Reflex Nutrition Instant Whey Pro Protein Powder Review
From Reflex Nutrition—a leading, UK-based sports nutrition company with over 2 decades in the business—comes this premium-quality whey protein product.
Featuring nothing but whey—there’s no inferior soy in Reflex Nutrition products—this instant whey protein powder shake is brimming with essential amino acids, and offers a substantial 20 grams of protein per 25-gram scoop. That’s over 1.7 kg of pure protein per container!
It’s low in carbs, too—only one percent—making it ideal for those on a restricted carbohydrate diet. Despite being sugar-free, Reflex Nutrition’s
Instant Whey Protein Powder Shake tastes great—a wide variety of flavors, including Banana, Mint Cream, Salted Peanut Caramel, Strawberry & Raspberry, and the ever-popular chocolate—are available.
It’s free from artificial colourants, and sweetened with stevia glycosides—a completely natural, plant-derived sweetening agent with none of the potential drawbacks of aspartame and other artificial sweeteners.
Product quality and customer health are of paramount importance to Reflex Nutrition.
That’s why their instant whey protein powder is made right here in the UK, using only milk from hormone-free, antibiotic-free, grass-fed cows. Pure pasture-raised cattle—which feed on grass, never corn—have a smaller environmental footprint, and produce a favourable anti-inflammatory ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 essential fatty acids.
Though most people find whey easy to digest, Reflex Nutrition’s whey protein powder includes a DigeZyme digestive enzyme complex—alpha-amylase, neutral protease, cellulase, lactase and lipase—as well as beneficial probiotics (bifidobacterium bifidum, lactobacillus acidophilus and lactobacillus rhamnosus).
These enzymes and friendly bacteria reduce the chance of digestive issues, and help ensure every last gram of amino acids arrive at their final destination: your muscles.
Pros and Cons
- Domestically produced by an established, trusted brand
- Available in many flavours to suit any palate
- Free from artificial colours and sweeteners
- Uses only the highest-quality whey from grass-fed cows
- Low in fat and sugar
- Includes digestive enzymes and beneficial probiotics
- Highly concentrated protein made primarily with whey protein isolate
- Costlier than some brands
- Heavily sweetened—may taste a bit strong on its own
- Doesn’t always dissolve and mix well
2. BULK POWDERS Pure Whey Protein Powder Shake
Don’t let the looks fool you—this is a quality whey protein powder whose low cost and basic zipper pouch belie the contents therein. In other words: it’s cheap and it’s good.
How does BULK POWDERS produce what may well be the most affordable whey protein powder in the United Kingdom?
It’s simple: they work in-house, cut out the middleman, and focus on the product, not the presentation.
Providing a respectable 22 grams of protein per 30-gram serving, this bulk protein powder is as kind to your wallet as it is to your body.
Though it’s composed of slow-absorbing whey protein concentrate—rather than rapidly absorbed, protein-rich isolate—the low-sugar, high-amino formulation is still minimally calorific.
The standard vanilla flavour, while not particularly exciting, is simple enough to use alone, or in combination with almost any smoothie ingredient. Please note that other flavours are available.
Like Reflex Nutrition, BULK POWDERS uses whey from grass-fed cattle. It’s nice to see this trend being adopted even by lower-cost brands.
In addition, the powder is instantized—that is, very finely ground—for easy, clump-free mixing, no blender required.
However, this bulk whey protein is sweetened with sucralose—one of only a few significant formulation differences that are reflected in the price.
BULK POWDERS Pure Whey Protein Powder Shake makes a few compromises, but on the whole, provides outstanding value.
It’s a good choice for anyone on a budget, or new to supplementing with protein.
Pros and Cons
- Economically priced—ideal for the budget-conscious
- High-quality whey, derived from grass-fed cows
- Available in a wide range of flavours
- Instantized for easy mixing
- Low in sugar
- Sweetened with sucralose
- May taste too sweet for some
- Contains small quantities of soy and thickening agents
3. PhD Nutrition Pharma Whey HT+ Whey Protein Powder
Rounding out our list of the best whey protein powders is the hefty, 2.2 kilogram tub of Pharma Whey HT+ Whey Protein Powder from PhD Nutrition. It’s generously sized, moderately priced and loaded with muscle-boosting whey and amino acids.
A balanced blend of three types of whey—concentrate, isolate and hydrolysed isolate—provides 18 grams of protein per 25-gram serving. You’d get a bit more protein per scoop with pure isolate, but this is offset by the addition of an amino acid blend.
Valine, leucine and iso-leucine comprise branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which improve muscle growth, reduce muscle soreness and exercise fatigue, prevent muscle atrophy, and may protect the liver.
Added l-glutamine helps slow the loss of lean mass, while aiding in muscle protein synthesis, and an enzymatic combination of amylase, protease, cellulase, beta-d-galactosidase and lipase improve digestibility and bioavailability.
Like our other most-recommended whey protein powders, PhD Nutrition Pharma Whey HT+ is made with whey from one hundred percent grass fed cows—that means no hormones, no antibiotics, and maximum health benefits.
Whey protein powders often contain emulsifiers for a more consistent product and pleasing mouthfeel. Pharma Whey HT+ is no exception—however, only sunflower lecithin is used, eliminating all soy from the formulation.
PhD Nutrition Pharma Whey HT+ Whey Protein Powder Pros and Cons
- Less costly than some proteins of comparable quality
- Uses only whey from grass-fed cows
- Free from artificial colours
- Many flavours available
- Enzyme blend makes it easy to digest
- Added branched-chain amino acids for muscle-boosting benefits
- Sweetened with sucralose
- Occasional quality inconsistency
- Fruit flavours may not appeal to everyone
Whey Protein Buying Guide
Still not sure which whey protein powder is best for your needs? Check out our buying guide, and get the low-down on choosing, using and making the most of any whey powder!
Whey protein powder is derived from whey (a milk byproduct), and boasts an exceptional amino acid profile. Amino acids are the building blocks that comprise protein, and can be categorized as essential or non-essential. The former cannot be synthesized by the body, and must be obtained from dietary or supplemental sources.
As compared to soy—one of the most popular and widely available types of plant protein—whey provides more branched-chain amino acids and essential amino acids per serving, falling short (and often, by a small margin) only in arginine, histidine, phenylalanine and tryptophan.
Isolate, concentrate, hydrolysate—what a mouthful! It’s easy to get hung up on which type is best, and why. Let’s start with isolate. It’s found in many premium protein powders, and carries a higher price tag.
Whey protein isolate undergoes extra processing and filtration to remove fats and carbohydrates. The result is a rapidly absorbed protein that’s low in lactose.
Isolate is especially suitable for post-workout smoothies and shakes, where the lack of dairy-based fats and carbs can hasten the delivery of protein to damaged muscles.
Furthermore, whey isolate may be easier to digest for those who are lactose-sensitive.
Whey protein concentrate—despite its name—contains a bit less protein per serving than isolate, and helps keep down the cost of some whey protein formulations.
Both isolate and concentrate are derived from the same source. The key difference lies in processing, or the lack thereof: whey protein concentrate contains more fats and carbohydrates—this makes it slower to digest.
This isn’t particularly disadvantageous—some people prefer whey concentrate for this very reason. The only drawback is more lactase, which can be harder for some people to break down.
Whey protein hydrolysate is the mostly highly refined form of whey—even more so than isolate.
The process of thermal, acidic or enzymatic hydrolysis cleaves molecular bonds between amino acids, and extra filtration removes all fats and lactose. Hydrolysed protein may offer measurably superior absorption, but the difference of a few percentage points offers little practical advantage.
That said, the total absence of lactose makes whey protein hydrolysate the best choice for anyone with lactose intolerance.
Savour the Flavour
Plain, unflavoured whey powder doesn’t taste great. Most products are flavoured and sweetened for palatability—and there’s a great variety to choose from!
Taste is subjective, but vanilla is almost always a safe bet. It’s sweet, but usually neutral enough to act as a base for almost any other ingredient.
Fruit? No problem. Chocolate? Sure! Salt, cinnamon, nutmeg? Why not. When in doubt, reach for vanilla.
Chocolate goes surprisingly well with other flavours, too.
Try strawberries, banana—even orange, if you feel daring. It’s the more unusual blends—think mint-chocolate, strawberry shortcake, cookies and cream—that require careful experimentation, and may best be enjoyed on their own.
On that note, if you find your whey powder of choice too sweet—a common complaint, spanning many brands—just add a little more water, or use yoghurt and milk to help cut sweetness without reducing calories.
In the Mix
The appeal of a smoothie or shake lies in its convenience—put a few ingredients in a container, mix, and, whammo!—instant nutrition.
If you make smoothies exclusively at home, don’t worry too much about how easily a whey protein mixes—any decent blender, even the handheld sort, will make short order of any powder.
Don’t have a blender, or like to whip up a shake when you’re out and about? Look for a protein mix that’s finely ground or instantized for easy mixing.
Though some brands suggest you need nothing more than a spoon and a glass of water, it’s our experience that shaken is, indeed, better than stirred. (Here’s looking at you, James Bond.) Though a glass jar with a water-tight lid works, consider a protein shaker cup.
Many are unbreakable, with strong lids, flip-top mouthpieces, and mixing balls to break up clumps of powder. Remember: in order to make it, you gotta shake it, not break it.
A Spoonful of Sugar
Whey protein powders are almost invariably sweetened with sugar, sucralose, aspartame, xylitol, stevia, or some combination thereof. Sugar, while palatable and familiar, is best avoided. It adds empty calories, and excess consumption has been linked to a range of health problems.
Aspartame, sucralose and other artificial sweeteners provide a cost-effective, low-to-no calorie alternative.
They’re found in many products, including some of the best whey protein powders. These sweetening agents are well-tolerated by most people—but for those who find the taste objectionable or are otherwise sensitive, try protein powders sweetened with xylitol.
It’s a natural, low-calorie “sugar alcohol” (in spite of the name, it’s alcohol-free). Or, look for steva glycosides, which are plant-derived, calorie-free, and many times sweeter than sucrose.
To BCAA or Not to BCAA?
Whey protein is an excellent source of branched-chain amino acids (valine, leucine and iso-leucine), whose many muscle-boosting, strength-preserving benefits we touched on earlier.
Any quality whey protein powder will naturally provide plenty of BCAAs—but if you work out hard, or are trying to rebuild lost muscle, consider a whey protein with added branched-chain amino acids to give your muscles an extra boost.
BCAA supplements can, of course, be taken separately—but we prefer the convenience of pre-mixed.
The Price of Good Health
Whey is a concentrated nutritional supplement—it’s with good reason that a two-kilo tub costs more than the equivalent weight in ground beef.
While we don’t advise replacing whole foods and proper meals with protein powder, there’s no denying that whey provides a considerable quantity of protein per relatively small serving.
Determining your per-serving cost is easy—just look at the label, and divide the price of the container by the number of servings.
How Much Should You Take?
The officially recommended Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) of approximately 0.75 grams per kilogram of body weight is based on the caloric needs of a relatively sedentary adult of average weight.
You may or may not fall into that category—and if you don’t, then your requirements will be different, based on diet, activity level, overall health, and fitness goals. Strength training, intense cardio and prolonged physical activity all increase your need for protein.
Furthermore, older adults require additional protein to preserve muscle mass and prevent age-related sarcopenia, which, left unchecked, negatively impacts quality of life.
Supplementing with whey helps ensure that your specific dietary needs are met. A good quality whey protein powder, taken in conjunction with a healthy, balanced diet and appropriate exercise regime, will go a long way in ensuring your present and future health.
Wrapping it Up
We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to the best whey protein powders. From concentrate to hydrolysate, from chocolate to vanilla and everything in between, there’s a whey protein for almost everyone. Find one you like, incorporate it into your daily diet, and reap the benefits. Thanks for reading!