- Protein is necessary for building tissues, producing peptide hormones, and supporting the immune system.
- The best protein powders are made of mostly protein, not filler ingredients or undisclosed proprietary blends.
- Getting enough protein, well spread out across meals, is an important factor to consider when looking to build muscle.
There’s not much that causes supplement shoppers’ overwhelm quite like protein powders. With countless protein types, loud labels, endless claims, nutrient additions, and dirty ingredient omissions, it’s a dizzying mix of things to consider. According to Grand View Research, in 2021 the global protein supplement market was 20.47 billion. Protein powders held 60 percent of the revenue share, and it is likely to continue to grow.
That’s why we’re taking the complex world of protein powders and breaking it down to the ten best protein options for your goals and nutritional needs. But first, let’s start with a few basics.
What Does Protein Powder Do for the Body
Protein is a powerhouse for the active, male body. Not only is it necessary for building tissues (1) (think muscle, bone, and connective tissues like cartilage and skin and hair), it’s also needed to produce peptide hormones (growth hormone, leptin, insulin, glucagon), and it supports the immune system (2).
It’s also the most filling macronutrient, which helps keep hunger at bay throughout the day. And because it’s so transportable, it’s a quick and easy meal on the go with nothing more than a quick shake of a cup.
What Should You Look for In a Protein Powder?
This may sound obvious but look for a protein powder that is made of mostly protein, not filler ingredients. Look at the serving size, which will list a gram number (usually around 25 to 30 grams of powder in a serving), and see how many grams of that are made up of protein (typically 20 to 25 grams).
“Your protein powder should be about 70 to 85 percent protein,” explains Brian St. Pierre, Director of Nutrition at Precision Nutrition, one of the world’s largest private coaching and education companies. “Plant-based protein powders are usually at the lower end of this range, perhaps a tad below, since they are inherently less protein-dense. Animal-based protein powders should be at the higher end of this range. This ensures you are getting mostly protein, rather than fillers.”
St. Pierre says it’s helpful to seek out protein powders that contain protease enzymes (enzymes that break down protein) but as far as added vitamins and nutrients, “If you need other supplements, it is generally best to get them separately, so the right dosages can be consumed.”
Always seek out reputable, well-established brands and look for third-party testing verification to ensure the protein you’re purchasing isn’t laden with cheap fillers. Third-party approvals such as NSF International, Informed-Choice, and ConsumerLab are good ones to seek out.
What Should You Avoid?
Steer clear of products with undisclosed “proprietary blends,” products with a low percentage of protein and aren’t third-party tested in some way.
There is one exception for plant-based shoppers: Some companies combine plant-based proteins like rice and pea or hemp and pea to ensure a complete and high-quality amino acid profile.
What Is the Best Protein Powder for Men to Build Muscle?
Historically, whey protein was touted as the best protein for building muscle, but it’s not quite that simple. “Some research (3) shows casein to be equally or more effective,” explains St. Pierre. “Other research shows plant proteins like soy to be equally or almost as effective. However, most of these studies look at short-term markers like muscle-protein synthesis, not actual outcomes like pounds of muscle gained.”
For muscle building, it’s important to get enough protein, well spread out across meals. A systematic review of studies published in 2021 found that animal protein tends to have a more favorable effect on lean mass compared to plant protein, and the benefit appears more pronounced in younger adults. But, the good news for opening up options based on your diet style and any potential allergies is that protein source is not likely to have an impact on muscle strength.
Whey, casein, egg, and blends like pea and rice (or pea/hemp, pea/pumpkin) for plant-based eaters “are excellent choices,” says St.Pierre, “as the mix fills in the amino acid gaps of each individual source.” Soy is another solid option, though he recommends limiting intake to 1 to 2 scoops at most, especially if you’re eating other soy-based foods.
“It’s important to note that plant protein is generally not as well absorbed as animal protein. So while it can build muscle effectively, you do tend to have to consume just a bit more of it, about 10% more,” says St. Pierre.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t address the shiny object in the room: collagen. Despite its popularity and benefits for joints, skin, and hair, it’s not a complete protein, so on its own, it wouldn’t have the same muscle-benefitting tributes. Instead, look for protein powders that contain added collagen but are not the sole protein source.
How Much Protein Should You Consume In a Day?
According to various goals and lifestyles, Brian St. Pierre offers guidance in protein requirements per day. This includes your daily servings of protein powder as well as what you’d obtain from food. The numbers below are for an animal-based or ominivore diet. Add 10 percent to the numbers below only if your diet is fully plant-based or vegan.
Muscle growth: 1.6-2.2 g/kg (or about 0.75-1.0 g/lb) per body weight/day
Sedentary lifestyle: 0.8 g/kg (0.35 g/lb) per body weight/day
Ages 65 & over: 1.2-2.0 g/kg (0.55-0.9 g/lb) per body weight/day
For performance & recovery: 1.2-2.2 g/kg (0.55-1.0 g/lb) per body weight/day
Healthy & active looking to lean while maintaining muscle: 1.6-3.3 g/kg (or 0.75-1.5 g/lb) per body weight/day
Plant-based eaters: Add ten percent to any of the above
Can You Consume Too Much Protein Powder?
While adverse effects of too much are unlikely, 1 to 2 scoops (20 to 40 grams of protein) are generally well processed by the body, while 3 to 4 scoops start to approach the upper limit of supplement protein in a single day.
“For most, 80 grams per day (about 3-4 scoops) is an upper limit of supplemental protein intake,” explains St. Pierre. He adds, “Getting more than 80 grams from protein powder is excessive for most people, as it displaces whole-food sources that are more filling and provide vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients”.
The 10 Best Protein Powders for Men
The Bottom Line
“What Are Proteins and What Do They Do?: MedlinePlus Genetics.” Medline Plus, medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/howgeneswork/protein. Accessed 5 Apr. 2022.
Daly, J M et al. “Effect of dietary protein and amino acids on immune function.” Critical care medicine vol. 18,2 Suppl (1990): S86-93.
Hoffman, Jay R, and Michael J Falvo. “Protein – Which is Best?.” Journal of sports science & medicine vol. 3,3 118-30. 1 Sep. 2004
Schaafsma, G. “The protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score.” The Journal of nutrition vol. 130,7 (2000): 1865S-7S. doi:10.1093/jn/130.7.1865S