The Best Protein Powders for Muscle Gain: Let Us Break Them Down for You

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I think we can all agree that there are simply too many options when it comes to protein powders for muscle gain. From fillers and additives to unwanted flavorings and dyes, you need a fine toothcomb to scour the ingredient list. The effort can be exhausting and in the end, you may not even find the protein powder to meet your needs. When you are looking to put on muscle, there are specific protein options that you should consider, and lucky for you, we've compiled them all here.

Our list of the best protein powders for muscle gain is brought to you by our ACTIVE Reviews Team. Our team has made great efforts to research the very best protein powders for muscle gain based on your wants and needs. Read on for a detailed list and description of each.

Why Trust Us?

The health and safety of ACTIVE's readers is of the utmost importance to us. To ensure your well-being when consuming protein powders, the ACTIVE.com editorial team prioritizes products that are independently tested by a third-party. We've also consulted with a team of nutritionists and dieticians to ensure the products we feature are of the highest standard. This helps us create the most accurate, authentic review content for our readers. More importantly, fitness may be our job, but it is also our passion. Therefore, we strive to bring you products that we trust and would personally use.

The Best Protein Powder for Muscle Gain - Our Top Picks

Best Protein Powder for Muscle Gain Overall - Transparent Labs Whey Protein Isolate

Transparent Labs Whey Protein Isolate

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale): $$
  • Flavor Options (rating scale): 3
  • Protein: 28g
  • Sugar: 1g
  • Carbs: 2g
  • Calories: 120

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Our top spot on the list goes to Transparent Labs Whey Protein Isolate. This protein powder has, pound for pound, one of the highest percentages of protein by weight on the market. That means with each serving, you'll get 28g of protein–-and not just any protein, whey protein isolate. That is the whey protein that has been stripped of additional fat, cholesterol, and lactose. It's 100% American-grown, grass-fed protein in its purest form, the perfect food for muscles. Additionally, with eight flavors to choose from, you're bound to find one you like.

Transparent Labs is clearly a company that cares a great deal about their products. Each supplement is third-party tested for both composition and purity. They also don't use artificial coloring, preservatives, flavors, or sweeteners. Although it's a short ingredient list, you can feel good that what's on the label is in the container.

What We Like

  • 100% grass-fed whey
  • High protein content
  • No artificial coloring, flavorings, or sweeteners
  • Large variety of flavors

What We Don't Like

  • Not very flexible return policy
  • No organic ingredients

BUY: Transparent Labs Whey Protein Isolate

Best Lean Protein Powder for Muscle Gain - Swolverine Whey Protein Isolate

Swolverine Whey Protein Isolate

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale): $$$
  • Flavor Options (rating scale): 3
  • Protein: 26g
  • Sugar: 1g
  • Carbs: 1g
  • Calories: 110

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Swolverine's Whey Protein Isolate won our spot for the best lean protein for muscle gain because it's quite high in protein with 26 grams, yet has no added fat and is low in calories, with just 110 calories per serving. The whey protein isolate comes from grass-fed American cows never treated with the recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBST). The product aims to maximize protein absorption for increased muscle gain with the addition of digestive enzymes. The enzymes break down the whey protein isolate for easier digestion and utilization.

Whey Protein Isolate is non-GMO, soy-free, and gluten-free. Thanks to the ultra-filtered protein isolate and the digestive enzymes, this protein powder shouldn't cause bloating, as many do. The company stands by its transparent labeling practices, claiming that what you see on the label is exactly what's in the bottle.

What We Like

  • Digestive enzyme blend
  • Non-GMO, gluten- and soy-free
  • Short ingredient list

What We Don't Like

  • More expensive than other protein powders
  • Use of sucralose rather than more natural sweeteners

BUY: Swolverine Whey Protein Isolate

Best Personalized Protein Powder - Gainful Protein

Gainful protein

SPECS

  • Price (scale of $-$$$): $$$
  • Flavor options (scale of 1-3): 3
  • Artificial sweeteners: None
  • Serving size: Varies
  • Allergens: None (when customized)
  • Key ingredients: Protein based on selected preferences

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Pretty much every muscle-chasing lifter and athlete has their own sob story about buying a protein they ended up regretting. Maybe yours was a store-bought mass-gainer that threw your digestive system into fits. Or it was just a glorified milkshake that left you with a chubbier type of gains than you bargained for. The customizable protein company Gainful wants to make these stories a thing of the past!

Every bag of protein from Gainful gets built from scratch, based on an in-depth questionnaire that takes into account your personal biology, lifestyle, experience level, goals…and goal weight! And because the system was designed by registered dieticians (and every bag comes with an optional free consultation from a dietitian!), you don’t have to worry that your protein won’t stand up to scrutiny. Take the time to take the quiz, and you’ll get the knowledge you can use right away in your quest for gains!

What We Like

  • Customized protein source, calories, and macros, based on goals
  • Great flavors, with the ability to dial up and down intensity
  • Purchase comes with free dietitian guidance

What We Don't Like

  • Pricier by the serving than non-customized protein
  • Not easy to re-customize formula once built

BUY: Gainful Protein

Best Protein Powder for Muscle Gain for Men - Kaged Whey Protein Isolate

Kaged Whey Protein Isolate

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale below): $$
  • Flavor Options (rating scale below): 3
  • Protein: 25g
  • Sugar: 0-1g (varies by flavor)
  • Carbs: 2-4g
  • Calories: 110-120

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The best protein powder for men's muscle gain, in our humble opinion, goes to Kaged Whey Protein Isolate. This is protein powder at its best: simple and straightforward. The whey protein isolate has been ultra-filtered in an attempt to improve digestion and absorbability. ProHydrolase®, a digestive enzyme created specifically for protein digestion, gives this powder the edge. This enzyme helps break down protein during digestion and has been shown to improve the duration that amino acids circulate in the blood. This allows for improved muscle gain and recovery.

We love that Kaged prides itself on carefully selecting ingredients that do what they claim to do. This protein is gluten-free, doesn't contain artificial flavors, and is non-GMO. We also like that Kaged has this product third-party tested for quality and purity.

What We Like

  • Simplified whey protein isolate
  • Addition of ProHydrolase® digestive enzyme
  • No artificial flavors, gluten-free, non-GMO
  • Third-party tested

What We Don't Like

  • Sucralose used to sweeten instead of a more natural sugar substitute
  • On the sweeter end of the spectrum

BUY: Kaged Whey Protein Isolate

Best Protein Powder for Weight Loss and Muscle Gain - Ritual Daily Shake 18+

Ritual Essential Protein

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale): $$$
  • Flavor Options (rating scale): 1
  • Protein: 20g
  • Sugar: 0g
  • Carbs: 3g
  • Calories: 115

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Ritual's Daily Shake 18+ is our top pick for the best protein powder for weight loss and muscle gain. This powder is revolutionary in a few ways. First, each ingredient is completely traceable. Second, the protein source is organic, non-GMO peas grown in the U.S. Finally, it's sweetened with fermented sugarcane and monk fruit extract. This method of sweetening is not yet available in any other protein brand on the market. Despite being plant-based, it's a complete protein thanks to the addition of synthesized methionine, the missing essential amino acid in pea protein. With a small amount of fat from coconut MCTs, this protein shake will help curb hunger while providing high-quality protein for muscle food.

The transparency of Ritual and its products is bar none. As mentioned, every ingredient is traceable, with the city and state or country of the last manufacturing location listed publicly. The protein powder is third-party tested for quality and safety and is Informed-Sport certified.

What We Like

  • Third party testing
  • Traceability
  • Formulated without sugar alcohols

What We Don't Like

  • 1 flavor option
  • Price may be prohibitive to some

BUY: Ritual Daily Shake 18+

Best Protein Powder for Muscle Gain and Fat Loss - Jacked Factory Authentic ISO

Jacked Factory Authentic Iso

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale): $$
  • Flavor Options (rating scale): 2
  • Protein: 25g
  • Sugar:1g
  • Carbs: 1g
  • Calories: 110

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Jacked factory authentic ISO is our top pick as the best protein powder for muscle gain and fat loss. This protein powder starts off with high-quality, grass-fed whey protein isolate. The protein isolate is ultra-filtered to remove additional fat and sugar and to make the powder easily digestible. With few ingredients, authentic ISO is lower in calories but high in protein to give you a protein boost for muscle gain. Because it's lower in calories, this protein powder will not make a big dent in your overall calorie intake while providing you with a solid serving of protein. It's sweetened with sucralose and Stevia extract to keep blood sugars in check. The small amount of sugar in this protein comes from the naturally occurring lactose in the whey.

This wonderfully simple yet sophisticated protein powder is a great option for muscle gain. We also really like that it's manufactured in the U.S. and doesn't have any fillers or dyes. It can be mixed in with any beverage but many prefer it simply with water.

What We Like

  • Whey protein is ultra-filtered to remove impurities and additional fat and sugar
  • Made with grass-fed whey protein
  • Contains no fillers or dyes

What We Don't Like

  • Artificial flavorings listed but not specified
  • On the sweet end of the spectrum

BUY: Jacked Factory Authentic ISO

Best Protein Powder for Muscle Gain for Beginners - Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale): $$
  • Flavor Options (rating scale): 3
  • Protein: 24g
  • Sugar: 1-2g
  • Carbs: 1-4g
  • Calories: 110-130

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Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey protein powder is our choice as the best protein powder for muscle gain for beginners. We like this protein powder because it's made with highly absorbable whey protein isolate—great for muscle gain—and because of the extremely wide variety of flavors, from straightforward Double Rich Chocolate and Vanilla Ice Cream to Banana Cream and Mocha Cappuccino. This protein powder has 18 flavors available, perfect for a newbie to protein shakes because you'll most certainly find one that you enjoy.

For over 30 years, Optimum Nutrition has been a trusted brand in the health and wellness industry, with a solid reputation. They test and retest all of their protein powders in-house during the manufacturing process and are adamant that they will not sacrifice quality for increased profits. We also like their return policy—if you purchase the product directly from their website and decide you don't like it, you can return it within 30 days as long as 75% of the contents are remaining.

What We Like

  • Exhaustive list of flavors
  • Trusted brand
  • Return policy allows you to try a flavor that you might be reluctant to try normally

What We Don't Like

  • Not third-party tested
  • Longer ingredient list compared to others

BUY: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey

Best Protein Powder for Muscle Gain for Women - Cira Bright Whey Protein

Cira Bright Whey Protein

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale): $$
  • Flavor Options (rating scale): 2
  • Protein: 25g
  • Sugar: 1g
  • Carbs: 2g
  • Calories: 120

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Our choice for the best protein powder for muscle gain for women is Cira Bright Whey Protein. This protein powder has very few ingredients, including whey protein isolate as well as whey protein concentrate. These two contribute to a well-rounded amino acid profile. Whey protein isolate has been separated from cholesterol, fat, and lactose, so you're left with pure, unadulterated protein. This protein powder is great for post-workout sessions because it also has electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and calcium, which are perfect to replenish after sweating. This protein powder comes in three flavors: cinnamon swirl, cookies and cream, and vanilla. It's also sweetened with both sucralose and Stevia.

Cira's Bright Whey Protein is manufactured here in the United States. They have a flexible return policy with 90 days to return the product if you don't love it. Although this protein powder is marketed towards women and very well suited for a woman, men can certainly use it as well.

What We Like

  • No fillers
  • Relatively short ingredient list
  • Electrolytes

What We Don't Like

  • Thinner consistency, likely due to the lack of fillers and thickeners in the powder
  • There is no mention of testing for quality

BUY: Cira Bright Whey Protein

Best Vegan Protein Powder for Muscle Gain - Kaged Plantein

Kaged Plantein

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale): $$
  • Flavor Options (rating scale): 2
  • Protein: 25-26g
  • Sugar: 0-1g
  • Carbs: 2-5g
  • Calories: 150-160

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Our choice for the best vegan protein powder for muscle gain is hands down, Kaged Plantein. Pea protein is used as the main source of protein in this powder. Studies show that muscle growth outcomes when utilizing pea protein are very comparable to those of whey protein. The addition of coconut MCT oil adds easily digestible fat which, along with protein, will keep you satisfied longer. We really like that all essential amino acids (EAAs) including branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are included, allowing the product to be considered a complete protein—important for muscle gain.

As mentioned earlier, Kaged has their products third-party tested which really allows you to relax and trust that what you read on the label is actually in the product. We like that Plantein is soy-, dairy-, and gluten-free and contains no artificial flavors. Peanut Butter Cookie, Banana Bread, and Cinnamon Swirl make up the flavor options.

What We Like

  • Third party tested
  • Soy-, dairy-, gluten-free
  • Clean product with minimal ingredients compared to others

What We Don't Like

  • On the sweeter end of the spectrum
  • Some feel as though it clumps more than non-vegan alternatives

BUY: Kaged Plantein

Best Whey Protein Powder for Muscle Gain - Bulk Supplements Whey Protein Isolate

Bulk Supplements Whey Protein Isolate

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale): $$
  • Flavor Options (rating scale): 1
  • Protein: 26g
  • Sugar: 0g
  • Carbs: 0g
  • Calories: 110

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We chose Bulk Supplements Whey Protein Isolate as the best whey protein powder for muscle gain primarily because that's all it is, whey protein. This is the simplest protein powder on our list as it's free of flavorings and sweeteners. Whey protein isolate is literally “isolated” from additional ingredients that usually tag along with whey protein such as fat, cholesterol, and lactose, leaving behind pure whey protein. It is typically easier on the stomach and more readily digestible.

We like thinking outside of the box with this flavorless protein because it can be mixed into any beverage you'd like. Try chocolate milk, coffee, or maybe even flavored water. You aren't reliant on the company for their flavorings and instead can be as creative as you'd like.

What We Like

  • Flavorless, extremely versatile
  • Free of soy, gluten, and sugar
  • Third party tested

What We Don't Like

  • Flavorless, most don't love the taste on its own
  • May have the tendency to add sugar to the beverage when mixing to improve taste

BUY: Bulk Supplements Whey Protein Isolate

Best Plant Protein Powder for Muscle Gain - Ora Work It Performance Plant Protein

Ora Work It Performance Plant Protein

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale): $$$
  • Flavor Options (rating scale): 2
  • Protein: 25g
  • Sugar: 3-5g (flavored), 0g (unflavored)
  • Carbs: 7-10g (flavored), 3g (unflavored)
  • Calories: 170-180 (flavored), 150 (unflavored)

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Ora's Work It Performance Plant Protein is our winner for the best plant protein powder for muscle gain. Ora goes above and beyond with its organic plant protein proprietary blend including 25g of protein from peas, brown rice, chia seed, cranberry seed, and others. To help decrease bloat and improve absorption of the protein, they have added ProHydrolase®, the protein digestive enzyme to aid digestion, as well as a probiotic. To top it off, they've included tart cherry extract which has been shown to improve muscle recovery. This supplement is sweetened with organic coconut sugar as well as organic Stevia extract.

We love the fact that it is a complete protein as well as a powerhouse of nutrition. Ora has put a lot of thought and effort into creating a plant-based product that includes high-quality protein with better absorption capabilities, as well as muscle recovery and digestion support. Because of the fiber in the plant protein and the coconut sugar added, the calories and total carbs are a bit higher than other proteins, but definitely not a dealbreaker. Not only is Work It organic and vegan, but it's also gluten-free. Ora has really outdone itself with this one.

What We Like

  • Proprietary plant-based protein bend
  • Digestive enzyme targeted towards protein absorption
  • Probiotic
  • Tart cherry for improved muscle recovery

What We Don't Like

  • A bit higher in calories, carbs, and sugar
  • On the upper end of the price scale

BUY: Ora Work It Performance Plant Protein

How To Choose the Best Protein Powder for Muscle Gain

Choosing a protein powder in general can be daunting. Tack on aiming for muscle gain and you might not know where to begin. Here are some things to consider prior to making your next purchase.

Protein Type

What's most important is that you choose a protein to fit your needs. For example, if you're vegan or have a dairy protein allergy, consider one of the plant-based options.

In general, protein from animal sources such as whey, casein, or beef are going to have a higher bioavailability, or be better absorbed, when compared to plant-based protein, although pea and lentil protein are close behind. Whey protein is great for an immediate protein boost, while casein is more slowly absorbed.

Protein Quality

Most high-quality protein powders will also include high-quality sources of protein. It's not required, but certainly a good idea to look for organic, non-GMO sources. If the protein is from beef, look for grass-fed options.

Sugar

Something most people don't know is that protein in its purest form tastes and smells quite gross. Protein powder manufacturers need to find ways to mask the taste and adding sweetness is one of the best ways to do so. Although most aren’t sweetened with cane sugar, but rather use sugar substitutes, it's a good idea to know which is in yours.

Stevia leaf or monk fruit extract are going to be the most natural sugar substitutes and they are found in many supplements on the market. Sugar alcohols such as erythritol, sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol are very common calorie-free sugar substitutes as well. They are much sweeter than cane sugar, so a little goes a long way. However, some sugar alcohols are known for causing gastrointestinal upset, leading to bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea when taken in larger quantities. You might want to try it at home first before you go for your long run or gym sesh.

Carbs

Carbs are an important part of your diet and add calories to your daily intake. They are beneficial for sustained exercise as well as recovery. However, most protein drinks are lower in carbohydrates. If you'd like to include carbohydrates with your pre- or post-workout protein shake, consider having a whole fruit or whole grain serving.

Calories

It's a good reminder that in order to gain muscle, we actually need to eat enough calories to sustain muscle gain. You cannot put on muscle if you're burning more calories than you're taking in. In most cases, protein shakes are not very high in calories so it's important to tack on calories elsewhere in your diet or to use your protein as a base for a smoothie and add additional foods in, like banana and peanut butter to boost overall calories.

How We Rate Supplements


Price/Affordability (scale of $-$$$)

Prices depend on a number of factors and tend to fluctuate over time, so we've kept our affordability rating scale simple so you can easily see how products compare:

$ = under $1 per serving
$$ = $1-2 per serving
$$$ = over $2 per serving

Flavor Options (scale of 1-3)

When it comes to dietary supplements that you take frequently or even daily, options are important. And while your protein powder or pre-workout doesn't have to taste good to be effective, having several flavors to choose from can make it easier to stick with your fitness and health goals.

N/A = Unflavored
1 = 1-2 flavor options
2 = 3-4 flavor options
3 = 5 or more flavor options

FAQs About Protein Powders for Muscle Gain


What protein powder builds muscle fastest?

Choosing a protein powder with a high bioavailability is a great way to build muscle more efficiently. High bioavailability means that the protein is easily absorbed by the body and will thus be more easily utilized. Protein with the highest bioavailability will be protein from animal sources, such as eggs, whey, and beef. That's not to say that plant-based sources of protein aren't efficient. Pea, lentil, and soy proteins are also quite bioavailable.

It takes both protein and calories to build muscle, however. Choosing a high-quality, bioavailable protein and ensuring you are exceeding your caloric needs will be a sure fire way to build muscle quickly.

How much protein do I need to build muscle?

The amount of protein you need to build muscle is related to a few factors. The International Society for Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends a daily range of 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram (kg.) of body weight for muscle growth.

What does that mean? Let's run through an example of a 150-pound person.

First convert the weight in lbs. to kg. by dividing the weight by 2.2.

  • 150 lbs. / 2.2 = 68 kg.

Now that we have the weight in kg., we can multiply it by the protein recommendation of 1.4 to 2.0 grams. Let's start with a minimum of 1.4 g.

  • 68 kg. body weight x 1.4 g. protein = 95 g. protein per day

Therefore, this individual should take in a minimum of 95 grams of protein each day to build and maintain. We could then figure out that the maximum amount of protein recommended for this 150-pound person is 136 grams per day (68 kg. x 2.0 g. protein). So their recommended protein range is 95 to 136 grams of protein per day.

How many protein shakes should I drink a day to build muscle?

It is the overall protein and calorie intake that will lead to muscle gain. Determine how much protein you are getting in your diet from all food sources and then compare that with your daily protein intake goal to determine how many protein shakes you should add in each day.

Is it better to drink protein in the morning or at night?

Research shows that there are benefits to drinking protein at various times throughout the day. However, the most important factor is the amount of protein that you take in total over the course of the day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

About the Author

Bryee Shepard, MS, RD

Byree is a registered dietitian with a Master of Science in Dietetics and Nutrition. Bryee is fascinated by food science and biochemistry but also enjoys simple recipe creations as she loves breaking down evidence-based info into digestible guides.

See More from Bryee

Byree is a registered dietitian with a Master of Science in Dietetics and Nutrition. Bryee is fascinated by food science and biochemistry but also enjoys simple recipe creations as she loves breaking down evidence-based info into digestible guides.

See More from Bryee

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