Best Protein Shakes and Protein Drinks to Grab and Go

women drinking protein shakes


Not that long ago, almost all protein came in powders that you had to mix and blend yourself. No longer! Today's best protein shakes can be bought in pre-mixed, pre-dosed bottles. Also known as "ready to drink" protein or RTDs, these miracles of modern nutrition come in a wide range of flavors, protein types, and doses. They're easier to find than ever—and you don't even need to worry about washing out your shaker bottle after having one!

No matter why you're drinking protein, you can find a perfect fit on our list of the best protein drinks. We've included not just the best whey protein, but also vegetarian protein shake options, too! Just grab one, slam it, and get on with your life!

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 shakes, 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.

The 7 Best Protein Shakes - Our Top Picks

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Best Overall Protein Shake - Optimum Gold Standard Shake

Optimum Gold Standard Shake

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale below): $$$
  • Flavor options (rating scale below): 1
  • Type: Whey protein
  • Protein per serving: 24g
  • Certifications: NSF Certified for Sport

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For many people, the words "Optimum Gold Standard Whey" are synonymous with protein. So it's no surprise that one of the world's leading protein powder manufacturers would also set the bar when it came to protein drinks! Optimum's RTD protein is made of 100% whey, which is one of the most bioavailable and complete forms of protein.

The protein dosage of 24 grams per bottle is in the sweet spot for a range of goals. It's adequate for replenishing your muscles after a workout, but can also work as a meal replacement or snack.

And if you're someone who wants your protein to be tested by third parties, Optimum Gold Standard Whey is certified NSF Safe for Sport, and has a long history of being held to the highest standards.

What We Like

  • 24g protein complements numerous body types and sizes
  • Trustworthy company with long history in the industry
  • With 1g carbs and 4.5g fat, macros fit wide range of goals
  • Cardboard bottle travels easily and takes up less space in trash

What We Don't Like

  • Only 2 flavors
  • Whey protein isn't quite as rich tasting as some protein blends
  • Not as filling as veggie protein for hunger management or meal replacement
  • Other options offer more total protein per dollar

BUY: Optimum Gold Standard Ready to Drink Protein Shake

Best Protein Shake for Weight Loss - GNC Lean Shake

GNC Lean Shake

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale below): $$$
  • Flavor options (rating scale below): 3
  • Type: Milk protein & milk protein isolate
  • Protein per serving: 25g
  • Certifications: Gluten-free and lactose-free

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When the popular sports nutrition brand GNC designed their latest weight loss-focused protein shake, they did more than just make sure the calories and macros were dialed in. They also partnered with Girl Scouts of the USA to offer the protein in the five most popular flavors of Girl Scout Cookies: Coconut Caramel (aka Samoas), Thin Mints, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Lemon, and Adventurefuls. If you associate the Girl Scouts with sabotaging your weight-loss goals every January, this might be just what you've been waiting for!

All of Total Lean Lean Shake's flavors come in the same 25 gram dose, but GNC went so far as to commission a randomized, controlled, parallel group study to back up their formulation. In the study, two groups of obese people followed a 1,500-calorie-per-day diet and walked three times a week. The only difference between the groups: one group drank two Lean Shakes per day, for breakfast and lunch. After 12 weeks, the protein shake group lost double the weight on average of the other group!

The protein in the Total Lean Lean Shake comes from milk protein and milk protein isolate. This means it contains both whey and casein proteins, offering a full range of amino acids and, just as crucially, a creamier texture than most whey shakes. Each bottle also features a multivitamin blend offering 20-30% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of essential vitamins and minerals.

Despite containing milk protein, Lean Shake is lactose-free. And unlike Thin Mints, this protein shake is also gluten-free!

What We Like

  • 25g protein dosage great for hunger and weight control 
  • Girl Scout cookie flavors!
  • Milk protein often has creamier texture than whey
  • Free in-store pickup and additional discounts if you live near a GNC

What We Don't Like

  • Not all the Girl Scout Cookie flavors hit the nostalgia mark perfectly
  • Some flavors contain synthetic food coloring, all contain artificial flavors and sweeteners
  • Bulky plastic bottles

BUY: GNC Total Lean Lean Shake

Best Vegan Protein Shake - Owyn

Owyn

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale below): $$$
  • Flavor options (rating scale below): 3
  • Type: Pea and pumpkin seed protein
  • Protein per serving: 25g
  • Certifications: Non-GMO, gluten-free, free of major allergens (dairy, soy, gluten, egg, peanut, tree nut)

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Owyn is an acronym for "only what you need," and the New Jersey-based company's RTD protein lives up to the promise. Each bottle offers a blast of plant-based protein in a simple, straightforward ingredient list that still manages to match dairy proteins for creaminess and flavor. If you've thought that vegan protein wasn't for you either because of taste or concerns over allergens, this protein could change your mind.

The major sources of protein in Owyn's RTDs are pea and pumpkin seed, helping provide a more substantial range of amino acids than single-ingredient vegan proteins. Conveniently, Owyn's shakes also come in multiple sizes to match goals. The 20-gram protein shake announces on the side, "This is a snack," while the 32- and 35-gram shakes are more substantial meal replacement options.

Owyn's shakes are also clearly created to help protein shoppers with specific dietary needs. In addition to being vegan, lactose-free, and gluten-free, every lot is also tested to be free of the most common allergens, including soy, eggs, fish and shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts.

What We Like

  • Multiple protein sizes for different goals
  • Rich in fiber, more filling than many dairy-based proteins
  • Surprisingly creamy and decadent for vegan protein
  • Designed to work for food allergy sufferers
  • Widely available in grocery stores, with discounts for online subscription

What We Don't Like

  • As brand has grown, numerous flavor, size, and packaging offerings can be confusing
  • Pea protein has a certain earthiness that isn't for everyone
  • Certain flavors can be excessively thick and sweet

BUY: Owyn Plant-Based Protein Shake

Best Low-Carb Protein Shake - Premier Protein

Premier Protein

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale below): $$$
  • Flavor options (rating scale below): 3
  • Type: Milk protein concentrate
  • Protein per serving: 30g
  • Certifications: Non-GMO, gluten-free, free of major allergens (dairy, soy, gluten, egg, peanut, tree nut)

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Word is out that higher-protein diets are great for healthy body composition and craving control, especially if you're trying to control your carb intake. Those extra calories that used to come from carbs have to come from somewhere, right? The only problem: Most protein shakes are still offering just 20 grams per serving, which isn't enough to make a transformative impact in most people's nutrition. At 30 grams per bottle, Premier Protein's protein drinks offer a substantial upgrade from the traditional protein shake, but without adding any extra carbs.

Premier's protein is largely milk protein concentrate, which makes sense when you taste the flavors. The strawberries & cream and root beer floats are dead ringers for the "flavored milk" some of us loved in our youth (or still do). If you found flavored milks to be cloying and sweet, another protein might be a better fit.

What We Like

  • 30g of protein per bottle, higher than the norm
  • Wide range of flavors with nostalgic appeal
  • Widely available in grocery stores and online for quick delivery

What We Don't Like

  • Flavors are on the sweet side, if that's a problem for you
  • If you're really low-carb, a milk protein isolate will likely be a better choice for your macros

BUY: Premier Protein Shake

Best Organic Protein Shake - Orgain

Orgain

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale below): $$$
  • Flavor options (rating scale below): 2
  • Type: Milk protein or pea protein
  • Protein per serving: 16-20g
  • Certifications: Organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free

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California-based Orgain has quickly risen to the top of the organic protein market in recent years as a favorite of high-profile athletes and conscientious consumers alike. All of their RTD protein varieties offer the same detailed approach to sourcing and ingredients, but speak to a wide range of needs and goals.

In addition to its milk-protein-based "Clean Protein," Orgain offers a grass-fed milk-and-whey RTD protein, protein drinks for kids, plant-based protein shakes, and even a pea-protein-enhanced almond milk. The protein per bottle falls at 16-20 grams in their slammable 11-ounce cardboard bottles, and bumps up to 26 grams per bottle in a 14-ounce tall boy.


In addition to being certified organic, all of their variations are free of soy and gluten and are non-GMO.

What We Like

  • Transparent sourcing and formulation
  • Milk and plant-based proteins both have creamy texture and not overly sweet flavor
  • Widely available in grocery stores and online for quick delivery
  • Seasonally available flavors like peppermint hot cocoa, chai latte, and pumpkin spice

What We Don't Like

  • Protein per bottle is definitely on the low end. Hard-training athletes might need to drink 2
  • Limited range of flavors compared to other brands

BUY: Orgain Protein Shakes

Best Vanilla Protein Shake - Core Power by Fa!rlife

Core Power by Fa!rlife Vanilla

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale): $$$
  • Flavor options (rating scale): 1
  • Type: Milk
  • Protein per serving: 26 or 42g
  • Certifications: Lactose-free, gluten-free

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Fa!rlife has built a huge following producing ultra-filtered, lactose-free milk that also offers more protein and fewer carbs than traditional dairy. Its foray into bottled protein, Core Power, plays on those strengths. Look at the label on either the 26 grams Core Power or 42 grams Elite vanilla shakes, and the usual ingredients of milk protein concentrate and filtered water aren't even listed. This is simply filtered, high-protein milk!

How they managed to fit 42 grams of protein into 14 ounces of milk is a mystery to me, but what's clear is that the vanilla flavor of Core is top in class. It's very creamy, not overly sweet, and has a luxurious melted ice cream vibe. Like all Fa!rlife products, it's also lactose-free and gluten-free.

What We Like

  • High protein, especially in 42g Elite shake
  • Easy to find in drug stores, grocery stores, and online
  • Vanilla flavor is on point
  • Also comes in a "performance" shake with 26g of carbs added for workout recovery
  • Amazingly, can be stored unrefrigerated for up to 9 months

What We Don't Like

  • 8g of sugars per bottle might be high for low-carb diets
  • Plastic bottles definitely on the bulky side

BUY: Core Power Protein Shakes

Best Chocolate Protein Shake - Core Power by Fa!rlife

Core Power by Fa!rlife Chocolate

SPECS

  • Price (rating scale): $$$
  • Flavor options (rating scale): 1
  • Type: Milk
  • Protein per serving: 26 or 42g
  • Certifications: Lactose-free, gluten-free

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How did Fa!rlife's Core Power line manage to sweep the flavor categories? Simple: because if the goal for a chocolate protein shake is to taste like chocolate milk, then actual chocolate milk can't be beat. And that's what Core Power's chocolate shake is: ultra-filtered milk, with all of the lactose taken out and chocolate added in.

That may not sound like a way to have more protein than, well, a glass of milk, but somehow, Core Power manages to pack 26 grams of protein into its 11.5-ounce bottles, and a whopping 42 grams into the 14-ounce, with the latter coming in at just 230 calories and 8 grams of carbs. Taken regularly, that's sufficient to make a pretty significant impact on someone's overall macronutrient breakdown, and maybe help them add just a little more muscle, or maintain that muscle while losing weight.

If you've sworn off the dairy aisle because of what it does to your stomach, it's worth repeating that this is lactose-free milk, in addition to being gluten-free. And it also comes in both banana and strawberry-banana varieties if you want to branch out.

What We Like

  • Top of class in total protein and protein per dollar
  • Easy to find in drug stores, grocery stores, and online
  • Cocoa is the second ingredient, after milk
  • Also comes in a "performance" shake with 26g of carbs added for workout recovery

What We Don't Like

  • Big plastic bottles not as easy to store as small cardboard ones
  • Not a low-calorie or low-sugar option compared to other proteins

BUY: Core Power Protein Shakes

Are Protein Shakes Beneficial?

If you are trying to get more protein in your diet, either for health or athletic reasons, protein shakes are perhaps the easiest way to do it. They deliver concentrated blasts of a single crucial macronutrient, but also often contain additional micronutrients. Protein shakes can also be easily enhanced to match your goals or tastes, such as weight gain or weight loss. You can have a protein drink on its own, mix it with fruit, or use it as the base of a protein smoothie recipe.

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 Shakes


Are protein shakes actually good for you?

Protein shakes aren't any healthier than equivalent protein from food, but they are definitely more convenient than cooking! Having a shake after working out or as a meal replacement is a simple way to help tip your body composition and workout recovery in the right direction without adding lots of extra calories.

Are protein shakes good for losing weight?

Boosting your daily protein intake with protein shakes can help ensure that when you lose weight, you're losing more body fat and less muscle. You want to hold onto muscle mass when dieting because it powers your activities and is "metabolically active," meaning every pound of muscle you have burns more calories!

What is the healthiest source of protein?

The healthiest source of protein will vary person by person. Let your stomach and your budget determine the best fit for you! If you can tolerate dairy, you can't go wrong with whey or milk proteins. But plant-based proteins like pea are equally healthy and offer a wide range of amino acids, in addition to fiber and other micronutrients.

When should you drink protein shakes?

Having a protein shake after a workout is a tried-and-true way to boost recovery and your fitness results since your body is slightly more sensitive to the effects of protein for several hours after training. Protein shakes are also an easy meal replacement or snack, especially if the alternative is hitting the drive-thru.

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

Nick Collias

Nick Collias is a writer and editor with over 12 years of experience working in health and fitness. Prior to that, he spent a decade as a print and online journalist, as well as a book author, ghostwriter, and editor.

See More from Nick

Nick Collias is a writer and editor with over 12 years of experience working in health and fitness. Prior to that, he spent a decade as a print and online journalist, as well as a book author, ghostwriter, and editor.

See More from Nick

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