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Best protein powders for muscle gain 2023: Promote hypertrophy by boosting post-workout protein consumption

Looking to maximise your muscle gains after a workout? Then pick up one of these protein powders and mix up a shake

When you’re working hard in the gym, you want to get the maximum muscle growth. That means you need to provide the body with the fuel it needs to repair and rebuild muscle after you train – and that means eating plenty of protein.

You can achieve this by choosing the right diet, but when you’re looking for a quick hit after a workout, protein powder can be a far more convenient and reliable way to increase your intake. Here’s our guide to the best protein powder for you – no matter what your training goals are – along with our handy guide to everything you should look for when buying powder.

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Best protein powders: At a glance

How to choose the best protein powder for you

What types of protein powder are there – and what are the differences?

There are two common types of protein powder, namely casein and whey. Casein is absorbed relatively slowly by the body; this means it’s suitable for taking before you go to bed, so your muscles are drip-fed the nutrients they need to grow overnight.

Whey protein is absorbed more quickly, so this is the one you want to hit straight after a workout. It normally comes in three forms: isolate, concentrate and hydrolysed. Isolate whey has the highest protein content – usually around 90%, compared to anywhere between 30 to 85% for concentrate – and a lower carb and fat content. It’s also absorbed more rapidly than concentrate. Hydrolysed whey protein, meanwhile, has had water added into it during the production process. This makes it easier to digest, so it’s absorbed very quickly, but it’s typically the most expensive form of whey.

Will protein powder make me gain weight?

Not necessarily. While most casein and whey products are low in calories and carbs, you’ll also see high-calorie “mass-gainer” powders, which are intended to help you pack on size or maintain your weight if you’re training intensively.

Can I take protein powder if I’m vegan or dairy-intolerant?

Yes. If you’re a vegan or are avoiding dairy for any reason, there are powders with non-dairy protein sources such as soy.

What flavours are available?

Most protein powders are available in a range of flavours: vanilla, chocolate and strawberry are traditional, and more adventurous flavours such as cookies and cream and peanut butter are increasingly common. You can also get unflavoured protein powders, which are good for adding to smoothies without altering the taste.

READ NEXT: The best meal replacement shakes

How much do I need to spend – and how long will a tub last?

For 1kg of protein powder, you’ll generally spend anywhere from £10 to £40. Paying more usually means a higher percentage of protein and less chance of undesirable ingredients like artificial sweeteners.

However, don’t just focus on the price of a tub of protein powder: check the label to see how many servings it contains. Different powders suggest different amounts, so what looks like a bargain in terms of raw volume might turn out to be a waste if you have to use twice as much powder as another brand. You can also save money by buying in bulk.

READ NEXT: The best protein powder for weight loss

What ingredients should I look out for?

First, check how much protein you’re getting per serving – between 20g and 30g is usual. Then check the carbs, sugars and overall calorie count to make sure these fit with your training goals – if you’re trying to build lean muscle, you don’t want extra calories. Some protein powders also offer nutritional bonuses such as high amounts of fibre or extra vitamins. Remember, though, these are just bonuses: you should be getting that stuff from your diet, not your supplements.

Some powders additionally contain creatine, which can boost performance during high-intensity exercise; powders designed to build lean muscle may contain L-carnitine, which helps your body use fat as fuel for exercise. Then there’s also good old caffeine, the most beloved energy booster of all, which can be found in many protein powders.

Finally, check for ingredients that might not be so welcome, such as aspartame or other sweeteners. Generally, if an ingredient list is long and full of words you’ve never seen before, that’s not great. There’s probably nothing drastically wrong with the ingredients, but consuming a lot of chemicals you don’t recognise isn’t something many people are keen on.

READ NEXT: The best mass gainer 

The best protein powders for muscle gain you can buy in 2023

1. Bulk Powders Pure Whey Protein: Best protein powder under £30

Price when reviewed: £26 (1kg) | Check price at Amazon

Best protein powder - Bulk Pure Whey on a white background

The price of protein powders can fluctuate a fair bit, but Bulk Powders Pure Whey is a reliably good value pick. It comes in a good range of flavours and it’s 82% protein, which is good for a whey concentrate powder. Calories, carbs and everything bar protein is kept to a minimum, and it’s sourced from grass-fed cows.

Key specs – Serving size: 30g; Protein per serving: 22g; Protein type: Whey concentrate

2. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey Protein: Best whey protein powder

Price when reviewed: £65 (2.28kg) | Check price at Amazon

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey Protein on a white background

This popular isolate whey powder packs in a chunky 24g of rapidly-absorbed protein in a 31g serving. It has a reassuring short ingredient list, and there’s very little fat (1g), sugar (1g) or carbohydrate (3g) in a serving. Optimum Nutrition also offers a large range of flavours, including, excitingly, birthday cake.

Key specs – Serving size: 31g; Protein per serving: 25g; Protein type: Whey concentrate

3. Myprotein Clear Whey Isolate: Best protein powder for hot days

Price when reviewed: £35 | Check price at Myprotein

Best protein powder - Clear Whey Isolate on a white background

After a hot and sweaty workout, sometimes the last thing you want is a thick, milky shake. Nonetheless, protein powders that create light drinks aren’t something you regularly come across. That’s why Myprotein’s Clear Whey Isolate stands out. It comes in five summery flavours, including “rainbow candy” and mojito, and mixes well to create a genuinely refreshing post-workout treat.

The nutritional content of the shake is more than up to scratch, too, with 20g of protein per 25g serving, sourced from hydrolysed whey isolate to ensure a smooth, easy-to-absorb mix. Despite the sweet flavours in the range, each serving contains just 0.2g of sugar, supplemented by artificial sweeteners including sucralose.

Key specs – Serving size: 25g; Protein per serving: 20g; Protein type: Hydrolysed whey isolate and casein

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4. Myprotein Weight Gainer Blend: Best value protein powder for mass gain

Price when reviewed: £20 (1kg) | Check price at Myprotein

Best protein powder - MyProtein Weight Gainer Blend on a white background

This mass gainer powder is great value at 25 servings per bag, or £1 per serving. Each one is packed full of nutrients, containing 31.4g of protein, 50g of carbs and 388 calories in total – just what your body needs after putting work in at the gym. The protein is a mix of whey and casein, so your aching muscles get an instant hit from the whey plus a steady supply of protein from the casein in the hours afterwards. The carbs in the powder are also mixed to provide a short-term boost, which comes from the maltodextrin, plus slow-release energy from the ground oats.

Key specs – Serving size: 100g; Protein per serving: 31.4g; Protein type: Mix of whey and casein

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5. Maxinutrition Promax Lean: Best for building lean muscle

Price when reviewed: £45 (980g) | Check price at Maxinutrition

Best protein powder - Maxinutrition Promax Lean Define

If you’re working towards a ripped physique, rather than just trying to add mass in general, you want a powder that’s low in fat and sugar, but which also contains L-carnitine, which transports fatty acids to your mitochondria so they can use the fat for energy. Maximuscle Promax Lean fits the bill perfectly, and it also contains caffeine, which should help boost you through an afternoon of work after a lunchtime workout. Just be wary of using the powder late at night, as it may keep you awake.

Key specs – Serving size: 31g; Protein per serving: 25g; Protein type: Mix of whey concentrate and casein

6. Myprotein Slow-Release Casein: Best casein protein powder

Price when reviewed: £40 (1kg) | Check price at Myprotein

Best protein powder - Slow release casein

Containing 24g of slow-release casein per serving, this powder is ideal for taking in between meals or just before you hit the hay, rather than straight after a workout; your body gets a steady stream of amino acids over several hours to ensure your muscles get what they need to recover and grow. Micellar casein is the most effective type in providing this slow-drip of amino acids, and although it’s not a meal replacement, it will also help you feel full for a good long time.

Key specs – Serving size: 25g; Protein per serving: 24g; Protein type: Casein

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7. SiS REGO Rapid Recovery: Best protein powder for runners

Price when reviewed: £34 (1.6kg) | Check price at Amazon

SIS Rapid Recovery on a white background

Runners need protein after a workout just like everyone else – and they also need carbs to replenish their glycogen reserves, plus electrolytes and minerals to replace those lost in sweat. This powder has it all, including 20g of protein and 22g of carbs. The protein source is soy, and there’s also 2g of added leucine, an important amino acid for muscle growth.

Key specs – Serving size: 50g; Protein per serving: 20g; Protein type: Soy

8. Grenade Hydra 6: Best whey/casein combination protein powder

Price when reviewed: £50 (1.8kg) | Check price at Grenade

Hydra 6 Protein Powder on a white background

If you’re not sure your gym routine is intense enough to justify splashing out on both whey and casein protein to support it, you can opt for this combination powder. Many powders contain a mix of both fast and slow-absorbing proteins but Grenade’s Hydra 6 stands out not only because of the 50/50 blend of each, but the quality of both whey and casein used. The powder uses premium whey isolate and ultrafiltered micellar casein to create a blend that’s easy to mix, not too stodgy to drink, and easily absorbed by the body.

Each 35g serving contains 24g of protein, with 5g of BCAAs, including 2.2g of leucine. The mix of whey and casein means it can be used at any time, whether you need an instant hit of protein after a workout or a steady stream over the course of a night. A serving also only contains 2.5g of sugar and 4.4g of carbs in total, and the powder comes in five dramatically-named flavours, including Cookie Chaos and Strawberry Siege.

Key specs – Serving size: 35g; Protein per serving: 24g; Protein type: Whey isolate and casein

9. MyVegan Clear Vegan Powder: Best-tasting vegan protein powder

Price when reviewed: £25 | Check price at MyProtein

MyVegan Clear Vegan Protein on a white background

Just like the MyProtein Clear Whey powder, MyVegan’s powder offers a refreshingly different take on a protein shake. Instead of the ubiquitous thick, slightly stodgy chocolate and vanilla shakes on offer elsewhere, this powder produces a light, refreshing drink, with flavours to match in Apple & Elderflower, Lemon & Lime, Pineapple & Grapefruit and Strawberry. It’s a real treat after a hot and sweaty workout, or at any time really, though you should probably save it for after your training to get the most benefit from the protein.

The serving size is small at 16g, which is why the protein content is also lower than other shakes at 10g, but you can always double up. The protein is sourced from peas and there are added vitamins in the shake, including half your recommended daily intake of B12.

Key specs – Serving size: 16g; Protein per serving: 10g; Protein type: Pea isolate

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10. Bulk Powders Vegan: Best value vegan protein powder

Price when reviewed: £21 (1kg) | Check price at Amazon

Best protein powder - Bulk Vegan on white background

Whey is a pretty cheap ingredient, especially if it’s whey concentrate, which means that bargains abound for omnivores trying to find a cheap protein powder. That’s not really the case when you’re searching for plant-based protein powders, unfortunately, but there are still some great value options out there.

One such option is this vegan powder from Bulk Powders. It contains just shy of 23g of protein in each 35g serving, which is sourced from a mixture of pea, pumpkin and rice, and it’s low in both sugar and fat. The powder comes in a wide range of flavours, too, with apple strudel offering a particularly tasty alternative to the usual options like strawberry and vanilla.

Key specs – Serving size: 35g; Protein per serving: 22.9g; Protein type: Pea, pumpkin and rice

11. 33Fuel Premium Protein: Best natural protein powder

Price when reviewed: £28 (for 532g) | Check price at 33Fuel

33 Fuel on a white background

If you’re not a fan of long ingredients lists where you can’t identify half of the items listed, you might prefer what 33Fuel has to offer. The brand has a range of natural sports supplements that deliver the same performance gains as other products, while tending to be a little easier on the stomach owing to the natural ingredients used.

This powder uses pea, rice and sunflower protein to deliver 20g of protein per serving and, aside from those three ingredients, all it contains is coconut sugar, cacao and banana. The powder mixes easily in water and while it does have a slightly grainy texture, it tastes great, with the banana and cacao standing out. Since no artificial sweeteners are used, the powder is relatively high in carbs and sugar at 15g and 10g respectively, but there are just 175 calories per serving and it also contains a mix of vitamins and minerals.

Key specs – Serving size: 38g; Protein per serving: 20g; Protein type: Pea, rice and sunflower

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12. Torq Vegan Recovery Powder: Best vegan protein powder for runners and cyclists

Price when reviewed: £22 (500g) | Check price at Torq

Torq recovery

Vegan endurance athletes looking for a shake to help them recover after long, intense sessions will be well served by this powder. It contains a hefty amount of both carbs and protein, to replenish your energy reserves and help you rebuild your muscles. The protein source is high-quality pea isolate, which is absorbed in a similarly rapid fashion as whey.

There are two versions of the powder, and which you choose comes down to more than taste. The Cream Cocoa powder is designed to be added to oat milk, while the Robust and Fruity powder should be mixed with fruit juice. These mixers add more carbs into the mix, while also helping to create a great-tasting shake.

Key specs – Serving size: 96g; Protein per serving: 23.8g; Protein type: Pea isolate