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Have you ever found yourself standing in an aisle of the grocery store, completely unsure of which protein powder to get? You're not alone.
Selecting the right protein powder can feel daunting. Protein powders are not regulated by the FDA, so it’s up to you to find a protein source that contains a spectrum of benefits, like a full profile of amino acids and little to no added sugars. And if you're looking into plant-based muscle-builders, a combo of several different sources of protein is ideal as a complete nutrient source.
An important note: While protein powders can be added to a variety of foods, like smoothies, shakes, and oatmeal, it’s important to remember that protein powders are only supplemental to a healthy, balanced diet. To better understand what your recommended daily amount of protein is, consult your physician.
We asked Tamar Samuels, RD, NBC-HWC, for tips on what to look for when selecting a protein powder, as well as for her input on the best protein powders on the market for women.
What To Look for in a Protein Powder
“Protein powders aren’t regulated by the FDA, which means that they do not require pre-market approval before being sold to the public,” explains Samuels. That means it falls on you to do your due diligence when it comes to not only reading the ingredient label but also looking further into the product. Samuels recommends choosing brands that are transparent about “all aspects of their product, including sourcing, manufacturing, and processing." She says, "you should be able to find all this information on the website. If it's not available, skip it.”
To that point, Samuels also suggests choosing formulas that don’t have lengthy ingredient lists, full of fillers and additives, but rather just a handful of ingredients that you actually recognize.
Type of Protein
Not all protein sources are created equal. Ideally, you want a source that contains all nine essential amino acids, explains Samuels. Animal-based sources have all of them, but not all plant-based options do (hemp seeds, chia, and quinoa being the exception). If you’re going with a different plant-based protein, look for a formula that combines it with other ones so that you make sure you get that complete amino acid profile, she suggests.
Here, the best protein powders for women to get you going.
Best Overall : Ritual Essential Protein Daily Shake 18+
One scoop has 20 grams of protein
Contains complete aminos
Not for all ages
You probably know Ritual by their range of beloved vitamins, but that's all about to change. The brand recently debuted a line of protein powders, and they're poised to be just as much of a hit as their capsule cousins. The plant-based protein is soy-free, gluten-free, and vegan-friendly. It's also formulated without GMOs, major allergens, stevia, sugar or sugar alcohols, and artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners. Basically: You won't find a long list of ingredients that you can't pronounce; everything included—from choline for brain support, to monk fruit for sweetness—has a purpose and is Made Traceable with a visible supply chain.
Key Ingredients: Organic pea protein, vanilla, sugarcane | Certified: Non-GMO, gluten-free, allergen-friendly | Dosage: 1 scoop daily | Size: 15.8 oz.
What Our Editors Say
"This protein powder tastes great and does not upset my stomach at all. I love that it comes with a shaker to help eliminate clumping, but honestly, you don't even need to use it because the powder is super smooth." - Jessica Mahgerefteh, Commerce Editorial Director
Runner-Up, Best Overall: ALOHA Organic Protein Powder
Free of common allergens
Easy to digest
This tasty plant-based protein powder is ideal for those with food sensitivities as it’s free of gluten, soy, dairy, and stevia. Each serving packs in 18 grams of plant-based protein, sourced from hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and peas, and a complete amino acid profile for optimal wellness. Instead of artificial sweeteners, this formula relies on natural coconut sugar and monk fruit for its sweetness and vanilla bean, cinnamon, and coconut cream for its flavor. While users do like the taste, they also love that it’s non-irritating on their digestive system.
Key Ingredients: Pea, brown rice, pumpkin seed, and hemp seed protein | Certified: Organic, non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free | Dosage: 2 scoops daily | Size: 3 oz.
Best for Toning: Tone It Up Plant-Based Protein Powder
Low calories per serving
Low in carbs
Developed by the founders of Tone It Up (FYI, their Instagram is #fitnessgoals), this powder is ideal for those who live an active lifestyle and want to firm up their bodies. With zero sugar added (amen!) and 15 grams of protein, this powder is only 90 calories per serving—so if you're watching your caloric intake, consider this one your perfect match.
Key Ingredients: Pea and pumpkin seed protein | Certified: Organic, non-GMO, gluten-free | Dosage: 1 scoop daily | Size: 11.36 oz.
Best Organic: Ora Organic Vegan Protein Powder
22 grams per serving
Easy to digest
A little expensive
Users love this protein powder for its raw organic superfood combo of kale, acai, blueberries, rice, pea, hemp, flax, quinoa, and spirulina. While it has an impressive 22 grams of protein, it also features just five grams of net carbs and no added sugar, so this is great for those on a low-carb diet. Plus, it’s easy on your stomach as it includes vegan digestive enzymes to aid in smooth digestion. And with no chalky taste, it’s perfect to add in even the simplest shakes.
Key Ingredients: Pea, rice, and hemp protein | Certified: Organic, vegan, soy-free, dairy-free | Dosage: 2 scoops daily | Size: 22.9 oz.
Best Taste: Olly Plant Powered Protein Protein Powder Chocolate
Amino acids are the building blocks that make up proteins and have a role in virtually all the biological processes that occur in our bodies, including the reparation of skin.
Customers report that this protein powder is unbelievably delicious—not too sweet or chocolatey and not at all powdery-tasting. In addition to packing in 18 grams of plant-based protein per serving (derived from pea protein and flax seeds), it also contains eight of the nine essential amino acids, which are important in encouraging healthy tissue in muscles, bones, skin, and hair. Mix a scoop in your iced coffee for a delicious kick that will keep you full for hours.
Key Ingredients: Pea protein, flax seed | Certified: Non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan | Dosage: 2 scoops daily | Size: 14.8 oz.
Best with Collagen: Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides
Not ideal for workouts
Collagen refers to a family of proteins that are the primary structural component of connective tissues, such as skin, ligaments, and cartilage. Topical collagen creams are said to improve fine lines and wrinkles by replacing the lost collagen, though its main benefit is moisturizing the skin.
Can you guess what the most abundant protein in our bodies is? I'll give it to you straight: collagen. Not only is it the amplest, but it's literally the thing that holds our bodies together. Our skin, bones, muscles, and tendons all have collagen, so it's safe to say that it's a pretty important protein. Unfortunately, like all good things, collagen production begins to slow down as we age, so refueling our bodies with that protein is needed. That's where this one-ingredient protein powder comes in. It basically supports your entire body—nails, joints, skin, and more. Users love it for its versatility; it can be added to almost anything, like cold and hot liquids, and baked goods (we're thinking cookies). Samuels is a self-proclaimed, “big fan,” lauding the brand for being transparent about ingredients and sourcing.
Key Ingredients: Collagen, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid | Certified: Non-GMO, paleo, gluten-free | Dosage: 2 scoops daily | Size: 20 oz.
Best with Whey: Care/of Whey Protein
Ideal for muscle recovery
Contains grass-fed whey
A dairy-based protein, this grass-fed whey is an isolate, which means it has the highest concentration of protein and little carbs, fats, and sugars. While it’ll promote muscle growth and recovery post-workout, it can also be used as a snack substitute if you’re looking to manage your weight. It’s also delightfully creamy in texture, making your protein shakes and smoothing all the more delicious. Add two scoops to 8-10 ounces of your favorite cold liquid—we love unsweetened almond milk—and shake thoroughly.
Key Ingredients: Whey protein | Certified: Non-GMO, gluten-free | Dosage: 2 scoops or 1 packet daily | Size: 9.5 oz.
Best Vegan: Kapowder Strength Plant Protein with Superpowers
Boosts muscle growth & recovery
A little expensive
Looking for a protein powder that doesn’t use any animal-derived ingredients? Look no further than this alkalizing formula from Kapowder. Powered by three different plant-based proteins—hemp, bio-fermented black rice, and pea—it works hard to give your bod a toning boost post-workout. The formula contains over 80% raw digestible protein with live enzymes and high levels of BCAA (branch-chain amino acids), which help boost muscle growth and help reduce exercise-induced fatigue. Also nice: The sugar-free, low-carb formula is free from synthetic ingredients and is flavored with delicious Peruvian cacao and coconut for a protein boost you’ll actually look forward to drinking.
Key Ingredients: Hemp, bio-fermented brown rice, and pea protein | Certified: Vegan, non-GMO, | Dosage: 2 tsps daily | Size: 7.8 oz.
Best with Fiber: Manitoba Harvest Hemp Yeah! Organic Max Protein Protein Powder
Contains filling fiber
Complete amino acid profile
Large serving size
Wanting to see a lower number on the scale? This protein powder provides 10 grams of fiber and nine grams of protein to keep you fuller, longer. Fiber takes up a lot of space in the stomach without providing any calories, so it's ideal for those who want to stay satiated for an extended period of time. Hemp, another plant-based protein alternative, contains all nine essential amino acids that we get from food. It's also easily digestible, with one user reporting that it helped improve her digestion, unlike other protein powders. “I haven’t tried this one, so I can’t vouch for the taste or texture, but hemp has all nine essential amino acids, the product is organic, and the formula contains minimal ingredients,” notes Samuels.
Key Ingredients: Hemp protein | Certified: Vegan, B corporation, organic | Dosage: 4 tbs daily | Size: 16 oz.
Best with Immune Support: Four Sigmatic Plant-Based Protein with Superfoods
One-scoop serving size
Also contains adaptogens
If you’re looking for added immune support in addition to upping your protein intake, try this blend from Four Sigmatic. Formulated with five organic plant proteins (hemp, pumpkin seeds, chia, coconut, and pea protein), it also contains with a slew of functional mushrooms like chaga, reishi, and lion’s mane and adaptogens like ashwagandha to support overall wellness, including giving your immune system a boost. It contains only 2g of sugar—no stevia here—and has a sweet vanilla flavor that's sourced from real organic vanilla, to boot. Mix this into your shakes, smoothies, or even into your pancakes to add a nutrient-rich (and absolutely delicious) kick.
Key Ingredients: Hemp, pumpkin seeds, chia, coconut, and pea protein | Certified: Organic, plant-based, gluten-free | Dosage: 1 scoop daily | Size: 21.16 oz.
Best with Greens: Sakara Organic Protein + Greens Super Powder
Complete amino acid profile
Contains sesame, a potential allergen
For equal parts protein and daily greens, check out this powder supplement from Sakara. Each serving contains 12 grams of whole-food, bioavailable protein sourced from organic pea, hemp, pumpkin seed, and sesame, which together provide you with the nine amino acids your body needs but is unable to produce naturally. It also contains a powerful blend of greens, including wheatgrass and barley grass—which are high in phytonutrients, enzymes, and magnesium—as well as spirulina and chlorella, both of which are sources of DHA and EPA, two fatty acids critical for cognitive health and hormonal balance.
This blend has a naturally sweet yet mildly earthy flavor that easily mixes into smoothies or other recipes, and we love that you can purchase it either as individually wrapped single-serving packets or as a full pouch with a scoop.
Key Ingredients: Organic pea, hemp, pumpkin seed, and sesame proteins | Certified: Organic, plant-based | Dosage: 1 packet daily | Size: 21.16 oz.
Best with Adaptogens: Moon Juice Blue Beauty Adaptogenic Protein
Full amino profile
Contains greens & chia seeds
Adaptogens are herbs that are thought to help boost your body’s resistance to both physical and emotional stress. Moon Juice, a brand known for its many cult-favorite adaptogen blends, combines this plant magic with bio-fermented brown rice protein to help boost energy, manage stress, combat the signs of aging by preserving natural collagen and elasticity, and protect the body against oxidative stress. It contains only seven ingredients, including the likes of ashwagandha, amla, and blue spirulina. Plus, as some reviewers mention, the blend is relatively tasteless, making it a great nutrient-dense addition to plant milk, smoothies, and even baked goods.
Key Ingredients: Bio-fermented brown rice protein | Certified: Vegan, gluten-free | Dosage: 1 scoop daily | Size: 16 oz.
Protein powders can be a great and easy way to get extra, well, protein into your diet, but it is important to choose carefully. The Ritual Essential Protein Daily Shake 18+ is our fave, a plant-based pick that’s free of many common allergens such as gluten and soy. The Ora Organic Vegan Protein Powder is a great, totally organic, and vegan option that relies on a combo of superfoods, while the Care/of Whey Protein earns our pick for those who want a dairy-based powder. Collagen peptides also pull double-duty as a protein powder; the Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides is a universal fan-favorite that can also be used in any different number of ways.
What can you mix protein powder with?
Samuels considers protein powder to be a convenient way to add additional protein to certain foods or meals without altering the flavor profile too much—unless, of course, you choose to go with a flavored supplement. “I love adding protein powder to oatmeal, which is high in fiber but naturally low in protein,” she says. “For oatmeal, I prefer neutral-tasting protein powders like collagen peptides, but you can also add flavored protein powders (chocolate tastes great) to add some variety. I also love adding it to smoothies. Again, you can use neutral or flavored options here, just make sure the texture is right.”
Looking for more ideas? Samuels also recommends adding protein powder to baked goods. “I love making high fiber muffins and pancakes with protein powder for a healthy, high protein grab-and-go breakfast.” Yum!
When should you take protein powder?
Not sure when to reach for your protein powder? According to Samuels, you can take it at any time for an extra boost of protein, but you can also optimize when you take it, depending on your goals. “Most people struggle with getting enough protein with breakfast because they either skip it or eat a carbohydrate-rich breakfast,” she says. “Eating enough protein first thing in the morning is important for stabilizing blood sugar for the rest of the day, which helps prevent over-eating, minimizes cravings, and stabilizes appetite.” That said, she recommends having it at breakfast time to reap these benefits.
Big on the gym or lifting weights at home? “If you exercise, it can be helpful to add protein powder during or right after your workout if you aren’t planning on having a protein-rich meal post-workout,” she says. “This helps support muscle growth.”
How often should you eat protein powder?
Samuels doesn’t recommend having protein powder more than once daily. “Even the best protein powders are still processed foods, and you’re missing out on key vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other phytonutrients when you opt for protein powder over whole food sources,” she says. So again, treat it as an added protein boost for certain meals or snacks, but don’t use it as a meal replacement, especially more than once a day.
Meet the Expert
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any protein powders from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.