9 Expert-Approved Protein Powders That Actually Taste Good

Vegan, whey, and baking-friendly options that won’t remind you of chalk.

Collage of best protein powders on green background

Courtesy of the brands / Wesley Hall

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It can be tricky to pinpoint the best protein powder for your needs, especially when the choices out there are seemingly endless: There are plant- and animal-based protein blends, powders with additional ingredients like fruits and veggies, and about as many flavors as you’d find on Starbucks’s secret menu. But finding the best option for you doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process. We spoke to registered dietitians with sports nutrition expertise to get the inside scoop (pun intended) on different types of protein powder—and how to choose the right one for you.

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What to look for in a protein powder

When you start shopping for protein powders, the first step is choosing between animal-based powders or plant-based varieties. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but there are a few key differences to consider.


Most registered dietitians consider whey—a component of milk—the “gold standard” for protein supplementation, Angie Asche, MS, RD, CSSD, owner of Eleat Sports Nutrition and author of Fuel Your Body: How to Cook and Eat for Peak Performance, tells SELF. That’s partly because it is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine of the amino acids your body needs to function. It’s also generally easy to absorb and digest, provided you don’t have a dairy allergy or intolerance, Asche says.


If you are vegan, dairy-intolerant, or prefer to eat fewer animal-derived foods, you can try plant-based protein powders instead. These options generally feature peas, beans, soy, and brown rice as the main ingredients, making them a great dairy- and lactose-free alternative to whey. Just keep in mind that certain plant protein sources are considered “incomplete,” Asche says. That’s why a lot of plant-based powders combine multiple protein sources, which can create a complete profile (think peas and rice).

What to avoid in a protein powder

For the most part, what you skip can come down to your own preferences—this writer, for example, won’t come within six feet of a milk chocolate-flavor protein powder due to its way-too-sweet taste. But there are a few ingredients that experts suggest taking a closer look at before making your purchase.

Sugar alcohols and other sweetener substitutes, as well as thickeners like carrageenan, can potentially upset your stomach, causing gas, bloating, or diarrhea, Asche says. Not everyone will find these ingredients hard to digest, but it’s something to keep in mind. Plus powders that contain real added sugar instead of artificial sweeteners can also be helpful, since they provide your body with a boost of protein and carbohydrates. And that combo of protein and carbs can be especially beneficial for post-workout recovery, sports dietitian Renee McGregor, RD, tells SELF.

For some peace of mind about the quality, look for protein powders that are NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Choice Certified, Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and owner of Kelly Jones Nutrition and Student Athlete Nutrition, tells SELF. These third-party tests confirm that a powder’s label accurately reflects its ingredients, and that it doesn’t contain contaminants or dangerous or banned substances.

The best protein powders

The following protein powders, all of which were recommended to SELF by sports nutrition experts, should make meeting your protein intake requirements (more on that below!) as easy and tasty as possible. Find the one that suits you best, grab a shaker bottle, and fuel your body.

1. Klean Athlete Klean Isolate

Both Asche and Jones point to the third-party-certified brand Klean Athlete as a solid choice for straightforward, muscle-building whey protein powders. They keep things relatively simple—the ingredients list is short and the flavor options are classic. For an additional performance boost, this gluten-free powder also contains a little additional sodium, “which is important for rehydration and recovery after training,” Jones explains. And, from a totally practical standpoint, we like that this powder comes in a resealable bag as opposed to a cumbersome tub, so it’s easy to pack up if you’re traveling or refueling at the gym.

  • Animal-based | Key ingredients: whey protein | Available flavors: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, unflavored

Klean Athlete Klean Isolate

2. Now Sports Nutrition Pea Protein

Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, founder of Greenletes and author of Planted Performance, likes Now Sports because it completes third-party testing on all its products and it has a complete protein profile. (Asche and Jones recommend this brand for the same reasons.) This pea protein powder has literally one ingredient, and the fact that it’s unflavored makes it especially versatile—consider it a great addition to your next high-protein baking project. If you actually want to taste your protein, Now’s Plant Protein Complex also comes in delicious flavors like chocolate mocha.

  • Plant-based | Key ingredients: yellow pea protein | Available flavors: unflavored

Now Sports Nutrition Pea Protein

3. Garden of Life Organic Plant-Based Protein

Garden of Life is another brand that comes highly recommended by both Rizzo and Asche, due to its reputable testing practices and third-party certifications. This vegan variety includes a number of ingredients that may aid nutrition and fitness goals: probiotics to support gut health; a blend of antioxidant-rich fruits like tart cherries and blueberries, which can help with muscle recovery; and peas and beans as its protein sources.

  • Plant-based | Key ingredients: organic pea protein, organic sprouted navy bean, organic sprouted lentil bean, organic sprouted garbanzo bean, organic cranberry seed protein | Available flavors: chocolate, vanilla

Garden of Life Sport Organic Vegan Protein Powder

4. Orgain Organic Vegan Protein Powder

Jones likes Orgain’s organic plant-based powder for its availability (you can stock up at retailers like Target, Costco, and Amazon) and its blend of protein sources. It contains peas, brown rice, and chia seeds, which provide a complete amino acid profile. This protein powder is also a good source of iron, which is a major plus in Jones’s book, especially for menstruating athletes. For those concerned about texture, the brand promises a grit-free mouthfeel, and reviewers write that it does, indeed, create a smooth shake—and some go so far as to note that it’s the best-tasting protein powder they’ve tried.

  • Plant-based | Key ingredients: organic pea protein, organic brown rice protein, organic chia seed | Available flavors: creamy chocolate fudge, coconut chocolate, cookies and cream, iced coffee

Orgain Organic Vegan Protein Powder

5. Ascent 100% Whey Protein Powder

Another preferred brand of Asche’s, Ascent makes both whey- and plant-based protein powders, so you should be able to find one that fits your preferences. The former features a unique combination of regular whey protein and native whey protein, which is less processed (so more of the milk’s protein remains). These blends are also made without artificial flavors and, again, come in a convenient bag that you can zip up and store without losing a ton of pantry space.

  • Animal-based | Key ingredients: native whey protein, whey protein | Available flavors: lemon sorbet, chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, cookies and cream, strawberry, vanilla, unflavored

Ascent 100% Whey Protein Powder

6. Orgain Vanilla Sport Plant-Based Protein Powder

Orgain’s sport powders contain more protein—30 grams—than the brand’s standard options (which clock in at 21 grams), making them an especially good option for anyone working to build muscle, Jones says. Plus, she adds, their ingredient lists are relatively simple, which is a rare (and welcome!) find in extra high-protein supplements marketed for muscle growth. One thing the Sport Plant-Based Powder has in common with Orgain’s regular vegan powder is a decent amount of iron. It also contains recovery-boosting tart cherry and gut-soothing ginger.

  • Plant-based | Key ingredients: organic pea protein, organic brown rice protein, organic chia seed | Available flavors: chocolate, vanilla

Orgain Vanilla Sport Plant-Based Protein Powder

7. Vega Sport Premium Vegan Peanut Butter Protein Powder

Asche recommends Vega Sport’s plant-based protein powders (like this peanut butter-flavored option) to the athletes she works with because they’re NSF Certified—and we think just about anyone should consider giving them a try for their range of tasty flavors and nutritional perks. In addition to its protein content, this vegan powder contains a nice amount of calcium (15% of the recommended daily allowance) and ingredients that can help you recover from your workout, such as tart cherry.

  • Plant-based | Key ingredients: pea protein, pumpkin seed protein, organic sunflower seed protein, alfalfa protein | Available flavors: peanut butter, berry, chocolate, mocha, vanilla

Vega Sport Premium Vegan Peanut Butter Protein Powder

8. Sunwarrior Pea Protein Powder 

Sunwarrior isn’t NSF certified, but Asche still likes it for people who are recreationally active (and aren’t as concerned about third-party testing). The brand’s Classic Plus line uses a combination of quinoa, brown rice, peas, amaranth, and chia seeds for its protein content, which amounts to a complete profile. Reviewers also note that it mixes really easily into protein shakes and smoothies, with little to no grit or chalkiness, and tastes great—especially the vanilla flavor.

  • Plant-based | Key ingredients: organic fermented brown rice, organic fermented pea protein, organic quinoa, organic chia seed, organic amaranth | Available flavors: chocolate, vanilla, unflavored

Sunwarrior Pea Protein Powder With Amino Acids

9. Thorne Whey Protein Isolate

Available in both animal-based and vegan offerings, Thorne’s protein powder is another one of Asche’s favorites—especially since it’s also NSF Certified for Sport. Its whey blend checks essential boxes, like a straightforward ingredient list and quick-dissolving texture (according to reviewers). And the brand thoroughly tests its products for efficacy in clinical trials and collaborates with the Mayo Clinic on nutritional research and testing. A nice (albeit superficial) bonus is the cool, minimalist packaging—yet another expert-approved powder in a space-saving bag.

  • Animal-based | Key ingredients: whey protein | Available flavors: chocolate

Thorne Whey Protein Isolate

Do you really need protein powder?

Now that you know the best ones to try, let’s get into the potential benefits of protein powder. Protein is a vital macronutrient that helps support our immune system and build and repair muscle, Jones says. So while you certainly need to consume enough of it, who needs protein powder specifically?

“In a perfect world, we would obtain all of the nutrients we need each day, including protein, from whole foods alone,” Jones says. But in the real world, you might not always have time to shop for and prepare high-protein snack recipes, especially if you follow a vegetarian or vegan eating style. That’s where a protein powder can come into play—it’s a convenient way to get more of this crucial macronutrient in your daily diet.

If you’re not sure how much protein you actually need, the current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (or 0.36 grams per pound). Keep in mind, that amount of protein is the average minimum to prevent deficiency—if you’re an active person, you may want to shoot for closer to 1.4 to 2 grams per kilogram (or 0.64 to 0.91 grams per pound), Jones says. Ample protein is particularly important if you exercise a lot, especially if you lift weights, because it helps repair the micro tears in your muscles that occur after intense workouts.

If you do the math and realize you aren’t getting enough protein, adding a supplement like a powder to your routine could help. You may also consider consulting your doctor or a registered dietitian to get a clearer idea of your individual protein needs.

How to incorporate protein powder into your diet

The simplest way to use protein powder is to mix it with your liquid of choice and drink it down—but you can get a bit more creative too. Jones recommends blending it into smoothies, adding it to overnight oats, or even making your own protein bars. Asche adds pancakes and waffles to that list, too, and notes it can also boost already high-protein foods like yogurt.

The ideal time to take your protein powder is pretty subjective. Jones says it’s most beneficial when you don’t have bandwidth to whip up a whole food source of protein, whether that’s for breakfast or after your workout. Asche echoes this recommendation, saying you don’t have to overthink it: “It matters more about how much total protein you consume throughout your day as a whole, versus the timing.”

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Sara Coughlin is a writer and editor with ample experience covering health and wellness trends. As SELF’s senior commerce writer, she’s taken a special interest in skin care, outdoor recreation, sleep, fitness gear and apparel, and more.

SELF does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

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