We updated this article in November 2022 to ensure all top picks are in stock and include current pricing (note that price per serving is calculated based on price at time of publication). Our picks were updated to reflect new testing results.
Did you know that protein is present in every cell in the body? This essential nutrient is critical for building, maintaining and even repairing muscle. It also plays a role in supporting enzymes and hormones to keep the body functioning properly. Eating real, whole ingredients to up your protein intake (particularly eggs, seafood, beef, poultry, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy products and pork) is always the gold standard, no matter what.
That being said, there are specific situations — based on health status, life stage or training programs — when having a protein powder on-hand can help you meet your nutrient needs. While most people don’t need to take protein powder, active individuals may find that it can help promote female muscle gain alongside a balanced diet. But the protein powder aisle has rapidly expanded in recent years and since the supplement industry is poorly regulated, it can be difficult to find a quality option that meets your needs, tastes good and above all is what it says it is.
That’s why registered dietitians in the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab evaluated dozens of protein powders, prioritizing brands with third-party testing and wholesome ingredient lists. When determining your protein needs and choosing a protein powder, you can follow the recommended dietary allowance of protein for healthy individuals which is 0.8 g/kg of body weight per day, or about 10 to 35% of your daily calories. This can be increased if you are more active or elderly. If you’re using a protein powder for a medical reason or taking any medications, it’s always best to check with your doctor before starting a supplement regimen. Here are the best protein powders of 2022, according to registered dietitians.
Our top picks:
You can learn more about how we evaluate protein powders, including tips on which protein powder is best for you, at the end of this guide. Looking for more plant-based protein powder options? Check out our top tested vegan protein powders.
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Best Overall Protein Powder for Women
Whey Protein Isolate, Vanilla Flavored
|Price per serving||$1.83|
|Serving size||One scoop (27.9 g)|
|Nutrition facts||21 g protein, 100 calories, 0.5 g total fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 3 g total carb, 1 g fiber, 3 g total sugars, 1 g added sugar|
Best Value Protein Powder for Women
Pea Protein Unflavored Protein Powder
|Price per serving||$0.83|
|Serving size||One level scoop (33 g)|
|Nutrition facts||24 g protein, 120 calories, 2 g total fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 320 mg sodium, 1 g total carb, 0 g fiber, 0 g total sugars, 0 g added sugars|
Best Vegan Protein Powder for Women
|Price per serving||$2.66|
|Serving size||One scoop (30 g)|
|Nutrition facts||20g protein, 115 calories, 2g fat, 0.5g sat fat, 290mg sodium, 3g carbs, 3g fiber, total sugar 0g, 0g added sugar|
Best Protein Powder for Women Athletes
Garden of Life
Sport, Certified Grass Fed Whey
|Price per serving||$1.99|
|Serving size||One scoop (32 g)|
|Nutrition facts||24 g protein, 120 calories, 0 g total fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 120 mg sodium, 6 g total carb, 4 g fiber, 0 g total sugar, 0 g added sugar|
Best Unflavored Whey Protein Powder for Women
Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate, Unflavored
|Price per serving||$1.58|
|Serving size||One scoop (33 g)|
|Nutrition facts||30 g protein, 130 calories, 1 g total fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 120 mg sodium, <1 g total carb, 0 g fiber, <1 g total sugars, 0 g added sugars|
Best High Fiber Protein Powder for Women
Organic Hemp Protein Powder
|Price per serving||$0.89|
|Serving size||Four tablespoons (30 g)|
|Nutrition facts||15 g protein, 110 calories, 3 g total fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 8 g total carbohydrate, 6 g fiber, 1 g total sugar, 0 g added sugars|
Best Collagen Powder for Women
Original Collagen Peptides Powder
|Price per serving||$1.51|
|Serving size||2 scoops (20 g)|
|Price per serving||$1.51|
How we test the best protein powders
Our registered dietitians evaluated dozens of protein powders, analyzing ingredients, protein counts, added sugar amounts as well as flavor and consistency. Although taste is subjective and can vary based on what you mix the protein powder with, we feel that our top picks have balanced flavor profiles.
Since protein powder is considered a dietary supplement, it’s not approved by the FDA, which is why our experts checked to see if the powders were verified by a third-party lab for purity and safety. We also prioritized choices that were cross-referenced with the ConsumerLab.com database for choices that are accurately sourced, labeled and backed by Lab analysis. You’ll notice many of our choices are NSF Certified for Sport which is a prestigious certification indicating that the product has been tested and certified for quality, purity and safety. Some are also Informed Sport Certified which screens products for more than 250 substances prohibited in sport. All of these measures help ensure that there’s no harmful material (like lead, which has been found in supplements) in the products themselves, and also verifies that what’s in the bottle is what it claims to be (e.g., actual protein versus Splenda).
What to look for when shopping for the best protein powder
Carefully — since protein powders are considered dietary supplements, they’re not overseen by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means they may contain unwanted or potentially harmful ingredients or they simply won’t provide the “life-changing” benefits touted on the packaging. Use dietary supplements to fill in the gaps from what might be missing in your diet — not to take the place of food. Here’s what to consider before you pick a protein powder:
✔️ Potential Dietary Restrictions: Since they aren’t FDA-regulated, there’s no real way of knowing whether these powders are acceptable for people with allergies or intolerances. They may not have any allergens in their ingredients list, but there’s still potential for cross-contamination in the manufacturing process.
✔️ Other Ingredients: Added sugar and fats can up the calorie content in protein powder. Choose unflavored versions made with only with a protein isolate for keeping calories in check. (You should be able to multiply the grams of protein by four and get the same number as total calories.)
✔️ Serving Size: Most protein powders recommend define “scoop” differently. Make sure you know how much to use to get the best bang for your buck.
✔️ Sodium: While it’s less of a concern for endurance athletes, you may want to double check the sodium per scoop. The amount especially soars in chocolate-flavored products.
✔️ Calories: If you’re looking to optimize weight gain, look for the most calories and grams of protein per scoop. The reverse holds for weight loss or general use in smoothies: Look for powders with the lowest total calories for around 20 grams protein per scoop.
✔️ Other Nutrients: They may (or may not) be desirable based on what you’re using it for. For example, if you know you’re not getting enough iron in your day to day (a key nutrient for athletes!) you may want to choose versions with a higher iron content. Remember: Eat food, first. Load up on the veggies, fruit, unsweetened dairy products, 100% whole grains, pulses, nuts, seeds and legumes (plus plant-based oils for cooking). Nut butter is a great food alternative to protein powder, but check labels for sneaky added sugar.
Protein is comprised of amino acids, which are essentially the building blocks that exist in your body and in food. You need these amino acids to build new tissue, whether it’s red blood cells or muscle cells. Protein is also responsible for many other functions in your body, including transport, immune function, fluid-electrolyte balance, blood clotting and energy (since it provides 4 calories per gram). Our bodies use protein stores to make glucose when there isn’t enough elsewhere (i.e., from stored carbs or fat) to provide the energy you need.
When would I need a protein powder?
Protein powder can provide building-block nutrients, add calories to food without increasing volume and often digests more easily than just carbs or fat alone. It can help in situations like:
✔️ If you’re on a hardcore training regimen for an athletic event
✔️ If you’ve recently had surgery or undergone any form of health-related trauma
✔️ If your nutrient needs are higher due to specific medical conditions, like certain cancers, organ failure or wounds
✔️ If you’ve recently had any oral surgery or a treatment in which swallowing is difficult
✔️ If you are caring for someone who’s struggling to keep their appetite up
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
This story was originally written by Jaclyn London, a registered dietitian who led the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab from 2014 to 2019. This article was most recently updated by registered dietitian Stefani Sassos, who currently handles all of GH’s nutrition content, product testing and evaluation as deputy director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab. She stays up to date on the latest research to provide evidence-based reporting on all things diet and nutrition, and also runs large-scale tests and analyses for products ranging from protein bars to supplements.
Stefani has also been working in the fitness industry for the past decade, specializing in indoor cycling and strength training. As a NASM-certified personal trainer, she uses her expertise and exercise science knowledge to create informed fitness content for Good Housekeeping. She is an avid CrossFitter and utilizes protein powder during certain training seasons to assist with building muscle mass.
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