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Best Protein Powders for Athletes

The 9 Best Protein Powders for Athletes [2024 Guide]

Rachel Levin

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In the world of athletic performance and enhancement, creatine has carved a well-deserved spot in the line-up. It stands out for its ability to boost strength, enhance recovery, and promote muscle growth. And it has a lot of science to back it up.


According to Andy Galpin, Ph.D., scientist, coach, teacher, and Momentous partner, “creatine is one of the most established and well-rounded supplements ever developed. It’s actually absurd how effective creatine is, especially with even more evidence coming out now in regards to cognitive function and neurological disease.”


The key to unlocking these benefits without compromise lies in choosing creatine that is certified clean. Products verified to be free from contaminants and deemed safe for athletes are among the most important criteria that should be respected in the pursuit of choosing the right creatine—and really any other supplement.


Recognizing the importance of purity and safety, third-party certifications like NSF’s Certified for Sport and Informed Sport are invaluable markers of trust. They do the heavy lifting to make the research process easier for you. These certifications ensure that the supplements meet rigorous testing criteria, providing athletes with the peace of mind they need to focus on their performance.


We put together a 2024 guide to creatine for athletes designed to help you navigate the myriad of options available, helping you find the best creatine supplements tailored to your athletic goals. Whether you’re aiming to increase your strength and power, speed up your recovery, or gain lean muscle, we’ve got you covered.


We’ll start the list with our own creatine supplement at Momentous, which is fully NSF and Informed Sport certified. 

While there are endless protein supplement brands out there, there are only a handful that focus on creating a product engineered with athletes in mind.


With a keen eye on products boasting a clean bill of health and awarded third-party certifications like NSF Certified for Sport and Informed Sport, we aim to introduce you to a world where your protein powder is as committed to your performance and safety as you are. From ingredient purity to the source of the protein to the price per serving—this guide has you covered.


We’ll give an overview of everything we look for in a protein powder and tell you everything you need to know to make the right decision. Beyond a list of the best protein powders currently available to athletes, we’ll also recommend the following:


  • What to consider when choosing a protein powder

  • The benefits of incorporating a protein powder into your daily diet

  • And some general FAQs we’ve heard from customers related to protein powder


We’ll start the list off with our own protein powders at Momentous—both the Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate and Essential Plant-Based Protein. But keep your options open; we'll explore a variety of standout choices that cater to diverse needs and preferences. 

The Best Protein Powders for Athletes


Momentous Protein Powders (Whey and Plant-Based) 

 

Key Things to Know About This Product

  • Artificial sweeteners: No (sweetened with stevia extract)

  • Contains ProHydrolase: Yes (for whey protein)

  • GMO Free: No

  • Gluten Free: Yes

  • Grass Fed: Yes (for whey protein)

  • Sourced From: EU dairy farmers (for whey protein)

  • Athlete-relevant certifications: Informed Sport Certified, NSF Certified for Sport

  • Free shipping: Yes

Product Details: Momentous Grass Fed Whey Isolate Powder

  • Type: Whey Protein Isolate

  • Net Weight: 1.25lb

  • Number of Servings: 24

  • Serving Size: 1 scoop (23.7 grams)

  • Flavors: 3 - Unflavored, Vanilla, Chocolate

  • Protein per Serving: 20g

  • Calories per Serving: 100

  • Price: $64.95


Product Details: Momentous Essential Plant-Based Protein Powder

  • Type: Plant-based protein (pea protein isolate and rice protein concentrate) 

  • Net Weight: 1.66lb

  • Number of Servings: 20

  • Serving Size: 1 scoop (37.7 grams)

  • Flavors: 2 - Vanilla Chai, Chocolate

  • Protein per Serving: 20g

  • Calories per Serving: 140

  • Price: $49.95

Pros

  • Easy to digest, easy on the stomach

  • NSF Certified for Sport and Informed Sport Certified

  • Complete amino acid profile in every serving

  • Great tasting and easy to mix; no chalky texture as is common in many plant-based powders

  • Environmentally conscious sourcing

  • No artificial flavors, great flavor options, and delicious taste


Cons

  • Slightly higher price per serving compared to other options on this list


After testing dozens of protein powders in my quest for the perfect post-workout shake, Momentous has emerged as my go-to. Their Grass Fed Whey Protein Isolate in chocolate flavor tastes incredible and has become a highlight of my workout routine. Unlike my past experiences where protein powders were merely a necessity, I genuinely look forward to mixing this chocolate delight with a banana, a scoop of peanut butter, and water after an intense session.


Momentous products are engineered through the collective expertise of registered dietitians and performance experts from leading professional sports teams.


Their goal? To create a product that satisfies the nutritional needs of elite athletes and exceeds them. The choice of whey protein isolate from European dairy farms underscores a commitment to quality and environmental sustainability, with milk sourced from grass-fed cows.


What seals the deal for me is the addition of ProHydrolase. This enzyme ensures that the protein is absorbed more effectively and is gentle on the stomach, a stark contrast to the digestive discomfort I've experienced with other brands. Warm it up with milk or water, and you're in for a cozy, hot cocoa-like treat that's both comforting and nourishing.


While the Grass Fed Whey Protein is my top pick, the Essential Plant-Based Protein in vanilla chai is a close runner-up. Its smooth consistency and easy mixability, whether in water or milk with a banana and some nut butter, make it reminiscent of ice cream - but with the added benefits of a complete amino acid profile thanks to its pea and rice protein blend. This isn't just about muscle building or repair; it's about holistic health, from enzyme production to hormonal balance and immune support, without the dreaded chalky taste common in plant-based options.


It’s worth noting that excellence comes at a price, and Momentous sits at the premium end of the spectrum. For those prioritizing cost, alternatives like Optimum Nutrition might offer a more budget-friendly option. Yet, for me, the quality and experience Momentous delivers are unmatched, making it a staple in my supplementation toolkit.

Optimum Nutrition Protein Powders (Whey & Vegan)


Key Things to Know About This Product

  • Artificial sweeteners: Yes

  • Contains ProHydrolase: No

  • GMO Free: Yes

  • Gluten Free: Yes

  • Grass Fed: No

  • Athlete-relevant certifications: Informed Sport Certified, NSF Certified for Sport

  • Free shipping: Yes


Product Details: Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein

  • Type: Whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, and hydrolyzed whey protein

  • Net Weight: 2 lb

  • Number of Servings: 29

  • Serving Size: 1 scoop (31 grams)

  • Flavors: Cinnamon Roll, Fruity Cereal, Banana Cream, Chocolate Hazelnut, Chocolate Malt, Chocolate Mint, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Coffee, Cookies & Cream, Delicious Strawberry, Double Rich Chocolate, Extreme Milk Chocolate, French Vanilla Creme, Mocha Cappuccino, Rocky Road, Strawberries & Cream, Vanilla Ice cream, White Chocolate

  • Protein per Serving: 24g

  • Calories per Serving: 120

  • Price:  $44.99 


Product Details: Gold Standard 100% Plant

  • Type: Blend of pea, rice, and fava bean proteins 

  • Net Weight: 1.66lb

  • Number of Servings: 20

  • Serving Size: 1 scoop (37 grams)

  • Flavors: Creamy Vanilla Flavor, Rich Chocolate Fudge

  • Protein per Serving: 24g

  • Calories per Serving: 150

  • Price: $36.99 



Pros

  • Mixes well into liquid

  • Great value, low price


Cons

  • People complain about an overwhelming smell

  • Large serving sizes for plant-based powder

  • May seem chalky


Optimum Nutrition's offerings in the protein powder market cater to a broad audience with varying dietary preferences and nutritional needs. They’re lauded for their cost-effectiveness, making them accessible choices for individuals who regularly incorporate protein supplements into their diets.


The whey protein powder is equally celebrated for its affordability and role in promoting muscle growth. It's recognized for providing the essential fuel to support muscle gains with a formula that keeps nutritional balance in mind. Taste-wise, it's considered favorable, making it a pleasant addition to any post-workout routine. However, some customers have pointed out an off-putting odor that might detract from the overall experience. It comes in over ten flavors, so you’re guaranteed to find the right one for you.


Optimum Nutrition’s plant-based option is a hit among customers for its natural muscle development capabilities. It offers a balanced nutritional profile that manages carbohydrates and fats efficiently, appealing to those seeking to build muscle on a lactose-free or vegan diet. However, similar to its Whey counterpart, the Vegan blend receives some criticism for its distinct smell.

Cymbiotika Plant Protein


Key Things to Know About This Product

  • Artificial sweeteners: No

  • Contains ProHydrolase: No

  • GMO Free: Yes

  • Gluten Free: Yes

  • Grass Fed: N/A

  • Athlete-relevant certifications: No


Product Details: Cymbiotika Plant Protein

  • Type: Blend of hemp, spirulina, and vanilla pea protein powder

  • Net Weight: 2lb

  • Number of Servings: 24

  • Serving Size: 1 scoop (35.37 grams)

  • Flavors: Vanilla

  • Protein per Serving: 20g

  • Calories per Serving: 130

  • Price: $88


Pros

  • Clean ingredients

  • Earthy, natural flavor


Cons

  • No athlete relevant third-party certifications

  • Limited flavor selection


Cymbiotika’s vegan protein powder combines hemp, spirulina, and pea proteins with raw greens, Baobab tree fiber, pre and probiotics, and digestive enzymes, offering a solid nutritional profile suitable for various lifestyles. It's designed to support gut health, recovery, and energy levels and is favored by athletes for muscle development.


The formula includes adaptogenic mushrooms for a well-rounded amino acid and nutrient intake. Made with quality organic ingredients, it provides 24 servings of an Alkaline Protein Complex, aligning with the needs of those seeking a straightforward, effective protein supplement.


Its earthy and natural flavor is an acquired taste, but preferably to artificial flavors. It is third-party tested, although not with athlete-relevant certifications that some of the other options on this list boast.

Klean Athlete Protein (Whey and Plant-Based)


Key Things to Know About This Product

  • Artificial sweeteners: No

  • Contains ProHydrolase: Yes (in plant-based) 

  • GMO Free: Yes

  • Gluten Free: Yes

  • Grass Fed: Yes (for whey protein)

  • Athlete-relevant certifications: Informed Sport Certified, NSF Certified for Sport

  • Free shipping: No


Product Details: Klean Isolate Whey Protein Isolate

  • Type: Whey protein isolate

  • Net Weight: 16.73oz

  • Number of Servings: 20

  • Serving Size: 1 scoop (22.3g)

  • Flavors: Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry

  • Protein per Serving: 20g

  • Calories per Serving: 85

  • Price: $59.60


Product Details: Klean Plant-Based Protein

  • Type: Blend of pea and organic brown rice protein

  • Net Weight: 25oz

  • Number of Servings: 20

  • Serving Size: 1 scoop (36g)

  • Flavors: Vanilla

  • Protein per Serving: 20g

  • Calories per Serving: 130

  • Price: $51


Pros

  • Third-party tested and has NSF Certified for Sport certification

  • Premium quality ingredients and backed by clinical research

  • Products do not contain GMOs, gluten, wheat, or any artificial components


Cons :

  • A higher price tag


Review

The purity and compliance of supplements are paramount when it comes to supporting the rigorous demands of competitive athletics. This is where Klean Athlete Protein Powders stand out with their NSF-certified options. The certification is a testament to the brand's commitment to clean, safe ingredient labels from banned substances, making it a reliable choice for athletes across disciplines.


This product has a straightforward, clean formulation. One of its noteworthy attributes is the absence of artificial sweeteners—a common feature in many protein powders aimed at reducing carbohydrates and calories.


Artificial sweeteners often leave a pronounced sweetness that can overshadow the natural taste of foods. The unflavored nature of this whey protein mix enhances its versatility, allowing it to blend seamlessly into a variety of smoothies and shakes without competing with other flavors.

BIOSTEEL (Whey and Plant-Based)


Key Things to Know About This Product

  • Artificial sweeteners:  No 

  • Contains ProHydrolase:  No 

  • GMO Free:  Yes 

  • Gluten Free:  Yes 

  • Grass Fed:  Yes 

  • Athlete-relevant certifications: NSF Certified for Sport

  • Free shipping:  No 


Product Details: Whey Protein Isolate 

  • Type:  Whey Protein Isolate 

  • Net Weight:  28.8oz 

  • Number of Servings:  24 

  • Serving Size:  1 scoop (34g) 

  • Flavors:  Two - Vanilla and Chocolate 

  • Protein per Serving:  28g 

  • Calories per Serving:  140 

  • Price:  $59.99 


 Product Details: Plant-Based Protein

  • Type:  Organic brown rice, pea protein, and organic pumpkin seed 

  • Net Weight:  29oz 

  • Number of Servings:  25  

  • Serving Size:  1 scoop (33g) 

  • Flavors:  Two - Vanilla and Chocolate 

  • Protein per Serving:  23g 

  • Calories per Serving:  130 

  • Price:  $49.99 


 Pros :

  • Best price per serving for the plant-based

  • Diverse source of plant proteins

  • Very fine and mixes super easily


 Cons :

  • Some people find there’s a lingering aftertaste

  • The vanilla is a bit overpowering in smoothies


BioSteel’s whey protein powder is a solid choice for anyone optimizing their post-workout recovery and muscle-building efforts. The brand’s commitment to clean, high-quality ingredients is evident, making it a preferred option for athletes and fitness enthusiasts who prioritize purity and performance in their nutrition. 


While the whey powder may have a higher price tag, the investment reflects the product’s premium sourcing from grass-fed cows, ensuring a higher nutritional value and ethical production standards. This whey protein is best suited for individuals looking for a straightforward, effective supplement to support their training goals. However, some may find the taste and mixability less appealing than other brands, which could be a minor drawback for those with particular preferences.


On the other hand, BioSteel’s plant-based protein powder offers a comprehensive solution for those seeking a vegan or dairy-free alternative without compromising on protein quality or ethical standards. It’s formulated to cater to a broad spectrum of dietary needs, featuring a blend of plant proteins that work together to provide a balanced amino acid profile. This product is ideal for environmentally conscious consumers and those with dietary restrictions, offering a sustainable and inclusive option. 


While the texture and flavor might not cater to everyone’s liking, reflecting common challenges with plant-based proteins, its nutritional benefits and commitment to clean ingredients make it a worthy consideration.

Price Per Serving and Gram of Protein Compared


Products


Price Per Serving


Price Per Gram of Protein


Momentous Grass Fed Whey Protein Isolate Powder

$2.70

$0.11

Momentous Essential Plant-Based Protein

$2.48

$0.12

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein

$1.16

$0.07

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Plant

$1.20

$0.05

Cymbiotika Plant Protein

$3.66

$0.18

Klean Athlete Whey Isolate

$2.98

$0.15

Klean Athlete Plant Based

$2.55

$0.13

BioSteel Whey Isolate

$2.49

$0.09

BioSteel Plant-Based Protein

$1.99

$0.09

What Are The Benefits of Protein Powder for Athletes?


Understanding the science-backed benefits of protein supplementation can help you leverage this powerful nutritional ally to your advantage. Here are the top benefits, each supported by research and relevant to various training scenarios:


1. Enhances muscle growth

For athletes looking to build muscle, protein powder is a cornerstone. It provides the essential amino acids needed for muscle protein synthesis, the process responsible for muscle growth and repair.


A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition highlights the role of protein supplementation in increasing muscle mass and strength in individuals engaged in resistance training regimes.


Specific scenario: After a rigorous session of weightlifting, consuming a protein shake can significantly aid in muscle repair and growth, making your efforts even more worth your while.


2. Accelerates recovery times

Recovery is critical to an athlete's training regimen. Protein powder can speed up recovery from muscle soreness and injury, allowing athletes to return to training sooner.


According to research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, protein supplementation helps reduce muscle damage and improve muscle performance and protein synthesis after exhaustive exercise.


Specific scenario: For runners, consuming a protein shake after a long-distance run can help reduce leg muscle soreness and accelerate recovery, ensuring they're ready for their next session without delay.


3. Increases strength and power

Athletes seeking to improve their strength and power can benefit significantly from protein powder.


A systematic review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that protein supplementation could enhance strength and power outcomes in resistance-trained individuals, particularly when consumed post-exercise.


Specific scenario: For cyclists or sprinters, integrating protein powder into their post-workout recovery routine can contribute to noticeable gains in leg power and endurance over time.


4. Convenient source of protein on the go

With demanding schedules, athletes often struggle to consume sufficient protein through whole foods alone. Protein powders offer a convenient, portable solution, ensuring athletes meet their daily protein requirements. This convenience supports continuous muscle repair, growth, and overall body function, which is critical for athletes constantly on the move.


Specific scenario: For busy athletes, a protein shake can be a lifesaver on hectic days, providing a quick and easy way to fuel the body between training sessions or competitions without the need for meal prep or cooking.


5. Supports immune system function

Intense training can sometimes suppress the immune system, making athletes more susceptible to illness.


Protein, particularly from high-quality sources like whey, plays a crucial role in supporting the immune system. It aids in the production of antibodies and supports gut health, a major hub for immune activity. Research findings indicate that whey protein, in particular, has immune-supporting properties, including enhancing antioxidant production.


Specific scenario: During periods of rigorous training, increasing the intake of protein can help strengthen the body's defenses, keeping athletes healthy and competitive with minimal interruptions from sickness.

6 Things Athletes Should Consider When Choosing Protein Powder


Beyond just picking any protein off the shelf, consider these crucial factors to find your perfect match:


1. Protein source

Different protein sources cater to different needs.


Whey and casein are popular for their fast and slow-digesting properties, respectively, making them great for post-workout and overall recovery. Plant-based options, like pea and rice protein, offer a complete amino acid profile essential for muscle repair and growth.


Momentous specifically blends pea and rice proteins for the plant-based blend to achieve this balance, ensuring their formula is not only effective but also mindful of dietary preferences and concerns about sugar and heavy metal content.


2. Third-party certification

For athletes, the purity of a supplement is non-negotiable. Third-party certifications such as NSF Certified for Sport and Informed Sport guarantee that a product is free from banned substances and contaminants.


This assurance allows athletes to use their chosen protein powder with confidence, knowing they are not at risk of failing doping tests and that the product meets stringent safety standards.


3. Free from artificial ingredients

The presence of artificial ingredients can be a concern for health-conscious athletes. Choosing protein powders free from artificial sweeteners, colors, and flavors ensures that you're fueling your body with high-quality, natural ingredients.


This approach aligns with a holistic view of nutrition, focusing on clean, minimal processing. Choosing an optionthat has third-party certifications can certainly help with this aspect, but taking a deep dive in the ingredient list is crucial.


Take a good look at the type of sweeteners used — that can be a real make or break depending if you’re partial to stevia, monk fruit extract, cane sugar, or another sweetener.


4. Absorption and digestion

Efficient absorption and easy digestion are key to the maximum benefit of your protein powder. Ingredients like ProHydrolase in the Momentous whey protein enhance the breakdown and assimilation of protein, making it more accessible for muscle repair and growth.


This not only improves athletic performance but also minimizes digestive discomfort often associated with protein supplementation.


5. Mixability and taste

The practical aspects of protein powder, such as how well it mixes with liquids and its taste, significantly impact its usability.


A protein that blends smoothly with water or milk without clumping and comes in a variety of palatable flavors encourages consistent use, which is essential for reaping the long-term benefits of protein supplementation. Consider how you like to consume your protein, whether it’s a smoothie, a shake, oatmeal, or a baked good like pancakes or muffins.


6. Price

Finally, consider the price and overall value. High-quality protein powders may come with a higher price tag, but the cost per serving can provide a more accurate measure of value. Look for options that balance quality and cost fairly, including potential savings through subscriptions or bulk purchases.


To help you tackle this aspect, refer back to our chart breaking down the price per serving and price per gram of protein of each powder listed above.

Are There Any Side Effects of Protein Powder Supplementation?


Digestive issues are among the most common concerns, with some individuals experiencing gas, bloating, or diarrhea. This discomfort is often due to the body's reaction to certain ingredients or the sheer amount of protein being introduced.


Some protein powders include digestive enzymes like ProHydrolase, which enhance the breakdown and absorption of protein, thereby easing the digestive process. Choosing a protein powder that supports digestive health can make your protein supplementation both effective and comfortable.


Kidney issues represent another area of concern, particularly when protein intake exceeds the body's needs over a long period. High protein consumption can put additional strain on the kidneys, which are responsible for filtering waste products from the blood.


It's essential for individuals, especially those with preexisting kidney conditions, to consult with healthcare professionals before significantly increasing protein intake. Moderation and medical guidance are key in leveraging the benefits of protein powders while safeguarding against potential renal stress.

What The Experts Say: Real Athlete Experiences with Protein Supplementation


Juliet Starrett, life-long athlete and co-founder of San Francisco CrossFit: “Every time I work out, regardless of whether it's a long mountain bike ride, or a short CrossFit workout, or a stand-up paddle, or whatever, within 30 minutes of finishing, I have a scoop of protein. It’s a simple habit that makes a huge difference for me.”


Brandon McDaniel, LA Dodgers VP of Player Performance: "For those of you who can have dairy and prefer it, Momentous Grass-Fed Whey Protein is for you. Whey protein has been around for a long time, but with Momentous it's the highest quality of protein that you can get. It is formulated to expedite recovery—it's like a freight train running to your muscles.

"I needed to make sure that protein was getting to my athlete's muscles so they could recover after their workout, after their game, and come back the next day and perform at a high level. The plant based protein has pea protein and rice protein to help with that full amino acid profile. It has a lot of nutrients in there that are going to help rush the protein to the cells."


Dr. Andy Galpin, PhD, Professor of Kinesiology: "Momentous is also driven by science and not cheap marketing or quick thrills. They aren’t scamming you by turning high-profit stimulants, low-quality protein powders, or questionable ‘ingredient stacks’. Rather, they focus on science-based single ingredients so you can include, remove, or adjust your protocols based on your unique physiology and changing circumstances. I get asked daily for supplement recommendations, and for the first time in my 20-year career, I finally have an answer!” 

Protein Powder FAQs for Athletes


Is a specific type of protein best for cardio?

For cardio-focused athletes, a protein that's easily digestible and quick to absorb, such as whey protein, is often recommended. It supports muscle recovery after prolonged endurance activities without weighing you down before your workouts.


Is it better to supplement with protein before or after a workout?

Supplementing with protein after a workout is generally considered more beneficial for muscle recovery and growth, as it helps repair muscle tissue damaged during exercise. However, consuming protein before a workout can also support sustained energy and performance, especially in longer training sessions.


Should I supplement with protein on rest days?

Yes, supplementing with protein on rest days is important for continuous muscle repair and growth. Your muscles grow and recover on rest days, and protein supports this process, ensuring you're ready for your next workout.


Can I have a protein shake on an empty stomach?

Yes, you can have a protein shake on an empty stomach, especially if you prefer working out in the morning or if it's been a while since your last meal. Many find it a convenient and quick-digesting option to fuel their bodies and support their workouts.


Is creatine or protein powder better for athletes?

Creatine and protein powder serve different purposes, making them both valuable for athletes. Creatine is primarily used to improve strength and increase muscle mass, while protein powder supports muscle repair and growth. Depending on your fitness goals, you might benefit from incorporating both into your nutrition plan.

Grace Gavilanes

Rachel Levin

Rachel Levin is a writer and editor with over 10 years of experience writing in health, wellness, and travel. She is also an avid outdoor athlete—she's hiked and trekked in almost every continent.