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Choosing the best protein powder

With so many types of supplement on the market, it can be confusing trying to choose the best protein powder for your needs.

What makes the best protein powder for you depends on your training goals - whether you're looking to improve recovery, build muscle or lose fat - and your dietary and religious requirements.

For the vast majority of people a whey protein powder like GN Whey Protein 80™ is ideal, but if you have more specific requirements you might want to try one of the alternatives below.

Check out the comparison tables and help guide below and we'll help you determine the best protein powder for your needs.

The best protein powder for your needs
 

Dairy protein

 GN Whey Protein 80™ >Milk Protein 85 >Micellar Casein 85 >Calcium Caseinate 90 >
  GN Whey Protein 80 Milk Protein 85Micellar Casein 85 Calcium Caseinate 90
1kg pack price £15.79 £16.99 £17.99 £21.99
Lowest cost per serving From £0.23 From £0.45 From £0.35 From £0.53
What is it? A premium quality entry level whey protein concentrate at the UK's lowest price. A high end milk protein concentrate consisting of roughly 20% whey and 80% casein protein. An ultra slow digesting high quality casein protein that's readily absorbed by the body. A top of the range casein providing 90% protein per serving plus very low fat and carb levels.
What does this protein do? Aids lean muscle growth, repair and recovery. Aids lean muscle growth, repair and recovery. Aids lean muscle growth, repair and recovery. Aids lean muscle growth, repair and recovery.
What is this protein best for? The best protein powder for those on a budget and ideal for general use. An ideal slow release protein powder for use before bed and in between meals. An ideal slow release protein powder for use before bed and in between meals. An ideal slow release protein for those who want to reduce fat and carb intake.
What are the benefits? Fast release, cost effective, rich in glutamine and beneficial amino acids. Slow release, high protein content, rich in glutamine and branched chain amino acids. Ultra slow digesting, higher bioavailability than Milk Protein 85 and lower lactose levels. Very high in protein and extremely low in fats and carbs, so ideal for cutting and toning.
What are the disadvantages? Higher in fat than milk protein and casein. Faster release less appropriate for overnight use. Less easily absorbed than Micellar Casein, but on the upside tastier and cheaper to buy. Slightly more expensive than regular whey protein and Milk Protein due to production method. Expensive to produce so costs a little more. Slightly chalkier taste than other dairy proteins.
Main ingredients Whey Protein Concentrate (80% protein) Milk Protein 85 (85% protein) Micellar Casein (85% protein) Calcium Caseinate 90 (90% protein)
Protein content 77.8g per 100g 81.0g per 100g 84.9g per 100g 90.0g per 100g
Fat content 5.8g per 100g 1.2g per 100g 1.5g per 100g 1.0g per 100g
Carbohydrate content 4.9g per 100g 5.8g per 100g 5.8g per 100g 0.0g per 100g
Sweetener Sucralose® Sucralose® Sucralose® None
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Non-dairy protein

 Soy Protein Isolate 90 >Brown Rice Protein 80 >Paleo Protein >Egg White Protein 80 >
  Soy Protein Isolate 90 Brown Rice Protein 80 Paleo Protein Egg White Protein 80
1kg pack price £11.99 £15.99 £18.49 £21.99
Lowest cost per serving From £0.27 From £0.45 From £0.53 From £0.59
What is it? The closest non-dairy protein to whey, providing over 90% protein per serving. A top quality rice protein ideal for vegetarians, vegans and those with soy or dairy intolerances. A beef and egg protein for those on the Paleo Diet which is free of non-allowable protein sources. A premium egg white protein with all the benefits of egg, but none of the fats and carbs.
What does this protein do? Aids lean muscle growth, repair and recovery. Aids lean muscle growth, repair and recovery. Aids lean muscle growth, repair and recovery. Aids lean muscle growth, repair and recovery.
What is this protein best for? Soy is the best protein powder for those who can't use whey for dietary or religious reasons. An ideal protein for vegetarians and vegans and those who can't consume dairy or soy protein. The best protein powder for those on the Paleo Diet. The best protein powder for those who want a low fat, low carb non-dairy protein source.
What are the benefits? Very high in protein. Great source of amino acids, especially arginine and glutamine. Gluten, soy and dairy free. Great source of amino acids, especially glutamine and leucine. Huge protein content, low in fats and carbs. Designed specifically for the Paleo Diet. High in protein and extremely low in fats, cholesterol and carbs. Great range of amino acids.
What are the disadvantages? Less readily absorbed by the body than some other protein sources, such as whey. Less readily absorbed by the body than some other protein sources, such as whey. Beef and egg protein have strong and distinctive flavours. Not as tasty as whey protein concentrate or isolate, but much lower in fats and carbs.
Main ingredients Soy Protein Isolate (90% protein) Rice Protein Concentrate (80% protein) 90% Beef Protein (90%) and 10% Egg White Protein (80% protein) Egg white powder (82% protein)
Protein content 90g per 100g 80.8g per 100g 95.7g per 100g 82g per 100g
Fat content 0.5g per 100g 5.3g per 100g 1.7g per 100g 0g per 100g
Carbohydrate content 5.0g per 100g 6.3g per 100g 0.1g per 100g 0g per 100g
Sweetener None None Stevia None
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Protein basics

How is protein used by the body?

Our bodies use protein in the growth and repair of muscle cells. Consuming the right amounts of protein at the right time can help your body recover quicker and your muscles grow leaner and larger.

Faster recovery means you'll experience fewer aches and pains and you'll be able to get back to the gym and push yourself harder, helping further improve your fitness or physique.

How much protein is needed in my diet when training?

As a general rule of thumb, to gain lean muscle and speed up your recovery after training, you'll need to consume at least 1g of protein per day for every pound of your body weight.

If you weigh 12 stone (168 pounds), you'll therefore need to consume at least 168g of protein a day to see basic results.

While it's possible to get your protein intake from regular foods alone, you would need to spend a small fortune at the supermarket and you'd also take in lots of unwanted fats and carbs in the process.

Protein powders make it possible to load up on protein without loading up on too many fats and carbs, and keep the costs to a reasonable minimum.

They're quick and easy to mix, whether you're at home, at work or at the gym, and they taste great so it's easy to fit them into your diet. The trickiest part is choosing the best protein powder for your personal requirements.

How do protein sources differ?

While protein is found in most foods, not all protein sources are made equal - 1g of premium quality whey protein isolate powder is rather different to 1g of cheaper soy protein powder, and despite its widespread popularity, there are times when another protein source is a better choice than whey.

Some protein sources contain more fats and carbs than others, some have higher levels of beneficial amino acids, and they all vary in their biological value (or BV) which determines how much of the protein your body can utilise.

They also vary in price, and not everyone can use them, depending on their religion and any allergies or intolerances they may have.

What's the best protein powder for everyday use?

Providing you don't have any specific dietary or religious reasons not to use it, whey protein is by far the best protein powder for everyday use.

For most people, a standard whey protein concentrate like GN Whey Protein 80™ will suffice. It's cost-effective to use (ours is the cheapest whey protein in the UK), provides excellent results and it tastes lovely.

If you're cutting down on the fats and carbs in the rest of your diet to try and build definition and lose body fat, then GN Whey Isolate 90™ is recommended. It tastes just as good, but has lower fat and carb levels, plus a bit more protein per serving. It's probably the best protein powder available, but it's not as cheap as concentrate.

Dairy protein

Why are dairy proteins so popular?

Dairy proteins such as whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, milk protein, micellar casein and calcium caseinate are popular for a number of reasons.

Dairy proteins are readily absorbed by the body due to their high bioavailability and they provide a good range of amino acids including lots of important BCAAs and glutamine.

They also generally taste nicer than non-dairy protein, and they're good value for money, providing large amounts of readily utilised protein for a reasonable price. However, one of the main reasons why they're used is due to their speed of their digestion - dairy proteins are the best protein powder if you want a slow release.

Why does speed of digestion matter?

One of the reasons you might choose one type of dairy protein other the others is the rate at which it is digested and absorbed into the muscles. The right protein to choose is largely decided by the time of day at which you plan to use your protein powder.

Whey protein is a fast release protein meaning that your body will digest it more quickly than other dairy protein sources and your muscles will be rapidly fuelled with the amino acids required for recovery.

This makes whey protein the best protein powder to choose when you need protein fast, for example immediately after training or in the morning as you won't have eaten during your sleep. As whey protein isolate is lower in fat and carbohydrates it will be absorbed slightly more quickly than whey protein concentrate.

Micellar Casein and Calcium Caseinate are at the other end of the spectrum in terms of absorption rate. These proteins form a "gel" in the stomach and are digested much more slowly than whey protein.

As they are digested more slowly they keep your amino acids levels raised for a longer period of time than whey protein, making them a good choice before bed and when you are likely to go without food for a number of hours.

Why use a milk protein source instead of regular whey?

Milk protein concentrate is milk protein in the ratio in which it is found naturally in milk. This is approximately 80% casein and 20% whey, meaning that milk protein concentrate has a natural combination of fast and slow release protein; however this is more towards the slow end due to it containing predominantly casein.

Milk protein concentrate is ideal in between meals as the whey will be digested quickly and the casein will be digested more slowly meaning your muscles will have a sustained supply of amino acids.

Milk protein consists of around 20% whey protein and 80% casein protein. While whey protein is released quickly, casein is released much more slowly, making milk protein and casein protein better for use between meals and at night. It's also a little cheaper to buy.

What's Micellar Casein?

Micellar Casein is another popular protein derived from milk. Unlike milk protein, which is a mixture of 20% whey and 80% casein, Micellar Casein is pure casein protein and it has different qualities to milk protein.

Micellar Casein provides a better mix of amino acids that some other protein sources, and has similar benefits to milk, in that the higher casein content means the protein is delivered to the body much more slowly, making it particularly good between meals and overnight.

Why choose Calcium Caseinate?

Calcium Caseinate is effectively the next step up from Micellar Casein in terms of its performance. At 90% Calcium Caseinate is higher in protein but contains very low levels of fats and carbs, making it ideal for those aiming to cut fat and gain lean muscle.

It's comparable to the top-end whey protein isolate, but has undergone more processing to get the protein level so high. The minor drawback is that it's a little more expensive and it has a slightly chalky taste, which is why some prefer to go with the tastier but lower protein Milk Protein or Micellar Casein instead.

What about PeptoPro®?

PeptoPro® is a hydrolysed casein protein and 85.3g of protein per 100g, with no fat or carbs. It's "pre-digested" to break the proteins up into strings of two or three amino acids (known as di- and tri-peptides). These smaller chunks get into the muscles quicker than pretty much anything else, so there's no need to wait for the stomach to digest them.

That makes PeptoPro® a really fast release protein, which means it's perfect for use before and during your workout, because it delivers amino acids to your muscles so they can be used for growth and repair right when they're needed.

Although extremely effective, the downside is that PeptoPro® is more expensive to use than other protein sources and the taste isn't as pleasant as other protein sources.

Non-dairy protein

Why use non-dairy proteins?

Non-dairy proteins fall into three main categories: egg protein, meat protein and vegetable protein. They tend to be used most commonly by those who either can't eat dairy proteins for religious reasons or due to dietary intolerances, but they also have some benefits of their own.

The minor downside is that, as a general rule, non-dairy protein sources aren't quite so tasty as the dairy ones, which are naturally creamy and nice to drink.

Why use Egg White Protein powder?

Egg White Protein is probably the most readily utilised form of non-dairy protein, scoring 88 on the bioavailability index, compared to 104+ for whey protein and 59 for soy protein. It's also really low in fats and carbs, making it particularly good if you're trying to keep body fat levels low.

Egg White Protein is also suitable for those who follow Halal or Kosher diets, it's dairy, gluten lactose free and it's suitable for vegetarians. The trade-off is that it's a little more expensive to use than other non-dairy protein sources and that the taste isn't as good - but for many these are worthwhile sacrifices given the high protein content and incredibly low fat and carb levels. It has a medium release speed.

Is Soy Protein worth using?

Soy Protein is the most widely used non-dairy protein, mainly because it can be eaten by people who can't have dairy products or gluten and it's relatively inexpensive. It works well, but it lacks the digestibility of whey scoring a much lower BV. The benefit comes when you use it alongside whey and milk protein, as the results then are better than whey alone.

What about Brown Rice Protein?

Brown Rice Protein is hypoallergenic and contains no allergens whatsoever. Again, like soy, it's not as easily digested as whey but is cost effective to use and works well if you can't use a dairy protein source.

Who should use Paleo Protein?

Paleo Protein is a little different from the other products here in that it's a protein blend made from Egg White Protein and Beef Protein. It's designed specifically for those on the Paleo Diet, which restricts the food sources that can be consumed.

While an effective protein source, and one which is free from lactose and gluten, it's not the sort of product you'd choose for its taste, especially if you're able to drink whey instead.