5 Best Protein Shakes and Protein Powders
Protein is an essential macronutrient that we all need for a healthy body. It plays a role in many body functions like supporting bone health, balancing blood sugars and helping with muscle growth, to name a few.
Americans are a little obsessed with protein these days—nearly two-thirds of us are trying to consume more of it, and 21% of adults think they're protein deficient. But according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most Americans are already eating more than enough (the average adult consumes 80 grams per day, which is roughly 30 grams over the recommended daily goal).
But protein needs can vary from person to person. "If you're looking to build muscle, help with healing after a surgery or an illness, or work on healthy weight loss or weight maintenance, eating more protein can help," says Victoria Seaver, M.S., RD, EatingWell's associate editorial director. "And while you can certainly get enough from whole foods, protein shakes and powders can help supplement your intake." That's where this list comes in handy.
Seaver recommends choosing a protein powder or shake without added sugars. Choosing an option without added sugar will allow you to add sweetness naturally, like adding the powder to a fruit-sweetened smoothie.
"Skip brands that use sugar alcohols, like xylitol, which can negatively impact your GI system when you eat too much," Seaver suggests. "Many products in the market use some type of artificial sweetener, like monk fruit or stevia, over added sugar, like honey or maple syrup, to meet consumers' demand for zero-calorie sweeteners," notes Seaver, so you'll see some of these artificial sweeteners in the picks below.
"And because these powders and shakes are meant to complement a meal, rather than be a meal replacement, I'd recommend looking for brands with at most 250 calories and 360 milligrams sodium per serving. These numbers match what EatingWell aims for with our side dish recipes," says Seaver. "And lastly, look for brands with at least 15 grams of protein per serving, which is plenty, especially if you're pairing your powder or shake with a meal."
To narrow the field, we blind-taste-tested 24 dairy- and plant-based protein shakes and powders that met the nutrition parameters above. We tried each shake or powder as the package instructed and made notes about the taste, texture, appearance and aroma. Our favorite? Fairlife Core Power shake won hands-down. Read on for our full list of the best-tasting protein shakes and powders.
Our Product Recommendations
- Best Overall: Fairlife Core Power
- Best Vanilla Protein Shake: Quest Nutrition Vanilla Protein Flavored Shakes
- Best Chocolate Protein Shake: Premier Protein Chocolate Protein Shake
- Best Vanilla Protein Powder, Dairy-Based: Dymatize ISO 100 Gourmet Vanilla
- Best Vanilla Protein Powder, Plant-Based: Essential Elements Very Vanilla Protein
Best Overall: Fairlife Core Power
Fairlife's Core Power dairy-based protein shakes were the clear winner in our blind taste test. From the flavor to the consistency, the brand stood out. Both the vanilla and chocolate flavors reminded our testers of milk and chocolate milk, respectively—which turned out to be a spot-on comparison, as the shake's first ingredient is low-fat milk. While the vanilla flavor wasn't as pronounced as we might have wanted, its subtle sweetness made it a winner, especially when compared to others in the category where the artificial sweetener flavor was overpowering (Fairlife's shake uses a blend of sucralose, monk fruit juice concentrate and stevia leaf extract). Plus, the texture of the shake was nice and smooth.
Our testers enjoyed the chocolate protein shake and its strong chocolaty taste. Along with its taste, the shake's texture was praised, with one tester noting, "It has a nice creamy texture and mouthfeel." This standout texture was a key differentiating factor with some of the other chocolate protein shakes, many of which were described as "thin." Whether you opt for chocolate or vanilla, Fairlife's Core Power protein shakes are a delicious choice.
Nutrition info for Fairlife Core Power Vanilla, per 14-oz. serving
170 calories, 5 g total fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 260 mg sodium, 6 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 5 g sugar (0 g added sugars), 26 g protein
Nutrition info for Fairlife Core Power Chocolate, per 14-oz. serving
170 calories, 5 g total fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 260 mg sodium, 8 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 5 g sugar (0 g added sugars), 26 g protein
Best Vanilla Protein Shake: Quest Nutrition Vanilla Protein Flavored Shakes
While Fairlife Core Power technically won this category as well as being our overall winner, we're calling out Quest Nutrition too, since it was a close second here in the vanilla category. The dairy-based protein shake had a thick, creamy viscosity and a smooth mouthfeel, unlike others that were chalky and unpleasant. Plus, the shake was a creamy white color, a direct contrast to some of the other vanilla protein powders that were tan or even green after being mixed with water (not exactly what you picture when you think of a vanilla-flavored item!).
When it comes to the taste, a few of our testers found it reminiscent of ice cream, with one person saying it "tastes like a melted vanilla milkshake." The shake gets its sweetness from the artificial sweetener sucralose. While some found the sucralose a little strong for their liking, overall, it wasn't cloying or bitter. And with 30 grams of protein per serving, this shake can help make it easy to meet your nutrition goals.
Nutrition info for Quest Nutrition Vanilla Protein Flavored Shakes, per 1 shake serving (325 mL)
160 calories, 3 g total fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 250 mg sodium, 3 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 1 g sugar (0 g added sugars), 30 g protein
Best Chocolate Protein Shake: Premier Protein Chocolate Protein Shake
If you're looking for a healthy chocolate protein shake that tastes great too, Premier Protein is an excellent choice. Our testers thought the shake tasted exactly like chocolate milk, with one noting that it had a smooth texture similar to a Yoo-hoo beverage. So not only will it remind you of a childhood classic, but you'll be getting more protein. An 11-ounce shake has a whopping 30 grams of protein—which is more than three times the amount found in a regular glass of chocolate milk (for reference, an 8-ounce serving of chocolate milk has 7 grams of protein).
Another plus for this one was its sweetness. While many of the chocolate protein shakes had strong, lingering aftertastes from artificial sweeteners, Premier Protein's sucralose was palatable. In fact, phrases like "yum" were repeatedly used by our testers, with one tester saying they would buy it for themselves.
Nutrition info for Premier Protein Chocolate Protein Shake, per 1 shake serving (11 fl. oz.)
160 calories, 3 g total fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 180 mg sodium, 5 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 1 g sugar (0 g added sugars), 30 g protein
Best Vanilla Protein Powder, Dairy-Based: Dymatize ISO 100 Gourmet Vanilla
Dymatize was the best dairy-based protein powder we tried, and it stood out for both its pleasant flavor and its texture. As one tester described, Dymatize "has that classic powdered milk flavor," which the tester enjoys. Its vanilla flavor and sweetness was upfront at first sip, but mellowed out. While some thought it was overly sweet, it did beat out the others in this category. (Dymatize uses a combination of sucralose and stevia for sweetness.)
When testing protein powders in general, texture is a big component—and Dymatize delivered with a pleasant one. While some powders may not dissolve completely and/or can leave you with a chalky, dry mouth sensation, Dymatize's vanilla powder did neither. Its smooth texture was a standout in a category with other powders described as clumpy, foamy and sludge-like (and who wants to drink that?).
Nutrition info for Dymatize ISO 100 Gourmet Vanilla, per 1-scoop serving (30 g)
110 calories, 0 g total fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 1 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, <1 g sugar (0 g added sugars), 25 g protein
Best Vanilla Protein Powder, Plant-Based: Essential Elements Very Vanilla Protein
Essential Elements' Very Vanilla Protein Powder was our favorite plant-based powder. The protein comes from a blend of ingredients, including yellow pea, brown rice, sacha inchi seed and pumpkin seed. Not only does a serving contain 15 grams of protein, but it's also free from major allergens like dairy, peanuts and soy, and is suitable for a gluten-free diet.
When it comes to taste, the vanilla flavor is subtle, yet present, on the palate. While our testers' descriptions of its texture varied, they found it more pleasant than others in the category, which were strongly shot down. Its slight sweetness comes from stevia leaf. One tester thought this powder would be great when mixed into a smoothie (note: each powder was tested with water).
Nutrition info for Essential Elements Very Vanilla Protein, per 1-scoop serving (29 g)
80 calories, 1 g total fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 170 mg sodium, 3 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugar (0 g added sugars), 15 g protein
If you're looking for a ready-made protein shake, Fairlife Core Power is a delicious choice in both chocolate and vanilla flavors. Or, if you want to add a scoop of protein powder to your beverage of choice, Dymatize's ISO 100 Gourmet Vanilla is a great source of dairy-based protein.
To narrow the field, we researched and read the labels of more than 50 products, and selected the ones that fit the following nutrition requirements: ≤250 calories, ≤360 mg sodium, ≥15 g protein and 0 g added sugars. We also looked for products without sugar alcohols (read more below about the nutrition parameters). In addition, we focused our research on chocolate- and vanilla-flavored products only, as those were the two most consistent offerings across brands, and thus could be compared against each other more easily. For the taste test, a blind tasting was set up with five testers. Each tester tried the protein shake as is, and each protein powder was mixed with water according to the instructions on the label before being consumed. We took notes regarding the taste, texture, appearance and aroma of each product.
Protein shakes and powders are often seen as a meal substitute, but EatingWell does not recommend this practice. Instead, we suggest consuming protein shakes or powders as part of a meal, which is why we set our nutrition parameters for calories and sodium to align with our nutritional guidelines for a side dish. In addition, we looked for products with at least 15 grams of protein per serving.
We skipped testing any product that contained added sugars, as sugar-sweetened beverages are one of the top sources of added sugar for Americans. While the current Dietary Guidelines recommends consuming less than 10% of calories from added sugar, which equals about 12.5 teaspoons of sugar per day on a 2,000-calorie diet, Americans' average daily intake is closer to 16 teaspoons. Eating too much sugar can lead to dental issues, obesity, high blood pressure and more. We also passed on products with sugar alcohols like erythritol, xylitol or mannitol, which can often cause digestive issues.
Alex Loh is the associate food editor at EatingWell. She is passionate about food and cooking, and has over two years of experience with the brand. She has written more than 15 product guides and has tested hundreds of products, including nonalcoholic spirits, chef's knives and salsas. For this piece, she consulted with a registered dietitian and associate editorial director at EatingWell, Victoria Seaver, M.S., RD, for her insights about nutrition. The testers included registered dietitians and food editors.