Many women who want to add lean mass, lose weight, or get toned are taking a protein powder supplement.
(Especially right after workouts)
The different nutritional and hormonal needs of women make choosing the right protein powder a bit tricky.
Our research team dove into the scientific research to identify the best protein powders for women that you can get.
1. Aria Women’s Wellness Protein
Aria serves up a blend of soy and whey protein for a more diverse amino acid profile, and it’s flavored with only natural vanilla extract and stevia leaf extract. There’s some vegetable-based plant fiber added to bring the fiber content up to three grams per serving, which is not too bad. For a straightforward protein shake with a wide range of amino acids, it’s one of the best.
2. Gym Vixen Sexy Whey
Yeah, the name might be a little over the top, but when it comes to the straight facts, this is a great protein supplement. It’s 100% whey protein isolate, which is the most purified form of whey protein there is.
Alongside that, Gym Vixen took care to ensure that the protein powder has zero grams of sugar. It’s sweetened with cocoa powder, sucralose, and natural and artificial flavors. It’s got a surprisingly high amount of vitamin D per serving, too–1000 IUs!
3. Jamie Eason Signature Series Lean Body For Her Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein isolate is the purest form of whey protein, and it’s not just for bulky meatheads at the gym. Jamie Eason’s Lean Body whips up a protein powder that includes only whey protein isolate as its primary protein source, without tasting dry, bitter, and chalky.
This is accomplished by adding chicory root, an all-natural non-caloric sweetener, alongside a small amount of cane sugar. The sugar count only comes to three grams per serving, though, so it’s not going to wreck your metabolism.
4. Nature’s Bounty Complete Protein & Vitamin
If your daily nutrient intake could use some work, Nature’s Bounty is a good way to go. It’s got tons of vitamins and minerals, including many that a large proportion of women are deficient in.
The only downside is that the concentration of protein is not very high, especially relative to the sugar content (six grams per serving). It does have four grams of dietary fiber to partially offset the negative metabolic effects of the sugar, but it’d be better to avoid it in the first place.
5. Whey Fantastic
Whey Fantastic is a hyper-minimalist protein that is the number one choice if you are a purist when it comes to how your supplements are made. The only ingredients are grass fed whey protein plus a small amount of xylitol and a few other non-caloric sweeteners, inulin, and natural flavoring
The real draw is where the protein comes from: non-GMO, grass-fed cows, whose milk is minimally-processed to extract the whey protein. That’s probably why it’s a concentrate, not an isolate.
6. FitMiss Delight
Fitmiss Delight is one part protein shake, one part green drink supplement. Sure, it’s got 16 grams of protein, mostly whey protein concentrate but a little bit of potato protein too, but it’s also got a megadose of vitamin B12 (over 2,000% of your recommended daily intake), and 500 mg of superfood powders.
These include all the hot antioxidants like blackberry, tart cherry, artichoke, and cranberry, to name just a few. If you need healthy supplements on all fronts, look no further.
7. Her Natural Whey
Her Natural Whey is a nice, simple protein supplement that’s got a complete blend of whey protein isolate, concentrate, and peptides.
The sugar content is low, and there are a few trace vitamins and minerals present at low concentrations. It’s got nothing fancy or innovative, but sometimes that’s just what you need.
8. NLA Her Whey
NLA Her Whey is what you might call a total solution for women’s protein needs. It’s got a gigantic list of vitamins and minerals that are included in the blend, alongside a nearly seven-gram blend of healthy fatty acids, including sunflower oil and MCT oil.
The draw of this blend is diluted by the presence of “corn syrup solids” (read: sugar) as the second ingredient. It does also include artificial flavoring, but if that’s not a drawback, the vitamin content is excellent.
9. IdealLean Protein Shake for Women
IdealLean is a pretty simple protein shake that’s focused on whey protein isolate, plus a proprietary recovery blend that’s based on glutamine and other antioxidants. It contains chromium as an additional weight loss supplement, though, so watch out if you weren’t expecting that.
10. Six Star Whey Protein For Her
Six Star makes a protein powder that’s part workout supplement, part green superfood drink, and part probiotic supplement.
The protein is a mix of whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate, and you’re also getting spinach, broccoli, and blueberry powder mixed in, alongside the probiotic bacillus coagulans.
The actual amount of the probiotic bacteria in colony forming units or CFUs isn’t reported on the label, so it may not be enough to kick-start your gut bacteria.
Who should buy protein powder for women?
Though protein powder has a reputation as being primarily for weight lifters, bodybuilders, and other people who are trying to bulk up. As a result, many women shy away from protein powder out of fears of becoming muscle-bound or too heavy.
This is an unfortunate outcome, though, because women stand to gain a lot by using protein powder in the right circumstances. Protein powder for women can help increase muscle strength and increase muscle tone, without fear of adding muscle.
How? Men have a much easier time adding muscle thanks to their high levels of testosterone and HGH: with this hormonal milieu, the body can easily incorporate the amino acids from protein powder into new muscle.
However, the story is different for women. Adding muscle mass is much harder, but female athletes still have high protein needs to repair the damage to muscle fibers that is incurred during a tough workout.
Protein for women has benefits for more than just athletes. It can be a great addition to a weight loss program thanks to the thermogenic and appetite-suppressant effects of the amino acids in protein.
It seems paradoxical—how could protein powder, which is often used to add muscle mass, help you lose body fat?—but multiple scientific studies confirm the utility of using supplemental protein as part of a weight loss program.
If you are looking to drop body fat while maintaining your lean body mass, a protein powder for women is a great addition to your arsenal.
For older women, protein (when paired with a calcium supplement) can even help maintain bone mass. That’s because there is an intimate link between muscular strength and bone strength.
Maintaining or improving muscle mass means better bone health for older women, and a protein powder can help accomplish that, as long as your calcium intake is high enough.
How we ranked
Evaluating the best protein powders for women requires a few specific considerations beyond what you might use to evaluate a generic protein powder.
First off, since many women could be using protein powder as a meal replacement while on a diet, we put increased importance on the presence of other potentially useful vitamins and minerals to replace the nutrients you’re missing out on by swapping out a protein shake for a meal.
We also had a much more stringent requirement for sugar contents: we eliminated any products from our consideration if they had too much in the way of added sugars.
If all you want is a great-tasting protein powder, you can tolerate a moderate amount of sugar, but if you are shooting for weight loss, you want to keep the sugar content to a minimum. High sugar intake will combat any fat loss benefits you are getting from a high protein diet because of the way sugar is metabolized.
After tossing out products with too much sugar, we looked at the source of protein in each of the remaining products. Super-pure sources like whey protein isolate were rated more highly, while blended forms of lower quality protein got the axe.
Even though we targeted high-sugar products, don’t make the mistake of thinking our top rated protein powders for women have the bland, chalky taste of unflavored protein.
We specifically looked for products that used natural sources of sweetness like chicory root or stevia to add flavor. Some products also used artificial sweeteners and artificial flavoring, but these wound up lower in the final rankings.
After considering the sugar content, the flavor, the purity, and the quality of the protein source, we came up with our final list of the best protein powders for women on the market right now.
Whether your goal is weight loss or muscle tone, you can find a protein that’s perfectly suited for your needs in our rankings.
Yes, women need protein too. Protein is not just for building muscle; it’s vital if you want to tone the muscles you already have, and it’s even helpful at building bone mass and lowering your body fat content while preserving your muscle mass.
Protein is good for everyone, regardless of what your health goals are. It’s inexpensive, effective, and has no real side effects to speak of.
Just about every woman wants at least one of the things that women’s protein powder supplements can offer. Want to tone your muscles? Taking protein isn’t necessarily going to pack on pounds of muscle mass.
A 1999 study in the American Journal of Physiology tested the effects of protein supplementation in elderly men and women (1).
Even though the subjects in the study didn’t gain any muscle mass, their muscular strength increased and their rate of muscle protein synthesis increased as well. This shows that gaining weight isn’t necessary if you want to gain strength.
Want to preserve your bone mass? Protein has a hand in that, too. A six-month long study by researchers in Japan studied the potential of soy protein to impact bone mass in female subjects (2).
The women in the study were given a soy protein rich in isoflavones, or a whey protein powder as a control. At the study’s conclusion, the authors compared how the women’s’ bone mass had changed over the course of the six-month intervention period. They found that soy protein was uniquely able to preserve bone mass better than whey protein. The authors hypothesized that the soy isoflavones affect bone metabolism in a beneficial way.
This finding was supported by additional research published by a group of scientists at Oklahoma State University (3). A yearlong soy protein supplementation program in female subjects increased markers of bone formation, through bone density was not affected (perhaps because their exercise program wasn’t sufficient to support bone formation).
In any case, it’s clear that if bone health is important for you, you should look for a protein supplement that has soy protein in it.
Protein can help women with weight loss too. It seems counterintuitive that protein intake can help you lose weight and gain muscle, but that seems to be the truth.
A 2003 research paper published in the Journal of Nutrition by researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana found that increasing the ratio of protein to carbohydrates in the diet of a group of women attempting to lose weight had beneficial effects on both body composition and blood lipids (4).
Put more simply, increasing your protein intake and decreasing your carb intake helps you lose fat, gain muscle, and improve your risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
High dietary protein content seems to amplify the weight loss effects of exercise in women. Two years later, the same group of researchers in Illinois published another study which found that women who increased their dietary protein intake and increased their exercise levels experienced an additive effect, where the net benefits were greater than the individual sum of the parts (5).
You might call this a “health-multiplier” effect, and it’s one of the most powerful things in the health and fitness world: when two things work together synergistically to produce better results than each on its own, you can accomplish great things.
Older women who combine protein with vitamin D supplementation can see better muscle and bone health gains. As noted earlier, one of the unique attractions of protein powder for women is its ability to promote bone and muscle mass maintenance as you get older.
A recent scientific review article published in 2018 in the journal Nutrients argues that this effect can be amplified by combining protein supplementation with vitamin D supplementation and a regular exercise routine (6).
Citing multiple research paper, the authors of the article argue that vitamin D and exercise create hormonal conditions favorable for maintaining or even building bone mass and muscular strength in older women.
These outcomes have a direct influence on the risk for osteoporosis, falls, and frailty in old age. Vitamin D has plenty of benefits on its own, but in light of this recent work, adding vitamin D in conjunction with protein should be seriously considered for older women, especially if they know they are at risk for low bone density.
One of the reasons why protein powder is such a great supplement is that there really aren’t any side effects directly related to the protein content of the supplement.
Protein alone is pretty much strictly beneficial; some hardcore paleo diet advocates get over half their nutritional energy from protein on a daily basis, so high protein alone isn’t going to have any acute health determinants.
Now, there could be some negative side effects associated with the ingredients of your particular protein supplement. People who have a milk allergy, for example, are likely disqualified from taking most common protein supplements, because they are whey-protein based.
Note that this is not the same thing as being lactose-intolerant; milk allergies are much more rare. Someone with lactose intolerance can usually consume whey protein without any issues, because there is so little lactose that remains after the protein extraction process.
People with severe food allergies need to check the labels on protein supplements, because even allergen-free supplements are often produced in the same facilities as whey, soy, or other allergen-containing products.
You’ll have to go for a product with a more strictly-controlled manufacturing process if you have serious food allergies, but you probably know that already.
Finally, if you are taking high doses of flavored protein powders on a daily basis, you should watch the content of non-caloric sweeteners.
High doses of sugar alcohols like sorbitol can cause gastrointestinal discomfort and pain, so watch your ingredients if you are really pounding the protein (7).
Fortunately, it’s easy to find protein supplements for women that have minimal sweeteners, or use natural alternatives like Stevia.
Even though protein for women has benefits on muscular strength and bone mass, there is one paradoxical potential side effect. If your protein intake is too high, and your calcium intake is too low, you might actually lose bone mass.
That’s because high levels of protein induce calcium losses in your urine, and over the long term, if your supplemental protein intake is high and your calcium intake is low, you can end up losing bone mass instead of gaining it.
Fortunately, if you supplement with calcium and vitamin D, you can avoid this negative effect. The perks of combining calcium and vitamin D with protein supplementation were well-demonstrated in a study published in 2002 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by researchers at the US Department of Agriculture (8).
The study was a randomized controlled trial of calcium and vitamin D compared to placebo on bone mass over a multi-year period, but this study presented a secondary analysis of the effects of dietary protein in both the calcium + vitamin D group and the placebo group.
The researchers were able to show that there was a positive correlation between protein intake and gains in bone mass, but only in the women who were taking the calcium and vitamin D supplements.
The findings from this study strongly suggest that women who take protein for the bone mass benefits should also take a vitamin D and calcium supplement so they can leverage the benefits of protein supplementation and prevent the potential negatives of protein-induced calcium losses.
The nice thing about a well-studied dietary component like protein is that there are very clear guidelines for dosage.
When it comes to protein intake for building muscular strength and improving athletic performance, athletically-oriented women should aim for 0.7-0.8 grams of protein per day per pound of body weight (9).
So a 130 pound woman would want 91-104 grams of protein every day to achieve optimal athletic and sport performance.
As for weight loss, the high protein diets used in the weight loss research we discussed earlier used 125 grams of protein per day for all of the women in the study.
Depending on what your body weight is, this might be higher, lower, or about the same as the protein recommendation for athletes.
Do keep in mind that this is a recommendation for the number of grams of protein, not protein powder. Even the most pure protein powders are only 80-90% protein by weight, so you’ll have to bump up the volume of protein powder by 10-20%.
Fortunately, it’s easy to figure out the precise protein content of your supplement simply from the nutrition label.
Q: How many grams of protein does a woman need?
A: Most recommendations state that sedentary women need at least 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day, but recommendations are higher for athletes.
Athletes need a bit more, but not much—1.0 grams per pound of body weight per day is adequate according to current recommendations. In most weight loss studies, in contrast, the prescription is usually a set amount of protein.
Research has used anywhere from 50 to 125 grams of supplemental protein per day—roughly speaking, that translates to two to four scoops of protein powder using a standard-sized protein scoop that you’d get in a tub of protein.
Q: Do older women need more protein?
A: Protein recommendations for older adults hover near what’s recommended for normal adults (0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day), but research indicates that higher intakes are beneficial for older women as long as they are also taking calcium and vitamin D.
Too much protein is bad news for older women if their calcium and vitamin D intake is not adequate, because of the calcium losses that can be induced by high protein intake.
Q: What kind of protein is best for weight loss?
A: For weight loss, you want a pure and high quality protein that is high in amino acids (particularly branched chain amino acids or BCAAs) and more importantly, a protein powder that is low in sugar.
These twin characteristics will help take advantage of the thermogenic effects of protein powder, which can be traced to the increased energy expenditure needed to break down the amino acids that protein powder contains.
In addition, protein can provide an appetite suppressant effect because protein generates a greater feeling of fullness or satiety compared to other sources of calories. Keeping the sugar content to a minimum is important because sugar creates a negative metabolic environment that makes weight loss a lot harder.
Our rankings of the best protein powders for women took all of these factors into consideration.
Q: Is protein good for women who want to lose weight?
A: Protein is a great way for women to increase energy expenditure, maintain lean body mass, and get an appetite suppressant effect while on a weight loss program.
As detailed above, protein induces both a thermogenic (calorie burning) effect and an appetite suppressant effect, which reduces your desire to eat more food at future meals.
As long as you are consuming a high-quality protein powder for women that is low in sugar and high in protein, you’ll be able to enhance your weight loss.
Q: What is a good women’s protein for toning?
A: To tone muscles, women want a very pure protein powder that also helps them burn off fat.
Our reviewers liked Aria Women’s Wellness Protein and Smart Protein Grass Fed Whey for their focus on high quality protein sources and their very low sugar content, but many of the products in our rankings of the top protein powders for women are good choices for getting toned, as long as you pair them with an effective strength training program.
Q: Can a protein powder for women help you gain weight?
A: Gaining weight in the form of muscle mass can be tough for women, who don’t have the testosterone and HGH levels that men do that help them bulk up with muscle.
A protein powder can definitely help a woman gain weight, but high protein intake needs to be paired with heavy weight lifting to induce a strong enough training effect to increase muscle fiber size.
Q: How should pregnant women who are vegan get their protein?
A: Being a vegan makes protein intake for women particularly difficult, because many of the highest quality protein powders for women use animal-based protein sources like whey and casein protein.
There are, however, plenty of products that offer alternatives: pea protein is a particularly good source of vegan protein, to take just one example.
We have an entire article on the best vegan protein powders, so if you are a woman who is pregnant and you want a vegan source of protein to make sure your protein intake is adequate, check that article out. Also make sure to see our prenatal vitamin rankings while you’re at it.
Q: When should women take protein powder?
A: The right time to take a protein powder for women depends entirely on what purpose you are using your protein supplement for.
If you are taking protein powder to improve workout recovery, tone your muscles, and increase strength or power, you want to take protein within half an hour of finishing your workout, no matter what time of day you go to the gym.
That’s because working out creates a huge change in cellular signalling pathways, and if protein is in your system soon after these signalling pathways ramp up, your body can jump-start your recovery.
On the other hand, if your goal is weight loss, it’s far better to take protein powder in the morning, either with breakfast or as a mid-morning snack.
Taking protein early allows you to leverage both the thermogenic and the appetite suppressing effects of protein so you can increase your caloric expenditure and decrease your caloric intake later in the day.
Hopefully, taking protein early in the day will decrease how much food you eat at lunch and dinner.
- Multivitamins for women
- BCAAs for women
- Protein for weight loss
- Best tasting protein powder
- Vegan protein powder
- Meal replacement shake
It it possible to get plenty of protein from food alone? Sure. But it never hurts to have a protein supplement on hand for days when you are busy, or when your usual diet fails to provide enough protein to fit your needs.
For women, protein has a wide range of benefits, from weight loss to strength gains to preservation of bone mass. Always make sure you’re getting enough protein on a daily basis, and if you’re not, think about getting yourself a protein supplement, perhaps pairing it with a women’s daily multivitamin.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 protein powder for women recommendation, click here.