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. Smart Protein Grass Fed Whey Protein
Smart Protein 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 ingredients, in total, are whey protein concentrate, natural flavoring, gum acacia, and stevia extract. 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. Body Lab Tasty Shake
For a supplement designed and marketed by Jennifer Lopez, you might expect a fancy blend of extracts, or a filler-packed junk supplement.
In reality, Body Lab is a pretty standard protein shake: it contains chiefly whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate, and only a few flavoring agents in addition.
The “tasty” part comes from the sucralose, natural flavors, and stevia used to sweeten the blend and eliminate the distinctive gritty taste of unflavored whey protein. This adds a trivial amount of sugar (one gram per serving).
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.
Protein benefits and side effects for women
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.
The benefits of protein for women…where to start? 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.
How about weight loss? 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.
If that wasn’t good enough, 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.
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 (6).
Fortunately, it’s easy to find protein supplements for women that have minimal sweeteners, or use natural alternatives like Stevia.
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 (7).
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.
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.