Protein shakes are flavored blends of protein supplements that are easy to mix up into a shake or smoothie when you’re on the go.
The right protein shake can help you lose fat, maintain muscle mass, get toned, recover from tough workouts, and stamp out hunger pangs.
However, there’s a lot of variability in quality when it comes to protein shakes. Our research team has picked out the ten best protein shakes to help you stay lean, fit, and healthy.
Idealshake makes a great protein shake that uses whey protein concentrate alongside whey protein isolate, in addition to a wide array of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes for digestibility.
It blocks hunger through the satiety-generating effects of whey protein, fiber, and inulin. It tastes great, delivers a lot of protein and fiber, and the sugar content is extremely low: just one gram per serving. For all of these reasons, it’s our top pick.
2. Vega One Organic
If you don’t do dairy because you’re lactose intolerant, allergic to dairy, or vegan, it can be hard to find a good protein shake.
For these people, Vega One is the top choice. Its protein content comes from pea protein, while its fruit and vegetable blend provides strong antioxidant power through powderized concentrates from ingredients like kale, spinach, and pomegranate.
Its vitamin and mineral content is excellent, and its sugar content is low, too, making this a fantastic pick if you want a plant-derived protein shake.
3. Fitmiss delight
Fitmiss Delight is a protein shake designed especially for women. The protein content is varied, coming from whey, egg, casein, and potato protein.
It’s also got a robust mix of superfood extracts from things like blood oranges, broccoli, cherry, and red currant. These are supported by digestive enzymes to improve absorption and bioavailability of the nutrients in the shake.
To top things off, it’s got a large amount of vitamin B12 included to keep your energy levels high throughout the day. Of the protein shakes that aren’t pre-mixed, this is one of the best.
4. Muscle Milk Pro Series
Muscle Milk is an excellent source of protein, and don’t let the name fool you—it’s not just for post-workout refueling.
It delivers an impressive 32 grams of protein per serving in the form of milk and casein protein, and aside from some flavoring agents, the only other ingredients are vitamins and minerals. Surprisingly, it’s one of the most focused, minimalist protein shakes out there, and its carb content is incredibly low.
5. Orgain Clean Protein
Orgain makes a pre-mixed protein shake that uses only grass-fed cows as a source for its milk protein concentrate. The sugar content is a little higher than normal, as it uses agave nectar as a sweetener alongside the natural non-caloric sweeteners monk fruit extract and stevia leaf extract.
Even so, each serving has only 4 grams of sugar (and 20 grams of protein). Unless you are a very strict low-sugar diet, this likely won’t be a dealbreaker. The use of only natural ingredients is a real draw for Orgain, though it hurts the vitamin and mineral content.
6. Avant Edge Carb Control
Avant Edge Carb Control is the lowest carb protein shake out there. It uses pea and soy protein, so it’s great for people who have to avoid dairy-derived protein.
The carb avoidance comes at the cost of low fiber content as well, so it may not be as filling as some other protein shakes that also have high dietary fiber content.
It has the expected vitamin and mineral ingredients, and beyond this, It’s nothing fancy, but if you want to keep your carb count as low as possible, it’s a very good choice.
7. Premier Protein
Premier Protein is a dairy-based protein shake that delivers a huge amount of protein per serving and provides the kind of vitamin and mineral balance you’d get from a standard multivitamin.
One shake delivers a quarter of your recommended daily intake of just about every important vitamin and mineral.
Though the artificial ingredients and preservatives may be a bit much for hard-line purists, it’s a good solution for just about everybody else who isn’t lactose-intolerant.
8. Atkins Protein-Rich Shake
Milk protein and whey protein make up the bulk of the protein content of this protein shake, with soy protein pitching in as well.
As you’d expect from the brand, this protein shake is high in both protein and fat, while being very low in carbohydrates. Its fiber content is lower than some other competitors, so it may not be as filling, though the higher fat content—derived from sunflower cream—will partially make up for the lack of fiber when it comes to satiety.
9. Pure Protein Shake
The Pure Protein Shake is a pretty standard mixture of milk protein and casein protein. It’s flavored with artificial flavoring and sucralose, a synthetic sweetener, and its vitamin and mineral content is fairly disappointing. Unless all you care about is protein content, this protein shake comes up a bit short on a number of fronts.
10. CalNaturale Svelte
CalNaturale Svelte distinguishes itself by using organic ingredients, which is great to see. However, it’s somewhat disappointing to see cane sugar being used as a sweetener in fairly large amounts, given how many natural alternatives there are.
This pushes the sugar content up to 6 grams per serving, which might be too high if you’re on a low carb or low sugar diet.
On top of that, the protein content is fairly low, given that soy milk (and not soy protein isolate, a much more pure source of protein) is used. With only 11 grams of protein, it’s very hard for CalNaturale to compete, given that other brands have almost triple that.
Protein shake benefits and side effects
A protein shake is a premixed or powder form supplement that you can easily use as a meal replacement or as a post-workout pick-me-up to refuel, rebuild muscle, and stay lean.
They’re equally well-suited for athletes and people just looking to lose some weight. High doses of protein are particularly useful when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, thanks to its thermogenic and satiety-inducing effects.
Protein shakes lean heavily on these mechanisms to ward off hunger and keep you burning calories throughout the day.
A protein shake can replace a meal and still leave you feeling full. Protein shakes are excellent tools for weight loss because of their ability to make you feel full without requiring you to consume a lot of calories.
Like meal replacement shakes, they can accomplish this thanks to their high dosage of highly concentrated protein. According to research out of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, this effect is largely due to elevated amino acid levels in the body following a high protein meal (1).
Protein induces a feeling nutritionists call satiety, which is the post-meal feeling of fullness that makes you disinclined to eat more. The surge of amino acids into your body causes a release of hormones that make you feel less hungry, and when the protein content of a meal is high, it takes fewer calories to achieve this effect.
Protein shakes increase your energy expenditure. Consuming a large amount of protein all at once induces another biological response in your body termed thermogenesis.
Your baseline metabolic rate increases thanks to the energy that is required to break down the amino acids in protein. A study published in 1997 in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition tested the thermogenic effects of a low protein versus a high-protein meal in ten subjects (2).
The subjects received, in random order, either a high-protein, high-fat, or high-carbohydrate meal, and the researchers tracked the subjects’ baseline metabolic rate over the next seven hours. The high fat and high carbohydrate meals increased post-meal energy expenditure by just one-third that of the high protein meal.
A review article published in 2008 by researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health analyzed these results as well as those of dozens of other studies, concluding that there is “convincing evidence” that high-protein meals create greater amounts of thermogenesis compared to low-protein meals (3).
Protein shakes can help you drop fat and maintain lean muscle. A study published in 2008 in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism examined the effects of a commercially available protein shake on body composition during a weight loss program (4).
Compared to a low-protein placebo shake, the group that received the protein shake lost more fat mass and preserved more lean body mass (i.e. muscle) during the 12-week study.
The authors hypothesized that the protein shake led to a more efficient “partitioning” of energy consumption, leading to the body burning fat and preserving muscle when it was in caloric deficit.
Maintaining weight loss is easier with a protein shake. Thanks to the thermogenic and satiety-inducing effects of protein shakes, they are great not just for losing weight, but for keeping weight off after you’ve lost it. This was the finding of a paper published in the International Journal of Obesity which studied over 100 subjects who underwent an intensive weight loss program, followed by a three-month weight loss maintenance phase (5).
Half the subjects supplemented their diet with 50 grams per day of extra protein, while the other half did not. The results showed that the protein decreased fat mass regain by 50% over the course of three months.
The authors suggested that the satiety-inducing effects of the protein was able to keep overall energy intake lower than the control group.
Protein shakes may derive their dietary protein from different sources, but ultimately, they’re all natural foods. High protein intakes do not appear to be harmful, at least among healthy people.
A study in bodybuilders who were consuming nearly double the recommended dietary protein intake for athletes found no negative effects over the course of a week on their usual very high protein diet (6).
The only safety caveats are for people who are both obese and have type 2 diabetes. For these individuals, kidney function may already be compromised due to the effects of obesity and diabetes together.
As a result, certain types of protein (specifically, sulfur-containing amino acids) could raise blood pressure, and hence indirectly lead to an increased risk of heart disease (7). These people should talk to their doctor before taking large doses of protein for weight loss.
For the vast majority of people, though, even very high doses of protein are perfectly safe. And don’t forget, being overweight is also a risk factor for heart disease.
When replacing a meal, a protein dosage around 30 grams is the standard in scientific research. Conveniently, this is about the protein dosage of many of the top protein shakes on the market.
Studies on weight loss maintenance tend to use protein doses of 30 to 50 grams per day of supplemental protein, which works out to one or two protein shakes per day.
You can use these as mid-day meal replacements for lunch, or as a breakfast when you are on the go (or both). Given that one of the major benefits of a protein shake is the feeling of fullness it induces, it’s best to take protein in the morning or afternoon as opposed to the evening, when you’ve already eaten most of your calories for the day.
There’s enough scientific evidence to say that high protein intake is critical for success when you are losing weight or trying to keep it off. Protein shakes are an excellent way to get a high dose of protein without much in the way of refined carbohydrates or sugars.
Thanks to the vitamin and mineral content of a high-quality protein shake, they function very well as meal replacements for breakfast, lunch, or a midday snack.
Taking between 30 and 50 grams of protein per day in the form of a protein shake is a sure-fire way to drop more fat mass, get strong, toned, and lean, and keep weight off once you’ve lost it.