Finding the best protein powder for women isn’t always an easy task. Most sports supplements are designed and marketed with male bodybuilders in mind, and just one look at their testosterone-oozing packaging can put even the most athletic woman off. Thankfully, the market is constantly evolving. Unlike our general guide to the best protein powder, we’ve rounded up products specifically with women in mind here. Whether it’s building lean muscle, supporting healthy skin, hair and nails, or simply helping your body to function as it should, you’ll find a product that meets your needs.
Getting enough protein is important to help you achieve your goals. That’s because protein is digested into amino acids, which are commonly referred to as ‘the building blocks of life’.
“Every part of your body’s shape and form, from your hair to your heart, is made from amino acids,” says Sophie Medlin, consultant dietitian and director of CityDietitians. According to the US Dietary Reference Intakes, adults should eat at least 0.36g of protein per pound (0.8g per kg) of bodyweight. Your individual needs may be even higher, depending on your physical activity levels, age and overall health. But then you may ask, are there any reasons why women in particular may need protein?
“Protein is essential for growth and repair of tissues such as the building and shedding of the lining of the womb every month in women,” explains Medlin. “Amino acids from protein are also used to make hormones, enzymes, immune cells and every other essential element that is made by our bodies. In my clinical practice, what I find is that women often have a low protein breakfast and then not enough protein at lunch time to keep them full for the afternoon. This can lead to snacking later.”
According to the University of California San Francisco (opens in new tab), getting enough protein is particularly important when you are pregnant or breastfeeding too.
Adding a protein supplement to your diet can be an easy and convenient way to boost your intake of this macronutrient. To help you decide which is best for you, we’ve tried and tested a number of products, including vegan and tummy-friendly options. We’ve also got expert advice on the best time to use protein powder. Here’s our ultimate round-up.
Sophie Medlin a consultant dietitian and the Chair for the British Dietetic Association for London. Sophie has expertise in gastrointestinal and colorectal health. For this piece, she offers advice on what to look for in the best protein powder for women.
The best protein powder for women, tried and tested
Users love Innermost The Lean Protein. One reviewer wrote, “My favorite whey protein! The vanilla one is delicious plain, or blitzed with spinach into a smoothie. The chocolate one is a great dessert substitute with almond milk or greek yogurt. Lovely texture and smooth.”
If you’re worried that adding protein powder to your diet will make you ‘bulky’, Innermost’s The Lean Protein could be a great option to set your mind at ease. This particular product is crafted for those looking to slim down, and contains ingredients to support fat metabolism. It is also formulated to reduce cravings and maintain energy levels.
A single serving of The Lean Protein contains an impressive 29g of protein and 1g of inulin (a type of dietary fiber). It also contains 750mg Acetyl L-Carnitine, a non-essential amino acid necessary for transporting fat to the body’s power-generating mitochondria. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to use fat effectively as a source of energy. Other ingredients include 500mg Pomegranates, 500mg Yerba Mate and 250g Bilberries. All of these ingredients have been linked to weight management and improved glucose control.
Innermost The Lean Protein is suitable for vegetarians, as well as being GMO free, gluten free, soy free, halal and low sugar. Overall, it’s one of the best protein powders we’ve tasted. There’s no artificial taste, it’s creamy and it blends extremely well.
Reviews for MyProtein Impact Whey Protein are largely very positive, with users commenting that it mixes well with water, milk, oats and yogurt. Negative reviews tend to focus on the flavor of the protein, which does seem to vary, so we’d recommend purchasing a few of the 0.55 lb samples before committing to a larger size.
MyProtein’s Impact Whey Protein is certified by Labdoor, the independent supplement testing company, for quality and value. Available in 0.55 lb, 2.2 lb, 5.5 lb and 11 lb bags, and frequently discounted on the MyProtein website, it’s one of the most wallet-friendly items in our round-up.
Bear in mind that the powder is made from whey concentrate, rather than isolate, which tends to have a slightly lower protein content (up to 80% protein by weight, compared with 90% from isolate) and slightly higher amounts of carbohydrates and fats. It can also be slightly harder to digest than whey isolate. Having said this, at just 3g of carbohydrate per 25g serving, MyProtein Impact Whey is pretty on par with most of the whey isolates in this guide. It also includes 3.6g of glutamine and all the essential amino acids, including 4.5g of BCAAs.
Impact Whey Isolate does contain natural and artificial flavoring, as well as sweeteners. However, we found it holds its own with water or milk, and there are a huge array of flavors to choose from. Our favorites include strawberry, chocolate brownie and sticky toffee pudding, but it's worth buying a few smaller packets to find one you like.
Users love Misfits Protein Powder, with many commenting that it is one of the best tasting vegan protein powders they have tried (and we agree). The product scores 3.7 stars out of five on Amazon, with one customer noting: "This product tastes great as a shake, mixed with porridge or yoghurt, and helps to get protein and stay full for longer."
For those watching their calorie intake, Misfits Protein Powder comes in at just over 100 calories per serving whilst still packing in 20g of plant-based protein (a combination of pea and sunflower).
But what really sets this powder apart from other plant-based options is that it provides 3g of dietary fiber, as well as 6.5mg iron (36% of your daily value) and 3mcg vitamin B12 (125% DV). The latter is especially important for those following a vegan diet, as vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal products such as meat and eggs. One daily serving could therefore save you having to take an additional B12 supplement.
Better still, the packaging is also biodegradable and even the ink used is eco-friendly. Misfits works with Climate Partner to offset its emissions and aims to be plastic-free by the end of 2022 too.
The powder has a good level of sweetness and a pleasant, subtle flavor that works well with a wide range of ingredients. We tried the chocolate flavor, which was rich without being too sickly. However, we found it didn’t blend all too easily, so you may need to invest in the best protein shaker to make sure it’s well mixed before serving.
Users seem to love Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides. One reviewer wrote, “I’ve only been using it for a month and my skin is much more hydrated and softer. My fingernails are stronger and growing longer for the first time in my life.”
If you’re looking to support skin, hair and nail health, you might want to opt for a collagen supplement over a whey or plant-based protein powder. In this case, Vital Proteins’ Collagen Peptides provides 20g collagen per serving, as well as 80mg hyaluronic acid and 100% of your daily value of vitamin C.
So what is collagen good for? According to a meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Dermatology (opens in new tab), hydrolyzed collagen supplementation could support skin hydration, elasticity and wrinkles. These findings were consistent across 19 different studies.
Vital Proteins claims the powder can dissolve in hot or cold liquids, including coffee and smoothies. We found it worked really well in hot beverages, but there was definitely an odd taste if we just mixed it with cold water, despite it being ‘unflavored’. You also need to give it a good stir if you're using it in hot drinks to make sure it doesn't come clumpy. But rest assured, it does dissolve completely.
Being made from bovine hide collagen peptides, this powder is unsuitable for vegetarians, although Vital Proteins do offer a marine collagen alternative if you’re pescatarian. However, a draw is that it’s available in 5 oz, 9.33 oz, 20 oz containers, as well as portable stick pack versions that are easy to take on holiday or to work.
Users seem to love Vega Protein Made Simple. One user wrote, “The texture when blended into smoothies isn’t noticeable or chalky like some other protein powders.” Another wrote, “The texture of the powder was good, easy to dissolve, etc. I literally have no complaints besides the fact that it doesn’t come in a larger size! I would also like my scoop size to be worth 20g of protein instead of 15g.”
If you’re after a clean, plant-based protein powder that’s free from ingredients you can’t pronounce, then Vega Protein Made Simple is a great option. The powder contains just five ingredients: pea protein, organic cane sugar, coconut cream powder, natural flavors and sea salt.
Despite containing real sugar, the flavor isn’t too sweet or sickly. We tried out the dark chocolate flavor, and although it wasn’t quite as rich as we would have liked, it was really natural tasting and the mixability was fantastic, both with liquid and stirred into oatmeal. But we think this protein really excels when added to smoothies. Try blending it up with a cup of almond milk, half a banana and a few ice cubes.
Admittedly, the protein content per serving isn’t as high as other brands, at just 15g per serving. However, you could add an extra half scoop if you wanted a bigger protein hit. There’s so much to like about this simplistic powder, but it’s frustrating that most retailers only sell it in 9.2 ounce containers (10 servings). However, the vanilla and chocolate flavor are available in XL tubs, which will last you 38-39 servings. If you prefer the strawberry banana or caramel toffee flavors, however, you’ll have to settle for the smaller container.
Users seem to love Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein. One user commented, “It doesn’t get any better than this. Super-clean and great tasting”, while another said, “It mixes thoroughly, tastes great and digests easily”. Negative reviews are hard to find, but they tend to come from users who prefer a slightly sweeter tasting powder – Garden of Life is more on the natural side, for those who don’t have as much of a sweet tooth.
Featuring 22 raw and organic sprouts, Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein Powder is a great source of complete protein, including all the essential amino acids your body needs to build lean muscle.
Not only this, it contains gut-friendly probiotics and digestive enzymes, which break down our food into nutrients so our bodies can absorb them. This makes it a great choice for women with IBS or gut problems. It also contains vitamins A, D (400IU), E and K to support immune health, as well as calcium, zinc and selenium – so you’re definitely getting extra bells and whistles with this premium quality product.
We tested the vanilla chai flavor. The powder is quite dense, but this is unsurprising given its made from plant-based protein sources. We really enjoyed it stirred into a morning bowl of oatmeal, although it does make it incredibly thick, so it’s worth adding it in before your oatmeal has thickened too much on its own. It can be a little bit chalky if you don’t mix it well, so make sure you have the best protein shaker on hand if you like a liquid shake.
The product scores 4.5 out of five stars on the company’s website. One reviewer wrote, “I think I finally found a protein that is not only clean but also tastes great! It is so easy to mix and I love the salted caramel flavor. It doesn’t taste like chemicals like other protein powders do.” Negative reviews tend to focus on the foamy consistency once shaken, with one user writing, “I end up mixing the shake before my workout, stick it in the fridge, and come back so the foam relaxes.”
If it’s a super high-protein, low-carb powder for women you’re after, you can’t find a much better macronutrient ratio than Transparent Lab’s 100% Grass-fed protein. It packs in an impressive 28g per 32g serving, whilst containing less than 1g carbohydrate.
The whey protein isolate is also made from grass-fed dairy cattle that aren’t treated with growth or steroid hormones. The result? A clean protein powder with minimal lactose that’s easy on the stomach. It’s also free from artificial sweeteners, preservatives and coloring, plus gluten-free and non-GMO.
The texture is super fine, which means there’s no grittiness or unpleasant, bitter aftertaste. Some users note that it can get quite foamy, but we didn’t find this to be an issue with the cinnamon french toast flavor we tested. In fact, it held its own when mixed with water, and we found the flavor moreish, without being sickly sweet.
How we test protein powders at Live Science
All of the protein powders in this guide have been tried and tested by the Live Science team. Firstly, we disregard any products that have excessive levels of artificial sweeteners, additives or preservatives. We also look at the texture of the powder, including how well it mixes into water, milk, and foods such as oatmeal or smoothie bowls. Finally, comes the taste test, where we determine whether the taste is reflective of the flavor, unusually bitter or particularly sweet. Packaging is also noted, based on sustainability and convenience.
How to choose the best protein powder for women
Protein powders are not regulated, so it’s important to source products from reputable suppliers, like the ones in this guide. Yasi Ansari, a registered dietitian, recommends looking for “a product that has been third-party tested, for example by NSF or Informed Choice”.
She adds: “There are a lot of products out there that contain protein powder but also have added artificial sugars and sugar alcohols. Sometimes these can cause gastrointestinal discomfort – gas, cramping, loose stools. If you’re taking a protein supplement, look out for these symptoms.”
Sophie Medlin also says she looks for a product with as few ingredients as possible. “I am a big fan of whey protein isolate for my patients because it is lactose-free and usually doesn’t have any other ingredients, but contains the right blend of amino acids for muscle building,” she says.
When it comes to the best vegan protein powder, she recommends looking for a blend of protein sources to make sure that all amino acids are covered. “Again, I would prefer for this to contain as few colorings and flavorings as possible, but this is much trickier in a vegan protein product because the protein sources can have strong, unpalatable flavors,” she says.
The nutritional information will also display the macronutrient ratio per portion. If you’re looking to build lean muscle, while shedding body fat or maintaining a healthy weight, then you’ll want to go for one with a lower carbohydrate and sugar content, and a high protein content – ideally around 20g per portion.
The benefits of protein powder for women
Women need protein for so many reasons. It helps to:
- Reduce appetite and hunger levels
- Increase muscle mass and bone strength
- Reduce cravings and desire for late-night snacking
- Boost metabolism and increase fat burning
- Maintain weight loss
- Support hair, skin and nails
- Build and repairs cells in the body
- Boost memory
When it comes to weight loss in particular, one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (opens in new tab) found that overweight women who increased their protein take from 15% to 30% of their calories ate 441 fewer calories each day without intentionally restricting anything. So if you’re looking to shed a few pounds without restricting yourself, investing in the best protein powder for women could be a good idea.
When to use the best protein powder for women
So when is the best time to supplement with protein powder? A review published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (opens in new tab) suggests protein should be eaten before and after training. During the hour after completing a workout, eating enough carbs and protein also gives your muscles the ability to replenish the glycogen they lost through training and make available protein and amino acids for rebuilding and repairing muscle.
Ansari also suggests you should "keep an eye out for a time of day when it might be difficult to get enough protein” too. If unable to add a protein-rich meal or snack, she says, consider incorporating a supplement. For example, if you tend to rush breakfast, why not grab a protein shake, or stir some powder into a bowl of oatmeal?
Pairing your protein powder with carbohydrate for a post-recovery snack can help you to achieve maximum results. If you’re using a low-carb protein powder, make it with almond or rice milk and eat a piece of fruit. If made with water, also eat a couple of handfuls of whole wheat crackers or a slice of wholegrain toast with sliced banana on top. This will provide a high-quality post-workout snack.
This article is for informational purposes only, and is not meant to offer medical advice.