The Best Protein Shakes For Taste, Muscle Building, and More

For protein on the go, these are our favorite options on the market.

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There’s no denying that protein is a fundamental component of many diets. It is a staple for anyone whose priorities include building muscle, burning fat, or decreasing appetite. Increasing protein intake can be important, but protein is a tricky nutrient. Out of the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat), protein is typically the most expensive and the most difficult to consume on the go.

That’s why ready-to-drink protein shakes can be a valuable solution. With the popularity of protein shakes comes dozens of different options on the market, oftentimes making it tough to find the one that best fits an individual’s needs. That’s why we looked at the available options to pick the best of the best protein shakes.

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended to diagnose, prevent, and/or treat health problems. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning a new fitness, nutritional, and/or supplement routine. 

Best Ready to Drink Protein Shake

To land on the best protein shake overall, we assessed the protein-per-calorie, the sweeteners used, the added sugar, the available flavors, and the additives. Iconic bested the field.

A terrific all-rounder that ticks just about every box, Iconic’s pre-made protein shakes provide 20 grams of protein, eight grams of carbohydrates, four grams of fiber, and just two grams of fat. Its low carb, low fat, high fiber, it contains no soy or gluten or artificial sweeteners, the protein’s sourced from grass-fed cows,

Iconic Protein Drinks
Iconic Protein Drinks
Iconic Protein Drinks

Free from artificial sweeteners, full of protein, pretty low carb, and available in six different flavors, Iconic is a solid option for a variety of different diets.

Who Should Buy Iconic Protein Drink  

  • Those who prefer their dairy from grass-fed cows. 
  • People trying to limit their intake of artificial sweeteners and artificial flavors.
  • Folks looking to combat inflammation. Some flavors available include powdered greens and turmeric, which may help in this regard.
  • Anyone looking to limit fat or carbs is likely to appreciate these macros.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Iconic Protein Drink  

  • Those who like a rich, thick shake — some might find the consistency to be watery.
  • The lack of artificial sweeteners means some consumers may find the taste a little underwhelming.

From Chocolate Truffle to Turmeric Ginger, there’s something for everyone with these versatile, nutritious shakes.

[Related: Could Baking Soda Be The Best Workout Supplement You’ve Never Tried?]

Best Keto Protein Shake

Ample’s attempt at a keto-friendly product really the mark. Available in both 400- and 600-calorie varieties, it avoids some of the common pitfalls of keto shakes, like too much protein or not enough fat. There are 50 grams of fat and 19 grams of protein in the larger size, 22 grams of carbohydrates with 13 grams of fiber, and three grams of sugar.

As mentioned earlier, it comes in a super convenient fillable bottle — finding keto snacks on the go can be extremely frustrating — and this variety of Ample actually has more nutrition than the regular kind with 25 percent of your daily Vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium.

Ample K
Ample K
Ample K

A keto-friendly shake packed with probiotics to help curb hunger while maintaining ketosis. Each bottle packs 400 calories and 25 grams of protein alongside 28 grams of fat and seven grams of fiber.

Who Should Buy Ample K

  • Those who appreciate protein shakes without any artificial ingredients.
  • Anyone who would like help minimizing Omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Folks looking to save money by buying in bulk or via a monthly subscription.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Ample K

  • Anyone who wants less fat in their protein shakes. The macros for this shake are 74 percent fats, 13 percent protein, and less than three percent net carbohydrates.

[Related: The Best Types Of Supplements For Performance, Weight Loss, And Health]

Best Plant-Based Protein Shake

Many vegan protein shakes are really high in carbs — and high in unwelcome “nutty” flavors. Vega’s protein supplements free from soy, which some consumers try to limit, and the protein comes from four different plant-based sources: pea protein, flaxseed, sunflower seed protein, and pumpkin seed protein. But there’s more than protein here: there are two billion probiotic bacteria per bottle, one gram of Omega-3s, and over 20% of the recommended daily intake of over a dozen vitamins and minerals. 

Vega Protein Nutrition Shake
Vega Protein Nutrition Shake
Vega Protein Nutrition Shake

Packed with 20 grams of protein from pea, sunflower seed, pumpkin seed, and hemp, Vega's protein shake is available in a variety of flavors and it includes a wide range of vitamins and minerals.

Who Should Buy Vega Protein Nutrition Shake

  • Anyone looking to reduce their intake of animal proteins.
  • Those wary of soy — there’s none here.
  • Those who want more than protein from a shake: Vega’s drink provides about 25 percent of the recommended daily intake of a suite of micronutrients, including Vitamins B12, Vitamin D, and Vitamin K.
  • People who prefer no artificial flavors or sweeteners in their protein shakes.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Vega Protein Nutrition Shake

  • The product isn’t 100 percent organic, which is a priority for some consumers.

Vega has done a solid job of delivering a complete, soy-free protein shake that doubles as a multivitamin.

[Related: Intermittent Fasting 101: A Guide To Benefits, Muscle Gain, And More]

Best Tasting Protein Shake

Labrada has whipped up a mighty 40-gram dose of protein in their ready-to-drink shake, making it a terrific option for those who want a big hit of protein without sugar to help to gain muscle. It also delivers a considerable five grams of fiber and twenty-two of vitamins and minerals. It’s anabolic, it’s nutritious, it’s sugar-free, and there are eight available flavors to choose from.

Labrada Lean Body Ready to Drink Shake
Labrada Lean Body Ready to Drink Shake
Labrada Lean Body Ready to Drink Shake

A high protein drink with no sugar or lactose, Labrada's protein shake is packed with 40 grams of protein, a good dose of fiber, and it's available in eight different flavors.

Who Should Buy Labrada Lean Body Ready to Drink Shake

  • Those who want a lot of protein: The Lean Body Ready to Drink Shake delivers a considerable 40 grams per serving.
  • Those who avoid sugar or lactose, as the product is free of both. 
  • People who want some micronutrients with their shakes.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Labrada Lean Body Ready to Drink Shake

  • Some consumers may object to artificial flavors and sweeteners.
  • Those looking for higher calorie shakes to serve more as a meal replacement.

Labrada delivers a considerable amount of complete protein, tons of vitamins and minerals, and no sugar or lactose.

[Related: Best Macros Calculator For Tracking Muscle Gain And Fat Loss]

Best Protein Shake for Muscle Building

This protein shake contains 400 calories per bottle. Offered in two flavors — chocolate or vanilla cinnamon — the macro breakdown is 28 grams of fat, 25 grams of protein, and 11 carbohydrates per single-bottle serving. In addition to seven grams of fiber, each bottle provides four micrograms of Vitamin D, 270 milligrams of calcium, 460 milligrams of potassium, 1.6 milligrams of iron 20 percent of the daily recommended dose of magnesium.

Ample High Protein
Ample High Protein
Ample High Protein

This protein shake packs 400 calories per 72-gram single-bottle serving. In addition to 25 grams of protein, each bottle provides four micrograms of Vitamin D, 270 milligrams of calcium, and 460 milligrams of potassium.

Who Should Buy Ample High Protein

  • Those looking to add more protein and fat to their diet.
  • Anyone happy to get the additional fiber.
  • People who appreciate dessert-like flavors for their protein shakes.

Who Shouldn’t Buy Ample High Protein

  • Anyone who cannot have products made with nuts or milk.

[Related: Nutrition For Bulking: 10 Tips For Intelligent Muscle Gain]

How We Decide the Best

When perusing the huge variety of protein drinks on the market, it can be hard to know what to look for when picking the best for you. Here are the criteria we looked at. 

Protein Content

This may seem obvious, but many people don’t know what a standard serving of protein looks like. The answer is at least 20 grams, and all of the products we chose — except the keto shake, for the reasons listed above — had at least this much. This is because, particularly regarding dairy-based shakes, 20 grams is a good minimum to reach to ingest enough of the amino acid leucine to trigger muscle protein synthesis.

Calories Per Gram of Protein

It’s good to get 20 grams of protein, but if you need to drink a thousand calories to get those 20 grams, it’s not an effective means to get your protein. The best possible amount of calories per gram of calorie you can get is four – that’s pure protein, which you’ll get in the Isopure Zero Carb product — and we preferred products that kept the calorie count on the lower side. (Again, except for the keto drink.)

Sweeteners

There are three artificial sweeteners you’re most likely to find: aspartame, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium. There’s probably nothing wrong with artificial sweeteners but given there’s no shortage of people who try to limit them, we made sure to note if they were present in the products. 

[Related: The Lifter’s Guide To Magnesium: What This Nutrient Does For Strength]

How Much Protein Does One Need?

There’s a difference between the amount of protein that the FDA recommends to avoid winding up with a deficiency and the amount of protein ideal for managing hunger and maintaining a beach-ready physique.

The FDA has a blanket recommendation of 50 grams of protein per day for everybody. But for folks who work out regularly and want to look like it, it’s a different story. There’s a lot of debate, but the most influential paper here was published by the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine in 2009, and 10 years later, the International Association of Athletic Federations published the same recommendations: 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day, or 0.54 to 0.77 grams per pound of bodyweight. (1)

Some athletes consume more, even exceeding one gram per pound of body weight, and while it doesn’t appear that this has a negative effect, it’s not necessary to eat this much. But if one enjoys eating that much protein, eating one gram or more per pound of bodyweight doesn’t appear to have a negative effect. There’s some evidence that for advanced bodybuilders with significant muscle mass who are also trying to lose fat — that is, are maintaining a big calorie deficit — a higher intake of two to three grams per kilogram of body weight (one to 1.3 grams per pound) might be useful for retaining muscle. (2)(3) This isn’t necessary for the average person who works out a few times a week.

Remember that losing fat and gaining muscle has a lot more to it than just protein intake. Your overall calories are absolutely critical, as are your workouts, micronutrient intake, sleep quality, and more. Protein is an important piece of the puzzle, so once you know your calories, these guidelines can be useful to work out how many of those calories should be made up of protein.

[Related: IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros): Your Ultimate Guide To This Diet]

What To Consider Before Buying

So you want to try a ready-to-drink protein shake? Here are a few tips to keep in mind so that you know what to expect.

Know Your Serving Size

To maintain muscle, there’s some evidence that it’s best to consume at least 20 to 30 grams of protein at a time. This should provide enough of the right amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to promote muscle protein synthesis. (4)

Dosage May Depend on Your Age

Because of a phenomenon called “anabolic resistance,” it’s harder to gain and maintain muscle as you age. Some research suggests that to trigger muscle protein synthesis, it’s best for adults over 50 to consume at least 40 grams of protein at a time. (5)(6)

Understand Protein Quality

There’s a lot of debate about the importance of a protein’s “quality,” a term that refers to the balance of amino acids in the protein. Animal-based proteins are of the highest quality (that includes whey, casein, and egg) but provided you’re consuming a good amount (20 or more grams) at a time, plant-based sources like soy, pea, hemp, oats, legumes, and most other vegan proteins deliver enough of the amino acids associated with muscle growth. (3)

Get the Full Picture

It bears repeating that gaining or maintaining muscle requires more than protein: it’s important to work out how many calories you need for your goal (e.g., weight loss or weight gain) and to have a dedicated exercise regimen. It’s important to get plenty of sleep and a lot of fruits and vegetables for important micronutrients.

Wrapping Up

For many people, diet can be the hardest component of gaining muscle or losing fat, and keeping protein intake relatively high is often the biggest challenge. Some of these products contain 40 grams of protein, while others are as low as 10 grams. What’s important is finding the best protein shake that fits your goals and lifestyle to achieve your goals can be as easy as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much protein should I consume at once?

It depends on the source, but a minimum of 20 to 30 grams of protein at a time is preferable in order to provide you with enough of the amino acid leucine to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

Is whey the best protein?

Whey is a hugely popular supplement because it’s tasty, inexpensive, and high quality. It’s extremely high in leucine, an amino acid that stimulates muscle protein synthesis, and easily absorbed. However, so long as you’re getting at least 20 grams of protein, most protein sources — with the exception of nuts, rice, and seeds — will have enough leucine to help with muscle.

Are ready to drink protein shakes healthy?

“Healthy” means a lot of things, but there’s nothing wrong with buying pre-made protein shakes. The only exception is if, for whatever reason, you want to limit your consumption of soy, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, gums, or lactose, which they often include.

References

  1. Rodriguez NR, et al. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Mar;109(3):509-27.
  2. Helms ER, et al. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 May 12;11:20.
  3. Breen L, et al. Leucine: a nutrient ‘trigger’ for muscle anabolism, but what more? J Physiol. 2012 May 1;590(9):2065-6.
  4. Yang Y, et al. Myofibrillar protein synthesis following ingestion of soy protein isolate at rest and after resistance exercise in elderly men. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Jun 14;9(1):57.
  5. Yang Y, et al. Myofibrillar protein synthesis following ingestion of soy protein isolate at rest and after resistance exercise in elderly men. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Jun 14;9(1):57.
  6. Phillips SM, et al. The role of milk- and soy-based protein in support of muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein accretion in young and elderly persons. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009 Aug;28(4):343-54.