There’s no denying that protein is a fundamental component of any diet and for people whose priorities include building muscle, losing fat, or managing hunger, 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 when on the go. That’s why ready to drink protein shakes are becoming increasingly popular, but with that popularity comes dozens of different options that can make it tough to find the shake that fits an individual’s needs. That’s why we looked at the available options to land on these picks for the best of the best.

Best Protein Shakes

Best Overall

Iconic Protein Drink

A terrific all rounder that ticks just about every box, Iconic’s pre made protein shakes provide 20 grams of protein, 8 grams of carbohydrates (4 grams of fiber), and 2 grams of fat. It’s low carb, free of soy and gluten, and available in six flavors.

Pros

  • Iconic’s whey comes from grass-fed cows and contains no artificial ingredients.
  • There are six flavors available, including some with powdered greens and turmeric, which may combat inflammation.
  • These drinks are low in fat and carbs and they provide a good hit of fiber to improve satiety.

Cons

  • Some find the consistency to be quite watery.
  • The lack of artificial sweeteners means some consumers may find the taste a little underwhelming.
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.

Also Consider

Labrada Lean Body Ready to Drink Shake

An ideal product for those looking to gain muscle, Labrada has a whopping 40 grams of protein per bottle with no sugar whatsoever. It also delivers a considerable five grams of fiber and a range of vitamins and minerals, plus there are eight available flavors to choose from.

Pros

  • The Lean Body Ready to Drink Shake delivers a considerable 40 grams of protein per serving.
  • The product is completely free from sugar, which also means there’s no lactose.
  • A range of vitamins and minerals have been added to the product to boost its nutrition.

Cons

  • Some consumers may object to the artificial flavors and sweeteners.
  • With 280 calories per serve, this isn’t the lowest calorie option on the market.
  • Despite having 22 vitamins and minerals on the ingredients list, the nutrition label doesn’t disclose how much of each it contains.
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.

Best Low Carb

Isopure Zero Carb

With absolutely no carbs or fat whatsoever, these artificially sweetened drinks from Isopure are produced with a microfiltration process that produces a protein-packed drink that’s completely clear. With these macronutrients, the product can fit into a wide variety of diets. 

Pros

  • There are no carbs or fat in this drink: the calories all come from protein.
  • There’s no gluten, lactose, or aspartame in these drinks.
  • One bonus: a lot of people like to freeze the drink in popsicle moulds to make protein-packed summer treats.

Cons

  • The product contains artificial sweeteners.
  • Some find these drinks to be too sweet.
Isopure Zero Carb
Isopure Zero Carb
Isopure Zero Carb

There are very few products that provide a big hit of protein with no carbs or fat whatsoever, but Isopure has managed to achieve this feat with an unusual microfiltration process that produces a totally clear drink that's full of whey isolate.

Best Keto

ZonePerfect Keto Shake

ZonePerfect has produced a variety of high fat, naturally flavored shakes made with coconut cream and dairy, with three flavors available: butter coffee, pineapple coconut, and white chocolate coconut. In addition, ZonePerfect has added exogenous ketones to the shake, which may help to provide energy for those on low carb diets.

Pros

  • There are no artificial ingredients or sweeteners.
  • The product has added ketones to provide energy.
  • It’s high in medium-chain triglycerides, which are preferred by many on the keto diet.

Cons

  • Some consumers complain about the consistency, as little bits of coconut fat can stay in the fluid.
  • These are relatively expensive for protein shakes.
  • With 10 grams of protein per serving, it’s not as high protein as many non-keto shakes, so they may not be useful to the average, non-keto dieter.
ZonePerfect Keto Shake
ZonePerfect Keto Shake
ZonePerfect Keto Shake

An all natural shake that's full of fat from coconut and dairy, plus there are added ketones, which many keto dieters value in their supplements.

Best Vegan

Vega Protein Nutrition Shake

Vega’s protein supplements have stormed the market for good reason. Not only are they free from soy, which some consumers try to limit, but the protein comes from four different plant-based sources, there are 2 billion probiotic bacteria per bottle, and it contains a significant number of vitamins and minerals.

Pros

  • Vega’s drink provides about 25 percent of the recommended daily intake of a suite of micronutrients including Vitamins B12, D, and K.
  • There are no artificial flavors or sweeteners and the product is certified by the Non-GMO Project.
  • The protein comes from pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, hemp, and pea — no soy in sight.

Cons

  • With 13 grams of carbs for 20 grams of protein, it may not be ideal for low carb diets.
  • The product isn’t organic, which is a priority for some consumers.
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.

How Much Protein Do I 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 that is ideal to manage hunger and maintain a beach ready physique.

The FDA has a blanket recommendation of 50 grams 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 ten years later the International Association of Athletic Federations published the exact same recommendations: 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight every day, or 0.54 to 0.77 grams per pound of bodyweight.(1)

Some athletes consume more, even exceeding 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, and while it doesn’t appear that this has a negative effect, it’s not necessary to eat this much. But if one simply enjoys eating that much protein, eating 1 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 2 to 3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (1 to 1.3 grams per pound) might be useful for retaining muscle.(2)(3) But 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. But protein is an important piece of the puzzle so once you know your calories, these guidelines can be useful to working out how many of those calories should be made up of protein.

Quest protein powder

BarBend Tips

  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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 then 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)
  • 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 (eg. weight loss or weight gain) and to have a dedicated exercise regimen, plus it’s important to get plenty of sleep and a lot of fruits and vegetables for important micronutrients.

Protein Drinks

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 a product that fits your goals and lifestyle so that achieving your goals can be as easy as possible. Bottoms up!

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.