The Best Protein Powders to Keep You Fueled During Your Weight Loss Journey – Sports Illustrated

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The first step to losing weight is recognizing that our bodies are in a constant state of energy balance: Consuming more energy (calories) than we expend causes most people to gain weight, while expending more energy than we consume causes most people to lose weight. For the best weight loss results, we want to preserve as much muscle mass as possible during weight loss because if you have more muscle, then you’ll actually burn more calories throughout the day.
In short, achieving sustainable weight loss starts with consuming a diet that prioritizes fat loss while retaining as much muscle mass as possible. The key macronutrient for this type of diet is protein. In this comprehensive roundup, we’re looking at the best protein powders for weight loss and muscle gain, as well as how and why protein powder can be such an effective tool to help you achieve your weight loss goals.
If you’re searching for an all-natural, plant-based protein powder, then you should consider Essential Protein from Ritual. The formulation is soy-free, gluten-free, vegan-friendly and it’s formulated without any GMO’s, sugar, sugar alcohols or artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners. The protein is sourced from organic yellow peas, which deliver a complete amino acid profile with eight grams of essential amino acids and four grams of branched chain amino acids per serving.
The product’s macronutrient profile is also great for a weight loss program. With only 115 calories per serving, 80 of which come from protein, this is an excellent supplement for consumers looking for that extra protein without the added calories from carbohydrates and fats. This product is also Informed Sport tested and certified for banned substances, meaning it’s safe for athletes. From the reviews I’ve read, people enjoy the taste. Ritual states the flavor is vanilla with subtle hints of caramel and spice, sweetened with fermented sugarcane and monk fruit extract.
This product isn’t cheap but Ritual commits to clean sourced ingredients that are regeneratively farmed; they even go as far as to provide a visible supply chain for all of their additives. This practice is almost unheard of in an often suspect supplement industry known for shady practices such as proprietary blends and useless filler ingredients.
Purchase Ritual Essential Protein Daily Shake
Transparent Labs
One of Transparent Labs’ flagship products is their 100-percent grass-fed whey protein isolate that’s sourced from grass-fed American cows. The whey protein isolate formulation allows it to have one of the industry’s highest protein-by-weight ratios at 28 grams of protein per 32-gram scoop serving. Made from naturally fed, hormone-free cows and void of artificial sweeteners, food dyes, gluten and preservatives, Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate is a top tier protein powder.
Whey isolate is different from whey concentrate because it’s processed to reduce the fat and lactose content, leaving mainly high quality protein. This offers consumers a low-calorie—but high-protein—shake that’s just about perfect for achieving weight loss goals. This whey isolate formula is also often preferred by customers who are lactose intolerant, since a majority of the sugar is removed during processing.
With eight flavors to choose from, you’re likely to find one that suits your preferences. My personal favorites are the Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cinnamon French Toast and Mocha. Whether you’re looking to build muscle or lose weight, this formula has you covered.
Purchase Transparent Labs Whey Protein Isolate
Jacked Factory
Authentic Whey from Jacked Factory is a combination of whey protein concentrate and whey isolate, both of which are a great source of the essential amino acids our bodies need to build muscle. Jacked Factory’s protein filtration process is effective at creating a protein powder supplement that’s low in fat and contains minimal lactose sugars—perfect for consumers on a weight loss program.
This supplement is manufactured in the USA in a state of the art cGMP and FDA-registered facility, so you know the product is held to the highest standards. This is an affordable protein option, and in the 4.8/5 star reviews, consumers rave about the consistency, flavors and taste.
Purchase Jacked Factory Authentic Whey Protein
BioSteel 100% Whey Protein is a whey protein isolate dominant formula that also contains whey protein concentrate and hydrolysate. Whey protein isolate is a great tool when it comes to reducing your total daily calories while still allowing you to achieve your daily protein intake. This is because a significant portion of the fat and sugars (meaning extra calories) are removed during processing.
This product is also free of any artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners, and is naturally sweetened with stevia leaf extract. Both the Chocolate and Cookies ‘N’ Cream flavors were creamy and delicious, and mixed easily in a shaker bottle. The Fruity Cereal flavor is only available for a limited amount of time, and although I haven’t tried it personally, I’ve heard it’s a home run.
This is a phenomenal product for athletes on a resistance training and nutrition protocol that are looking for a great tasting, high quality protein powder that will help them retain—and even build—muscle while burning fat. I recommend this product to athletes because all BioSteel supplements have been NSF International (National Sanitation Foundation) certified for sport, meaning they’ve been certified as safe and contain no banned substances.
Purchase BioSteel 100% Whey Protein
Bright Whey Protein from Cira Nutrition is a protein powder marketed to women with very bright, clean and colorful packaging. Even though Cira’s target customer is women, the Bright whey protein really is a great formula for anyone looking for a well rounded protein supplement. It’s a whey isolate dominant formula, allowing it to have 25 grams of protein per serving with only 120 calories and no added sugars. Despite having only three flavor options, they all taste good and aren’t overly sweet. My wife is a big fan of both the Cinnamon Swirl and Cookies ‘N’ Cream flavors.
Cira Nutrition is a relatively new name in the supplement space, but it’s a subsidiary of Nutra-Holdings—a sports nutrition company consisting of the well known supplement brands Jacked Factory and Transparent Labs, with Cira Nutrition being their newest addition.
Purchase Cira Nutrition Bright Whey Protein
Kaged Muscle’s Whey Protein Isolate is another fantastic protein powder to consider using during a weight loss diet. This product contains pure whey protein isolate, no artificial colors or flavors and has a great macronutrient profile. However, it’s sweetened with sucralose, which causes the product to taste pretty sweet and may cause gastric distress for sensitive individuals. If you can tolerate the artificial sweetener, this supplement is an incredible option for those looking to maximize their budget and their results. It costs only $1.40 per serving, and the price drops to $1.25 per serving when taking advantage of their subscription plan.
Kaged Muscle offers the standard Chocolate and Vanilla flavor options, but also includes Chocolate Peanut Butter, S’mores and my personal favorite, Cinnamon French Toast.
Purchase Kaged Whey Protein Isolate
Gainful is different from the other protein powders on this list because it’s customized to your needs and only available as a subscription. Your protein formula may contain anywhere from 19-27 grams of protein per serving, with whey or plant-based protein sources. The customized powders never contain gluten, soy, fillers or artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners. Also, just because they suggest a certain product for you doesn’t mean you have to purchase it. Feel free to customize your order and get only what you need.
Your protein comes unflavored, and you can use various included flavor packets to enhance your shake. This variety is great for consumers who get tired of drinking the same flavored protein powder over and over again. Gainful offers nine flavor packets, which is about four to five more flavors than most companies offer. So far, I’ve tried the Chocolate, Mocha, Chocolate Peanut Butter and Sea Salt Caramel. They all tasted good and added a substantial amount of flavor. The Sea Salt Caramel and Chocolate Peanut Butter were especially good.
Gainful definitely isn’t the cheapest supplement brand on the market, but it does offer high quality ingredients and customized supplement blends, which most other brands cannot match. Another added benefit of their service is that the subscription grants you access to a registered dietician. Although I haven’t personally tried this out, I would definitely reach out and see what they have to offer. It’s a particularly helpful service if you have personal weight loss goals. This added benefit alone is likely worth the price, since nutrition consultations are rarely cheap.
Related: Gainful Protein Powder: A Certified Nutrition Coach’s Review
Purchase Gainful Protein Powder
Orgain offers a vegan, plant-based protein mix from pea, brown rice and chia seeds. While it does contain 15 grams of carbohydrates and four grams of fat, these extra nutrients are beneficial for athletes or people looking for a meal replacement shake. Just keep in mind that this product has a higher calorie-to-protein ratio than some other supplements on this list.
In addition, the amino acid profile is around three grams of BCAAs per serving, which is a little lower than some other protein supplements on the market. Overall, this is a great tasting, USDA-certified organic vegan/vegetarian supplement for those looking to add some extra protein into their diet.
Purchase Orgain Organic Plant Based Protein Powder
Naked Nutrition
The whey protein powder from Naked Nutrition is sourced from year round grass-fed cattle raised without growth hormones. Naked Nutrition takes pride in having supplements free from additives such as artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners. That’s why their flavored protein contains only three ingredients: whey protein concentrate, organic coconut sugar and organic natural flavor.
This product does have a slightly higher calorie count than some of the other proteins on this list because it’s a whey protein concentrate, and therefore contains a higher amount of fat and carbohydrates. However, this on purpose because the whey from grass-fed cows contains higher levels of some immune-boosting compounds including beta-lactoglobulin, lactoferrin and lysozyme. These compounds have been shown to improve your body’s antioxidant response and help fight against certain harmful bacterias. Grass-fed whey also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been shown to preserve lean muscle mass and help burn fat. In addition to these benefits, Naked Nutrition supplements are Informed Choice certified for sport, so this is a supplement that athletes are safe to consume.
Purchase Naked Whey Protein Powder
Optimum Nutrition
Optimum Nutrition (ON) Gold Standard 100% Whey is a tasty, affordable protein supplement from a company that’s been in the supplement industry since 1986. The Gold Standard formula is dominated by whey protein isolate, which, due to the ultrafiltration process to remove excess carbohydrates and fats, has been shown to absorb more readily than whey concentrate alternatives.
While I’d like to see no artificial flavors or sweeteners, I’m impressed by ON’s huge list of flavors for their Gold Standard whey protein supplement. The ones I’ve personally tried include Chocolate Mint, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cookies & Cream, Double Rich Chocolate, Strawberry Banana and Vanilla Ice Cream. They’ve all tasted great, which is why I recommend this protein powder to people on a weight loss program who want to satisfy their sweet tooth.
Purchase Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein
In order to prioritize both fat loss and muscle mass retention, a diet rich in protein is necessary, but it might be hard to get the required amount of protein you need from your diet alone. This is where a protein powder supplement can truly shine. Instead of forcing down another chicken breast or a can of tuna, you can opt for a delicious dessert-flavored protein shake.
Protein powder can also be a fantastic way to add protein to your diet without any excess calories from carbohydrates or fats. Another added benefit is that protein is the most satiating macronutrient, which means that it will help you feel full for a longer period of time, which can help you consume fewer calories throughout the day. These benefits, especially when used in conjunction with a well designed resistance training program, will have you well on your way to reaching your weight loss goals.
If you’re looking for a protein powder specifically for weight loss, then you’ll want one that has a very high protein-to-calorie ratio. This means that most of the calories in the protein powder supplement come from protein rather than carbohydrates and fats. In most cases, this means choosing a protein isolate that’s been filtered to remove a lot of the carbohydrates and fats. Additionally, whey protein isolate is often preferred by consumers who have difficulty digesting lactose, since a majority of the lactose is removed during processing. Although these isolate protein powders often come with a slightly higher price point, the reduction in the extra calories might be worth it for those following a strict weight loss protocol.
Other factors to consider are artificial ingredients such as sweeteners, flavors and colors. To keep the calorie count to a minimum in these types of products, it’s common to find zero calorie artificial sweeteners and flavors instead of sugar and natural flavors. If you prefer to stay away from artificial ingredients, then you can definitely find all-natural protein powders to suit your personal preferences.
Protein powder and protein bars can definitely be used as a snack, but I wouldn’t call either a full meal replacement option. That being said, protein powder can be part of an effective meal replacement strategy. For example, using the protein powder in a smoothie with frozen fruit, spinach and flax seeds would make it a phenomenal meal replacement. There are also supplements available that are made specifically to be meal replacement powders.
It’s very hard—if not impossible—to spot reduce fat in a particular area of the body like the belly; however, once you’re in a caloric deficit and begin losing weight, you’ll lose fat across the body, including the mid-section. Interestingly, 20-30 percent of the calories ingested from protein go into digesting it, so when you eat 100 calories from protein, 20-30 calories are used to both digest and absorb it. In other words, increasing your daily activity levels and eating a protein rich diet are a recipe for success for any weight loss journey—including those targeting belly fat.
Whey protein powder can definitely be a helpful supplement to choose when looking to lose weight; however, it doesn’t appear that whey protein is any better than other sources of protein for weight loss (for example: casein, egg, collagen, hemp, soy, pea and rice protein). It’s clear that eating a protein rich diet is an important component of weight loss, but as long as the supplement is a complete source of protein—meaning that it contains all of the essential amino acids—the source doesn’t seem to be too important. This is relevant information for people who have different dietary preferences, such as being dairy-free, vegetarian or vegan. And remember: protein powder by itself isn’t the key to weight loss; maintaining a caloric deficit is a must, and a complete protein powder can be a great tool to help.
Based on the USDA guidelines, the amount of protein you need should be somewhere between 10 and 35 percent of your total daily calories. In fact, you actually need more protein when you’re trying to lose weight because it helps ensure that the weight lost is from fat and not muscle. On a weight (fat) loss program, you should look to consume between 1.6 to 2.4 grams per kilogram of body weight. This amount will help to preserve as much muscle as possible.
Prices are accurate and items in stock as of publish time.
Pete Nastasi, the owner of Nastasi Nutrition, is a Certified Sports Nutrition Coach residing in North Carolina.

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