Not just for bodybuilders and elite athletes, the best protein powder for women can help you to achieve a wide range of health and wellbeing goals.
Unlike our guide to the best protein powder, we’ve rounded up products specifically with women in mind here. So whether you’re looking to support healthy skin, hair and nails, build lean muscle or maintain a healthy weight, we’ve got a product for you.
But why is protein important? “Protein is an important macronutrient and part of the other essential macro groups along with carbs and fats,” explains Sonal Shah, a registered nutritional therapist at Nutritionist Resource (opens in new tab). “Protein has numerous functions in the body, from manufacturing vital hormones and chemicals, to keeping the immune system healthy and feeding hair, skin and nails.”
What the experts say:
Yasi Ansari, a registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says: “For those who have a low appetite or trouble meeting higher protein needs, protein powder can help. Examples of groups that may need more protein per day include physically active individuals, older adults, those with specific chronic disease conditions, people recovering from surgery or injuries and those on the go with busy schedules.”
As women age, they can lose bone strength and density. Protein makes up about 50% of the volume of bone and 33% of its mass, so eating enough protein is important to maintain muscle mass and function, as well as overall bone health.
According to US Dietary Reference Intakes (opens in new tab), adults require around 0.36g of protein per pound (0.8g per kg) of bodyweight. For a 150lb sedentary person, this would be around 54g per day. But whilst this is enough to prevent a deficiency, your exact requirement will vary depending on how physically active you are, your age and overall health. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding also require more protein.
Shah says that in her clinical experience, women often aren’t getting enough protein from their diet. “Most people’s food diaries I assess are carb heavy – even those that consume an omnivorous diet,” she says. “Many are also following vegan diets and unless they are conscious of the foods, protein can be easily overlooked.”
First and foremost, it’s important to focus on getting good quality protein from your diet. This could be through animal proteins such as chicken, turkey, beef or eggs, as well as plant-based protein such as beans, lentils, legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds. Shah says it’s important to remember that “not all protein foods are ‘clean’” either, such as processed proteins (e.g. Quorn and textured soya or vegetable protein, labeled as TVP).
If you need to boost your intake, the best protein powder for women can be a convenient solution. Read on for our ultimate round-up, including options to suit a range of budgets, as well as digestive friendly and vegan options.
The best protein powder for women
What users say:
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.
What the users say:
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 there are a huge array of flavors to choose from.
What the users say:
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).
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. 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.
What the users say:
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’.
Being made from bovine hide collagen peptides, it’s 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.
What users say:
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.
What users say:
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.
What users say:
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 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 and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 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.”
Sonal Shah, a registered nutritional therapist at Nutritionist Resource, also says that ideally, you want to opt for a protein powder free from artificial sweeteners, including sucralose. “If it has stevia this is fine and natural,” she adds. “Always check the labels at the back of the product and do not be deceived by marketing messages and what the front of the label says.
“Many of the plant based formulas are made up from brown rice protein, pea protein, quinoa protein and soya protein. A serving usually provides 18g of protein, although you can consume more. These powders are there to bridge the gap with what is not provided in the diet and can be a great way to increase daily protein needs to keep you healthy and strong.”
When you’re checking labels, look out for potential allergens too. Common ones include soy, egg and milk. If you’re vegan, you’ll want to avoid whey or casein-based protein powders as they are dairy products. 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.
Then comes the most important part – mixability and taste. All of the protein powders in this guide have been tried and tested by the Live Science team, and chosen on their ability to mix well with water, milk (or a plant-based alternative) and oatmeal. Flavor wise, they all got the seal of approval too. If possible, look for brands that allow you to order a sample size so that you can find a flavor you enjoy. Otherwise, we recommend keeping it simple with vanilla or chocolate if you’re new to protein powders.
Whatever your budget, you can find a protein powder to suit you. But bear in mind that protein powders made from organic ingredients, or that contain digestive enzymes or probiotics, tend to be on the pricier side.
The benefits of protein powder for women
Women need protein for so many reasons. Shah lists some of them here:
- Reduces appetite and hunger levels
- Increases muscle mass and bone strength
- Reduces cravings and desire for late-night snacking
- Boosts metabolism and increases fat burning
- Helps to maintain weight loss
- Vital component for hair, skin and nails
- Used as an energy fuel
- Builds and repairs cells in the body
- Boosts 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.
Studies (opens in new tab) have also found that people who eat more protein tend to maintain muscle mass better as they age, and have a lower risk of osteoporosis. This is particularly important for post-menopausal women, who are at a higher risk of age-related muscle loss.
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?
The type of supplement you choose can also affect timing. The body digests casein-based products more slowly, so these are best eaten in the evening, whereas whey and plant-based powders can be eaten at any time of the day.
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 wholewheat crackers or a slice of wholegrain toast with sliced banana on top. This will provide a high-quality post-workout snack.
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