Taking a whey protein shake is one of the most convenient and effective ways to increase your daily intake of protein. Unlike most other nutritional supplements, there is no question that protein works and that everyone needs to consume it on a daily basis. So, if you’re not getting enough of this essential macronutrient from the regular food you eat, a whey protein supplement can be useful.
Now, despite there being endless choices of whey protein brands on the market, you’ll notice that there is a common drawback with most of them, and that’s the fact that they come with a load of extra additives, including artificial sweeteners and flavors, emulsifiers, texture enhancers, preservatives, and other fillers.
Not only are many of those additives not really necessary, but some are also harmful to your health. They do, however, extend the shelf life of the product and may make it relatively more palatable right out of the tub. Given the fact that most consumers don’t read the label before they buy, or just don’t mind consuming all those artificial ingredients, most manufacturers use a handful of additives in their whey powders and you’d rarely find a product that only contains pure whey protein with nothing else added to it.
But not everyone is or should be okay with that. If you are trying to live a healthy, natural lifestyle that is free from most artificial chemical ingredients, you do have a choice here. There are several whey protein powders that are pretty clean and have a minimal list of ingredients.
Here’s a brief overview of four of the best pure whey protein brands you can buy online. These are all minimalistic, clean products, only contain natural ingredients, and are free from soy.
Note: Most of these are quite bland in flavor and may not taste that good if mixed with water only, which is how pure, plain whey protein naturally is. They are best used as a base for a protein shake or smoothie. For a flavorful shake, blend with almond milk or any other type of milk you prefer and add other natural ingredients for flavor and extra nutrients — e.g. bananas, berries, honey, peanut butter, cinnamon, etc.
Promix Nutrition’s whey protein is made from certified grass-fed cows’ milk which they source directly from farmers. Their facility is GMP certified and they do third-party lab testing of each batch of their products — you can view the lab report for a specific product by looking up its lot number on their website.
The unflavored version only contains two ingredients: whey protein concentrate and sunflower lecithin. It comes without soy, artificial sweeteners, antibiotics, hormones, GMOs, or any other additives.
They also have a few flavored versions, which in addition to the two ingredients mentioned above also contain a natural sweetener (cane sugar) and a selection of natural flavors (cacao, vanilla, peanuts).
Additionally, Promix Nutrition also sells micro-filtered whey protein isolate, but it’s a little pricier and less popular than their regular whey protein concentrate.
Each serving (30g) of the unflavored powder provides 25g protein, 3g total carbs, 1.5g total fats, and 120 calories. You can buy Promix Nutrition’s whey protein here.
Eniva is mostly known for their liquid vitamin and herbal supplements, but they also have a couple of decent whey protein powders. Their Clean & Natural Whey Isolate is certified hormone-free and antibiotic-free. It’s also non-GMO and contains no gluten, corn or soy.
This isolate powder is 99% lactose-free, which makes it suitable for people who experience bloating, gas and other side effects of lactose intolerance. It comes in natural vanilla flavor and uses stevia as a natural sweetener.
The product contains four ingredients: whey isolate, natural vanilla flavor, stevia, and sunflower lecithin.
Each serving (30g) provides 25g protein, 2g total carbs, less than 1g total fats, and 113 calories. You can buy Eniva’s whey protein here.
Naked Nutrition is one of the most popular brands of plain whey protein. Their grass-fed whey is the purest you can find anywhere and it contains one ingredient only: whey protein concentrate.
The unflavored powder has nothing else added to it. They also have a couple of naturally flavored versions (chocolate, vanilla and strawberry), and these come with organic coconut sugar as a sweetener.
The main disadvantage of this brand is the premium price point, which makes it a little too expensive for buyers on a tight budget. Another thing you have to keep in mind is that because this powder contains no lecithin or any other emulsifiers, it can be quite challenging to mix it with water or any other liquid by hand. It will clump up in a shaker bottle, but works fine when blended with other ingredients (fruits) in an electric blender.
Each serving (30g) of the unflavored powder provides 25g protein, 3g total carbs, 2g total fats, and 120 calories. You can buy Naked Nutrition’s whey protein here.
NOW Sports is a line of sports nutrition products offered by NOW Foods; one of the largest and most reputable manufacturers of nutritional supplements. They are known for using high-quality, lab-tested ingredients in their products, most of which are very reasonably priced.
NOW’s unflavored whey protein isolate only contains two ingredients: whey isolate and sunflower lecithin. It contains no soy, no GMOs and no artificial ingredients. It is highly filtered and contains minimal amounts of carbs and fats — a suitable choice for lactose-intolerant people.
Each serving (28g) provides 25g protein, less than 1g total carbs, 0.5g total fats, and 110 calories. You can buy NOW’s whey protein here.
Questions and Answers:
The following are some of the most frequently asked questions about whey protein in general alongside their answers and some useful tips.
Should you buy flavored or unflavored whey powder?
There are pros and cons to each. The pure, plain whey protein powder has a bland and chalky taste that isn’t very palatable. It doesn’t mean the product is “bad”, it’s just how pure whey naturally tastes. The more filtered it is, the higher protein level it has, the less fats and carbs remain, and the more dull the taste becomes.
People who buy whey protein powder for the first time without having an idea of what to expect taste wise are usually the ones submitting negative reviews about the bad/awful taste! The truth is, there is almost no whey powder out there that tastes “great” on its own. Most of the rave reviews are subjective and relative, i.e. some products may taste good for as good as whey protein can taste.
The big catch here is that most of the powders that taste “great” out of the tub are usually the ones that are loaded with artificial sweeteners (e.g. sucralose) and other additives and fillers, which may not be a smart choice if you’re trying to maintain a healthy body. And they don’t really taste that good on their own anyway; most users still blend them with milk and fruits to make an enjoyable drink.
It’s better and healthier to stick with unflavored or naturally flavored powders (e.g. vanilla or cocoa). These may not taste very satisfying when mixed with water only, but most people incorporate them into a fruit smoothie or shake. Blend with almond milk, any fruits you like (bananas, strawberries, etc.), and any sweetener of your choice for a tasty protein drink.
Why is there soy in some whey powders?
Whey protein powders do not normally contain soy, or more specifically, soy protein. However, one of the commonly used ingredients is the emulsifying agent lecithin. Because whey protein is hydrophobic, it doesn’t mix well with water and usually clumps up and floats to the top. To solve this problem and make the powder more easily mixable, an emulsifier, such as lecithin, is added to the formula.
Lecithin is a naturally occurring compound that is found in soybeans, egg yolks, sunflower, and some grains. Many dietary supplements use lecithin that is derived from either soy or sunflower. Soy-derived lecithin may contain traces of soy protein and may trigger an allergic reaction in people with a soy allergy. The alternative is to opt for sunflower-derived lecithin or no lecithin at all. The products recommended above are all without soy lecithin.
How to avoid gas and bloating?
Whey protein is made from milk and it does contain a certain level of milk sugar, aka lactose. Some people are sensitive or intolerant to lactose and they often suffer from some uncomfortable symptoms after consuming a dairy product, such as milk or whey protein. Gas, bloating, diarrhea, and stomach pain are among the most common symptoms of lactose intolerance.
But not all whey powders contain the same amount of lactose. Those that are highly filtered (isolate) contain minimal amounts of lactose compared to less filtered (concentrate) powders. Choosing whey isolate that has as little lactose (listed under carbs/sugar on the label) as possible helps reduce the chance of experiencing gas, bloating, and other gastrointestinal issues.
Another thing that can help is taking a lactase supplement with or before taking whey. Lactase is an enzyme that breaks down lactose. Supplementing with lactase is a considerable remedy for lactose-intolerant people as it helps their body digest lactose more efficiently.
Is whey protein better than plant protein for muscle growth?
The body uses different amino acids as the building blocks for protein and subsequently muscle tissue, as Dr. Mike Roussell, PhD, explains in this article. There are nine essential amino acids that the body cannot synthesize and must obtain from food sources. These amino acids are found in both plant and animal-derived proteins in different quantities and qualities.
Ideally, you should consume protein in its natural food form as part of your regular diet. However, when your diet does not provide adequate amounts of protein, then taking a protein supplement can be the next best option.
Whey protein is considered one of the most efficient protein sources as it provides high levels of all the essential amino acids (including BCAAs), and it’s easily digestible and absorbable by the body; Dr. Josh Axe agrees. It’s also more cost-effective than most other protein supplements as you get more protein in each scoop of powder and for each dollar you spend.
However, whey protein may not be as superior to other proteins as many bodybuilders, fitness experts and companies would like you to believe. In fact, some studies have shown that there is practically no difference in muscle growth between people who consumed whey protein as opposed to those who consumed complete plant-based protein.
Whey protein mainly only has an economical advantage over plant-based proteins as you have to spend less to get more of the essential amino acids. On the other hand, plant-based protein blends offer a nutritional advantage as they normally contain different additional nutrients that vary from one product to another.
So, if your body does not tolerate whey protein well, you don’t have to put up with it. keep in mind that plant-based protein supplements are a very viable option that can work just good as whey protein does as far as muscle growth is concerned. How fast and how much muscle weight you’ll gain will then mostly depend on your own body.