Best Natural Protein Powders

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Last Updated: Oct 09, 2020

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To find the best protein powder on the market, I have tested and analyzed over a dozen protein powder brands and seven different types of protein, including whey, casein, egg, beef, chicken and collagen.

My goal in covering such a wide variety is to help you find one that meets your specific nutritional requirements and fitness goals — regardless of whether you’re on paleo, keto or any other healthy diet.

To my vegan friends (or anyone else who follows a plant-based diet): I’ve published an updated review of the best plant-based protein powders.

All of the natural protein powders in this roundup contain only clean ingredients without any artificial sweeteners, fillers or proprietary blends.

How Do You Choose a Good Protein Powder?

The workout supplement market is flooded with cheap, ineffective, and sometimes dangerous products that can make you sick. That’s because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the supplement industry with the same rigor as it regulates drug manufacturers.

As a result, manufacturers can claim virtually anything they want on their labels. That makes it difficult for consumers to shop for products that actually work. And the bad news is that most workout supplements are ineffective and amount to a waste of money.

As a former professional track athlete who represented Austria at numerous international competitions, I learned that the hard way. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to write this article and to share what I know — so that you can make better purchasing decisions than I did.

The fact is that some of the best-selling protein powder supplements — such as the ones you can find at Walmart and Costco — are crap products that over-promise and under-deliver.

What’s worse, they often contain inflammatory ingredients — such as artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners — that increase your risk of developing a chronic disease in the long-run.

All the protein powders I cover in this review are natural and don’t have any of those inflammatory ingredients. Instead, they contain carefully-processed protein from animal-based sources.

Best Whey Protein Powder

Whey ProteinRating
Ascent – Native Fuel Whey★★★☆☆
Do Vitamins – WonderWhey★★★★★
Naked Nutrition – Naked Whey★★★★★
Naked Nutrition – Naked Goat★★★★☆
Perfect Keto – Keto Whey Protein★★★★★
Primal Kitchen – Primal Fuel Whey Protein★★★★☆

Whey is one of the two primary milk proteins, and a by-product of cheese production. Technically, whey is the liquid part of the milk that’s left over after coagulation and curd removal.

The human body can absorb whey protein incredibly fast, which makes it a popular choice for athletes. Depending on the type of processing and filtration, whey protein powder exists in four primary forms:

  • WPP: Whey protein powder
  • WPC: Whey protein concentrate
  • WPI: Whey protein isolate
  • WPH: Whey protein hydrolysate

Check out my FAQ below for more information on the differences between these three forms.

Ascent – Native Fuel Whey

Ascent Native Fuel Whey - Best natural protein powders for building muscle and CrossFit
Ascent Native Fuel whey.
Pros
  • Minimally processed
  • Available in various flavors
  • Robust amino acid profile
Cons
  • Contains only limited quantities of “native whey” protein
  • Not grass-fed/pastured
  • Contains soy lecithin
  • Some flavors contain “natural flavors”

Ascent, a division of Leprino Foods, made its mark with the creation of what it calls “Native Fuel” whey. According to Ascent, the company has developed a minimalistic processing method that results in a product with a high ratio of individual naturally-occurring amino acids, such as leucine.

Leucine is the most important of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) as it triggers a process called muscle protein synthesis (MPS).

If you read the label of Ascent’s whey product carefully, you’ll see that “Native Whey Isolate” is only one of two components in the company’s whey isolate blend.

When I asked Ascent how much Native Whey their product contains, they didn’t share the details. They did add this, however:

We have limited quantities of Native proteins available as this facility scales up.  As a result, we formulated Ascent with a whey blend. 

Ascent

During my research, I have not been able to find much information about how exactly Ascent manufactures their Native Whey. I suppose the “how” is their secret sauce. So for now, we’ll have to take the information the company provides at face value.

I will say, however, that given Leprino’s 30-year history in manufacturing dairy products, they certainly have the expertise and credentials to produce a high-quality protein powder.

Nutritional Information

Protein TypeWhey Isolate, Whey Concentrate
Absorption rateFast
BCAAs per serving5.7g (2.7g leucine)
FlavorsUnflavored, chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, cappuccino, lemon sorbet, vanilla bean
Undesirable ingredientsSoy lecithin, natural flavors
Servings27
Protein per serving25g

Depending on the flavor you choose, Ascent Native Fuel has at least 1 or 2 additional ingredients that I don’t like: soy lecithin and “natural flavors.” You can learn more about why I don’t like those in the FAQ.

Ascent Native Whey is available in different flavors, including a plain version. The latter has a neutral taste, and you can mix it into shakes or smoothies.

I have also tried the cappuccino, chocolate, lemon sorbet and vanilla flavors, and liked the chocolate and lemon sorbet the best. Overall, I thought Ascent’s protein powder tasted delicious and had a creamy texture.

Check Price*

If you like chocolate or vanilla, I would recommend getting the 4lb container instead, which reduces the cost per serving. If you travel a lot, you may want to consider the single-serving packets* (15-count).

Do Vitamins – WonderWhey

Do Vitamins WonderWhey
Do Vitamins WonderWhey.
Pros
  • Zero additional ingredients
  • Excellent amino acid profile
  • Grass-fed/pastured
  • Organic and laboratory-tested
  • Carefully processed
  • Absorbs fast
Cons
  • Uses whey concentrate instead of isolate

Do Vitamins uses a low-temperature microfiltration process that doesn’t use bleach or acid to ensure the retention of naturally-occurring immunoglobins, lactoferrin, and native growth factors in its protein.

The resulting unflavored protein powder has an excellent amino acid profile with a whopping 3 grams of leucine. Do Vitamins doesn’t offer any flavored versions of its whey protein powder, but you can easily mix it into shakes or smoothies.

Nutritional Information

Protein TypeGrass-Fed Whey Protein Concentrate
Absorption rateFast
BCAAs per serving5.9g (3g leucine)
FlavorsUnflavored
Undesirable ingredientsNone
Servings30
Protein per serving24g

WonderWhey is the only organic whey protein in this review, which is likely why it’s more expensive than Naked Nutrition’s product (below).

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Naked Nutrition – Naked Whey

Naked Nutrition - Grass-fed Whey Protein
Naked Nutrition Naked Whey.
Pros
  • Zero additional ingredients
  • Excellent amino acid profile
  • Grass-fed/pastured
  • Carefully processed
Cons
  • Uses whey concentrate instead of isolate

The unflavored version of Naked Nutrition’s grass-fed whey protein has a neutral flavor and a single ingredient: carefully-processed, unflavored grass-fed whey protein concentrate, with a fantastic amino acid profile.

Nutritional Information

Protein TypeGrass-Fed Whey Protein Concentrate
Absorption rateFast
BCAAs per serving5.9g (3g leucine)
FlavorsUnflavored, chocolate, matcha (Japanese green tea), strawberry, vanilla
Undesirable ingredientsNone
Servings76
Protein per serving25g

To maximize the nutritional value of its protein, Naked Nutrition uses a low-heat processing method that doesn’t require acid or bleach. What I like about Naked Nutrition’s product is the cost per serving, as well as the fact that even the company’s flavored (i.e., less “naked”) formulas don’t contain any unhealthy ingredients.

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To get an even lower price, you can sign up for a subscription, which reduces the cost per serving. You can also find Naked Whey on Amazon*.

Naked Nutrition – Naked Goat

Naked Nutrition Naked Goat
Naked Nutrition Naked Goat
Pros
  • Zero additional ingredients
  • Excellent amino acid profile
  • Grass-fed/pastured
  • Carefully processed
  • Easier to digest than cow milk protein
  • Absorbs fast
Cons
  • Uses whey concentrate instead of isolate

In general, goat milk has numerous advantages over cow milk, including a better nutritional profile and improved digestibility. The latter is due to the smaller fat globules, as well as lower concentrations of lactose and A1 casein protein.

However, in the case of whey protein powder, lactose is likely not going to have a significant impact because it only occurs in trace amounts. What probably does make a difference in digestibility is that goat whey protein forms smaller clumps in your stomach, and is thus passed through the digestive tract more quickly.

So, if you’re having issues with digesting cow-based whey protein, Naked Goat may be a viable alternative for you.

Nutritional Information

Protein TypeGrass-Fed Goat Whey Protein Concentrate
Absorption rateFast
BCAAs per serving4.6g (2.7g leucine)
FlavorsUnflavored, chocolate, vanilla
Undesirable ingredientsNone
Servings30
Protein per serving23g

The unflavored version of Naked Nutrition’s grass-fed goat whey protein has a neutral flavor and a single ingredient: carefully-processed, unflavored grass-fed goat whey protein concentrate, with a favorable amino acid profile.

To maximize the nutritional value of its protein, Naked Nutrition uses a low-heat processing method that doesn’t require acid or bleach.

Additionally, Naked Nutrition offers “less naked” flavors, including chocolate and vanilla.

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You can also find Naked Goat Whey on Amazon*.

Perfect Keto – Keto Whey Protein

Perfect Keto - Keto Whey Protein
Perfect Keto – Keto Whey Protein.
Pros
  • Grass-fed whey isolate
  • Contains MCTs for focus and satiation
  • Includes prebiotic acacia fibers
Cons
  • MCT oil is a laxative if you’re not used to it
  • Lower protein content

Much like Perfect Keto’s collagen, this keto protein powder is tailored to people who follow a ketogenic diet.

Nutritional Information

Protein TypeGrass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate
Absorption rateFast
BCAAs per serving3.4g (1.6g leucine)
FlavorsUnflavored, chocolate, vanilla
Undesirable ingredientsNone
Servings20
Protein per serving15g

What I like about Keto Whey Protein is that it includes whey protein isolate, which removes most carbs, including lactose (milk sugar) and other “impurities.”

Additionally, this protein powder contains more fat than others, thanks to the 5 grams of added MCTs, which improve focus and satiation.

If you’re not familiar with the term MCT, it stands for medium-chain triglycerides — a form of fat that the body can quickly convert into ketone bodies, the primary source of fuel if you’re on a low-carb high-fat diet.

Note that the natural flavors in this product are from dehydrated sources of cocoa and vanilla bean. So you have nothing to worry about.

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Make sure to use Perfect Keto discount code MK15 to get 15% off your order.

Primal Kitchen – Primal Fuel Whey Protein

Primal Fuel Protein Powder - Vanilla or Chocolate
Primal Fuel Protein Powder – vanilla or chocolate.
Pros
  • Contains whey protein isolate
  • Includes coconut milk powder for extra fat
  • Contains prebiotics
Cons
  • Not from pastured cows

Primal Kitchen is one of our favorite brands because most of their products are paleo and Whole30 compatible. Sometimes they’re even keto-friendly.

Primal Fuel is no different — it’s a high-quality product with clean ingredients.

Nutritional Information

Protein TypeWhey Protein Isolate
Absorption rateFast
BCAAs per serving2.2g (1g leucine)
FlavorsChocolate coconut, vanilla coconut
Undesirable ingredientsNone
Servings42
Protein per serving10g

Primal Fuel contains coconut milk powder, which increases the fat content of the mix. Additionally, Primal Fuel also makes clever use of guar gum and konjac gum, which are both prebiotic fibers that support your gut microbiome.

Plus, Primal Fuel uses natural flavors that are true to their name and that don’t contain any artificial ingredients or chemicals.

Check Price*

Make sure to use Primal Kitchen discount code MK10 to get 10% off your order.

Best Casein Protein Powder

Casein ProteinRating
Ascent – Native Fuel Micellar Casein★★★☆☆
Naked Nutrition – Naked Casein★★★★☆

Casein is the second primary protein in milk, but in comparison to whey, the body absorbs casein much slower. Some bodybuilders swear by casein for post-workout recovery and consume it before bedtime.

I try to stay away from bovine casein as much as I can because it’s highly inflammatory and it can destroy the linings of your gut — even if you don’t have a milk allergy.

If you absolutely have to have casein, I recommend going with camel, goat or sheep, because the milk from those animals contains the less-inflammatory casein A2-beta (instead of casein A1-beta). You can read more about that in my article about the disadvantages of dairy.

From an amino acid profile perspective, casein is relatively similar to whey, as both provide ample amounts of essential and non-essential amino acids, including branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

Ascent Native Fuel Casein

Native Fuel Casein Protein - Best natural protein powders for building muscle and CrossFit
Native Fuel Micellar Casein.
Pros
  • Available in three flavors
  • Good amino acid profile
Cons
  • Not grass-fed/pastured
  • Contains “natural flavors”
  • Not available unflavored

Native Fuel Casein is Ascent’s slower-digesting recovery formula that contains, as the name implies, casein instead of whey protein. It’s only available in chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, and vanilla, and it requires more liquid than its whey cousin.

When I first tried it, I didn’t bother to read the label and ended up with a relatively thick mixture. Only later did I realize that I should have added a bit more water.

I tried both flavors, and I liked the chocolate best. Just don’t forget to add enough liquid. Otherwise, the mixture is too thick to drink and comes out more like a pudding.

Nutritional Information

Protein TypeMicellar Casein
Absorption rateSlow
BCAAs per serving4.9g (2.2g leucine)
FlavorsChocolate, chocolate peanut butter, vanilla
Undesirable ingredientsNatural flavors
Servings25
Protein per serving25g

Native Fuel Casein contains similar ingredients to Native Fuel Whey, with a few notable exceptions. Instead of soy lecithin, Ascent decided to use sunflower lecithin — which I prefer, because I try to stay away from soy.

Native Fuel Casein also contains acacia gum and xanthan gum. Both are emulsifiers, and the latter can cause bloating and diarrhea, if you’re sensitive. Acacia gum, on the other hand, can decrease bloating.

I would prefer if Ascent removed xanthan gum from its product. Xanthan gum is a natural substance but it increases the risk of gastrointestinal problems, and I try to stay away from it when possible.

However, if you’ve had xanthan gum before and didn’t have any issues, I wouldn’t worry about it.

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Naked Nutrition – Naked Casein

Naked Nutrition - Micellar Casein Protein
Naked Nutrition Naked Casein.
Pros
  • Zero other ingredients
  • Excellent amino acid profile
  • Carefully processed
Cons
  • Not grass-fed/pastured

The unflavored version of Naked Nutrition’s micellar casein protein has only a single ingredient: carefully-processed, unflavored micellar casein protein with an excellent amino acid profile. For its casein supplement, Naked Nutrition uses the same acid-free and bleach-free processing method as the company does for its whey protein.

Nutritional Information

Protein TypeMicellar Casein
Absorption rateSlow
BCAAs per serving5.4g (2.4g leucine)
FlavorsUnflavored, chocolate, vanilla
Undesirable ingredientsNone
Servings76
Protein per serving26g

The only negative comment I could make about Naked Casein is that Naked Nutrition did not use milk from grass-fed cows for sourcing the protein.

Additionally, Naked Nutrition offers “less naked” flavors, including chocolate and vanilla.

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You can also find Naked Casein on Amazon*.

Best Egg Protein Powder

Egg ProteinRating
Blonyx – Egg White Protein Isolate★★★★☆
Naked Nutrition – Naked Egg ★★★★☆

As a popular choice in the paleo community, eggs provide a very slow-absorbing yet highly-bioavailable source of protein with a complete amino acid profile. Much like casein, eggs are a known allergen, so use with caution if you suspect you may have an egg allergy.

In comparison to whey protein, your body absorbs egg protein slower — even slower than casein. Together with beef, egg is my favorite type of protein because it best fits into my ancestral eating habits.

Blonyx – Egg White Protein Isolate

Blonyx Egg White Protein Isolate
Blonyx Egg Protein Isolate.
Pros
  • Minimally processed
  • Delicious taste
  • Highest digestibility
  • High biological value
Cons
  • Contains organic sugar
  • Uses conventional eggs

The egg protein isolate from Blonyx is the new kid on the block. What’s exciting about this protein is the processing method that’s used to make it.

Usually, egg protein has a distinctive and not very pleasant taste, which is why not many brands make it. However, the owner of Blonyx discovered a new processing method at an industry trade show that allows the company to carefully strip away all impurities, leaving a neutral-tasting powder that contains only the protein.

Nutritional Information

Protein TypeEgg White Protein Isolate
Absorption rateVery slow
BCAAs per serving4g (1.7g leucine)
FlavorsChocolate milk
Undesirable ingredientsOrganic cane sugar
Servings20
Protein per serving20g

If you look at Blonyx’s label carefully, you’ll see that it contains 11 grams of organic cane sugar. That’s more sugar than I eat all day, because I’m on a ketogenic diet. Needless to say, I wasn’t excited when I found out about that.

However, there is research that shows how the body can take up glucose after an intensive workout, without having to raise insulin levels. One study indicates that the exercise induced uptake could be caused by depletion of intracellular stores of carbohydrates (makes sense of course).

The bottom line is that the sugar in this egg white protein isolate might not cause an insulin spike if you take it after an intense workout. I’ll experiment with that a bit and keep tabs on how my blood sugar changes after consuming this protein. Stay tuned for updates!

Note that the natural chocolate milk flavor in this product consists of cocoa, cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar and spices such as vanilla.

Check Price*

Make sure to use Blonyx discount code MK to get 10% off your order.

Naked Nutrition – Naked Egg

Naked Nutrition - Egg White Protein
Naked Nutrition Naked Egg.
Pros
  • Paleo compatible
  • Complete amino acid profile
  • Carefully processed
Cons
  • Eggs are not from pasture-raised hens

The unflavored version of Naked Nutrition’s egg white protein powder has only two ingredients: non-GMO egg whites from U.S. farmed eggs and sunflower lecithin. While non-GMO means that the hens had outdoor access, it doesn’t mean they were pasture-raised.

I don’t know how much of a difference that makes for the nutritional value of the egg white protein, but I would have paid a few extra dollars for getting a product that contains the protein of pastured eggs. 

Nutritional Information

Protein TypeEgg White Protein
Absorption rateVery slow
BCAAs per serving5.8g (2.3g leucine)
FlavorsUnflavored, chocolate, vanilla
Undesirable ingredientsNone
Servings44
Protein per serving25g

Sunflower lecithin — the byproduct of sunflower seed oil extraction — is the only additional ingredient of the unflavored version of Naked Nutrition’s egg white protein.

Additionally, Naked Nutrition offers “less naked” flavors, including chocolate, and vanilla.

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You can also find Naked Egg on Amazon*.

Best Beef Protein Powder

Beef ProteinRating
PaleoEthics – Clean Protein★★★★☆
PaleoPro – Paleo Protein Powder★★★★★

Even though it’s an excellent source of protein, I haven’t seen many beef protein powders on the market. Maybe that’s because beef is more challenging to process.

I like beef protein because, from an evolutionary perspective (think hunters and gatherers), our body is more accustomed to it than milk protein (for example).

PaleoEthics – Clean Protein

PALEOETHICS Clean Protein
PALEOETHICS Clean Protein.
Pros
  • Paleo and keto compatible
  • Grass-fed hydrolyzed beef protein
  • No artificial ingredients
Cons
  • Low on BCAAs
  • Contains unidentified “natural flavors”
  • Price per serving

PaleoEthics is a well-known brand in the CrossFit and paleo communities, but I wasn’t aware that they also offered beef protein powder.

My friend Justin Tway, the owner of CrossFit Alpharetta, recently asked me if I wanted to try some of his stashes for my review. I happily agreed and tested PaleoEthics’ Clean Protein over the past few weeks.

Nutritional Information

Protein TypeHydrolized, Grass-Fed Beef Protein
Absorption rateIntermediate
BCAAs per serving1.2g (0.8g leucine)
FlavorsChocolate, vanilla
Undesirable ingredientsNatural flavors
Servings25
Protein per serving19g

Clean Protein is only one of two grass-fed beef protein powders from muscle tissue (instead of collagen) I have found that doesn’t have any artificial ingredients.

One of the primary advantages of beef protein over whey, casein, or even egg-based protein is that it’s less likely to upset your digestive system. As a result, there is less chance for bloating or bad gas.

Also, PaleoEthics derives its beef protein from beef muscle and not collagen, which has a positive effect on the protein’s bioavailability. The only disadvantages of this beef protein are its amino acid profile, which includes a lower-than-usual amount of BCAAs (leucine in particular) and its natural flavors.

Update: It looks like as if PaleoEthics has seized operating. Fortunately, I discovered another and even better beef protein powder from Equip. Check out my full review of Equip Prime Protein here.

PaleoPro – Paleo Protein Powder

PaleoPro - Paleo Protein Powder
PaleoPro – Paleo Protein Powder.
Pros
  • Minimally processed
  • 100% paleo-friendly ingredients
  • Delicious and all natural
  • Available unflavored or flavored
Cons
  • Price

I learned about PaleoPro from an article in Paleo Magazine*. What caught my attention immediately was that this minimally-processed beef protein was specifically made for folks like me who follow a Paleolithic lifestyle.

Nutritional Information

Protein TypeGrass-Fed Beef Protein, Egg White Protein
Absorption rateIntermediate
BCAAs per serving3.4g (1.4g leucine)
FlavorsUnflavored, Ancient Cacao, Aztec Vanilla, Mayan Mocha, Banana Berry, Mocha Mint
Undesirable ingredientsNone
Servings15
Protein per serving26g

While most of the protein in this minimally-processed product comes from pastured beef, the product also has egg white protein from non-GMO and cage-free eggs. As a sweetener, PaleoPro uses monk fruit extract, which some people prefer over stevia (including yours truly).

I asked PaleoPro about the “natural flavors” in their flavored product and they told me that they make an extraordinary effort to avoid both ingredients and processes they would consider harmful and would not want to use themselves.

The company also said that it works both internally and with third parties to ensure a higher level of quality in their flavor components, just as with their other ingredients. PaleoPro is a small company that does not need to operate on an ‘industrial’ level, and while this adds to the cost of their product development they believe it’s worth it and necessary to create the premium level of product their customers expect.

Our natural flavors are from direct extracts of cocoa, vanilla bean, coffee, etc..however the natural process we have developed with a 3rd party to ensure quality is proprietary.

PaleoPro

As a result, the only disadvantage of this paleo protein powder is the price tag. However, I’ve learned that you get what you pay for in the supplement industry. In other words, I think PaleoPro is worth its asking price.

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Best Chicken Protein Powder

Chicken ProteinRating
CHiKPRO – Chicken Isolate★★★☆☆

Chicken is an excellent source of protein, but I haven’t seen a lot of chicken protein powders marketed to consumers. That’s probably because the primary challenge with manufacturing protein powder is removing impurities that might impact the taste. Does anyone really want a chicken-flavored shake or smoothie?

I could imagine that the relatively low demand, coupled with manufacturing challenges, are the reasons why we don’t see many chicken protein powders on the market.

CHiKPRO Chicken Isolate Protein

CHiKPRO Chicken Isolate Protein
Pros
  • Pure and unflavored
  • Excellent amino acid profile
  • Minimally processed
Cons
  • Sources from conventionally-raised hens

I met the guys from CHiKPRO at the Paleo f(x) show* early in 2019, and was excited to learn about their chicken protein.

What I like about CHiKPRO’s product is that it’s free of common allergens and it doesn’t have any flavors or other “extra” ingredients. As a result, you can mix it with pretty much anything you want.

Nutritional Information

Protein TypeChicken Isolate Protein
Absorption rateSlow
BCAAs per serving4.5g (2g leucine)
FlavorsUnflavored
Undesirable ingredients0
Servings50
Protein per serving22g

The primary downside of CHiKPRO’s chicken isolate protein is that it’s made from conventionally-raised hens.

The company doesn’t spell out exactly what kind of hens they source, so I assume it’s probably caged birds. That dramatically lowers the chicken meat quality in comparison to pastured hens. That’s why I gave this product only 3 out of 5 stars.

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Best Protein Powder Blend

Protein Powder BlendRating
Old School Labs – Vintage Brawn★★★☆☆

Protein powders in this category contain a mix of protein sources. For example, Old School Labs uses whey, beef and egg protein in its Vintage Brawn formulation.

Old School Labs – Vintage Brawn

Old School Labs - Vintage Brawn
Old School Labs Vintage Brawn.
Pros
  • Blend of three protein types
  • Good amino acid profile
  • Best-tasting protein powder
Cons
  • Contains “natural flavors”
  • Not grass-fed/pastured

Vintage Brawn is the only protein supplement in the review that offers a blend of milk (whey and casein), egg and beef protein. The goal of blending those three essential sources of protein is to deliver a synergistic muscle-building effect that’s more powerful than a single-source protein can provide.

As a result, you get the benefits of fast-absorbing whey protein combined with the slower absorbing casein, egg and beef proteins. Besides the advantages of Vintage Brawn’s protein blend, Old School Labs’ protein powder is also one of the best-tasting protein powders I tried.

Vintage Brawn is only available in a chocolate flavor, and it tastes amazingly delicious. As a result, I find myself wanting a protein shake even on days that I haven’t worked out and, technically, wouldn’t need a shake.

Nutritional Information

Protein TypeMilk Protein Isolate, Egg White Protein, Beef Protein Isolate
Absorption rateMixed
BCAAs per serving4.2g (1.8g leucine)
FlavorsChocolate
Undesirable ingredientsNatural flavors, vegetable-based antifoam
Servings30
Protein per serving24g

Together with Ascent’s casein product, Vintage Brawn contains the highest number of additional ingredients, besides the protein isolates, including:

  • Dutch cocoa
  • Guar gum
  • Natural flavors
  • Organic stevia blend
  • Salt
  • Silica
  • Vegetable-based antifoam

The only ingredient that sticks out like a sore thumb to me is the “natural flavors,” because that could mean anything — including chemicals that were used to convert a natural component (such as fruit) into a flavor. See the FAQ below for more information.

Amino Acid Profile

Amino Acid Profile of Vintage Brawn
Amino acid profile of Vintage Brawn.

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If you would like to give Old School Labs a try, make sure to use discount code MIKE12OSL to get 12% off your order.

Other Protein Sources

Below are mentions of other popular protein sources that I didn’t cover in this article. The good news is that I’ll cover some of them in separate reviews.

Collagen Powder

I used to include products based on collagen powder in this review, but I decided to move them into a separate article!

Vegan Protein Powder

Much like collagen-based products, I used to include vegan protein in this roundup but decided to break them out into a separate article. My plant protein review covers rice protein, pea protein powder, hemp protein (from hemp seeds), soy protein powder and more.

Fish Protein Powder

I haven’t seen powders with fish as their main protein source, but some manufacturers offer marine collagen* in their products for anti-aging purposes.

Like collagen peptides from animal sources, marine collagen doesn’t have a complete amino acid profile, and thus you can use it only to supplement (not replace) traditional sources of protein, including protein powder.

Bone Broth Protein

Bone broth is another excellent source of animal protein and some manufacturers have made bone broth protein powders. I haven’t looked much into that yet, but it’s on my to-do list for an upcoming article.

Download Comparison Sheet

I created a detailed PDF comparison table of all the protein powders mentioned above. You can download it here.

Excerpt of comparison table of all protein powders.

A complete amino acid profile means that the protein supplement contains adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids (see table below). Essential amino acids are the ones that our body cannot make, and thus we have to get them from dietary sources.

Amino Acid Profiles

Amino acid profiles of all reviewed protein powders.
Amino acid profiles of all reviewed protein powders.

Amino acids marked with * are essential amino acids. ** marks branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). The amounts (grams) are based on the respective serving size.

Protein Powder 101

If you’re new to protein powders — or workout supplements in general — here’s some additional information and terms you should be familiar with.

Amino Acids vs. Peptides vs. Proteins

You can find a so-called amino acid profile on the label of some of the supplements in this review. On others, you may find the term “peptides.” So let’s clarify what those terms mean.

Amino acids are the molecular building blocks of peptides and proteins. A peptide consists of two or more amino acids. A peptide that consists of multiple amino acids is called a polypeptide. A protein contains at least one polypeptide.

The products in the table above all deliver different amino acid profiles with varying degrees of completeness.

Isolate vs. Concentrate vs. Hydrolysate

ComponentProteinLactoseMilk Fat
Whey powder11-14.5%63-75%1-1.5%
Whey concentrate25-89%10-55%2-10%
Whey isolate90%+0.5%0.5%

If you’ve read the label of your protein powder carefully, you may have seen the terms whey protein powder, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, or hydrolyzed whey protein. So what’s the difference?

In a nutshell, those terms tell you how pure the protein powder is.

Whey protein powder is used as a food additive for baked products, snacks, or even salad dressing. Typically, you won’t find this most impure form of whey protein in sports nutrition.

Whey protein concentrate is the least expensive form of protein powder you will find in dietary supplements. To create protein concentrate, manufacturers remove water, lactose, ash, and some minerals. The advantage of WPC is its many bioactive ingredients that you would also find in regular milk. WPC is also comparatively inexpensive.

The disadvantage of WPC is that many users find it harder to digest due to the higher levels of lactose (milk sugar), which can lead to bloating.

Whey protein isolate is purer than concentrate and thus easier to digest. It’s also more expensive than WPC because it costs more to manufacture. More information on the differences between whey protein concentrate and isolate is available here.

Whey protein hydrolysate is the purest form of whey protein, but I have yet to see a product containing it, besides the expensive infant formula* we used to supplement our otherwise breastfed baby boy when he was born prematurely.

The collagen products I have covered in this article contain hydrolyzed collagen peptides. Hydrolization breaks down the protein into peptides, making it faster and easier to digest.

However, in the case of whey protein, there doesn’t seem to be any scientific research indicating that hydrolyzed protein significantly helps with muscle recovery.

Whey vs. Casein Protein Powder

Whey and casein protein supplements have traditionally been a byproduct of cheese manufacturing. That’s because whey and casein are the two major proteins found in milk.

From a supplement perspective, it’s essential to understand that your body digests whey quicker than casein. As a result, some manufacturers (like Old School Labs) provide a whey/casein blend in their product, so you get the benefits of both.

Others, like Ascent and Naked Nutrition, offer separate whey and casein formulas. The whey-based formula is ideal if taken immediately after a workout, so your body can leverage the quickly-digesting whey. The casein-based formula is perfect when taken before going to bed.

That way, your body can use the slower-digesting casein overnight.

Protein Absorption Rates

The human body absorbs dietary protein at different rates, as you can see in the table below. Besides the absorption rate, it’s also important to understand how long it takes for the amino acids in the protein to reach peak blood concentrations, and for how long they stay in the bloodstream.

ProteinAbsorption Rate (Grams/Hour)
Egg protein1.5-4
Pea protein3.5
Soy protein isolate3.9
Casein isolate6.1
Brown rice protein6-8
Whey protein8-10

What about hydrolyzed collagen? In tests with rats, scientists could measure peak plasma concentration of hydrolyzed collagen after six hours of ingestion when given 10 grams per kilogram of body weight.

You can find more information about the absorption rate of proteins here.

Protein Powder Side Effects

For healthy adults, consuming reasonable amounts of protein powder doesn’t have any adverse side effects, unless you’re allergic to individual types of protein, such as casein, eggs, or milk sugar (lactose).

But keep in mind that your body can only digest limited amounts of protein, and excessive consumption won’t provide any additional benefits. Also, younger children have a different metabolism than adults, and too much protein can potentially harm their kidneys.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best protein powder?

The best protein powder contains minimally-processed protein from pastured animals and doesn’t include any irritating ingredients. Many of the unflavored products in this review meet that criteria.

Of course, your dietary requirements play a role as well. Personally, I prefer a mix of unflavored beef and egg white protein.

Similar to my pre-workout supplement comparison, all products covered in this review had to meet specific inclusion criteria, such as: be made only from premium ingredients, have no artificial ingredients, and be lab-tested for quality and potency.

What’s the best protein powder for women?

I haven’t seen a medical reason why women should use a particular protein over another. I know that some brands focus their marketing on the female population, but you can ignore that. Everything I’ve said in this article applies equally to men and women.

How important is “pastured raised” in protein powders?

From a health perspective, meat and dairy from pasture-raised cows are superior to their corn-fed cousins because of better fatty acid and micronutrient profiles.

However, protein powder, and whey protein in particular, has neither fat nor vitamins. As a result, one could argue — as some manufacturers do — that you don’t need protein powder from grass-fed cattle to get the most health benefits.

While I tend to agree with that assessment, I also consider the health of the animals and our environment, and I’m willing to pay extra for that. That’s why I’d recommend using grass-fed products whenever possible.

Can protein powder help with weight loss?

Protein supplements can help you with losing weight as much as water can. But seriously, weight loss is the byproduct of a healthy dietary lifestyle — not a supplement, such as a protein shake.

If you want to lose weight then sleep well, eat well and exercise regularly — no supplements required. Seriously!

Do I need protein to build muscle mass?

To grow lean muscle tissue, your body needs protein. However, that doesn’t mean the protein has to come from supplements. Most, if not all, of the protein your body needs should come from high protein foods.

However, if you’re trying to seriously bulk up as part of a competitive sport, you’ll likely have to supplement with protein powder to support muscle growth because you might not be able to eat enough chicken, beef and eggs to meet your protein intake requirements.

What’s denatured protein powder?

All of the protein powder you can legally buy in the United States has been denatured to a certain extent. In a nutshell, denaturing simply means that the product has been changed from its original (raw) form.

In practice, protein powder undergoes various denaturing processes, including pasteurization, microfiltration and others. Here is an older but excellent article on the subject.

Can a protein shake replace a full meal?

Protein shakes are usually not a meal replacement because they lack the calories and fat your body needs to thrive. To learn more about meal replacement shakes, check out this article.

What qualifies as premium ingredients?

When it comes to dietary supplements, the term “premium” means minimally or carefully processed ingredients of high nutritional value.

The “label” also indicates that the manufacturer follows specific processing standards and that the ingredients are certified to meet quality indicators related to potency, bioavailability and more.

Here’s a list of key attributes that I looked for to conduct this review. Of course, not all attributes apply to every product. For example, whey protein is, by definition, not paleo-compatible because dairy is not allowed on the paleo diet:

– Grass-fed or pasture-raised
– Non-GMO
– Paleo-friendly
– Keto-friendly
– No artificial ingredients
– Sugar-free
– Gluten-free
– Growth-hormone-free
– GMP certified
– Third-party tested
– Free of heavy metals (important for certain protein sources, including rice)

Should my protein powder have vitamins and minerals?

No, that’s not necessary. You should be getting your vitamins and minerals from whole-food sources, not workout supplements. Keep in mind that most vitamin supplements are cheaply made and not very bioavailable.

If you’re concerned about getting all the micronutrients your body needs from food, check out this article about supplementing with vitamins and minerals.

What are protein powder benefits?

The best source of protein is the food you eat, such as eggs, meat and seafood.

However, during intensive exercise, such as CrossFit, when your body breaks down muscle tissue, it may need more protein to rebuild the damaged tissue than you can supply through your diet. If you don’t give your body the fuel it needs to recover, you run the risk of building up a recovery deficit.

As a result, you may experience reduced performance and muscle gain as well as an increased risk of injury.

You do not need (protein) supplements if you only exercise moderately and have a healthy diet that contains quality sources of protein, such as the ones mentioned above.

Also, do not use protein powders as a replacement for a healthy diet. As the name “supplement” implies, they’re only meant to supplement your dietary protein, not replace it.

What are essential amino acids?

Essential amino acids are the ones your body cannot make. As a result, you need to provide those to your body via food and your diet.

What are branched chain amino acids (BCAAs)?

Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a particular type of essential amino acids and include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Those three amino acids make up approximately 35% of all muscle protein in the body. Much like other essential amino acids, the human body cannot make them.

I talked about the benefits (and lack thereof) of BCAAs in my article about natural pre-workout ingredients. The bottom line is this: leucine is the most critical amino acid of the three BCAAs.

What is collagen?

Collagen makes up between 30% to 35% of all protein in the human body and is often referred to as the glue that holds the body together.

What role does the manufacturing process play in the quality of protein supplements?

The manufacturing process of protein powder is crucial in determining the quality of the final product. As with many other products, processing methods that involve low heat and no harsh chemicals (minimal processing) yield the best results.

For whey protein that means:

– Cold processing
– Acid-free and bleach-free processing

How quickly does the human body absorb protein?

The human body absorbs dietary protein at different rates, as you can see in the table above.

When should you drink protein powder?

You’ve probably heard that you should drink a protein shake immediately after a workout. But is that true?

While it’s true that your body absorbs nutrients the fastest during a window of 30-60 minutes right after a workout, don’t get hung up on the timing. It’s more important that you consume sufficient protein throughout the day than the timing of it.

For example, your body can only absorb 8-10 grams of Whey Protein per hour. So, if you guzzle down a shake containing 24 grams of protein 30 minutes after a workout, your body will only be able to absorb a fraction of it immediately.

If building lean muscle tissue is your primary goal, my recommendation is to have some slower-absorbing protein — such as egg or beef — before a workout, and whey right after.

You can also mix powdered BCAAs* into your workout drink, so that your body can use them immediately — especially the muscle-building leucine. For when you’re traveling, consider packing BCAA capsules* to take immediately before or after a workout.

That said, I barely supplement with protein these days, and most of my workouts are during my fasting window. So I don’t eat anything before or after a workout. Despite that, my body composition doesn’t suggest that I’m missing out on protein.Michael chalking up during a CrossFit workout

What is soy lecithin and should I stay away from it?

While soy lecithin doesn’t appear to contain enough soy proteins to cause an allergic reaction in people with a soy allergy, there are still pros and cons to consider with that emulsifier. But I’m not too concerned about it.

Can you use whey protein for baking?

Absolutely. Here are a couple of tips on how to bake with protein powder.

While manufacturers use Whey Protein primarily for dietary supplements, it’s also used in baked goods, medical products, infant formula and others. To learn more about the Whey protein market and its applications, check out this in-depth market research.

My wife doesn’t use whey protein powder for baking. Instead, we frequently use it to make post-workout or keto shakes.

What’s wrong with natural flavors?

Some, but not all, companies hide potentially harmful ingredients behind the term “natural flavors.” EPIC has written an article on that subject.

I recently learned that “natural flavors” aren’t as harmless as you might think — despite their name. In reality, natural flavors are often manufactured in labs, much like artificial flavors, and the final products often contain chemicals from that manufacturing process.

The problem is that the FDA requires companies to use “natural flavors,” even if those flavors come from dehydrated sources of whole foods.

I’ve sent out inquiries to all brands to ask what’s behind their “natural flavors,” and I’ll keep updating this article as I learn more. The good news is that all brands that I’ve heard back from use natural flavors that are true to their word and don’t contain any harmful chemicals.

Is whey protein paleo?

If you’re on the paleo diet, like I am, you may wonder if it’s OK to consume products containing milk protein (such as whey or casein). In short, dairy-based products, including milk protein, are not paleo compatible, mainly because humans did not evolve consuming dairy.

In fact, milk products were not a part of our diets until about 10,000 years ago, when humankind started farming.

While there is some evidence that specific components found in milk can negatively influence the way your body processes insulin and increase the risk of certain cancers, we need more studies to better understand the impact of consuming milk.

Until then, you have to choose between taking the risk and forgoing the benefits of milk protein.

Can I have milk protein if I’m lactose intolerant?

If you’re lactose intolerant, you may still be OK with consuming protein supplements containing milk proteins such as whey or casein. All the products that I have tested include only residual amounts of lactose (less than 1%), and that is often not enough to trigger an allergic reaction.

If it turns out that you cannot handle those supplements, you may have to stick to products containing egg white or beef protein.

How bad is it to use expired protein powder?

If you’re past the expiration date by a few days, weeks or even months, I wouldn’t worry about it. However, I’d stay away from supplements that have expired a long time ago because they might upset your stomach.

I’ve had family members experience diarrhea and vomiting after consuming whey protein powder that expired a year earlier.

Can you survive exclusively off protein powder?

No, you can’t. Your body needs both fat and protein to survive. The only thing your body doesn’t need is carbohydrates, because it can convert non-carb sources — such as protein — into glucose.

When would I need a protein powder?

I recommend you start supplementing with protein if you can’t get enough protein through food. That’s either because you work out so much (think several hours per day) or because you chose a diet that makes it difficult (think plant-based).
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In most other cases you likely won’t need to supplement with protein powder. If you still do, it likely won’t hurt you. So enjoy your daily protein shake, if you like.

Best Natural Protein Powder Review

You have a lot of excellent options when it comes to natural protein powders, and it ultimately boils down to personal preference and which attributes are most important to you. My recommendation is to consume a mix of various protein types, including fast and slow absorbing protein powders.

From a health perspective, I recommend sticking with a mix of beef and egg protein. Alternatively, you can experiment with high-quality whey protein and see how your body reacts.

The only protein I would try to avoid is casein, unless it’s from non-bovine sources such as goat, camels or sheep. Additionally, I encourage you to supplement with collagen peptides — maybe as an alternative to the creamer you use for your morning coffee.

What’s most important for you in a high-quality protein supplement? Let me know by leaving a comment below! If you’re a manufacturer of natural or organic protein supplements and would like me to include your product in this review, shoot me an email!

3 thoughts on “Best Natural Protein Powders”

  1. Hi, I would love to read some of the in-depth scientific analysis you provided in this article about Muscle Milk’s Genuine Chocolate protein powder.

    I just wrote a review about it here if you were interested, https://www.vekhayn.com/2019/04/muscle-milk-genuine-chocolate-protein.html

    but I mainly covered taste and some of the amino acids in it, and I would love to hear more about the science it especially considering Muscle milk has a mix of Casein and Whey protein which you somewhat covered in this article.

    Would love to hear a response and article! Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Vigilant! From a nutritional / health perspective, Muscle Milk is a piece of crap – sorry to tell you that. It’s got Maltodextrin (sugar), artificial sweeteners (Sucralose), unhealthy vegetable oil (Canola, Sunflower), other artificial ingredients. Plus, Casein, in particular Casein Beta A1 is highly inflammatory and negatively modulates your gut microbiota. Bottom line: Stay away from muscle milk if you care about your health at all.

      Re Casein: I need to update my review to include the information about Casein Beta A1.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply

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