We tried 5 protein powders and LeBron James’s brand got a perfect taste score, but still didn’t come out on top

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Buying protein powder can be an intimidating task even for savvy supplement shoppers.

health aisle

The supplement aisle can be dizzying.
Reuters

With the many brands, types, labels, and ingredients, it’s hard to know what to look for, or even if you need one at all. (Hint: Most people don’t.)

If you’re new to supplements, a good first step is to find a protein powder that’s drinkable so you know you’ll actually want to use it. 

Read more: 11 of the top protein powder brands, and how much sugar and protein they actually contain

To help, I rounded up five very different kinds of protein powders and mixed each with 8 ounces of water in a blender bottle for consistency.

Then, I called in my health team colleagues, Anna Miller and Julia Naftulin, for a taste test. I use protein powder frequently, and they were less familiar with the products.

Although we all had different preferences, there was a clear winner.

 

We set up shop in our New York offices, after gathering protein powders from various places, including the vitamin shop around the street and samples we’d gotten in the mail.

Protein powders.JPG

Our protein-packed afternoon.
Anna Miler

The powders we tasted were Humming Hemp’s hemp protein powder, Pure Protein’s plant protein blend, Trader Joe’s Designer whey protein, BSN Syntha-6, and a plant blend backed by LeBron James called Ladder.

I use protein powder regularly, before and after workouts, and have tried a lot of them. My health team colleagues, Anna Miller and Julia Naftulin, are less familiar with them. We all tried the different types and each rated them on a scale of 1 to 5 based on three criteria. 

  • Taste: Does it have a pleasant, but not overwhelming flavor? Is it delicious, or do we have to suffer through it? 
  • Texture: How does it feel? Is it drinkable or hard to choke down?
  • Appearance: How appetizing does it look? Does it make me excited to drink it or apprehensive?

First up: Raw hemp protein, the only unflavored powder we tried.

raw hemp protein

Hemp protein is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 20 essential amino acids. It’s also vegan and full of vitamins.
Gabby Landsverk

Protein extracted from hemp seeds is full of vitamins and amino acids. The brand we tried, from Humming Hemp, is pure, raw hemp protein with nothing else added.

 

 

We used a blender bottle for all our tests, since our office doesn’t have an electric blender. This was a challenge for the hemp protein — it took a lot of shaking to mix it.

Julia shaking protein powder.JPG

After some of the tastings, Julia’s smile faded.
Anna Miller

While the taste of the hemp powder was better than we expected, it quickly separated into a muddy-looking liquid and a thick sludge.

hemp protein sample

This wouldn’t have happened if we’d mixed it in a smoothie.
Anna Miller

I was hesitant to try the hemp protein powder since it had a vaguely muddy appearance. 

But the mildly nutty taste wasn’t as bad as we were all bracing for, especially given that this was the only unflavored powder we tried.

Still, Julia’s review (1 out of 5 on all measures) wasn’t great: “It’s not horrible, but it’s not good either,” she said. 

Despite its downsides, I would use this protein powder again due to its strong nutrition profile and lack of chemicals and artificial ingredients.

I do recommend, however, adding it to something other than water — try it in a fruit smoothie or use it in baked goods. 

The product sells for $14 for a pound online

We all thought it was satisfying to drink because of the thicker consistency. The chocolate flavor, however, was “way too sweet, especially the after taste,” according to Anna, who still gave it a 3 in taste and a 4 in the other measures.

protein shake

This was the most fun to pour. It has an appealing chocolatey color and consistency.
Anna Miller

Although the Pure Protein powder actually sweetened with stevia and monk fruit, both Anna and Julia thought the sweetness was too much and tasted “like fake sugar.”

It was smoother than the pure hemp, but still had a little bit of graininess, and Julia said it felt “a bit chalky,” probably from the pea protein, which tends to feel a little sludgy if you’re not used to it. 

Read more: There’s even more evidence that vitamin D supplements are probably a waste of your money, especially if you’re taking them to protect your heart

Despite its critiques from my colleagues, I’d definitely drink the Pure Protein blend after a workout.

You can buy it for $19 per 1.5 pound cannister online.

 

Our first whey protein of the test was from Trader Joe’s. We were hopeful this one would take the cake, because who doesn’t love Trader Joe’s?

trader joes

Trader Joe’s sells affordable protein powders.
Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

The Designer Whey Protein from TJ’s blended quickly, but after pouring the samples, bits of powder separated on the surface. That left it with an uneven look that wasn’t very attractive, if we’re being picky.

designer whey protein

You can see bits of separated powder on the surface.
Julia Naftulin

The Trader Joe’s taste was promising though. It was like chocolate milk — sweet, but not overpowering.

designer whey trader joe's

This sells for $12 per 1 pound-canister at Trader Joe’s or online.
Gabby Landsverk

Julia still tasted fake sugar, but liked this one better. 

It’s thin texture was a bit of a disappointment though. It felt more like drinking chocolate skim milk than a chocolate milkshake, like the previous plant protein. 

The more watery texture also made it less filling and satisfying, in my opinion, than some of the other powders we tried.

Read more: Keto supplements like MCT oil and BHB claim to help dieters achieve ketosis and reach nutrition goals. Experts reveal what works, and what to avoid.

However, for people who don’t drink a lot of shakes, it could be an approachable introduction to protein powders.  

BSN Syntha-6, a blend of whey proteins, was next. Since I use it at home regularly and it has a similar ingredient list as the Trader Joe’s option, I wondered if it would taste no different than TJ’s and I’d learn of a new alternative.

Syntha-6 Protein

My personal stash.
Gabby Landsverk

The powder is a blend of whey isolate and casein, a slower-absorbing protein. 

It did not taste like Trader Joe’s. It was better. We all loved its texture, and thought it tasted more natural and not overly sweet. Anna, who’d only had one or two sips of the other powders, easily gulped this one down.

Sytha-6 Whey protein

We tried the “Chocolate Milkshake” version, but it also comes in flavors like banana, peanut butter, and cookies and cream.
Julia Naft