Women and men generally have different fitness and supplement needs. This stems from different body needs and different fitness goals. While women and men can often use a lot of the same products, there are a number of protein powders that are better for men than for women. For example, the mass marketed whey protein powders aimed at bulking up and gaining weight are simply not suitable for women – they’re designed for men with men’s bodies in mind (some of them have 60 grams of protein per scoop!). This article is aimed at identifying which is the best protein powder for women.
The primary distinction between protein for men and for women is serving size. Women shouldn’t be consuming a shake that has 100% of their daily recommended amount of protein in one serving. Now, there are a lot of different types of fitness supplements, but protein powder is a very important one so you want to make sure you get the right one. We can typically use the same product as men, but you have to be careful with serving size.
Generally when women are looking for protein powder, there are two main purposes: meal replacement or post-workout recovery. Protein shakes are great for these two purposes and we highly recommend them. Your body burns more energy breaking down protein so getting lots of protein in your diet can actually help lose weight. It is also the essential ingredient in rebuilding your muscles so protein will help tone muscles.
However, since these two goals are slightly different, the top protein powder will depend on which of these goals you’re looking for. That’s why we’ve divided our analysis into two main sections, below.
We should also note that this article deals specifically with protein powders but we’ve also reviewed a number of other protein products for women. We’ve written about the best protein bars for women and the top pre-made protein shakes for women.
Check out those articles if you’re looking for protein supplements in either the bar or pre-made shake form.
1. Best Protein Powder for Post-workout recovery for women:
The first category we’re looking at is post-workout recovery shakes. A good post-workout recovery protein shake for a woman should help you tone and rebuild muscle, without making you bulk up. After a workout your muscles need both protein and carbs. You body is totally depleted and it needs to refuel. Protein’s role in recovery is what makes it the primary supplement for most exercise/training programs.
What makes protein shakes so great post-workout is the fast absorption by your body. You want to drink your protein shake within 0-30 minutes of your workout – this is when your muscles need it the most. While you could go and eat a piece of meat, this won’t get to your muscles nearly as quickly as a protein shake.
You want a protein powder with roughly a 4-1 ration of carbs to protein. This can vary a bit, but this is a good ratio to shoot for. Women also don’t need much more than 20 – 30 grams of protein per scoop so I would avoid the protein powders that contain upwards of 40 grams of protein per scoop and anything described as a “gainer”.
We have two recommendations for post-workout protein powder that work great for women:
1. Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard:
- Fast-absorbing whey isolate (which means it gets absorbed efficiently)
- 24 grams of protein per scoop;
- Excellent value - great price for a high quality product
- To see the current price on Amazon.com with 38% discount, click here
2. Vega Sport Performance Protein:
- 25 grams of protein per scoop
- All natural, plant based protein product (helpful if lactose intolerant)
- While its a bit more expensive, they avoid the use of artificial sweeteners, and other preservatives. See our more detailed review of this protein powder here.
If you know you’re looking for a whey protein protein, we get into some more detail about whey proteins in this article. But overall, these two supplements will serve you well for post-workout nutrition. You don’t necessarily need a whey protein, but a lot of people recommend it. Vega is one of the few non-whey protein powders I recommend for post workout.
2. Best Protein Powder for Women Looking for Meal Replacement:
In addition to post-workout recovery, protein shakes can be a great tool to supplement your diet even when you haven’t just worked out. Women need a certain amount of protein each day and studies indicate that upwards of 50% of women don’t get enough protein each day. If you don’t eat a lot of meat, it can be hard to fill your daily protein needs. Protein shakes are also great because they make you feel full and stay full for longer.
Meal replacement protein powders will differ from post-workout protein powders because they will be seeking to replicate the nutritional profile of a complete meal instead of trying to simply get protein to your muscles ASAP. Ideally, they will have enough vitamins, minerals and nutrients so you can actually get everything your body needs.
Your body needs about 0.4 – 0.85 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Determining where you fall on that range depends on your activity level. So someone that is extremely active may need closer to 0.85 grams of protein per pound of body weight while someone that is totally sedentary may need only about 0.4 grams. For a 130 pound woman, that’s 52 – 110 grams of protein (110 would be very high and likely too much for most women).
This is not an exact science and your protein intake will always vary from day to day. There are also different ways to calculate it. But figuring out how much protein you need is helpful in determining how many shakes you should be having and how much protein should go in each shake. If you’re getting about 35 grams a day and your body weight and activity level dictates you should have about 60 grams, then a protein shake giving you 25 grams of protein is perfect. If you’ve already had enough protein for a given day, you can still have a shake but just leave out the protein powder. After all, if you take too much protein your body won’t be able to process it.
When looking for a meal replacement protein powder, you don’t really want one of the fast-absorbing whey protein isolate powders discussed above. You want something that is digested slightly more slowly and will keep you feeling full for longer.
Here are our top recommendations for the best protein power for women seeking to make a meal replacement shake:
1. EAS lean 15 Protein Powder:
- 15 grams of protein, 100 calories per scoop
- A mix of both whey and casein protein so you get both fast and slow absorbing protein – this will help you stay full for longer
2. Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein Powder:
- Garden of life’s protein powder is one of the best natural protein powders on the market. This product is Organic; Non-GMO; vegan; dairy free; lactose free; and gluten free. If you’re looking for a natural meal replacement protein powder, this is a great choice.
- It comes in 4 flavours: original, chocolate, vanilla, and vanilla spiced chai.
We’ve also written more on meal replacement protein shakes, including a detailed vega one review, which we definitely also recommend. Overall, you’ll want to pay attention to the number of calories, the amount of sugar, and the amount of protein.
Types of Protein Powder:
When shopping for a protein powder, women should pay attention to the different types of protein powder. There are a number of different types of protein. They are all slightly different and serve different purposes, depending on what your goals are. This information should help you decide which of the above protein powders are best for you.
1. Whey protein:
Whey protein comes from milk. About 20% of the protein found in milk is whey protein. This is generally the fastest absorbing protein you can get. That’s why it’s generally recommended for post-workout recovery. It quickly sends your muscles the amino acids they need for recovery. If you have lactose or dairy allergy, I would recommend that you stay away from whey protein. See the Optimum nutrition post-workout protein powder discussed above for a good example of a whey protein powder product. (see our detailed article on whey proteins for women)
2. Soy Protein:
Soy protein is a complete protein that is totally plant-based. It has the added benefits of also having compounds that regulate cholesterol and fight heart disease. However, soy products should be limited so I’d caution against over-doing it with soy protein (check out this article for more info about the issues with soy). That being said, it is still an excellent source of protein.
Like whey protein, casein protein is also found in milk. It’s a slower absorbing protein so it’s not really designed for immediately after your workout. In fact, it can keep releasing amino acids for up to 7 hours after consumption. As with whey protein, since it also comes from milk, stay away from casein protein if you have a lactose or dairy allergy. This is ideal for a situation where you need slow absorption.
4. Other plant-based proteins:
A number of products include proteins from plant sources like brown rice, peas and hemp. These are great sources of protein but they are not complete proteins on their own. However, when they’re combined they have a complete amino acid profile and are quickly absorbed by your body. They are a great alternative for people with allergies to soy or lactose or for people that are vegan.
Other Considerations when picking a protein powder:
This is a matter of personal preference. I’ve come accustomed to buying the vanilla ones just because they aren’t strongly flavored. I find that some of the brands can taste pretty bad, so you have to be careful. Go for the least strong flavor so that you can add different ingredients for taste.
If you’re trying a new brand, get a smaller container size so you can try it and see if you like the taste. But overall, I generally don’t expect protein powders to taste really great. If they do, it’s usually because they have lots of sugar in them, which is something I don’t want.
ii) Pre-made Shakes vs. powder:
In my opinion, the pre-made shakes are less ideal than protein powder but it’s a matter of personal preference. The shakes have a lot of extra ingredients that you usually don’t need (including sugar). I like to control what goes in. If you get a good protein powder, you can add whatever else you want and make sure none of the extra preservatives are in there. (see our detailed article about protein bars and our article on pre-made shakes). That being said, you can get some good pre-made shakes that have healthy ingredients.
iii) Protein Serving Size:
As discussed above, many protein powders are designed for men who require larger serving sizes. You can see on any protein powder exactly how much protein is contained in each scoop. Depending on your body size, you’re not going to need much more than 20-25 grams of protein in a protein shake after your workout. If you’re using it as a meal replacement, this will obviously depend on the rest of your daily intake. But I also wouldn’t go much higher than 20-25 grams. While some people think that “more is better” that’s not really the case and your body won’t be able to process much more than that amount in one sitting.
iv) Quality / brand name:
Unfortunately, not all protein powders are created equal. Protein supplements are not so strictly regulated by the FDA so they don’t have the same standards everyone might expect. That’s why I like to stick to some of the more established brands and not try brands that a