The 7 Best Protein Powders of 2022, According to a Dietitian

KLEAN Athlete KLEAN Isolate has 20g of protein and is NSF Certified for Sport

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Most people can easily meet their protein needs through food, and many consume more protein than they need on a daily basis. However, using protein powders can be helpful for people who have higher protein needs—such as athletes, pregnant and breastfeeding people, and people with certain medical conditions. It may also be beneficial for those who follow restricted diets such as vegans or vegetarians or those who don’t like many protein-rich foods. Protein powders can also help boost the protein content of meals and snacks that might otherwise be lacking such as smoothies or oatmeal.

There are hundreds of protein powders on the market, but not all are created equally. “Lean on the protein powder that matches your dietary goals and priorities. For example, if you’re following a vegan lifestyle, options like hemp, soy, or pea will be better choices. Also consider which powder you tolerate best. For some, soy or a dairy-based protein powder may not be easily tolerated,” says Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD. It’s also important to consider additional ingredients like vitamins, minerals, added sweeteners, enzymes, probiotics, caffeine, and more.

You may benefit from looking for third-party certifications that verify the ingredients and that there aren’t any harmful contaminants. This is especially important for competitive athletes who need to avoid substances banned by their sport. To compile a list of our top protein powders, our dietitian (who is a runner, triathlete, and spin instructor and works with many athletes), consulted trusted experts in the field and carefully examined the different protein powders on the market, including company reputability, ingredients, and third party testing.

Verywell Fit Approved Protein Powders

Always speak with a healthcare professional before adding a supplement to your routine to ensure that the supplement is appropriate for your individual needs and which dosage to take.

Best Overall: Klean Athlete Klean Isolate

Klean Athlete Klean Isolate

Klean

Pros
  • NSF Certified for Sport

  • Only 2 ingredients

  • No added sweeteners

Cons
  • Not suitable for someone with a milk allergy

Who else recommends it? Women's Health and Runner's World both picked Klean Athlete Klean Isolate.

What do buyers say? 86% of 125+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.

When it comes to a high quality protein powder that doesn’t contain any unnecessary extras, KLEAN Athlete’s KLEAN Isolate (unflavored) comes out on top. Its simple ingredient list—just whey protein isolate and sunflower lecithin—means that you’re just getting the protein you need without added sugars, artificial sweeteners, added fibers, or other ingredients that you may want to avoid. Whey protein has been well studied and is considered to be a superior protein source for athletes but is a good option for anyone looking to up their protein intake as it’s well used by the body.

Because it’s unflavored, it can be easily added into a variety of foods to boost your protein intake, including oatmeal, pancakes, baked items, smoothies, energy bites, and more. It also comes in chocolate and vanilla, but these flavors do have stevia and monk fruit extract, which some people may not like. 

KLEAN Isolate is NSF certified for sport, a third party organization that ensures that the product contains what the label says and doesn't have any harmful contaminants or substances banned by sport.

Protein source: Whey | Serving size: 2 scoops (22.3g) | Protein per serving: 20g  | Gluten-free: Not certified | Vegan: No | Sweeteners: Only in flavored options

Best Vegan: NAKED Nutrition Naked Seed Protein Powder

NAKED Nutrition Naked Seed Protein Powder

Amazon

Pros
  • Made from whole foods

  • Certified gluten-free

  • Good source of iron

Cons
  • Not considered a complete protein

Naked Nutrition Naked Seed adds an interesting plant-based combination protein powder to the growing vegan protein powder market. It’s made with organic pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, watermelon seeds, and organic chia seeds with no added sugars, artificial sweeteners, or other additives.

While it’s not a complete protein, it contains eight of the nine essential amino acids, and offers additional nutritional benefits from consuming seeds. One serving of Naked Seed contains over 40 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for iron, which may be helpful for vegans or vegetarians to meet their iron needs, since they are at higher risk of iron deficiency.

Naked Seed is certified gluten-free and doesn’t contain any of the top nine allergens (peanut, tree nuts, egg, milk, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, or sesame), making it a good option for anyone with food allergies.

Protein source: Pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, chia seed, watermelon seed | Serving size: 2 scoops (30g) | Protein per serving: 20g | Gluten-free: Yes | Vegan: Yes | Sweeteners: N/A

Best for Athletes: Momentous Recovery Protein

Momentous Recovery Protein

Amazon

Pros
  • NSF certified for Sport and Informed Sport certified

  • Contains mix of protein and carbs for recovery

Cons
  • Contains stevia

  • Not suitable for someone with milk allergy

Protein is an essential part of recovery for all athletes. While we recommend a food first approach, many athletes, especially endurance athletes, find it hard to stomach a big meal after a training session or they may find it impractical. Protein powders like Momentous Recovery Protein can be helpful when aiming to refuel and recover post exercise.

We like that Momentous Recovery protein is a combination of whey protein with some carbohydrates. “Whey protein ingestion after resistance exercise has shown to be more beneficial for muscle protein synthesis when compared to other protein sources such as casein and soy. This results in an increase in lean muscle mass and improved strength,” says Allison Knott, MS, RDN, CSSD, CDN.

Momentous Recovery also contains 10 grams of carbohydrates, which can contribute to the carbohydrates needed to replenish muscle glycogen stores post exercise. However, you will likely need more carbohydrates than this to recover post-exercise, so we recommend blending this into a smoothie with a banana, stirring it into oatmeal, or adding it to pancake batter. It also offers some sodium, which may be helpful for replenishing what’s lost through sweat. 

Momentous Recovery Protein contains ProHydrolase, which are digestive enzymes said to enhance amino acid absorption and usage. However only one very small study in recent years has explored this theory, with no benefit found. That said, there weren’t any side effects, so while it may not be helpful, it’s also likely not problematic.

It comes in both chocolate and vanilla flavors, which are sweetened with stevia. Importantly, it’s both NSF certified for sport and Informed Sport certified, two third-party certifications that ensure purity and safety for use in sport.

Protein source: Whey | Serving size: 2 scoops (40g) | Protein per serving: 20g | Gluten-free: Not certified | Vegan: No | Sweeteners: Stevia

Best Unflavored: Manitoba Harvest Hemp Yeah! Organic Max Protein Powder

Manitoba Harvest Hemp Yeah! Organic Max Protein Powder

Amazon

Pros
  • Only two ingredients

  • USDA organic, Non-GMO, and vegan

  • Contains fiber and omega-3’s

Cons
  • Not considered a complete protein

We love Manitoba Harvest Hemp Yeah! Max Protein for its simple ingredient list—just hemp seeds and oregano extract. In addition to 20 grams of plant-based protein, the ground hemp seeds contribute omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper, and some B-vitamins. 

Since it’s unflavored and unsweetened, this protein powder can be added to a variety of different foods and drinks to up your protein consumption without the aftertaste that some powders have. The one drawback to this product is that it doesn’t contain all of the nine essential amino acids, so it’s not considered a complete protein. However, as long as you’re consuming other sources of protein in your diet—whether from plants or animals— you can meet all of your amino acid and protein needs.

Hemp Yeah! Max Protein is USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project verified, and certified Kosher. Manitoba Harvest is also a Certified B-Corp.

Protein source: Hemp | Serving size: 4 tablespoons (32g) | Protein per serving: 20g | Gluten-free: Not certified | Vegan: Yes | Sweeteners: N/A

Best Flavored: Garden of Life Sport Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder

Garden of Life Sport Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder

Vitamin Shoppe

Pros
  • NSF Certified for Sport and ConsumerLab Approved

  • Contains antioxidants

  • NSF Certified Gluten-free, vegan, Non-GMO

Cons
  • Contains stevia

If you’re looking for a flavored protein powder that doesn’t overpower your beverage, Garden of Life’s Sport Organic Plant-Based Protein Vanilla is a top choice. It lends a mildly sweet vanilla flavor to smoothies or other recipes, or can be enjoyed just mixed with your favorite milk or water. The protein comes from peas, navy beans, garbanzo beans, sprouted lentils, and cranberry protein and it’s combined with vanilla, stevia, and a little sea salt for flavor.

It’s also a great option for active people as it contains a recovery fruit blend including tart cherry, which may improve muscle recovery in both strength and endurance athletes. Just one scoop provides 15 grams of protein and  20 percent of your daily iron needs (plus several other vitamins and minerals), which may be helpful for those on a plant-based diet.

Garden of Life’s Organic Plant-Based Protein Vanilla is approved by two of our top third-party testing organizations (NSF Certified for Sport and ConsumerLab), is gluten-free, vegan, Non-GMO, and kosher. It doesn’t contain any of the top 9 allergens, making it a good choice for anyone with food allergies.

Protein source: Pea, navy bean, garbanzo bean, lentils, cranberry | Serving size: 2 scoops (42g)  | Protein per serving: 30g | Gluten-free: Yes | Vegan: Yes | Sweeteners: Stevia

Best Allergen-Friendly: NOW Foods Organic Pea Protein

NOW Foods Organic Pea Protein

Amazon

Pros
  • ConsumerLab Top Pick

  • Vegan, USDA Certified Organic, and Non-GMO

  • Only ingredient is pea protein

Cons
  • Lower protein than some other sources

Now Sports Organic Pea Protein contains just one ingredient—pea protein. It’s free from all major allergens, is certified vegan, non-GMO, and USDA Certified Organic. It’s also a top pick by ConsumerLab and is Informed Sport Certified, which means it doesn’t contain 250 banned substances by sport.

Two scoops provides 15g of plant-based protein powder—a little lower than other powders, but still more than enough to add to a meal or snack. It also contains 5 mg of iron (about 30 percent of your daily needs), which may be helpful for people that otherwise don’t get enough. Add it to your favorite smoothie for a quick breakfast or mix in pancakes or oatmeal for a post-workout meal.

Protein source: Pea | Serving size: 2 scoops (20g) | Protein per serving: 15g | Gluten-free: Not certified | Vegan: Yes | Sweeteners: N/A

Best with Additional Nutrients: Ritual Essential Protein Daily Shake 18+

Ritual Essential Protein Daily Shake 18+

Amazon

Pros
  • Third party tested

  • Contains choline

Cons
  • Contains Reb-A and monk fruit extract sweeteners

Rituals Essential Protein Daily Shake 18+ is a favorite among flavored protein enthusiasts. It not only contributes 20g of plant-based protein per scoop, but also adds 150 mg of choline, a nutrient most people do not consume enough of, especially those that don’t regularly eat eggs. Emerging research suggests choline is especially important during pregnancy and lactation, though could play a role in health in other stages of life. It also contributes iron and calcium to your diet.

Essential Protein Daily Shake 18+ contains 290 mg of sodium per scoop, which may be helpful to replenish losses in sweat during exercise, but those that need to watch their sodium intake should be mindful of this amount.

Ritual prioritizes quality and transparency of their ingredients through their Made Traceable™ program. It’s also Informed Sport Certified. Of note, it is sweetened with two high intensity sweeteners that do not provide calories but may or may not be a preferred addition to your diet, Reb-A (a sweetener from the stevia plant) and monk fruit extract.

Protein source: Pea | Serving size: 1 scoop (30g) | Protein per serving: 20g | Gluten-free: Not certified | Vegan: Yes | Sweeteners: Reb-A and monk fruit extract

Final Verdict

For a quality protein powder that is well-used by our bodies and contains no unnecessary additives or sweeteners, we recommend KLEAN Athlete’s KLEAN Isolate. If you’re looking for a plant-based option, we recommend Naked Nutrition Naked Seed or Garden of Life Sport Organic Plant-Based Protein Vanilla for a flavored powder.

Are Protein Powders Beneficial?

Protein powders can help you meet your protein needs, especially if you have elevated needs or have trouble getting enough from food. But keep in mind that foods naturally high in protein also have other important nutrients including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and, in some cases, healthy fats, so it’s best to prioritize food sources of protein first.

It’s important to understand that more protein isn’t always better, and that consuming excess protein without strength-training exercise doesn’t result in muscle growth.

However, certain groups of people may be more likely to benefit from a protein powder, whether regularly or on occasion.

  • Athletes. Most athletes need between 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (95 to 135g protein for someone weighing 150lbs or 68k kg). This 50 to 150 percent of the needs of the average adult. Protein powders, especially those containing whey protein, have also been shown to promote quicker recovery from exercise.
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding people. Protein needs are higher in the later stages of pregnancy and while breastfeeding. New research suggests that breastfeeding people may need up to 1.7g of protein per kilogram of body weight, which is double that of a non-breastfeeding person. Protein powders may be helpful in meeting those elevated needs. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, always consult with a healthcare provider before adding a supplement, and be sure to choose one that is third-party verified by a reputable source, so you know it doesn’t contain any potentially harmful ingredients. 
  • People with certain dietary restrictions. If you follow a diet that makes it difficult for you to consume enough protein through food, such as a vegetarian or vegan diet that is not rich in plant protein sources, protein powders may be helpful to meet your needs.

Who May Not Benefit from Protein Powders

Most people do not need to consume protein powders as it’s entirely possible to meet your protein needs through food. Protein-rich foods also offer many other health benefits, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.

  • People that meet their protein needs through diet. Protein beyond your daily requirements does not offer any additional health or fitness benefits. Excess protein on a regular basis may also increase risk for certain health problems including kidney problems, reduced bone density, increased risk of certain cancers, and more. Excess protein may also end up replacing other nutrient-rich foods that support overall health.
  • People on a protein-restricted diet. Some health conditions such as kidney disease require following a low-protein diet. In these cases, protein powders may lead to excess consumption and be harmful.
  • People taking certain medications. Protein powders are supplements that may interact with some medications. For example, whey protein powder has been shown to reduce the effectiveness of a common medication used to treat Parkinsons as well as some antibiotics. Some protein powders also contain additional vitamins, minerals, powdered greens, probiotics, enzymes, and antioxidants that could interact with medications.

How We Select Supplements

Our team works hard to be transparent about why we recommend certain supplements; you can read more about our dietary supplement methodology here

We support supplements that are evidence-based and rooted in science. We value certain product attributes that we find to be associated with the highest quality products. We prioritize products that are third-party tested and certified by one of three independent, third party certifiers: USP, NSF, or ConsumerLab. 

It's important to note that the FDA does not review dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness before they go to market. Our team of experts has created a detailed, science-backed methodology to choose the supplements we recommend.

What to Look for in a Protein Powder

Third Party Testing

Supplements that are third-party tested are sent to a lab where they are tested to ensure they contain what they say they contain and are not contaminated with specific high-risk, common contaminants. However, it’s important to note:

  • Third party testing does not test to see if a product is effective or safe for everyone, and it does not ensure the supplement will not interact with other supplements or medications.
  • Not all third-party testing is created equal. It is not uncommon for supplement companies to pay labs for certificates after conducting minimal to no testing. 
  • The third party certifications we can trust are: ConsumerLabs, NSF, and USP. However, these certifications are difficult to obtain and/or expensive, so many companies choose not to get their products tested by one of these three organizations. 
  • Sometimes products tested by these three companies are more expensive to try to offset the cost they pay for certification.
  • Just because a supplement is not tested by one of these three companies, it does not mean it’s a bad product. We recommend doing some research on the reputability of the manufacturer, and calling up the manufacturer and their testing lab to determine their protocols and decide if you feel comfortable consuming the supplement.

Protein powders may contain heavy metals in trace amounts, especially those made from plant-based sources. However, recent studies suggest that the amount found in protein powders are not likely to be harmful when consumed in moderation (including daily consumption).

Heavy metals are found in soil and water, which can contaminate food and supplements, including protein powders, but this is only a concern when consumed in excess. Third party tested protein powders can help ensure that the product is below FDA thresholds for heavy metal contamination. 

Form

Protein powders are made from a wide variety of sources, including those from plants and animals. Plant-based sources include beans, peas, hemp, soy, nuts, and seeds whereas animal protein powder sources include whey, casein, egg, and collagen. The best source for you will depend on your needs and your dietary preferences. 

With the exception of collagen protein, animal sources are complete proteins, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids, whereas most plant-based proteins are not (pea protein is the exception here and is a complete protein). Studies among athletes suggest that whey protein may support muscle growth and repair better than other sources like soy and casein.

Ingredients & Potential Interactions

​​It is essential to carefully read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel of a supplement to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included, relative to the recommended daily value of that ingredient. Please bring the supplement label to a healthcare provider to review the different ingredients contained in the supplement and any potential interactions between these ingredients and other supplements and medications you are taking.

Additives. Many protein powders contain more than just protein. It’s common for them to include added fiber, caffeine, MCT oil, probiotics, digestive enzymes, herbs, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, or powdered greens. These ingredients may interact with medications or other supplements, and may come with side effects. If you’re considering a protein powder with additional ingredients, talk with a healthcare provider to make sure it’s safe for you.

Sweeteners. Flavored protein powders are typically sweetened either with sugar or an alternative sweetener such as stevia, monk fruit, sucralose, acesulfame-K, or sugar alcohols. Alternative sweeteners may lead to digestive symptoms in some people, especially those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Food allergens. Some protein powders contain allergens such as egg, soy, wheat, dairy, peanuts, or tree nuts. If you have a food allergy, carefully review ingredient lists to make sure it’s a safe choice for you.

Performance Enhancers. Protein powders that are marketed towards athletes for muscle building may include ergogenic aids or performance enhancers like creatine, BCAAs, glutamine, DHEA, and more. The research to support these is limited and in some cases they may not be recommended. For more on individual performance enhancers, refer to the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements review of supplements for performance.

In general, simpler may be better. “I prefer protein powders with minimal ingredients. For instance, you can purchase a protein powder that is just made from pea protein. You can find the same for hemp protein powder and egg white protein powder,” says Amy Gorin MS, RDN

Protein Powders Dosage

Always speak with a healthcare professional before adding a supplement to your routine to ensure that the supplement is appropriate for your individual needs and to understand which dosage to take.

The DRI (Daily Recommended Intake) for protein as defined by The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight for healthy adults. For reference, that’s 55 grams per day for an adult weighing 150 pounds. However, that number has recently been called into question, as it may not be enough for aging adults to maintain adequate lean muscle mass for optimal health. In addition, active people as well as pregnant and lactating people may need more—between 1.2 to 2.0g per kilogram of body weight.

That said, it’s always best to get your protein from a variety of food sources as they also contain additional nutrients for optimal health. When including protein powders, consider how much protein is in the rest of your diet, and use it to fill in gaps to meet your total needs. It’s best to spread your protein intake throughout your day, and it’s recommended to consume around 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight per meal, though exact amounts will vary by individual.

How Much is Too Much?

There is no defined tolerable upper limit (UL) for protein, but it’s not recommended to consume more than the RDA range. Excess protein consumption does not appear to offer any benefits, and significantly overconsuming protein may negatively impact kidney health, even in healthy people.

Consuming too much protein from protein powders may also lead to:

  • An imbalance diet that doesn’t contain enough fat and carbohydrates for optimal health. 
  • Reduced vitamin and mineral intake of those nutrients commonly found in protein-rich foods.
  • Risk of consuming heavy metals beyond the safe amount.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When does protein powder expire?

    The expiration date will depend on the type of protein, whether or not the powder includes additives to increase shelf life such as maltodextrin, salt, or lecithin, and the conditions in which you store it (warmer environments may lead to a shorter shelf life). For the longest shelf life, store in a cool, dry, dark environment such as in a cabinet that’s not near a stove or other heat source. While it’s not required, most manufacturers will include a “use by” date, but a good rule of thumb is to use your protein powder within a year of purchase.

  • What is the best type of protein powder?

    The best one is the one that fits your dietary needs and preferences. For example, if you follow a plant-based diet, you’ll want to choose a vegan protein powder such as pea, hemp, soy, or one from beans or seeds. It’s also important to consider any food allergies.
    Another thing to consider is the presence of all nine essential amino acids, which make a protein a complete protein. Whey and pea are two common types of protein powder that are complete proteins. If you’re eating a well-balanced diet with a variety of protein sources whether from plants or animals, this is not likely a concern as you will get all of the amino acids you need from your diet. However, if you rely heavily on protein powder for your protein intake, this may be a consideration.
    Lastly, whey protein has long been considered the best source of protein for athletes. However, emerging research suggests that pea protein may offer the same benefits. More research is needed in this area.

  • What does protein powder do?

    Protein powder is a convenient way to add protein to your diet whether through adding it to milk or water or adding it to other foods you’re consuming. It may help people with elevated protein needs or who don’t get enough protein from food meet their total protein needs.

  • Can you buy protein powder with EBT?

    EBT can be used to purchase food, not supplements. Protein powders sold as food such as Manitoba Harvest Hemp Yeah! Max Protein can be purchased with EBT. Those sold as a supplement such as KLEAN Athlete KLEAN Isolate cannot. The best way to identify if a powder is being sold as a food is to look for a Nutrition Facts panel. Supplements will have a Supplement Facts panel instead.

  • When during the day should I use protein powder?

    “The best time of the day to use protein powder is the time that you will most likely use it,” says Mannaker. It’s also ideal to use protein powder when you’re not consuming other sources of protein, such as if your breakfast or snack happens to be relatively low protein. This is to ensure you don’t consume excess amounts and you actually reap the benefits of the protein powder. 
    If muscle growth is your goal, there may be a benefit to choosing specific times of day. “Those that are using protein powder to support muscle growth, taking protein up to 2 hours after a workout is ideal. There’s some data that suggests including protein before bed can help support muscle growth, too,” says Mannaker.

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