A Quick Whey Protein Buyer’s Guide

For the vast majority of consumers, dairy-based proteins taste the best. By far.

Whey Protein

We’ve been reviewing whey protein for a long time, and have a few general buying tips before just grabbing one. It depends on lactose sensitivity!

The alternatives (such as vegetable-based pea + rice protein blends) are improving, but let’s be real: if you want a real-deal shake, it’s gotta be milk-based — whether that’s whey, casein, or a mixture of both.

With that said, stamped, and officially agreed-upon, there are a few paths to consider.

Which Whey? Choosing a dairy-based protein powder

When discussing these dairy-derived powders, we have a few general rules of thumb – and it comes to lactose sensitivity.

Below, consider what would happen to you if you chugged a big 8oz glass of 2% milk (homogenized and pasteurized).

In general, this guide will get you towards the proper category:

  • No problems with milk?

    If you can handle that milk without a single problem, then you’re in luck – you can literally choose any whey, casein, or milk protein product you want. Find what fits your flavor, cost, and macronutrient profile.

    Some suggestions:

    Classic Whey Review

    Yes, this happened on our YouTube channel!

    In this case, literally all kinds of options exist, but if you’re still trying to keep the macros clean, we go with NutraBio Classic Whey (that seasonal pumpkin pie!!) which has WPC-80 – a whey protein concentrate with 80% protein by weight. Blackstone Labs 3-Whey is a blend with similar stats.

    If you want ‘dirty’ macros there’s an infinite number of choices, but right now we’re on the Merica Labz Patriot’s Whey train, as it literally has huge pieces of cereal inside! Some people like MTS Whey too – despite their Marc Lobliner CEO guy being a bit of a loon, their mint chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies & cream are to die for!

  • Some problems with milk?

    Sparta Nutrition Spartan Whey Highlights

    This product is basically exactly how we would have formulated a protein powder.

    If that milk might give you a little bit of gas on occasion, but nothing bad, then let’s consider you “lactose sensitive”.

    For you, it’s best to choose a product with whey protein isolate or milk protein isolate first on the label. This typically means it’s the most predominant form of protein in the tub (or tied for most), and those isolates have had the milk sugars (lactose!) and fats filtered — or isolated — out.

    Some suggestions:

    This is where proteins such as Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey took the market by storm way back in the day, but have more recently been hunted down by Sparta Nutrition Spartan Whey and RedCon1 Ration, as flavor systems have improved over what ON originally brought.

    Consider one with lactase added

    Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down lactose. People who are lactose sensitive likely don’t make enough of it.

    Redcon1 Ration Review

    The PricePlow boys review RedCon1 Ration, the new cost-effective whey protein powder. One of the best chocolate whey proteins around!

    Knowing this, there are two ideas to help you out:

    1. Look for a protein powder with added lactase in the “other ingredients” section. If it’s part of a total “digestive enzyme blend” with other ingredients, all the better, but for our purposes, lactase is what we’re primarily looking for.

    2. Add your own lactase! You can find some on our lactase page – it typically comes in the form of pills or drops. The drops are preferred since you can really dial down the perfect dose.

    What about casein?

    Casein proteins often seem to fit into this area too. Casein does have lactose though! Our favorite casein is Kaged Muscle Kasein and NutraBio Muscle Matrix (part whey isolate, part casein).

  • Pretty bad problems with milk?

    If that glass of milk wrecks you pretty bad – but you’re still a “functional” human being minus the brutal smell – for our intents and purposes, we’re going to call you “lactose intolerant”.

    In this case, you need a pure isolate protein, likely 100% whey protein isolate (but possibly milk protein isolate). Whey isolates are 90% protein by weight, so much of that lactose and fat is filtered out and you have a cleaner – but thinner and less delicious – shake.

    Some suggestions:

    Official Protein Wars Winner

    MAN Sports ISO-Protein edged out NutraBio Whey Isolate by a mere 2% to claim the crown of Protein Wars Champion 2017.

    There are a few suggestions here – NutraBio 100% Whey Protein Isolate won Stack3d’s Protein Wars in 2015 and 2016, but was recently bested by MAN Sports ISO-Protein in last year’s competition.

    The mainstream pick is Dymatize ISO-100, where we’ve been hearing crazy things about their peanut butter flavor.


    If you’re severely lactose intolerant, and even the pure isolates put you out of commission for hours or even days (and have been the subject of divorce conversations), then you just need to stay away from dairy completely!!

    Dairy-free protein powder suggestions?

    At this point, you gotta go dairy-free. You can look at the assorted vegetable protein powders (hint: they all suck if you’re expecting dairy-like taste, but PEScience Vegan Select chocolate flavor will probably yield the least amount of suffering).

    RedCon1 MRE Lite

    Dairy-free protein doesn’t need to be animal-free or sucralose-free.

    Instead, if you’re cool with sucralose and animal-based products, the clear choice is RedCon1 MRE Lite — but we still don’t think it’s as good as a dairy shake. They’re getting there though!

Other Considerations

There are also other things to consider, such as whether you want the whey to be grass-fed (this is subject for another discussion, but the differences will mostly be in ethical reasoning, not really health) or if you want it stevia-sweetened.

NutraBio Natural Series Grass-Fed Whey Isolate fits both of these bills, as does Transparent Labs Grass-Fed Whey Isolate.

NutraBio Naturals Grass-Fed Whey Isolate Cow

NutraBio Goes Grass-Fed! Each serving from their natural series provides 25g of the purest, cleanest, naturally flavored protein around. There’s no fillers, additives, hormones, lactose, or gluten in here!

You’ll also want to look at the thickeners, gums, colors (yes, some protein powders add color!) and other ingredients if you’re choosy.

Why are we here?

Allright allright allright, so nearly all PricePlow readers already know this stuff. What gives with the basic guide?!

Here’s the truth. We started writing this post because we have an interesting tip someone suggested in the PricePlow Forum on how to buy whey isolates. That’s what we were going to discuss. But at this point, the article morphed into a general buyer’s guide for dairy-baed proteins in general to set the groundwork, so this is where we’ll leave it.

Next: How to shop for whey protein isolates

So stay tuned for the next article. That’s where we’ll get into the actual fun stuff on how to spot a questionable whey protein “isolate”.

About the Author: Mike Roberto

Mike Roberto

Mike Roberto is a research scientist and water sports athlete who founded PricePlow. He is a biohacker with extensive experience in supplementation and dietary modification, whose personal expertise stems from several "n=1" experiments done on himself.

Mike's goal is to bridge the gap between nutritional research scientists and non-academics who seek to better their health in a system that has catastrophically failed the public.

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