For the vast majority of consumers, dairy-based proteins taste the best. By far.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Knowing this, there are two ideas to help you out:
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.
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?
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.
The mainstream pick is Dymatize ISO-100, where we’ve been hearing crazy things about their peanut butter flavor.
MILK DESTRUCTION TRAUMA?!
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).
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!
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.
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”.