It can seem impossible to find a protein powder that works for you. Even if you aren’t in the 68% of the worldwide population who suffer from some kind of lactose intolerance (1), sometimes protein powders, literally, just don’t sit well in your stomach.
Lactose is a sugar present in milk products, including most whey and casein protein powders. Aside from the fact that it’s sugar, humans generally don’t digest lactose well. Some digest it much worse than others. Those who digest lactose poorly are “lactose-intolerant.”
Generally speaking, children have an easier time digesting lactose than adults, so as we get older it often supports our digestion to consume less lactose.
Although typical, run-of-the-mill whey protein powders contain a heap of lactose, lots of different options are completely or practically lactose-free.
Most whey protein powders use “whey protein concentrate” instead of pure “whey protein isolate.” Whey protein isolate is a purer form of whey protein that filters out virtually all of the lactose.
Whey protein has the best research behind it for helping support muscle building and performance, and it also tastes the best and mixes the easiest. That’s why, unless you need to completely avoid lactose, which is very rare, an ultrafiltered 100% whey protein isolate powder is one of your best options.
Casein, or milk protein, historically is also one the of the most popular options for protein powder, but most contain a lot of lactose. But again, there are ultrafiltered, 100% isolate options that greatly reduce the lactose content and digest easily.
On our list, we’ll offer a few great options for these ultrafiltered options.
Vegan protein powders are becoming increasingly popular. These can come from pea, hemp, rice, soy protein, and more, or a blend of several.
By using plant-based sources, they avoid the question of milk and lactose altogether, and generally (the good ones) digest quite well.
We have already written about the best plant-based protein powders out there, and some of them we’ll feature again here. The problem is that most of them mix terribly and taste like crap. The ones on our list are the ones that mix quite well and taste good, although often not as good as whey protein.
Some also don’t have amino acid profiles that are ideal for muscle building, since plant proteins typically have lower amounts of branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and essential amino acids (EAAs). A few great products do have animal protein-like amino acid profiles, though, like Plantein® from Kaged.
There are also animal-based protein powders like beef protein. These typically taste much better than plant proteins, but can mix weird. Nonetheless, there are some good options, which we include on our list.
They typically don’t digest that well, though, so we looked for beef protein products that support digestion.
If you’re on a paleo diet they’ll be one of your best options.
Egg protein is also a complete protein with a great muscle-building profile. However, these don’t mix well. You pretty much have to mix it in a blender, and it’s ideal if it’s part of a smoothie and not on its own.
Between these different types of protein, the choice is up to you. If taste and mixability is a priority, go with the whey protein isolates, especially if you’re not lactose intolerant. If sustainability matters more, go with a great plant-based option. If you like animal-based proteins, but need to get out all dairy products, then whey or egg can be a great choice.
The best protein powder for you will come down to your lifestyle, taste, fitness goals, and food sensitivities.
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Let’s start with whey protein options, because unless you need to 100% avoid lactose, you can still find delicious options that mix easily and are generally your best option.
First of all, Kaged’s whey protein uses a 100% isolate form. This means it’s already the purest form of whey protein out there. Any 100% whey protein isolate will contain less lactose, and make it easier to digest even for those who don’t do well with lactose.
Then, they took it a step further. They use an advanced microfiltration technology that further reduces unwanted fat, cholesterol, and lactose. This improves its digestion overall, and also makes it almost completely lactose-free.
Yes, there are still trace amounts of lactose, but practically speaking, these won’t be a digestive problem even for those who are lactose intolerant. In fact, they added ProHydrolase® to their powder, an enzyme blend that can help improve digestion further. This patented enzyme blend is backed by double-blind studies (2).
In addition, Kaged WPI tastes amazing and mixes easily. It’s just about everything you could want in a whey protein, and comes in 5 delicious flavors.
Whey+ from Legion is another 100% isolate whey protein option that filters out most of the lactose. And their whey comes from grass-fed cows.
This one definitely doesn’t taste as good as the other two, and doesn’t have quite the same standard for quality, but of the three, it digests the quickest, because it’s a hydrolyzed whey protein isolate.
Through its filtering process, Hydrowhey filters out almost all of the lactose.
While the whey and casein options still contain a bit of lactose, the plant-based protein powders on our list are 100% lactose-free. They don’t contain any milk products to begin with.
Kaged Plantein comes with the anabolic amino acid profile of whey, an amazing taste, and shockingly good mixability, all in a vegan, high-quality protein you can trust.
Plantein’s patented pea protein uses Ingredient Optimized® technology, which is a patented technology that increases absorption, so the amino acids actually fuel your muscles. If you’re using a lactose-free protein because of digestion issues, then Plantein® is a great choice for.
In fact, Plantein outperformed regular pea protein by over 300%, and even performed on-par with whey isolate in terms of amino acid absoprtion.
Second, one of the other downsides of plant-based proteins, typically, is that they lack the amino acid profile, particularly the BCAAs, to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which is crucial for muscle growth and recovery. Plantein has an amino acid profile on par with whey.
Third, and honestly, the most important is that the taste and texture are absolutely on point.
They added ingredients like organic quinoa and organic coconut oil to give their protein that smooth, creamy texture. It’s rare to find a plant protein that tastes great and mixes easily with just water, and that’s what really sets Plantein apart.
And I mean, come on, one of the flavors is banana bread.
For all of these reasons, Kaged Plantein is our clear #1 pick for plant-based protein powders
Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein is a whole food protein powder, packed with a complete protein profile. This protein powder delivers all nine essential amino acids, with a high concentration of the branched-chain amino acids, valine, leucine and isoleucine, which are important for supporting muscle growth and development.
Made with 13 raw sprouted proteins (which generally have higher vitamin content), this powder delivers 22 grams of a high quality protein blend, 130 calories, and only 4 grams of carbs per serving.
It also contains digestive enzymes to aid in digestion and absorption.
This powder is USDA Certified Organic. Sold in four different flavors, Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein is a perfect way to increase or supplement your protein intake.
Delivering another complete profile of protein, Orgain Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder provides 21 grams of protein per scoop from an organic plant-based blend of organic pea protein, organic brown rice protein, and organic chia seed protein.
Each serving also provides 150 calories, 15 grams of carbs, which is a bit higher, but it helps with the mixability.
Lastly, this protein powder is also USDA organic, and comes in 8 different flavors.
Extracted from yellow split peas, without the use of any chemicals, Naked Nutrition Naked Pea protein powder is an amazingly simple and powerful protein powder.
Grown and sourced from farms in Canada and the United States with sustainable farming practices, this pea protein powder is packed with 27g of protein, 2g of carbs, 120 calories per serving, and 95% of your daily value (DV) of calcium and 16% of your DV of Iron. Not to mention, this protein powder also contains 2.75g of leucine, 1.5g of isoleucine, and 1.5g of valine.
Its unflavored version contains literally only one ingredient: pea protein. Its flavored versions only contain 3, making it the ultimate minimalist protein option.
The texture is a bit off if you’re taking it on its own, but it’s doable. We still recommend mixing it into a smoothie.
Quality beef options are limited, but here are a few great products.
When it comes to beef protein powders, MuscleMeds is by far and away the most popular option. It tastes pretty good, mixes very well for beef protein, and is made from 100% beef protein isolate.
For beef protein in a traditional powder, this is the choice.
Naked Bone Broth has literally only one ingredient: protein from beef bones. It’s not a traditional powder, but it’s great for soups and stews.
Finally, egg protein powders. These mix better than beef, but still not nearly as well as whey.
Naked Egg contains only two ingredients: egg white protein and lecithin for texture and mixability. Because it’s unflavored, you’ll want to mix it in a smoothie.
For a 100% egg white protein that you can drink on its own, Gaspari Nutrition’s Proven Egg is the way to go. Again, it’s egg protein, so it doesn’t mix like whey, but as long as you have a blender bottle, the texture is not bad. Although I still recommend blending it with other stuff.
Both the chocolate and the salted caramel flavors taste great.
As far as casein proteins go, here’s an ultrafiltered option that has much less lactose than typical casein proteins.
Kaged Casein is one of the best-tasting and best-mixing casein proteins out there. Its protein source is a 100% micellar casein isolate. And they have a microfiltering process that gets rid of most of the lactose. Overall, the product is less than 1% lactose, which is much much less than the standard casein protein.
Regardless of our ranking, we always want you to make the best decision for you, and that means understanding how we ranked these lactose-free protein powders. Here are some of the main things we considered when doing our research.
All products are third-party tested at the very least. This weeds out any products that may have heavy metals or any other unwanted ingredients in your protein. This is a prerequisite for us.
When looking at supplements, you want to ensure you’re consuming the top ingredients. More often than not, you’ll find that the products in addition to being this party tested have additional certified stamps to ensure you’re getting the best ingredients available.
For example, on our whey protein isolate section, it’s crucial that the protein contains only the purest, highest quality protein. Otherwise, it will contain too much lactose.
I am consistently confuddled by how many people recommend protein powders that taste like garbage or don’t mix well. With regular whey protein powders these days, everything tastes pretty good and mixes easily in a shaker cup. That’s not the case with non-whey options. We looked for great tasting and great mixing options, even if they weren’t whey.
For example, Kaged Plantein even added coconut oil and quinoa to their product just so that it mixes better. It’s a crucial factor. The best protein, at the end of the day, is the one that you’ll take.
If you’re not going with a whey protein option, that means you should take into consideration whether you’re getting a full spectrum of amino acids in efficacious amounts. This is especially important with plant proteins.
Some proteins also don’t digest well, like, typically, beef proteins. We looked for complete formulas that would aid in digestion.
Do lactose-free protein powders provide complete protein?
Yes they can. In fact, every single product on our list is a complete protein, which means they contain all 9 of the essential amino acids that our body can’t produce on its own.
Do vegan protein powders have the same muscle building benefits as whey?
In order to build muscle strength training and adequate amounts of complete protein need to be included in your routine. Whey protein powder is considered to be the “gold standard” for muscle building as it contains high amounts of leucine and is absorbed quickly into the body. However, plant based proteins can also be complete proteins if they contain a blend of plant sources or if they are fortified with BCAAs.
In fact, recent research has proven that plant-based protein and whey are equally effective on muscle growth as long as they contain similar amounts of protein and BCAAs (3).