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I tried 10 chocolate protein powders and the winner gave me a big burst of energy

To my surprise, the best-tasting protein powder was also one of the healthiest on this list.
#GainzTODAY Illustration / Getty Images / Avesun

In my never-ending quest to look like a 1960s Arnold Schwarzenneger, I have consumed quite the alarming number of protein shakes. Whey, in particular, is a wonderful asset to any well-rounded diet since it’s fast-absorbing and can help to achieve #gainz in the gym. But is a protein shake the most exciting thing in the world to drink? Absolutely not. In fact, it can be downright repulsive.

So, I decided to take 10 of the most popular whey protein powders on the market and put them to the ultimate taste test. Of course, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that any of the contenders tasted like a Wendy’s Frosty, but there were some definite standouts deserving of a bit of fanfare. That said, what also makes a protein shake “high-quality” is its nutritional profile, and not just its flavor.

“Having protein as the first ingredient is what we are looking for,” says Vanessa Rissetto, registered dietitian and CEO of Culina Health. “In general, the less sugar you have in a protein powder, the better. I’m looking for eight grams or less.”

“Whey isolate is preferred since it’s processed less, leaving us with increased protein content, fewer carbs, lactose (sugar) and fat. A good range for protein is 20 to 25 grams, if building muscle while supporting weight loss  is the goal,” she adds, noting that protein powders can also help to keep you full longer and stabilize blood sugar.

Keeping this information in mind, I opted, for the first time in taste-test history, to include nutritional information since the use of whey protein powder will vary based on individual diet and exercise goals (i.e. some sippers may need higher protein, zero sugar or lower carbs).

To keep the tasting part consistent, I only used cold water as the base and relied on a personal blender to mix it all up. Many gym-goers rely on blender bottles, so please note that this ranking has nothing to do with the product’s ability to dissolve (which is super important!). I also chose chocolate as the flavor since it’s universally beloved.

It is essential for anyone to read the list of ingredients on any protein power to determine if the beverage is safe for consumption. Many people, for instance, have sucralose intolerances and these tubs rely on artificial sweeteners to keep calories low.

Check out how they stacked up below.

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10. Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Protein — Chocolate

TODAY Illustration / Getty Images / Avesun

Calories: 180; Fat: 4g; Carbs: 8g; Sugars: 2.5g; Protein: 30g

You know when oil gets a bit rancid and coats the tongue with an almost indescribable staleness? That, unfortunately, was the case with this “super advanced” whey protein. It also sat in my gut like a kettlebell, which made it somewhat difficult to digest. But that 30 grams of protein … woof! This would be an ideal option for a hard leg day, even if you have to hold your nose while guzzling it.

9. Designer Natural 100% Whey Protein Powder — Gourmet Chocolate

TODAY Illustration / Designer Wellness

Calories: 110; Fat: 1.5g; Carbs: 6g; Sugars: 2g ; Protein: 20g

While Body Fortress was bold, Designer Whey had the opposite issue of being too bland. I felt like the water really diluted — and frankly, overpowered — the flavor. And since water milkshakes are not on my list of daily must-haves, this is the one that I’d likely just mix into my morning oatmeal.

8. Garden of Life Sport Certified Grass Fed Whey — Chocolate

TODAY Illustration / Garden of Life

Calories: 120 ; Fat: 0.5g; Carbs: 6g; Sugars: 0g; Protein: 24g

Garden of Life has developed a bit of a cult following by touting all-organic, pure ingredients in its line of protein powders. And frankly, that is all I need to justify a purchase of this tub. But for some reason, the flavor just didn’t work for my palate. It tasted quite artificial, which is ironic because, again, "pure ingredients."

7. MuscleTech Nitro Tech Whey Gold — Double Rich Chocolate

TODAY Illustration / MuscleTech

Calories: 120 ; Fat: 2g; Carbs: 2g ; Sugars: 2g; Protein: 24g

I know that we’re not judging texture (since everyone prepares their shakes in different ways), but I do want to highlight that this was the smoothest of the bunch with a frothy, silky mouthfeel that I actually craved the next day. That said, there was almost a subtle pepperiness to the flavor that I can’t quite put my finger on … almost as if I chose to mix in arugula instead of my standard spinach. I’d give it another shot, but I want to plan out what’s getting mixed into it.

6. Naked Whey Protein Powder — Chocolate

TODAY Illustration / Naked Whey

Calories: 160; Fat: 3g ; Carbs: 8g; Sugars: 5g ; Protein: 25g

I was a huge fan of Naked Whey’s flavor. In fact, it almost reminded me of Godiva dark chocolate with a deep cocoa taste and notes of vanilla. But then I looked at the sugar content and thought, “Yup, that’s why.” Five grams isn’t outrageous, but it’s the highest on this list. And if I’m going out of my way to make healthier choices, I’d rather consume my sugar in the form of a brownie or ice cream sundae (or ice cream brownie sundae, TBH).

5. Levels Grass Fed Whey Protein — Pure Chocolate

TODAY Illustration / Levels

Calories: 130; Fat: 2.5g; Carbs: 3g; Sugars: 2g ; Protein: 24g

There was barely any sweetness, but the chocolate flavor was quite light and pleasant. This felt the most “clean” and pure on the tongue, like something that wasn’t chock-full of additives and hard-to-pronounce ingredients, but I'd recommend adding a small scoop of cocoa powder because who says no to more chocolate? Nobody, that’s who.

4. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder — Double Rich Chocolate 

TODAY Illustration / Optimum Nutrition

Calories: 120; Fat: 1.5g ; Carbs: 3g ; Sugars: 1g ; Protein: 24g

When I close my eyes and think of a classic chocolate protein shake, this is it. It isn’t too sweet, is easy to customize with fruits and different nut milks and is carried by most mainstream retailers. I also love its pre-mixed cartons for a quick, on-the-go boost of protein when you don’t have time to make one yourself. Was I blown away by the flavor? No. But sometimes consistency in quality is key, and Optimum Nutrition more than delivers.

3. Premier Protein 100% Whey Protein Powder — Chocolate Milkshake

TODAY Illustration / Premier Protein

Calories: 150; Fat: 2g ; Carbs: 3g ; Sugars: 1g; Protein: 30g

Shocker alert! I always thought Premier Protein was a popular brand with not much clout to back it up — I could not have been more wrong. It tasted the most like chocolate milk (which made sense, since its flavor is technically chocolate milkshake). And while I feel like I’m going to get absolutely dragged for ranking it so high (because consumers have a problem with its dissolvability), its taste was one of my absolute favorites of the lot. Also, that 30 gram protein count? “Get outta here!" said in my worst New York accent.

2. Legion Whey+ Whey Protein Powder — Dutch Chocolate 

TODAY Illustration / Legion

Calories: 100; Fat: 0g; Carbs: 3g; Sugars: 1g; Protein: 22g

I was unfamiliar with Legion prior to this taste test, and I must admit that it was a very solid option. Though it is sweetened with stevia, there was zero sign of bitterness and, like Levels, there was an airiness about it, which made it very easy to chug (unlike thicker, more gag-worthy varieties that can feel like actual paste). This is the one that’s going to be the most versatile, so feel free to add all the fruits, vegetables, juices and supplements you need to concoct the perfect recipe.

1. Isopure Low Carb Protein Powder — Dutch Chocolate

TODAY Illustration / Isopure

Calories: 110; Fat: 0.5g; Carbs: 1g; Sugars: 0g ; Protein: 25g

So I may be a bit biased when it comes to the winner. I went into sampling the product with a significant amount of skepticism since, on the surface, it appeared to be one of the healthiest on this list. And it is! But the taste wasn’t sacrificed in the process. It was creamy, it was rich, and it actually gave me a burst of energy since it felt like my metabolism wasn’t weighed down. There was, admittedly, a somewhat sour aftertaste, but not enough to deter me from buying this over and over again. I can almost hear my nonexistent abs saying “thank you.”