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Cheap vs Expensive Protein Powder: Is There Any Difference?

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: February 3, 2023
We personally test every product featured in our reviews and guides. By ordering products anonymously and getting a group of independent testers, we are able to get first-hand experience and provide data-driven recommendations. Learn more.

Protein powders range in price from bargain-basement to mortgage worthy, choosing between them can be difficult.

So what makes one protein powder more expensive than another? Are you paying for a brand or actual quality? For the nutrition, your body needs or a sugar supplement that will make you fat?

In this article, we're going to look in-depth at the costing of protein powders in the market and the differences in the supplements themselves.

Read on to find out more.

Pros And Cons Of Cheap Protein

When you're first trying out protein powder, or if you're unsure of which one to pick, it's most likely you'll gravitate towards the cheaper end of the market.

You want results, but you don't want to overly invest just yet. So what are you getting when you choose the cheaper option?


1. Cost Savings

When pricing how much a protein powder costs, we will usually work it out per serving, not by the gram, with the most common price being $0.6 to $0.8 a serving. The average or mean cost is higher, dragged up by the premium end of the market to $1.32 a serving.

We will use the most common price bracket as the bench pole and say that cheap protein powder will be on the lower end or less expensive than the most common price of $0.6 to $0.8 a serving.

This will obviously mean that you will be saving money in the day by day compared to most other protein powders on the market.

2. Longevity

One of the easiest ways to lower the cost per serving is by bulk buying and snapping up discounts by signing up for monthly subscriptions.

This means that while the protein powder you're using may fall into the more expensive end of the market, thanks to a good deal, you've managed to reduce the cost and ensure that you have a hefty supply that won't run out.

You'll see a lot of companies and protein powders offering you significant savings for signing up for repeat orders, and it can be in everyone's benefit to do so.

Just make sure it's a powder that works for you and provides your body with the nutrition it needs before getting locked into any form of contract.


1. Undesirable Ingredients

It should come as no surprise that some lower-end products may be filled with less than ideal ingredients with little to no nutrition or value for your body.

Artificial flavors or coloring, sweeteners, and thickeners such as carrageenan or guar gum are all telltale signs of poor quality protein powder.[1] You want to limit your intake of carbs, sugar, and fat if you want to gain lean muscle mass.

Research the ingredients that go into your protein powder; some may just be added to create the illusion of a more robust recipe with no actual practical benefit, others may be outright harmful or just empty carbs and fat.

2. Poor Quality

By paying more for your protein powder, you would like to assume that a lot of money gets put into research, quality control, and fine-tuning the supplements themselves.

This means by paying less, you may be getting a product that has had little to no practical testing, hasn't been vetted or approved by the appropriate officials, and worse, cannot guarantee results.

You can buy cheap things or splurge on the best. In either case, there's a trade-off, and protein powders are no exception.

- Barry Lumsden, Writer for Relentless Gains

Companies and brands that believe in and can prove the merit of their products usually back this up with a money-back guarantee or some form of assurance. You will not likely find this in the lower-priced products.

3. Type Of Protein

The biggest impact on the value of a quality protein powder is going to be its protein content and also the type of protein it provides.

While hemp, whey, and soya are all complete proteins in themselves boasting a full essential amino acid chain, others need supplementation to form a complete BCAA.

Whey concentrate and whey isolate have been the most popular forms for a long time now, and while people are beginning to look elsewhere, it is still the cheapest and most commonly used.

Whey, however, can be hard to digest, and if you have any gastrointestinal issues taking your protein powder, you might be better served choosing powders that source their protein from plant-based ingredients. Here's how to choose the right protein powder for you.

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4. Low-Quality Ingredients

Lower production costs will also likely affect the quality of the ingredients that you would expect to find in your protein powder.

Whether it be the form they come in, how they are sourced or their freshness, this can all affect the efficacy of your chosen protein powder.

It's also a little harder to conclude.

While two products might both have the same essential ingredients listed on their label information, one could be freeze-dried and the other blended practically straight from the source, so they are not necessarily equal.

Essentially, the less processed and the more refined, the better.

Pros And Cons Of Expensive Protein

When you're paying a high price, you expect that to come with the appropriate value. It's not always the case though, and you should still do the necessary research.

However, there are a few things that you can and should expect from the top-end of the market.


1. High-Quality Ingredients

Just as the lower-priced products may use low-quality ingredients, the higher-end are likely to use more premium ones.

This means less processing and more whole organic ingredients go into the product as fresh as possible instead of fillers.

This will drive up the price of production and be reflected in the cost, but it's often a price most are willing to pay.

The quality of the finished product and its individual ingredients are both usually higher in top-tier protein powders. This often correlates with the absorption rates and the efficacy of the protein powder as a whole.

2. Testing And Approval

Another reason for higher pricing in protein products is the amount of testing and research that goes into them before and during their time on the market.

If they are planning on costing themselves at the higher-end of the competition, they will want to provide their customers with enough justification for this and so will conduct rigorous trials and individual ingredient testing to prove their worth and efficacy.

This means that you will likely have a great deal of academic and scientific proof of the product's ability to perform and a measure of its value before purchase.

3. Guaranteed Results

As mentioned above, alongside the research, testing, and belief in the ingredients they have put together, most companies at the peak of the protein powder pricing scale will have a fair amount of proof that their product actually works.

This means that with a few terms and conditions, they can offer quite comprehensive money-back guarantees and assurances that what you're paying for will do as intended.

This doesn't mean you can sit on the couch and still get swoll, but if you follow the instructions given and use the product as intended, these higher-priced products are less likely to let you down.

4. Stamp Of Approval

Most products are introduced to the market to test the waters, and once their value or worth is gauged adequately by the customers themselves, they will raise or lower prices accordingly.

Most that charge a premium price can do so because they have a proven track record and have the testimonials and sometimes even professional endorsements to do so.

A large part of researching whether a protein powder is right for you and your own goals is reading through other customers' stories and experience with it, and when it comes to the more expensive protein powders, you can be sure they will have a lot for you to review. If they don't… start off suspicious.


1. Cost Not The Same As Value

As with all things, choosing the right protein powder for you is entirely subjective, and you need to weigh it accordingly with your own goals, expectations, and taste.

Some snake oil products will price themselves a lot higher than their actual worth under the belief that those with the ability to pay will not be inclined to really check the fine print.[2]

Do your research and make sure your protein powder is worth the price. Some are, while some are definitely not.


2. Paying For What You Don't Need

Some of the more expensive protein powders on the market have extensive and lengthy ingredients lists. This may not be to confuse their customers intentionally, but rather to wow them with just how much is packed into their product.

However, this is not always a benefit. In my experience, sometimes, a straightforward and simple recipe is best.

Make sure that anything you are purchasing has been researched and proven to provide the benefits it claims.

You don't want to be paying for homegrown organic oompah oompah bean extract unless it's actually benefiting the effect of your protein powder in a big way.

Why Is Protein Powder so Expensive?

Protein powder is so expensive because some of the ingredients used are costly. Protein powder can be made from whey, casein, eggs, rice, soy, pea and hemp. The value of each ingredient is different, as well as the testing and research done so some will be more expensive than others.

The next time you wonder why protein powder so expensive, look into the label to see if you’re getting your money’s worth.

Does It Matter What Protein You Take?

It matters what protein you take, whether in forms such as hemp, soy, whey, or in price. Not all proteins are the same, and each one will provide differently per scoop and in effect.

You need to do the appropriate research and find the one that fits best for you personally.

Based on your income, goals, commitment, and personal preferences, which product is “best” for you will differ dramatically. If you need a little assistance in picking out the protein powder for you, you can check out our handy guide on that topic here.

What To Look For When Buying Protein Powder

When choosing a protein powder, you need to work out its actual value rather than make a decision purely based on cost.

There are some key factors that should help you come to an informed conclusion.



Work out a price per serving for any protein powder you might be interested in, and compare them based on this rather than their initial or overall price. This is a much clearer indicator of where they sit in relation to others. You might want to check our list of affordable protein powders.


Carefully study the ingredients list and research the efficacy of each item listed. If it is put into the final product, they should have a very good reason for doing so.

If they hide behind a proprietary blend, be extra vigilant in your other forms of research. I personally stay well away from products that aren't transparent but know others who swear by their effect.

Quality Assurance

Whether from the company or brand themselves or related through other customer reviews, does the protein powder actually do what it is supposed to? Will it benefit your workout regime or diet and justify its price tag?

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