Are Protein Powders Bad For You?
if you see that a packet contains E numbers and unpronounceable chemical ingredients… put it back on the shelf.
Protein powders were once seen as a specialist product that only hardcore bodybuilders would use when they were bulking up. Nowadays, they have entered the mainstream and are taken by all types of gym goers.
The market for protein powders has expanded to meet this growing demand and tailored products have become available to serve different needs. Some are designed to be consumed as an on-the-go snack whereas others are a full-on meal replacement.
With this rising popularity and variety of options, the question we must inevitably ask is whether protein powders are as good as they seem and are there any issues that we should be aware of?
Are there any negative effects of long term protein powder use?
You might have heard that long term protein powder consumption can cause liver and kidney damage. Like all good rumours, there is a grain of truth in this… but it has certainly been blown out of proportion.
What have the liver and kidneys got to do with protein supplements?
The liver and kidneys are responsible for breaking down protein and eliminating it from the body. The more protein one consumes, the harder these vital organs have to work. However, there is no evidence to suggest that long term high protein intake causes damage in healthy individuals.
The story is different for people with liver conditions, such as cirrhosis, or damaged or diseased kidneys. In these individuals, their organs are not working optimally so the added strain of high protein intake can cause health problems.
Who should avoid protein supplements?
If you have liver or kidney issues, it is a good idea to consult your doctor or a nutritionist to get tailored advice on the safe amount of protein for your body. If you do not suffer from such conditions, there is no need to be concerned about your protein intake.
There are far more important things than protein shakes to look at when it comes to looking after your liver
Indeed, if you want to take steps to protect your liver and kidneys, you would be better off looking at your alcohol intake and increasing your water consumption.
How innocent is that shake: Are there any harmful chemicals in protein powder?
We all know that protein powders have a high protein content, but what else is in there? Products are often crammed with chemicals and additives for the following reasons:
- To lengthen their shelf life
- To mask the taste of the whey or vegetable protein
- To add flavour
- To create a pleasant consistency
- To improve the colour and appearance of the drink.
We do not need to tell you that regularly consuming a lot of chemicals and additives is not good for your health! And it seems silly to drink something for nutritional purposes, while simultaneously downing a load of rubbish that is not good for your body.
Not all protein products are created equally
It’s always a good idea to read the labels before purchasing a protein to help with your fitness program.
Just like any food – if you see that a packet contains E numbers and unpronounceable chemical ingredients… put it back on the shelf.
Cheap protein powder dangers
Unfortunately, it is often the cheaper powders that are more likely to contain nasties, so you might have to be prepared to dig a little deeper to enjoy a quality product. You really do get what you pay for with protein so be wary of any mysteriously cheap shakes.
Look for powder that has positive nutritional value
While you are reading all these labels, you might notice that a lot of powders contain added vitamins and minerals. This is generally a good thing because real food (i.e. not junk food) rarely only contains one macronutrient, so a protein powder with added nutrients is a more balanced food source.
However, the body has very specific vitamin and mineral needs. Consuming more than the necessary amount can have a range of adverse effects. For water soluble vitamins, any excess is simply washed out of the body through the urine. So, while not harmful, it makes for expensive wee!
Fat soluble vitamins, on the other hand, can be stored by the body. Over time, excessive consumption will lead to a build-up that can cause health problems. Similarly, the body does not cope well with large quantities of minerals. In fact, they can be toxic.
Watch our for supplements with Zinc & Iron
Ones to be particularly aware of are zinc and iron, not because these minerals pose a distinct risk but because they are added to so many fortified foods. This is why it is important to read the labels of all the foods you consume, so you can understand how protein powder fits into your diet.
How to take protein powder safely
If you find protein powders are useful to your training programme because you need a quick hit of something protein heavy or because they are a super convenient way of nourishing yourself then you will be relieved to hear that they are a safe product.
As we have discussed, while normal, healthy adults will experience no adverse effects to their liver or kidneys from using protein powders, you need to be aware of all the ingredients in your drink and choose one that is good quality. As long as you do this, then they can be a good snack.
So, can I get all my protein from shakes?
However, we would implore you not to be lazy and over-rely on protein shakes. There are many nutritious, tasty and convenient high protein snacks out there. Moreover, protein powders are not a replacement for a good diet.
If you are not eating good quality lean protein, getting your five a day and also drinking plenty of water then you should step away from the shaker and fix your diet. Remember, protein shakes are only supplemental – they cannot replace a good meal.
Sources and Further Reading related to protein use and the liver
- The NHS website has a great little article about protein powders – the facts on whether or not they’re good for you.
- Check out NCBI’s guide to Protein Powders – The hidden dangers of protein powders
- Harvard – The Scoop on Protein Powders
- Medical News Today – What are the Health Benefits of Protein Use?