Side effects of protein powder explained

October 17, 2014 at 8:21 PM

Keeping your diet healthy and balanced seems to be the most difficult task these days. Your body needs a number of nutrients for proper health and for the functioning of various oragns in the body. But how would you know that which nutrient your body is lacking? Making your diet balanced and perfect is not that burdensome as you think it to be. If you are consuming all the necessary components of diet including carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals, then it means your diet is balanced. You cannot just rely on carbohydrates or just on proteins because your body needs them all in certain proportion.

But if you feel like your diet is not up to the mark or you are having nutritional deficiencies, then adding dietary supplements in your daily diet can help in fulfilling your nutritional requirements. Multivitamin and protein supplements are getting popular in use. In other words, the use of these dietary supplements has become a trend now. Some diet conscious people do the unnecessary use of these supplements without having the nutritional needs for them. These dietary supplements prove to be effective if taken as directed by a health professional, but the overuse of these supplements can cause more harm than good.

Are protein powders good for your health?

If you have ever been to a gym, you may have witnessed the bodybuilders taking protein shakes and powders before and after the workout, considering these protein shakes would help them in getting bulky muscles. Apart from building muscle mass, the protein powder supplements are also used for losing weight and gaining a lean body mass. It is a very common practice to use these supplements before and after the workouts without knowing their actual nutritional value. Before comparing the benefits and side effects of protein powders you must know about the role that protein play in muscle building.

Proteins are the basic structural and functional components of muscles. Therefore, having enough amount of proteins in the diet is necessary to gain muscle strength. Best natural sources of proteins include meat, beans, meat, eggs, milk and other dairy products. If you are getting enough of these foods in your daily diet, then you may not need to take additional protein supplements. However, people who do strenuous exercises or are involved in some kind of athletic and bodybuilding activites definitely need protein more because they are putting more stress on their muscles, and for repairing or healing the damage to muscles, more proteins are needed to replenish those that are lost during the workout. So having powder protein supplements, as recommended by health professionals, may prove to be effective in such cases. But do not assume that by just consuming more and more proteins, without using your muscles, would help you in gaining muscle mass. Because these are not the protein alone that are needed for maintain muscle strength. Apart from proteins, carbohydrates and proper workout are necessary for keeping the muscles in tone and shape. The more you use your muscles by doing the workout, the bigger they get in size. On the other hand, having the carbohydrates in your diet will not only provide fuel or energy to the muscles but will also spare the proteins from energy metabolism, making them available for the synthesis of new muscle tissues.

The matter of consuming protein powder for workouts and athletics is still controversial. According to some health professionals and critics, the use of these protein supplements is unnecessary because our diet is already rich in proteins, making it useless to add additional proteins in the diet. It's your right to desire for perfect figure, but not at the cost of your health because these protein supplements have more harms than benefits when taken in excessive amount. But if you are so convinced to supplement your diet with protein powders, you must consult a health professional or nutritionist first to avoid the negative consequences of these supplements in the future.

Let us discuss the negative impact of these protein powders on the human health.

Protein Powder and Shake

What can be the possible negative effects of protein powder?

Using protein powders can have the following side effects on the health:

Beware of weight gain

The protein powders come in the market with the enticing label, showing a young muscular athlete or a bodybuilder. Well, that is the trick to tempt those people who want to get a perfect muscular figure. But, unfortunately, many of us are unaware of the correct use of these protein supplements. Some of us take them in a desire to lose weight and to gain a lean body mass without knowing that these supplements can make you gain more weight if you do not regulate their intake as recommended.

Occasionally taking the protein powders in the form of protein shakes won't cause you any harm. In fact, it will help in building the muscle mass. But exceeding this consumption will surely give you much trouble by making you fat and overweight. Again the point is that taking the protein powders alone without doing exercise or workout is not going to be effective. If you are consuming more proteins than the daily recommended requirement of the body, without involving yourself in a healthy physical activity, an excess of calories will be created in the body. There is no way to store calories in the body as such. The only way to utilize these calories is to burn them by engaging yourself in healthy physical activities. If you do not workout and keep on taking protein powders, the surplus calories will be converted to fat, causing you to gain weight. If you hit the gym hard, then taking one to two protein shakes will be enough for you. Otherwise, there will no need to add them in your diet without consulting your nutritionist.


Whatever you eat, it will have a certain effect on your digestive system. Same is the case with protein powder. But sadly, the effect of protein powders on your digestive health is not very pleasant. Most of the protein powders contain whey and casein that are the derivatives of milk proteins. Since whey protein powders are the extracts of cow’s milk, they contain a bit of lactose in them. Therefore, those who have lactose intolerance problems must stay away from these protein powders because these protein supplements can give lactose intolerant people a very tough time. Apart from lactose, the casein and whey are themselves difficult to be digested. Therefore, consuming these protein powders can arise problems like indigestion, flatulence, abdominal discomfort, bloating, gas trouble and diarrhoea. If it's necessary to include protein powder in your diet, look for the protein powders that have less amount of lactose or are lactose free.

Even if you are not intolerant to lactose, the protein powders can still give a rough time. These protein powders lack the fibre content, so having an excess intake of these protein powders can cause constipation and gas trouble. Always choose those protein powders that have high fibre value.


Eating natural proteins have a positive effect on the bone because proteins help to strengthen the bones. But exceeding the protein intake more than your nutritional requirements can cause a negative impact on your bone health. Researches have implicated the role of protein powders in causing bone loss or osteoporosis, but still the matter is under debate. Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bone density is decreased due to calcium loss. There is one possible reason that establishes the link between high protein consumption and bone loss. When excess proteins are consumed over a long time, the breakdown of these proteins, releases acidic products in the body, including sulphates and phosphate that tend to make the body’s natural environment more acidic. Our body cannot tolerate this acidic environment, so in order to restore the natural balance the body tries to neutralize these products. Calcium is one of the naturally alkali present in the bones. Whenever the concentration of acidic protein products rises, calcium is leached from the bones to counter the effect of these acidic products. So if you keep on eating high protein diet over a long period of time, your bones will lose the calcium gradually and you will end up in osteoporosis.

Kidney problems

Kidneys are the chief organs of excretion in the body that help to flush out all the toxic excretory products from the body. Compromising the kidney functions can have a detrimental effect on the health. This is what can happen to your kidneys if you take excess proteins in your diet. There are many ways through which the protein powders can produce negative impact on your kidney functions. One possible way of kidney damage induced by the protein is due to the increased kidney excretion of calcium. Acidic proteins increase the calcium turn over from the bones. To maintain the calcium levels normal in the blood, the kidney tries to get rid of them by excreting more and more calcium in the urine. In doing so, sometimes, the calcium begins to deposit in the kidneys that leads to the formation of calcium stones.

The more proteins you consume, the more nitrogenous wastes are produced in the body. These nitrogenous products have a drastic effect on the body health, especially the brain. The high level of these nitrogenous wastes can lead to convulsion and coma. So, in order to avoid these complications, the kidneys have to work harder to expel these harmful products from the body as soon as possible. When the kidneys are kept under stress over an extended period of time, it is more likely to cause the gradual deterioration in kidney functions. This is the reason why people with declined kidney function are recommended to reduce their protein intake as much as possible.

Liver problems

Like the way these protein powder affect the kidneys, the same can happen with the liver too. Some clinical researches have shown some evidence that consuming protein powders can have a negative effect on the liver health. Especially the chances of liver damage are more likely to occur in people having compromised liver function because in such people it becomes too difficult to handle and metabolize the excess proteins present in the body. Not only this, the urea nitrogenous products of protein also play their part in damaging the liver. Sometimes, the protein powders are contaminated with heavy metals like cadmium, arsenic and mercury that can cause the direct damage to the liver.

Gout and joint problems

The other risk or side effect associated with high protein intake is gout and other joint problems. Gout is a very painful condition of the joints in which the joints swell and become inflamed. Uric acid is one the key products of protein metabolism. When the level of uric acids becomes more than the normal level, it becomes impossible for the kidneys to excrete all of them in the urine. Thus, this extra uric acid begins to accumulate in the joints, especially in the joints of the hands and feet. Piling up of uric acid crystals in the joints triggers the inflammatory reaction, leading to swelling and pain in the joints.

Breast cancer

If you are consuming too much soy protein powder, then it is the right moment to stop and to save yourself from the outcomes of consuming soy protein powder. Soy proteins and breast cancer in women share a very strong relation. Soy protein powder is rich in estrogen hormones. These proteins upset the estrogen balance in the body and promote the development of breast cancers, especially in those who are genetically susceptible to breast cancer or those having a strong family history of breast cancer.

Low sperm count

Like estrogen imbalance in the women, the soy protein powders can disturb the testosterone balance in the males as well. High estrogen in soy proteins decreases the production of testosterone in the males that ultimately leads to decreased production of sperms.


Carbohydrates are the chief source of energy production in the body. But when the quantity of proteins in the diet exceeds than carbohydrates, the body will begin to rely on stored glycogen for energy production. Once the glycogen sources are depleted, the body will shift to fats for energy production. The metabolism of fats in such state of energy deficit produces ketone bodies, that tend to be the very toxic products for the health. High level of ketone bodies in the blood has damaging effects on brain, liver and kidneys.

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Protein powder side effects infographics

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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Physician
Article resources: Wikipedia | Mayo Clinic
Image resources:
Published: October 17, 2014 at 8:21 PM
Last updated: November 26, 2014 at 1:50 PM
Next scheduled update: November 26, 2016 at 1:50 PM
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