Whey protein is a top-selling bodybuilding supplement. But are there any whey protein powder side effects that users should be aware of?
A lot of people into fitness and muscle building take whey protein powder. Is it even necessary? And, could whey supplements even be dangerous? Let’s find out what studies have to say…..
For the most part, whey protein powder side effects are mostly exaggerated. That is, if you consider side effects as a bad thing.
Everything that you eat and drink causes side effects. If you’re wondering, more accurately, if taking a whey protein supplement is safe, the answer is, most likely, yes.
That being said, though, whey protein powder can indeed cause some undesirable side effects. And, not all whey protein powders are created equal.
Whey protein isolate powders have the fat and carbohydrates (milk sugar) removed. Whey protein powder concentrates contain the fat, carbs, as well as immune-boosting components.
Some of the newer brands of whey protein isolates also contain the healthy components. Finally, a third major type of whey powder is partially-digested protein known as hydrolysate.
(For more information on the best whey protein powder, click here.)
Common whey side effects
The most obvious side-effect of whey protein is indigestion or allergenic reactions in those people who are lactose-intolerant. People who are lactose intolerant may be able to take whey protein powder isolate, as the overwhelming majority of lactose is removed during processing.
(One interesting theory about lactose intolerance is that people that can’t digest lactose aren’t deficient in lactase enzymes to break down lactose, but rather, they lack a certain strain of microbes in the gut that’s necessary to digest dairy. For more on this, read this blog post about the microbiome.)
Effects vary depending on amount used
Depending on the quality of the whey protein powder as well as quantity ingested, whey can potentially cause abnormal thirst, bloating, fatigue and digestive discomfort. There is greater risk of experiencing these whey side effects if you’re consuming a lot of whey powder.
How much is a lot? Treat the situation as you would coffee. A cup of coffee or two every day won’t likely hurt, and may even offer some benefits.
Although every person has a unique physiology and it’s not possible to give an exact amount of what is the upper limit of safe whey protein powder intake, if you’re taking more than five scoops a day, you’re probably increasing your risk of experiencing whey side effects.
One of the more common whey protein powder side effects is thirst and bloating. This is especially true of whey protein powders that contain additives or binders.
Some people even think that one whey protein powder side effect is hair loss. There are no peer-reviewed studies linking any whey protein powders to hair loss as a side effect.
Although, again, not all whey protein powders are created equal. It may be possible that a brand of protein powder contains an additive (such as DHT) that may cause hair-thinning or baldness.
According to this hair loss center, protein shake additives such as inorganic growth hormones and creatine are intended to promote the growth of muscle mass. But, these additives can also raise serum testosterone levels along with the positive benefits.
In men who are genetically predisposed to balding, these additives may accelerate hair loss. It’s even possible that women who have thinning hair could experience the whey protein powder side effect of hair loss, if the whey protein contains additives.
Whey side effects on the liver
Some people are also concerned about whey protein powder side effects on the liver. Again, for the overwhelming majority of people, taking 1-2 scoops of whey a day will be perfectly safe. But if you have a family history of liver disease or gout, you may want to consider limiting or eliminating your whey intake.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are found in every protein source, from meat to pea protein and hemp. But whey, relatively speaking to, say, a veggie burger patty, contains a large amount of amino acids.
Some people have problems processing large amounts of amino acids efficiently. The amino acids accumulate in the body and can potentially stress the liver, which can’t effectively filter and detoxify the amino acids.
According to MayoClinic.org, there is a concern about whey protein powder side effects on the liver, especially those who take certain medications.
“Whey protein may interfere with the way the body processes certain drugs using the liver’s ‘cytochrome P450’ enzyme system,” says the website, adding, “As a result, the levels of these drugs may be altered in the blood, and may cause altered effects or potentially serious adverse reactions.”
If you have a history of kidney or liver problems either in yourself or your family, you should definitely consult with a medical professional before supplementing with whey powder.
Whey protein benefits
But for those with no history of kidney or liver disease, excellent-quality whey protein powders may offer numerous health benefits. In addition to helping repair muscle tissue following weight lifting, whey protein may help with the following:
- Normalize blood pressure
- Regulate blood sugar (including those with type 2 diabetes)
- Treat symptoms of HIV
- Aid in post-cancer recovery
Whey protein powder side effects can also include improved weight loss, helping to lower cholesterol, boost immunity and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
How to use whey protein powder
Is protein supplementation necessary?
Before you consider taking whey protein powder, ask yourself this question: what’s your reason for taking it? Is it absolutely necessary to take?
Whole foods will give you the protein you need to maintain normal physiological functions. Consuming lots of protein isn’t necessarily healthy. And in fact, it could be dangerous, as we’ve seen from some of these above-mentioned whey protein side effects.
Eating more protein than necessary can also place stress on the kidneys. Unless you’re a hardcore bodybuilder, you don’t need more than a half gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. As an example, if you weigh 150 pounds, a daily protein intake of 75 grams will be more than enough.
Sources of protein
If you have a three-egg omelette for breakfast, you’ll get about 20 grams of protein. A 3-4 oz. serving of lean chicken or turkey will net another 25 grams for lunch. Same goes for a piece of salmon for dinner. And if you eat cheese, hummus, seeds and nuts, and other foods that contain protein you’re likely getting plenty more than you actually need.
Even serious weight lifters don’t necessarily need to supplement with whey protein. Again, eating a diet comprised 100% of whole foods will likely help repair the microscopic tears in muscle fibers that occur as a result of lifting weights.
That being said, if you lead a hectic lifestyle and don’t have time to eat meals with natural protein, whey protein is a generally safe and convenient way to get your necessary daily protein intake.
Simply take 1-2 scoops any time of the day. Most people add a scoop of whey powder in a blender with almond milk (or other milk alternative, or raw milk). To get a good source of natural fat, you can add coconut oil and/or flax seeds, and for antioxidants, a handful of blueberries.
Some people report experiencing less whey protein powder indigestion and bloating side effects when mixing whey powder with water instead of milk.
Side effects of protein powder for bodybuilding
Many bodybuilders take whey protein powder because it may encourage lean muscle mass.
Bodybuilders also may take whey protein for its metabolism-boosting potential. Again, caution should be urged when taking protein supplements, especially in large doses. If you have a family history of kidney cancer or stones, you may want to think twice about supplementing with high amounts of whey powder.
If you eat a lot of protein and take a whey supplement, make sure you’re eating enough fiber. Fiber from low-starch vegetables may prevent stones from forming. Drinking lots of water is also urged for those that eat a lot of protein.
More whey protein powder side effects
According to WebMD.com, the chances of experiencing serious whey protein side effects are minimal. However, it is possible, according to the website, that whey powder can cause abnormal heart rhythms, headaches, swelling of limbs, and, may increase the risk of bleeding, among other side effects.