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Is Protein Powder Healthy? A Nutritionist and Dietitian Weigh In


Protein powders can seem like a very quick and easy way to get much-needed nutrients into your body after a workout. We know that our muscles need protein to grow lean and strong, plus eating protein keeps us fuller for longer, with fewer calories than carbs or fats. But while every second person at your local gym might be knocking back a protein shake after a session, what do the experts say? Well, we’re afraid it’s not great news.

We asked a dietitian and a nutritionist for their expert opinion on protein powders, and they both said they’re not massive fans.

Protein powders are highly processed.

Protein powders contain the raw extracted protein from whole foods like milk or peas and transform them into a powdered form. So what you’re essentially consuming is protein that has been made in a factory, as opposed to a whole food with numerous other health benefits.

“Protein powder is a highly processed food and we know that people need to be consuming more whole foods that don’t come in a packet,” nutritionist Dr. Joanna McMillan told Now To Love.

You’re always better off getting your protein from a whole food source such as lean meat and fish, dairy, nuts, legumes, and eggs.

“Often people look at the ingredient list of these powders and they have lots of vitamins and minerals added. But if I was to give you the ingredient list of a whole food, that list would be a whole lot longer,” Dr. McMillan said.

Some examples of whole foods high in protein include:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Tofu
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Natural peanut butter
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Beans

Most of us don’t actually need that much protein.

“Originally, protein powders and shakes were developed for athletes to fuel them, because their energy needs were much higher than the average [person],” dietitian Jemma O’Hanlon told Now To Love.

“Now they’ve become mainstream [and] I feel that although there’s a lot of benefits to eating protein, most [people] do get that naturally through the whole foods that they eat,” she said. Most of us can easily get our protein fix from eating a small amount of protein, the size of the palm of our hand, with each meal.

“I don’t think it’s necessary for most [people] to be consuming protein bars and powder. Most people can eat more whole foods,” Jemma said.

It’s a sentiment that is echoed by Dr. McMillan. “Very few [people] are actually short on protein. We have made it the darling nutrient,” she said.

“Protein powders definitely have a place in sports nutrition if you’re an athlete and you need lots of amino acids in your body, but most people aren’t athletes.

“I see some people guzzling protein shakes as they’re leaving the gym, but often these shakes, particularly the ones you can buy at juice and smoothie bars, they contain [500 calories] and some people are eating a meal on top of that. That’s way too much.”

They’re actually not as filling as whole-food proteins.

Science tells us that when we “drink” our food, as opposed to chewing it, our bodies don’t register what we’re consuming and we end up left with lingering hunger. 

“You actually don’t feel as satisfied or as full when you drink a fluid compared to food. We know from scientific research that when you consume a protein drink, or juice or flavored water, these drinks don’t tend to fill us up like whole foods do,” Jemma said.

“It’s like comparing an apple with apple juice. The apple juice is a highly processed version of an apple and all the fiber is taken out and it’s been concentrated.

“So we find that people will consume fluids on top of normal food. We need to be careful that we’re not over-consuming liquids in general and we need to go back to eating whole foods.”

This article originally appeared on our sister site, Now to Love.

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