The Good & Bad Of Whey Protein Powder Supplements


Whey protein powder has been around the bodybuilding scene since the 1960's. For the last two decades whey protein powder has been a staple for athletes, bodybuilders, and busy fitness enthusiasts on the go. Over the years it's become much more mainstream because it's more affordable, more widely available, more soluble in liquids (it dissolves better in water, milk, or juice without as many lumps), and tastes better. It's a multi-billion dollar industry now with huge companies and big names involved. But is whey protein powder the right option for you and your specific nutritional needs? 

Until recently I had taken whey protein religiously once or twice daily for nearly fifteen years! As a busy amateur natural bodybuilder, powerlifter, and personal trainer that didn't like to cook very often, it certainly served a purpose. I'd mostly mix it with water or skim milk. I think I depended on it a little too often at certain points at the expense of real food, but at other times it helped me build muscle and stay lean on the go. I just recently decided to minimize dairy and other animal products so for the first time since age 17 I did not reorder my usual Dymatize Elite Protein Powder (actually a mix of whey protein powder and casein protein) or pick up some Trader Joe's chocolate whey protein. 

Here are the pros and cons of whey protein powder from a dietary and physical performance perspective. 

Benefit #1: Frugal Prices

Whey protein powder varies in price depending on the type that you purchase (isolate, concentrate, hydrolyzed, or mixed with other protein powders), the brand that you purchase, where you purchase it, and the quantity container that you purchase it in. But one thing is for sure, the value is almost always there. You can buy average whey protein powder for around $10 a pound and that gets you a lot of protein per dollar compared to other plant or animal sources. Like any other product in the world, there are higher end brands and lower end brands for whey protein and price will reflect that. If you buy in bulk like a 3-5 lb container you'll get a much better deal than a 1-2 lb container. And if you order online from discount supplement shops or Amazon you will save a lot as well. 

Benefit #2: Low Fat & Low Carbohydrate Content

One of the biggest benefits of whey protein powdere is that it provides a high quality complete protein source without the high levels of fat (especially saturated fat) found in most animal sources such as beef, pork, fish turkey, eggs, and chicken. It also contains very negligible amounts of sugar or overall carbs. This is key for people dieting and watching their carbohydrate and fat intake, or if they are looking to get in those macronutrients from other sources. You can keep your carbs and fats lower with whey protein than you can with steaks, burgers, pork chops, or scrambled eggs. 

Benefit #3: Versatile, Convenient & Long Lasting

Whey protein is incredibly easy to take on the go . It's also non-perishable as long as you avoid excessive heat or moisture so you don't have to worry about it spoiling like your average plant or animal sources of protein. Take it with you in a shaker cup with water / juice / milk, mix it into a blended fruit smoothie, use it for baking, or even add in small amounts as a topping. It's a lot easier (and less smelly... your office coworkers will thank you) to bring whey protein powder with you during the day compared to chicken breasts or fish.

Downside #1: Quality Can Vary

The quality of whey protein can certainly vary depending on the type of whey and the brand that you purchase. Some types of whey protein such as isolate are more purified than other and some have more filler like whey concentrate. Taste and consistency of whey protein powder can also vary greatly from brand to brand. A large amount of whey protein now comes from China or other countries where quality of ingredients can come into question. But basically no two whey protein powders are exactly alike unless they're manufactured by the same company in the same facility. And if the protein powder isn't FDA regulated then you never know for sure what you're getting...

Downside #2: Might Not Be FDA Approved 

There are two other classifications of whey protein powder in the USA: food products or dietary supplements. The first classification is whey protein that has been FDA approved and considered like any other food product you'd find at a grocery store. That means its ingredients and manufacturing process has been approved by the United States government as accurately labeled and safe for consumption. Consider it like any other food product and note that there aren't any exaggerated claims allowed on the labels or advertising.

The second classification is of a dietary supplement. That means the protein powder is not FDA approved and has not met all of the strict requirements set by the government. This could be because the company simply didn't want to seek FDA approval (it can be a lengthy and expensive process), or it could be that the contents are questionable. There have been countless cases of contaminated whey protein powder containing pro-hormones, stimulants, or carcinogens over the years. This has cost some unlucky athletes and natural bodybuilders significantly by making them test positive for banned substances and faced major repercussions in their sport. While the FDA certainly isn't immune to making mistakes on food products, without an FDA approval you really don't know what exactly is in your protein powder. If you have medical conditions or take certain medications then it is also possible you could have a negative interaction.  

Downside #3: Artificial Sweeteners & Filler Ingredients

Like many foods and supplements, whey protein powder is often accompanied with artificial ingredients and filler to improve taste, increase shelf-life, or improve consistency when dissolved in liquid. Most of these are usually sugars, artificial sweeteners like sucralose or aspartame, vegetable oils, or thickeners / gums. The majority of people would agree that in small amounts these fillers and sweeteners are probably harmless in small amounts, if you are going to take whey protein powder every day or multiple times a day then it can add up. Some individuals might also have more of an issue with these added ingredients than others. 

Whey protein can be a healthy, versatile, and affordable part of your diet or supplement regimen. If you want to take whey protein powder, make sure you take the right kind for your goals and that you clear with with a medical professional. Don't take it instead of food for long periods of time, use it as a dietary supplement instead of a pure substitute in the long term. 

I hope you enjoyed this article about whether you should consider taking whey protein powder for your fitness goals and on a frugal budget.

Interested in more articles about healthy dietary supplements? 

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