5 Reasons Why You Might be Using the Wrong Protein Powder

Does your protein powder contain ingredients you can’t pronounce?

Protein is a building block of life, responsible for muscle recovery and growth. When it comes to using supplements, protein powder is a cornerstone of nutrition supplementation.

With hundreds of nutrition companies selling different variations that claim to be the end-all-be-all, it can be overwhelming to select the right one. The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all method for choosing the right protein powder. It's easy to jump on the bandwagon of buying a particular protein because of a sale, the gym bros say you'll get huge muscle gains, or your favorite social media influencer swears by it.

The protein that's right for one person may not be right for another due to multiple reasons like fitness goals and nutrition lifestyle. As an added caveat, just because you use protein doesn't mean that you're using the right one.

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When buying protein powder, you want a good quality product that's derived from good sources. The protein should contain the actual ingredients and amounts stated on the label. After all, buying supplements can be like having a second grocery list. It adds up! So, when you buy protein powder, you want to make sure you're getting everything that your body needs to perform.

Let's take a look at 5 reasons why you might be using the wrong protein powder.

1. Different Types of Training

Protein powder is a staple supplement in the fitness community. Whether you're a gym rat or a casual fan most fitness enthusiasts use protein powder. It's instrumental in muscle protein synthesis, which is responsible for building and repairing muscle. With all the hard work that you put into your workouts, it's important to use the right protein powder to ensure that your body is getting the correct daily amounts.

If you search the internet or hang around the water fountain at the gym, when the discussion of best types of protein, whey versus casein is always in the mix. Whether you're pro casein or pro whey, it's important to choose the type of protein that best meets the demand of your training. This will ensure that your muscles are getting fueled and are on the road to recovery after workouts.

Casein Protein

Casein is a major component of protein in dairy, making up 80% of cow's milk. It's insoluble, which means that it's a solid protein. Casein composed of molecules called, micelles that cause casein to gel and clot in the stomach. It also has a trickle effect that slowly releases proteins and amino acids into the bloodstream and muscles.

Best taken around bedtime, casein is good for increasing daily protein intake for adding muscle mass. It can take several hours to completely digest in the stomach, making it a great option for weightlifters looking to gain strength and size. It can also be used as a meal replacement during the day for providing satiety when on-the-go and between meals.

Whey Protein

Whey protein is the most common type that people think of when using protein powders. Like Casein it is derived from cow's milk but makes up 20%, compared to casein's 80%. Whey protein is effective in increasing lean muscle growth when consumed before and after workouts.

With whey protein, your muscles don't have to wait to receive essential amino acids and support needed. It's fast-absorbing, meaning that it quickly enters the blood and muscles to fuel and replenish the body. Whether you're an endurance athlete or like to toss around the barbell, your body is getting the proper nutrients required for building lean muscle.

In some cases, athletes looking to pack on mass and size take both whey and casein protein, consuming whey around training times and casein before bed to support recovery and meet their daily intake and needs.

Both whey protien and casein are excellent sources of protein. However, each benefits some styles of training more than others, so it's important to know which type of protein is best for your training style.

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2. Fillers and Additives

With a plethora of protein powders on the market, it can be overwhelming to choose the best kind of protein. Depending on the brand, you may or may not be getting the actual amounts printed on the label. To make sure that you're getting the most bang for your buck, you should be aware of the ingredients in your protein powder.

Many companies take shortcuts and produce lackluster products made from poor sources or reduced amounts of "real" protein. Instead, they add fillers and additives as substitutes.

Nitrogen spiking, also known as protein spiking or amino spiking, is a topic of controversy. It's a trick that some supplement companies use to manipulate the nitrogen content measured in protein powder. They reduce the amount of protein in their products and replace with extra amino acids to save money.

At first glance, getting extra amino acids like glutamine, taurine, and glycine may seem like a good idea. After all, taurine and glycine are in BCAA supplement drinks. The extra amino acids included aren't there for nutritional benefits but as fillers to spike nitrogen levels. This means that you're getting lower amounts of protein.

Protein is made up of different amino acids which are connected in chains. These chains also include nitrogen. Measuring the nitrogen amounts indicates the amount of protein in the product. Companies get around the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) requirements because of loopholes that look at only one aspect of the protein powder.

The body needs complete proteins to repair and grow muscles. They can be found in whole foods like meat, fish, eggs, whey, and casein. But, sourcing complete proteins can be expensive. Hence why so many companies cut their products.

Companies that spike their protein powder are lying about the ingredients in their products. So if they're lying about this, they could also be lying about the quality of the protein source as well. It should be stated that nitrogen spiking doesn't pose any health risks, but it is false advertising.

Unfortunately, to truly know the ingredients in our protein, we have to rely on supplement companies, to be honest. This is why many of them only list the "total protein" amounts, as opposed to actual measurements of the protein makeup.

It can be hard identify nitrogen spiking in protein, but here are a few red flags to look out for:

Price - If the protein is significantly cheaper than others of the same size. Companies that spike their protein products can offer them at cheaper rates.

Proprietary Blend - This is a buzzword that many companies use as a blanket term to represent all the ingredients used. If the amino acids aren't listed in the ingredients, this is a concern.

Ingredients - If it doesn't have a typical amino acid profile or includes a high amount of taurine and glycine, this can pose a red flag.

The next time you're buying protein powder, be sure to read the label and be on the lookout for signs of fillers and additives. If you encounter any of the indicators above, avoid it like the plague.

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3. Specialized Diets, Food Allergies and Sensitivities

While whey is a popular option for protein powders, not everyone can consume dairy-based products. Athletes with restrictive diets or have food sensitivities and allergies can't consume whey or casein.

You could rely solely on whole foods (which you should be consuming anyway), but you'd still be missing your total daily intake. Instead, you'd have to carry Tupperware containers full of nuts and seeds everywhere.

Fear not! Plant-based protein powders are to the rescue! A popular vegan-friendly alternative, these powders are often made from chickpeas, brown rice, soy, beans, and hemp. They can have the same muscle-building benefits as whey, meet dietary restrictions and be easier to digest.


The vegan way of life where individuals abstain from using or consuming animal products or by-products. The restrictive diet doesn't allow for consuming fish, beef, dairy, and eggs.

Instead, vegans get protein from different food sources like beans, legumes, whole grains, and soy. However, these foods tend to be lower in amino acids than protein than animal products.

So athletes still need to get that extra protein from somewhere. After all, they still need to be able to recover from intense workouts and build muscle. This is where vegan-friendly protein powders come into play and make up for the missing amino acids.

Food Allergies and Lactose Intolerance

Food sensitivities and allergies can limit the types of foods that we can consume. This means that dairy-based proteins like whey and casein may not be a good idea. If you dare to live on the edge, you may regret it later.

Lactose intolerance is the partial or complete inability to digest dairy-based products like milk, yogurt, whey, or casein. It's caused by a decrease in lactase production in the body, which makes it difficult for the body to digest.

If dairy products are consumed they can cause:

  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping

The severity depends on how sensitive the body is to dairy. For example, you may be able to consume cheese on a burger but bloat after you drink a protein shake. A plant-based protein powder is a good alternative, instead of suffering through a case of the trots.

Sounds weird? Not really. Plant-based proteins are made from foods like chickpeas, and brown rice, which can be easier to digest. While whey is considered a "complete protein," plant-based proteins can also be complete. They can be equally as effective if multiple plant protein sources are included or if the protein is fortified with extra amino acids.

Whether you live a vegan lifestyle or are lactose intolerant, you can still enjoy post-workout "brotien" shakes and reap the muscle-building benefits.

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4. Growth Hormones

Does your protein powder have hormones in it? Bovine somatotropin (rBST) is a growth hormone produced in the pituitary gland of humans and animals. There are farmers that inject a synthetic version of the hormone called, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) into cows to increase meat and milk production.

Cows injected with rBST are said to have adverse health by increasing mastitis, an inflammation of the utter. This condition can be treated with antibiotics, but still can cause discomfort and potential reproductive disorders.

Injecting cows with rBST is banned in Canada, the European Union (EU), Australia, the Netherlands, and others. Many large chain grocery stores like Krogers don't carry milk or dairy products made from cows injected with rBST and other hormones.

There is a brewing debate over the effects of rBST in humans. It's thought to be passed through drinking milk from injected cows. Health officials are divided. The FDA and World Health Organization (WHO) have stated that dairy and meats from cows treated with rBST are safe for consumption. There is no significant difference between cows that are injected with the hormone and those that aren't. FDA also says that if consumed, rBST can't be absorbed into the body, and if it were, there would be no direct effect on humans.

Contrary to the FDA, some schools of thought believe that consuming milk from cows injected with rBST can has adverse effects on human health. Somatomedin C (IGF-1) is a hormone that has insulin-like factors that play a role in hormone growth. There are studies that suggest that IGF-1 appears at higher rates for people who consume milk from cows injected with rBST. These high levels have been linked to cancer in the body. The American Cancer Association has issued a report countering this argument, stating that evidence that rBST is harmful to humans is inconclusive.

While health officials say not to worry, some people still obtain from using products with the hormone in it. If you're concerned that your protein powder contains rBST or other hormones, consider purchasing from brands that promote organic and hormone-free products. This will ensure that you're getting protein from cow's milk that is clean and healthy.

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5. Added Sugars

Some protein powders on the market contain artificial sweeteners like sucralose and acesulfame potassium. These additives create sweet tooth flavors that taste like a candy cane or birthday cake. While they sound delicious, these proteins are high in sugars and calorie content that can hurt your fitness and weight loss goals.

Not to be confused, there are a lot of protein powders on the market that have small amounts of sugars (1-2 grams per serving), but this is ok. It's the ones that contain access amounts that should be avoided.

If these proteins are so bad, why do supplement companies put them in their products? Honestly, it's because some protein powders taste bland like chalk dust. Adding sweeteners makes it easier to drink and appeals to a larger demographic.

Consuming artificial sweeteners can be hard to digest and upset the stomach. This is why it's important to use protein powders that have little sugars and artificial ingredients like sucralose or acesulfame potassium.


Sucralose is an artificial sweetener (think Splenda) that doesn't contain calories. This may sound like a splendid idea—pun intended— but the FDA has stated that sucralose is 600 times sweeter than table sugar.

Sucralose is safe for human consumption and used in foods and beverages. Small amounts are added to protein powders to enhance the flavor. Supplement companies use sucralose because it's a cheap way to sweeten protein powders.

When consumed, the majority of sucralose isn't broken down during digestion. The parts that are absorbed aren't utilized as energy. Instead, they're excreted during urination.

Acesulfame Potassium

Acesulfame potassium, also known as Acesulfame-K or Ace-K, is a synthetic calorie-free sugar substitute. It's one of the six artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA in addition to saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, neotame, and advantame.

Acesulfame potassium is used in small amounts in food and beverages. Companies use it as an inexpensive way to mask the bitter taste of some protein powders. Acesulfame potassium is 200 times sweeter than table sugar, so a little goes a long way.

Those with diabetes, in general, can use protein powders but should be wary of those that include the ingredients listed above. It's best to check with a doctor or general practitioner before adding protein powder into your diet. If approved, read nutrition labels to ensure that it doesn't contain sugars or artificial sweeteners.

Consuming protein powders low in sugar and sweeteners enable you to add ingredients like frozen fruit, nut butter, juice, and milk, that already contain sugars. Combining these ingredients with a sweetened protein powder can send your insulin levels through the roof. Some nutrition studies have even associated artificial sweeteners with high risks of glucose intolerance, pre-diabetic symptoms and full diabetes.

Like most things in life, sugar should be consumed in moderation. When we buy protein powder, we expect clean and healthy products. Look for protein powder that's unsweetened, low in sugar or doesn't contain artificial sweeteners. These can be identified by reading the nutrition labels. Plus, supplement companies that abstain from using sugars and artificial sweeteners will plaster their product bottles with stickers to say so. You can't miss it!

Now that you know the types of protein powders to avoid, are you ready to choose a protein powder made with the purest ingredients sourced from North America and Europe?

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