Ingredients in Protein Powder: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

ingredients in protein powderDo you know which ingredients in protein powder could limit your gains? How about those that are just straight up bad for you?

Protein supplementation can be beneficial, but it’s not all muscle growth and weight loss. Read on to find out why.

Protein has been shown to lower your risk of metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease, as well as support muscle building. Plus, protein powder is affordable and a convenient way to keep your body nourished on-the-go.

But here’s the truth.

Many added ingredients in protein powder are associated with health problems.

It’s crucial you keep your eyes peeled when choosing a product. But what should you be looking for? Here’s the good, bad and the ugly when it comes to protein powder ingredients.

Let’s start with the good stuff.

The Good

There are plenty of ingredients in protein supplements that do wonders for your health, and help with:

  • weight loss and a healthy metabolism
  • digestion
  • blood sugar levels
  • sustaining lean muscle

Here are our 4 favorites:

1. Whey

Whey is the holy grail when it comes to ingredients in protein powder.


It contains a full amino acid profile, is readily available (and thus cheap), and it’s quickly digested. Jackpot.

Whey protein has shown to be effective for stimulating muscle protein synthesis (i.e muscle development) and is by far the most popular base for protein supplements.

Still, it won’t suit everybody. As whey is a form of milk protein, if you struggle to digest lactose, you may wish to consider a plant-based alternative…

2. Hemp Protein

If you struggle with whey or other protein forms, hemp is a great option. It’s not as popular (or cheap) as other protein forms, but it does have some notable benefits.

For example, hemp protein is:

  • rich in essential fatty acids
  • vegan
  • hypoallergenic
  • well digested

That’s a pretty strong list! In fact, there are only two real problems with hemp.

Firstly, it’s an incomplete protein. As such, it’s best enjoyed in addition to whey, or as part of a wider plant-based protein blend.

Secondly, by most standards, hemp protein tastes vile. This can be mitigated somewhat by adding a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Just don’t expect to lose the earthy taste completely.

3. Creatine

When it comes to muscle-building supplements, creatine comes in a respectable 2nd place, Just behind whey.

The benefits of creatine include:

  • increased size
  • increased strength
  • reduced recovery time
  • hydration of muscle cells

Creatine’s side effects are also limited, and most active people will benefit from taking it.

Adding creatine to a whey or hemp protein product is a perfect combination, and can only be enhanced by the addition of…

4. Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

Here’s the deal.

Your body needs all 9 of the essential amino acids to achieve optimal protein synthesis, and that’s precisely what BCAAs provide.

Practically, BCAAs help by:

  • assisting your muscles to synthesize other amino acids
  • circulating blood sugars so they can be used as a source of energy
  • preventing atrophy of lean muscle

The Bad

So far, so good. But let’s balance this post up. Here are some of the nasties that are commonly found in protein powders.

1. Sugar

If you don’t already know why sugar is bad for you, you’re in for a shock. Consuming sugar:

  • causes insulin spikes
  • increases appetite
  • is a leading cause of Type 2 Diabetes

The trouble is, it’s not always immediately apparent if sugar has been added to protein powder. The long lists of ingredients can be confusing.

But here’s the scoop. Each of the below acts like sugar inside your body, so keep your eyes peeled for:

  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Molasses
  • Sucrose
  • Glucose
  • Cane sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Palm sugar

2. Artificial Sweeteners

Along with sugar, you should also avoid artificial sweeteners in your protein supplements.

While they contain no calories, artificial sweeteners are thought to mess with your metabolism and reduce the ‘good’ bacteria in your digestive tract.

In fact, despite having no sugar, ‘diet’ sodas are still linked to Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 diabetes.

Instead, select protein powders that sweeten with Stevia, a natural plant extract.

3. Soy

Soy protein is popular and cheap. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Despite being present in many vegan protein powders, soy protein isn’t a whole food.

In fact, it’s:

  • highly refined
  • highly acidic
  • allergenic
  • inflammatory

It’s not just soy protein. We also suggest you stay clear of soybean oil and soy lecithin. Both have similar, negative properties.

The Ugly

So there you have it. The good and the bad when it comes to ingredients in protein powder.

Now, this is where it gets ugly.

There are several instances of lawsuits being filed after companies used misleading language to trick consumers about the amount of protein in their products.

Such companies may also include a tiny amount of an ingredient, known to help muscle growth, in their formula. Despite the concentration of this ingredient being much too small to make a difference, it is still advertised.

Many products are also spiked with cheap fillers. To be clear, some degree of filler is necessary. Still, the better products will minimize their inclusion wherever possible.

Our advice? Read labels carefully and avoid products with a long list of ‘gums.’ Common fillers include:

  • xanthan gum
  • inulin
  • guar gum

These aren’t the unhealthiest, but their inclusion means you’re getting a lower quality product. Remember, the more filler, the less protein and amino acids.

Understanding the Ingredients in Protein Powder

Protein powder is the most popular training supplement, and for a good reason. The tricky part is finding a supplement packed with protein that won’t negatively affect other aspects of your health.

Shop around, and try to avoid the main offenders (sugar, sweeteners, and soy). Another good guideline is to check out the labels and avoid protein powders which contain more than 10 ingredients.

If you’d like to know which protein supplements hit the mark, check out our 2018 guide to the top 10 protein powders available.

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