Are There Risks of Protein Supplements?

Protein is one of the most vital things in our diet, but that doesn’t always mean that supplementing is a good idea. Whether it’s a protein tablet, powder, or another type of supplement, you should know the upsides and downsides of taking anything. 

The Importance of Protein

Protein is in every cell found in your body. The protein structure is made up of a chain of amino acids, and your body needs protein to repair your cells and make new ones. For children, teens, and pregnant women, it’s also used for growth and development. 

Foods with protein are broken into amino acids as they go through digestion. You need large amounts of amino acids to stay healthy. Essential amino acids are ones your body isn’t able to make, so you have to get them from food or a supplement. Non-essential amino acids are what your body makes from essential amino acids, or in some cases, as proteins break down. 

The amount of protein you should consume on a daily basis depends on your caloric needs. The recommended daily intake amount for healthy people is anywhere from 10-35% of your total calories needed. One gram of protein is equal to around four calories. That means if you’re following a 2000-calorie diet, you could eat 100 grams of protein theoretically in a day. One ounce of food high in protein will contain around seven grams. 

Protein’s benefits include:

  • Helping build your muscles, bones, skin, and cartilage. 
  • Repairing your tissue. 
  • Red blood cells have a type of protein that’s responsible for carrying oxygen around your body, supplying your entire body with vital nutrients. 
  • Around half the protein you consume daily goes toward making enzymes, which help you digest food and make new cells. 
  • Protein helps with hormone regulation. 
  • A high-protein diet can help you build lean muscle, maintain a healthy weight and feel fuller for longer. 

Can You Eat Too Much Protein?

With all the important benefits of protein, you might be wondering if more is better, and that’s not necessarily the case. 

If you have dietary protein levels that are too high, you could experience certain risks and complications, including:

  • Weight gain: For some people, high-protein diets lead to weight loss, but it’s also possible eating too much protein could contribute to weight gain. Excess protein is usually stored as fat by your body, and the other amino acids are removed, leading to weight gain. 
  • Bad breath: If you consume a high-protein diet, it can put you into ketosis, a metabolic state associated with chemicals that give you bad breath. 
  • Constipation: When your diet is too high in protein, and perhaps you’re restricting your carb intake, you may experience constipation. 
  • Kidney damage: There’s not currently a lot of research on this topic, but if you consume too much protein, it’s possible that it could cause damage to your kidneys. This is because amino acids making up protein have high nitrogen levels, which can make your kidneys have to work harder, leading to damage. This is thought to be a very low-risk situation, though, and some newer research disputes that this is a risk of high amounts of protein for the vast majority of people. The biggest risk of consuming high-protein foods is likely in people with chronic kidney disease or a reduced kidney function. 
  • Dehydration: When you have excess nitrogen levels, your body will flush it out with water and fluids, leaving you dehydrated. 

These potential risks of consuming a lot of dietary protein are rare and would probably only occur after a relatively long period. 

The Risks of Protein Supplements

Along with the risks of a high-protein diet, supplements can also have their risks

In general, protein powder, protein pills, and other supplements aren’t bad for you, and they may be a viable way to reach your daily needs. If you have allergies to any product in a powder or supplement, of course, you should avoid it. 

You also must be aware of how much the quality and ingredients can vary between brands and supplements. 

In rare cases, a protein powder might have harmful substances or ingredients. Most brands will use third-party testing to show their products are safe and promote transparency. If you can choose a supplement with third-party testing, that’s best. 

Another risk of supplements, especially powders, is digestive issues. If you have large amounts of protein powder, you could experience bloating, gas, and an upset stomach. 

Make sure you carefully read and analyze the label when choosing a protein supplement, look for third-party testing from organizations like NSF International’s Certified for Sport, and look at the serving size. If you follow these guidelines, the risks of protein supplements are minimal. 


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