You consume whey protein for a reason — you want to live a healthier, stronger, and happier lifestyle. You want to be able to do the things you love to do for longer, and you want to become better at the sports and exercises you pursue.
However, whey protein can cause side effects in some cases. This due to a number of factors, including allergic reactions, excess intake, or existing health conditions.
In this guide, we’re going to be taking a look at some of these potential side effects and analysing what you need to know if you are to include whey protein supplements as part of a healthy diet.
Can You Have Too Much Whey Protein?
To put it simply — yes, you can have too much whey protein. This does not mean that whey protein does not have many positive effects on the body and on our physical condition. It just means that, like anything else, you should consume whey protein in moderation. The cells in our body can only handle so much water, for example, and oxygen becomes poisonous at high concentrations. It is possible to have too much of a good thing.
To understand more about how much whey protein is too much, you first must understand the following:
The three main forms of whey protein:
- Whey protein concentrate
- Whey protein isolate
- Whey protein hydrolysate
Estimated average requirement and recommended dietary intake for your age group
Before taking whey protein, it’s best to understand the average requirement and recommended dietary intake for each specific age group as shown below.
Adult males aged 19 to 70:
EAR = 52 g/day, or 0.68 g/kg of body weight; RDI = 64 g/day, or 0.84 g/kg of bodyweight
Adult males aged over 70:
EAR = 65 g/day, or 0.86 g/kg of body weight; RDI = 81 g/day, or 1.07 g/kg of body weight
Adult females aged 19 to 70:
EAR = 37 g/day, or 0.60 g/kg of body weight; RDI = 46 g/day, or 0.75 g/kg of body weight
Adult females aged over 70:
EAR = 46 g/day, or 0.75 g/kg of body weight; RDI = 57 g/day or 0.94 g/kg of body weight
Safe Levels of Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein isolate is the most protein-intensive of all three forms, containing 90 percent of more protein by weight. This is great for people looking for an efficient way to increase daily protein intake. But you should bear in mind that this method will see us reaching, and exceeding, our EAR and RDI levels much more quickly.
Isolate also contains fewer sources of additional minerals. This can make whey protein isolate unsuitable for usage as a meal replacement or food substitute, as you may become deficient in some of the key nutritional elements you would find in food or in other supplements.
Safe Levels of Whey Protein Concentrate
Whey protein concentrate contains a little less protein by weight than isolate does, usually between 70 to 80 percent. The additional content is made up of lactose, fats, and minerals, often derived from milk
This means it will take a little longer to reach your EAR and RDI levels, but you still need to be aware of these levels when using the protein. You also need to be aware of your intake of fats and other minerals by reading the nutritional breakdown on the packaging, although these additional minerals will make concentrate a better option than isolate as a meal replacement.
Safe Levels of Whey Protein Hydrolysate
The hydrolysate form of whey protein has been pre-digested and processed during the manufacture and rendering phase, which makes it much easier for the body to absorb quickly. While the amount of protein by weight contained in a serving of protein hydrolysate will vary considerably between different products — and it is always important to verify this by checking the label — be aware that the accelerated absorption may cause you to be exposed to excess whey protein side effects more quickly in turn.
So what exactly are the side effects of having too much whey protein on the body?
Digestive Side Effects From Protein Intake
In most cases, too much whey protein causes side effects that are related to digestion. This makes sense as it is the digestive tract that is handling the excess protein and that may become overwhelmed. Some of the digestive side effects include:
- Direct digestive issues, resulting in cramps in the stomach, diarrhea, excess gas, or bloated feelings
- Issues related to excess lactose, particularly in lactose-intolerant people, who lack necessary levels of the lactase enzyme
Allergic reactions to other ingredients of whey protein products in the digestive tract, especially cow’s milk. Cow’s milk allergies may result in:
- Rashes and hives
- Swelling around the face
- Swelling of the tongue and throat area
- Excess mucus in the nose and difficulty breathing
- Anaphylaxis in some rare cases. This can be fatal if not dealt with quickly by a medical professional.
- Constipation and decelerated digestion in rare cases
Whey Protein Side Effects for Kidneys
Our kidneys are critical organs in the body, filtering out waste from the blood, removing excess water to be processed as urine, and keeping a range of different chemicals at balanced levels within the body. Of course, you don’t want to do anything that could jeopardise this function.
So, are there any whey protein side effects that involve the kidneys? Can excess consumption of protein harm these organs?
- Protein intake does have an effect on the function of kidneys. Studies suggest that high levels of protein consumption cause kidneys to work harder, increasing the pressure within the organ tissue and leading to a higher rate of blood filtration.
- Despite this, there is no suggestion that the organs are harmed by this increase in workload. Studies have found no evidence of kidney damage related to excess protein consumption among healthy individuals.
- Individuals with existing kidney conditions — such as kidney damage or instances of kidney disease — avoid high levels of protein consumption as studies do show a link between high protein intake and further damage to unhealthy kidneys.
Whey Protein Side Effects for Liver
The liver is another vital organ within our bodies. Like the kidneys, it also removes toxins from the bloodstream and breaks them down to make them less harmful. It also converts glycogen to glucose ready for use in the body and converts excess glucose back into glycogen for storage.
With this in mind, you do not want to damage this important organ, which makes it important to be aware of any whey protein side effects that may impact the liver.
- Our liver relies on protein. Without protein, the liver cannot repair itself after damage or fatigue and cannot remove fat from its tissue.
- Furthermore, studies do not suggest any link between excessive protein consumption and liver damage in healthy people.
- In fact, whey protein can help to actively reduce fat, cholesterol, and blood triglyceride content.
- However, high levels of protein may be harmful to those already suffering from cirrhosis of the liver. This is because the liver is needed to detoxify the byproducts of protein metabolism.
Hair and Skin Side Effects from Whey Protein
Protein intake certainly does have an effect on the hair. This is important to be aware of as you plan out your regular protein supplement intake.
- Protein is necessary for healthy levels of hair growth. Without protein, the hair cannot replenish as part of its natural growth and loss cycle. Therefore, increasing protein intake should assist with hair growth, not cause hair loss.
- Whey protein isolate side effects include hair loss. This is because those using isolate as a meal replacement may not be getting enough of other kinds of nutrients and minerals included in other protein supplements
The skin can also be affected by levels of protein in the diet, which is also something to watch out for.
- There is some evidence suggesting that whey protein can have side effects on skin acne. This is not due to the protein itself but is instead caused by additives to the protein supplement. Whey protein isolate, with its lack of additives, maybe the better option for those with skin complaints. But always remember to consult a physician if you have any doubts.
- Generally, increased protein levels will have a positive impact on the health of the skin. Findings published by the Mayo Clinic have even suggested that increased protein intake can help to accelerate the recovery of burns and the healing of wounds.
Find Out More About the Possible Side Effects of Whey Protein
Whey protein can have a hugely positive effect on the life and health of those that consume supplements on a regular basis. However, just like with any other supplement — or even any other food or drink — there can be side effects, particularly if safe levels of intake are exceeded.
If you have any concerns about whey protein, its side effects, and the safe levels of intake, be sure to consult a physician or medical professional. If you would like to learn more about how to increase your protein intake in a safe manner, reach out to our team today.