Are Whey Protein Powders Safe?

by Scott Reid

When you’re the best, there’s always going to be haters.  Whey protein is undisputed champion of protein powders and has been for the past few decades.  But recently whey has come under some fire.  

Let’s take a look at what the naysayers are claiming and if any of their arguments have merit (hint: they don’t).  

Whey protein will give you digestive issues?

In the interest of intellectual honesty, a rapidly depleting resource on this planet, I have to say it is possible you could have some digestive discomfort if you are very allergic to lactose.  

Whey protein manufacturers go to great lengths to remove lactose from the product but sometimes trace amounts can remain.  If you are very sensitive to lactose, you may have some issues.  

The problem is that the whey protein haters present this information as if it is a foregone conclusion.  It’s a bit like saying lobster will cause you to experience stomach cramps and shortness of breath.  

Well, yes, that can happen if a person is allergic to shellfish.  But for 96% of the human population, there’s nothing to worry about.  So the idea that you will, no matter what, experience digestive discomfort, bloating, gas, and worse if you use whey protein powder is simply untrue.  

Are all the bodybuilders, mixed martial artists, and other strength athletes simply deluding to themselves while suffering through gastric discomfort every day?  Of course not.  

The truth is whey protein is very well tolerated by the vast majority of people who use it.  Saying, or implying, otherwise is simply dishonest.  

Whey protein will make you fat?  

Once again, the devil is in the details.  If you consistently ingest more calories than you burn and don’t lift heavy, yes you will gain some fat.  

And yes, if you choose poorly and select a whey protein powder that is loaded with sugar you will likely put on some unwanted dough.  

But to suggest that whey protein itself will give you a spare tire is mistaken at best and disingenuous at worst.  But be sure to select a quality whey protein with little or no sugar because refined sugar is all types of bad.  

The best thing to do is find a whey protein powder that uses stevia as a sweetening agent.  

Stevia contains no calories and doesn’t cause an increase in blood sugar, and some studies indicate stevia can actually lower blood pressure and guard against the development of diabetes.  

Just remember, whey protein powder will not make you fat.  It is one of the healthiest and most scientifically vetted supplements you can use.  

Whey protein isn’t in sync with evolution!

Have you heard of the paleo diet?  I’m betting you have but just in case it hasn’t caught your attention, the basic idea is that modern humans should eat like our paleolithic ancestors.  

This means paleo practitioners try to only eat foods that were available before the invention of agriculture.  As such, dairy (and whey) needs to be avoided.  I must confess, I am a fan of the paleo diet and eat what I call “paleoish” and definitely enjoy my whey protein thank you very much.  

The problem with some of the paleo community is they fall for the naturalistic fallacy. Just because a food wasn’t available before the agricultural revolution doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t suitable for human consumption.  

Conversely, the fact that a certain food has been available since prehistoric times doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for us.  

For example, whey protein has been extensively studied and found to be advantageous for human consumption.  The vast majority of people tolerate whey protein quite well and only report positive effects.

How about almonds?  They’re delicious.  But they’re only delicious because they have been selectively bred by humans to be delicious.  Wild almonds naturally contain a compound that converts to cyanide when eaten by humans.  

Luckily, it’s very hard to eat a lot of wild almonds because they taste extremely bitter (poisonous), but the point remains.  

Not everything natural is good for us and relatively new food items, like whey protein, are actually be very healthy.  

Whey protein is loaded with antibiotics, hormones and steroids!

As Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “A lie that is half a truth, is ever the blackest of lies”.  

Whey protein powder is made from cow’s milk and many cows are indeed injected with antibiotics, hormones, and steroids.  But this doesn’t necessarily mean that all whey protein powders are packed with these harmful substances.  

In my experience, the people who make this argument tend to be vegans who are passionate about the ethical treatment of animals.  Unfortunately, like the rest of us, their passions can sometimes cloud their better judgement.  

There are reputable producers of quality whey protein powder who are also concerned about the welfare of animals and insist that their whey protein comes from healthy cows that are treated with dignity and respect..  For this reason, the only whey protein powder that deserves your attention and money is that which comes from grass-fed cows.  

Grass-fed whey is both ethically and nutritionally superior to the whey that comes from grain-fed cows.  You won’t need to worry about the mistreatment of animals and you won’t encounter any antibiotics, hormones, or steroids if you select quality grass-fed whey protein powder as your supplement of choice.  

While whey protein powder has a handful of detractors, you can clearly see that their arguments fall very short of convincing.  Scientific research and the experiences of literally millions of people prove that whey protein is completely safe and beneficial for human consumption.  

Scott Reid
Scott Reid


Scott Reid is a 2 x Britain’s Strongest Man U105kg winner (2007 & 2008) and IFSA World's Strongest Man U105kg Competitor. He is an expert in strength and conditioning and also coaches functional nutrition. Scott’s passion for understanding the human body and how to optimise every aspect of it has driven him to study under legends such as Paul Chek. Scott now coaches MMA Athletes, Strongmen and Bodybuilders to name but a few, helping them to implement a well structured diet and become more powerful, explosive versions of themselves.

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