How do I know if my protein powder has gone bad?

Protein powder is a popular supplement used by athletes, bodybuilders, and anyone looking to increase their protein intake. Like any food product, protein powder does eventually expire and go bad. However, if stored properly, protein powder can still be safe to consume for a year or more after the expiry date. Here’s what you need to know about how to tell if your protein powder has gone bad and is no longer safe to use.

Check the Expiry Date

The first thing to look for is the expiry date printed on the protein powder container. This will give you a general idea of when the manufacturer determined the powder will start to degrade in quality and potential safety. Protein powder can be safely consumed past the expiry date, but it’s a good reference point.

On average, an unopened container of whey or plant-based protein powder will be good for around 1-2 years past the printed expiry date if stored properly. A opened container will stay good for around 3-4 months past the expiry date when properly sealed and kept in a cool, dry place.

If your powder is more than a few months past the expiry date, it’s time to more closely inspect it to determine if it’s still good.

Check The Color

The color of protein powder can also indicate its freshness. When protein powder is newly manufactured, it will have a uniform color consistent with that protein source.

Whey protein is generally a light tan or creamy color. Plant-based proteins like pea and rice are more white or beige when fresh. If the color has dramatically changed to a darker hue, that is a sign the protein has likely started to degrade.

Slight natural darkening may happen over time, even if the powder is still good. But a dramatic change to brown, grey, or yellow means the proteins have oxidized and broken down. Toss discolored powder.

Smell It

Fresh, quality protein powder should have a mild scent related to the ingredients. Whey protein naturally has a mild dairy aroma. Plant proteins smell more neutral or beany.

If the powder has taken on strong, bitter odors, that means the fats or proteins within have gone rancid. Toss any powder that smells unpleasant.

Check Clumping

Protein powder should have a fine, powdery texture. When fresh, it will pour smoothly and dissolve easily in liquids.

Over time, moisture exposure can cause proteins and other ingredients to accumulate and stick together. Expired protein may become hard, clumped, and difficult to dissolve.

Try scooping a bit of the older powder. If it forms hard clumps rather than a fluffy powder, it has likely gone bad.

Look For Moisture

Along with clumping, expired protein may also show signs of moisture accumulation in the container. Look at the powder near the bottom and sides of the container.

If you see liquid droplets, beads of condensation, or any wetness, that indicates moisture has gotten in. This accelerates the degradation of proteins and growth of bacteria and mold.

Avoid using any powder that shows signs of moisture.

Check Serving Size

As protein powder starts to go bad, you’ll typically notice that the normal serving size seems less effective. To get the same muscle-building results or feel as satisfied, you may need to use more powder per serving.

If your regular scoop no longer gives the same energy, muscle support, or keeps you full, the protein has likely weakened with age. Get a new container.

Consider How It Was Stored

How you store protein powder makes a big difference in how long it stays fresh past the expiry date. Keep these storage tips in mind:

  • Store in a cool, dry place away from moisture and heat
  • Keep container tightly sealed
  • Don’t transfer to a new container, which introduces oxygen
  • Don’t store in humid locations like the bathroom or refrigerator

If your powder was not stored in ideal conditions, it’s more likely to go bad sooner. Heat and humidity both accelerate spoilage.

Watch For Mold

The ultimate sign your protein powder has spoiled is if you see actual mold growing in the container. This fuzzy or cobweb-like mold will likely be green, grey, or white.

Throw away immediately any powder that shows signs of mold. The spores can spread quickly to contaminate the whole batch, and mold spores are unhealthy to consume.

Perform a Solubility Test

One of the best ways to test protein powder freshness is to mix some with water to see how well it dissolves. Here’s a simple solubility test:

  1. Add 1-2 scoops of powder to about 8 ounces of water.
  2. Shake, stir, or blend for at least 30 seconds to mix thoroughly.
  3. Let sit for 1 minute. Fresh powder will fully dissolve, leaving no sediment.
  4. If clumps, foam, or particles remain, the powder has likely expired.

You can also do a side-by-side test with a fresh container to compare solubility. Outdated powder will have poorer mixing properties.

Consider a Small Taste

If you’re still uncertain if old protein powder is still safe, one last check is to do a quick taste test. Shake up a little mixed with water and take a small sip.

Rancid, bitter flavors mean it has spoiled. An unpleasant texture also indicates degradation. But if it seems normal, the powder is likely still fine.

Use caution and your best judgment, as consuming spoiled products can cause digestive upset. But a small taste is generally not dangerous if you spit it out.

Watch For Side Effects

Pay attention to any side effects after consuming older protein powder. Symptoms may include:

  • Bloating or gas
  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Unusual changes in urine odor or color

These can indicate you consumed powder that was past its prime and starting to go bad. Discontinue use if any side effects occur.

Can Expired Protein Powder Make You Sick?

Consuming protein powder a few months past the expiry date is generally not dangerous if it was properly stored. But spoiled, moldy, or very outdated powder does come with health risks.

Potential effects of consuming bad protein powder include:

  • Foodborne illness – Cramps, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Skin irritation or rashes
  • Allergic reactions – Itching, swelling, breathing issues
  • Kidney problems
  • Liver damage
  • Toxicity from bacteria like Clostridium botulinum

Moldy protein powder is especially hazardous, as mold spores can irritate the lungs and airways, or release toxic byproducts called mycotoxins. Speak to a doctor if you get sick after consuming expired powder.

Can You Still Use Discolored Protein Powder?

It’s best to avoid using protein powder that has undergone significant color changes, even if there are no other obvious signs it has spoiled. Discoloration indicates the proteins have oxidized and broken down over time.

Oxidized proteins not only lose nutritional quality, but they also become more difficult for your body to digest and absorb. Consuming them provides less muscle-supporting benefits.

While rancid powder may not make you immediately sick, degraded proteins can stress your digestive system over time. Stick to fresh powder for optimal health.

What Happens If You Consume Expired Protein Powder?

If you consume expired protein powder that has just barely gone bad, the most likely effects are reduced protein quality, less amino acid content, and decreased supplement effectiveness.

Nutrient degradation starts soon after expiry. But as long as the powder shows no signs of clumping, discoloration, unwanted odors, or moisture, it is unlikely to be toxic or dangerous to your health right away.

However, if you consume protein powder that is more than 6 months past its expiry, shows obvious signs of spoilage, or has been stored improperly, you’re at greater risk of digestive issues, allergic reactions, and potential toxicity from bacterial growth.

Rancid, moldy powder in particular can come with health risks. Use common sense – if powder seems noticeably degraded, err on the side of caution and do not consume large amounts.

How Long Does Unopened Protein Powder Last?

The shelf life of protein powder depends on storage conditions and the type of powder:

  • Whey protein – 1 to 2 years past expiry date
  • Plant protein – 1 to 2 years past expiry date
  • Ready-to-drink shakes – 9 to 12 months past expiry date

If stored properly in a cool, dry place, unopened protein powder can often safely be consumed around 1 to 2 years past the printed expiration date before major nutrient loss occurs.

Be sure to check for signs of clumping, discoloration, and rancid odors once past the expiry to determine if it’s still good.

Does Protein Powder Go Bad After Mixing?

Once you mix up a protein shake, it does need to be consumed fairly quickly before it goes bad. This is because mixing introduces oxygen, liquids, and warmth that accelerate spoilage.

General guidelines for consuming mixed protein drinks:

  • Drink pre-mixed shakes within 24 hours if refrigerated.
  • Drink shakes mixed up fresh within 4 hours.

Leaving prepared protein shakes at room temperature for too long allows rapid bacteria growth. Store any leftovers covered in the refrigerator.

Can Bad Protein Powder Make Your Hair Fall Out?

Hair loss is not a direct side effect or health risk from consuming expired protein powder. However, degraded protein supplements can lead to nutritional deficiency over time.

Lacking sufficient protein for extended periods can result in increased hair shedding and compromised hair growth. But the amount of degraded powder needed to cause deficiency is unlikely in most cases.

That said, stick to fresh powder whenever possible to prevent ineffective workouts and potential nutritional shortfalls that could eventually impact your hair, nails, skin, and more.

Can You Freeze Protein Powder To Make It Last Longer?

Freezing is not an ideal way to extend protein powder’s shelf life. The moisture of the freezer can still get into the powder over time.

Thawing and refreezing also leads to larger ice crystals forming that damage the powder structure. This makes it more likely to clump and degrade faster when thawed.

For best longevity, stick to a cool, dry cupboard or pantry and make sure the container is always tightly sealed. Avoid temperature extremes.

The Bottom Line

Checking your protein powder for clumping, discoloration, odor changes, and moisture is the best way to determine if it has expired and gone bad.

If your powder shows signs of degradation or is more than 6 months past its expiry date, it’s best to replace it. But as long as you store containers properly, protein powders often remain safe to consume 1-2 years past their expiry.

Avoid any protein powder that appears obviously spoiled, tastes rancid, or comes with side effects. Pay attention to how your body reacts whenever trying older protein powder.

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