Who should not drink protein shakes?

Protein shakes have become an incredibly popular supplement among athletes, bodybuilders, and health-conscious individuals looking to increase their protein intake. However, protein shakes may not be suitable for everyone. This article will examine who should avoid protein shakes and why.

Those with kidney disease or problems

Individuals with kidney disease or impaired kidney function need to be cautious with their protein intake, including protein shakes. The kidneys filter waste from the bloodstream and excrete it through urine. High protein intake places an increased metabolic load on the kidneys, so those with kidney issues need to monitor their protein consumption.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, early stages of kidney disease require limiting protein to 10-20% of total daily calories. For end-stage renal disease, strict protein restriction may be recommended. Always consult your physician or dietitian to determine appropriate protein intake based on your individual kidney function.

People with lactose intolerance

Most protein powders are derived from dairy sources, particularly whey and casein from milk. These contain lactose, the natural sugar found in milk. People with lactose intolerance lack enough of the lactase enzyme to properly digest lactose.

Consuming lactose when lactose intolerant can cause gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal distress. There are lactose-free protein powder options made from vegan proteins like soy, pea or rice. However, these are not tolerated well by some individuals. The safest choice may be avoiding protein shakes altogether if you have lactose intolerance.

Those with digestive issues like IBS or IBD

People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, or those prone to gastrointestinal issues may not tolerate protein shakes well.

Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein. Consuming too much protein at once can overwhelm the digestive system for those sensitive to high protein levels. This can trigger abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation.

Additionally, ingredients like artificial sweeteners, gums and dairy can be problematic with gut-related conditions. It’s best to speak with your doctor if you have IBS, IBD or a gastrointestinal condition before adding protein shakes.

Individuals monitoring cholesterol

Some protein powders like whey and casein are high in cholesterol due to being dairy-based. Each scoop of whey powder contains 45-55mg of cholesterol. The daily recommended limit for cholesterol intake is 300mg.

For those monitoring cholesterol levels due to heart health concerns or hypercholesterolemia, the additional cholesterol from protein shakes could be an issue. It’s smart to opt for a vegan or plant-based protein powder if cholesterol intake is a concern.

People taking prescription medications

The ingredients in protein shakes like herbs, minerals, probiotics and amino acids can interact with certain prescription medications. They may increase or decrease the effectiveness of the drug.

Specifically, the amino acid tyrosine found in whey protein can interact with thyroid medications, Parkinson’s drugs and MAO inhibitors used to treat depression. Always speak with your pharmacist or doctor to check for any potential interactions.

Those following low-protein diets

Some medical conditions require following a low-protein diet, like kidney disease, liver disease, phenylketonuria (PKU) and cancer. protein shakes are concentrated sources of protein, containing 15-25g per serving. This can quickly surpass recommended daily protein limits.

Older adults are also advised to consume less protein for optimal health, due to decreased kidney function and mTOR activation. Adhere to your physician’s protein recommendations and avoid protein shakes if following a low-protein diet.

Anyone with an allergy to ingredients

Like all supplements and foods, protein powders contain ingredients that can trigger allergic reactions in some people. This includes milk, soy, egg, nuts, gluten and artificial sweeteners.

Carefully read the ingredient list and allergen warnings before consuming a protein shake. Discontinue use if you experience signs of an allergic reaction like hives, swelling, itching, vomiting or difficulty breathing.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women

There are limited studies on the safety of protein shakes during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Some ingredients like herbs orprobiotics have not been confirmed as safe.

Additionally, excessive protein intake can be harmful. The FDA recommends pregnant women consume only 1.1g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day – no more than 71g for a 160lb woman.

Speak with your OBGYN before adding protein shakes to ensure they are safe for you and baby. Avoid shakes with questionable ingredients.

Children and adolescents

Children and teens have different nutritional needs than adults. They require adequate calories for growth and development, along with protein. However, excessive protein is not beneficial.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance of protein for kids ages 1-3 is 13g daily, ages 4-8 is 19g and ages 9-13 is 34g. Protein shakes often provide adult-sized servings of 15-30g, which can exceed requirements.

Additionally, protein shakes may replace other important whole foods in a child’s diet. Consult your pediatrician before giving protein shakes to ensure safety and appropriateness.

Those trying to lose weight

Some people use protein shakes as meal replacements when attempting weight loss. However, this is not an effective long-term strategy.

Meal replacement shakes provide protein but lack other important nutrients from whole food sources. People attempting weight loss still require a balanced diet and calories from carbohydrates and fats for satiety.

Substituting food for protein shakes can cause nutritional deficiencies over time. It also does not support the lifestyle changes needed for long-term weight management.

People who don’t exercise regularly

Protein needs are increased for those who engage in strength training and endurance sports, to support muscle repair and recovery. Sedentary individuals who do not exercise only require 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight, per day.

Consuming excess protein through shakes is unnecessary if you are not very physically active. It provides excess calories without additional benefits. Occasional athletes or those who workout 1-3 days per week also likely do not need extra protein from shakes.

Individuals with a history of disordered eating

Protein shakes, meal replacements and supplements are commonly overused by those suffering from eating disorders like orthorexia, anorexia or muscle dysmorphia.

Obsessively tracking protein intake, compulsively exercising and drinking protein shakes beyond what is healthy can indicate disordered eating patterns. Those with a history of eating disorders should be mindful of this risk and avoid triggers.

People with gastrointestinal disorders

Individuals with gastrointestinal disorders like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastritis, peptic ulcers and diverticulitis may not tolerate protein shakes well due to gut irritation.

Whey protein in particular can worsen symptoms of these GI conditions. The high protein content can increase stomach acid production, while sugars and thickeners commonly added to shakes can aggravate the gastrointestinal lining.

Those with diabetes or blood sugar issues

People with diabetes, prediabetes or reactive hypoglycemia need to monitor their carbohydrate intake. However, many protein powders contain added sugars and carbs.

For example, one scoop of a whey protein powder contains 3-4g of carbohydrates from sugar. For people who carefully control carbs at meals, this can impact blood sugar levels.

Additionally, some research shows extra protein can affect insulin resistance long-term for those with diabetes. It’s best to avoid shakes with added carbohydrates and follow a consistent meal plan when managing blood sugar.

Anyone with difficulty swallowing

Protein shakes contain thickening ingredients like gums and emulsifiers to create the smooth, creamy texture. However, this can make them difficult to swallow for those with dysphagia or narrowing of the esophagus.

If you have difficulty swallowing, especially with thick liquids, protein shakes present a choking risk. It’s safer to meet protein needs from soft whole foods until swallowing issues are resolved.

People taking blood thinners

The vitamin K content found naturally in protein powders like whey, casein and egg white can interact with blood-thinning medications. Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting.

Consuming vitamin K supplements or vitamin K-rich foods can decrease the effectiveness of anticoagulant medications like Coumadin (warfarin). Speak with your cardiologist before taking protein shakes.

Anyone with a soy allergy

Soy protein powders have become popular among lactose intolerant individuals and vegans. However, soy is one of the top 8 food allergens.

An allergy to soy can cause hives, swelling, vomiting, diarrhea and anaphylaxis. Always read the ingredients carefully and know if you have any food allergies before consuming protein shakes or soy-based powders.

People who don’t like the taste

While protein powders come in an array of flavors like chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, the natural taste of common proteins like whey and soy does come through.

The flavor has been described as chalky, grainy and bitter. Many people find protein shakes unpalatable, especially in water. Don’t force yourself to drink shakes if you genuinely dislike the taste – there are other ways to boost your protein intake.

Anyone who is not active or trying to build muscle

Protein needs are greater for active individuals focused on building lean muscle through strength training and bodybuilding. The average sedentary person does not require concentrated doses of protein from shakes.

Consuming excess protein without an increased need provides unnecessary calories without benefit. It can also place strain on organs like the liver and kidneys which work to metabolize and excrete higher protein intakes.


Protein shakes can be a convenient way to boost protein intake if required. However, they are not necessary or suited for everyone’s health status and lifestyle. Those with kidney disease, digestive disorders, diabetes and soy allergies may wish to avoid shakes.

Pregnant women, children and older adults also have different protein needs that likely do not warrant supplementation with shakes. Additionally, sedentary people and those not focused on building muscle mass receive little added benefit from the extra protein.

As with any supplement, speak with your healthcare provider to determine if protein shakes are appropriate for your individual nutritional needs and health goals.

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