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FAQs: Is protein powder okay on a Paleo diet?

FAQs: Is protein powder okay on a Paleo diet?

The short answer: protein powders aren’t food.

And by now you know how I feel about the fact that we should be chewing and eating food.

But sometimes, there are exceptions to even my own “rules.” So, I’ll bend just a little here.

Some folks may be “qualified” to consume protein in a non-food/powdered form.

Supplement or food?

1. Those interested in mass-gain or who are hard-charging athletes.

If you’re looking to gain muscle mass, or you’re a hard-charging athlete who needs extra fuel beyond real meals to maintain your current level of muscle mass and performance, liquid food – protein powders can be useful.

If you find that your recovery after exercise is sluggish despite eating great meals rich in protein and quality carb sources, then a quality protein powder may be a good idea post-workout. 

I repeat, consider powder only if you've already adjusted your post-workout food to an appropriate balance that includes dense carb sources.

Note: If you haven't first considered all elements of appropriate mass-gain (including sleep, proper digestive function, and the fact that you should already eating a ton of real food) those need to be primary in your approach. If your sleep and digestion are a problem, protein shakes are not a solution. For many, protein powders may even aggravate digestion even further. 

If you’re on a mass-gain mission, sleeping well, digesting well, and are chowing down as much food as you can but still need to get some more calories and protein in your system, some powdered food might be okay for you.

The best types of protein powder are either 100% egg white or non-denatured whey protein from a grass-fed source. Check out some links below.

When you mix a non-denatured whey protein powder into your shakes, use a shaker bottle with a mixer ball and manually blend it or add it at the very end and pulse it just a few times in the blender so that you don’t then denature the protein. That said, these are isolated nutrients and should be viewed as supplementation sources, not food replacements. If you are capable of eating food, you should eat food.

2. Those who have diminished capacity to chew and swallow food.

Is protein powder okay on a paleo diet?

Protein powder supplementation can be useful for those with diminished capacity to chew and swallow like the elderly or someone suffering from dysphagia (inability to swallow), or a very young child who is struggling to consume enough calories. These folks may benefit from including a high quality protein powder into otherwise clean-ingredient shakes.

Some ingredients that are great to add to 100% grass-fed whey protein powder or 100% egg white protein powder include:

  • organic coconut milk
  • coconut water (no sugar added)
  • fresh or frozen fruit – bananas, berries, mango, pineapple
  • egg yolks – from organic pastured eggs only (for calories and fat, not ideal for athletes post-workout refueling but may be helpful for pre-workout or adding calories for adding mass)
  • organic almond butter or other nut butter (for calories and fat, not ideal for athletes post-workout refueling but may be helpful for pre-workout or adding calories for adding mass)

Some options if you discover that you “qualify” to consume protein powder:

Raw Organic Whey
from 100% grass-fed cow's milk

The Organic Whey
from 100% grass-fed cow's milk

If you are intolerant to whey, a 100% egg white protein may be okay, but the quality of the eggs from which this is made puts it in the category, in my opinion, of a lesser quality food choice.

NowFoods Egg White Protein
100% egg white protein, unflavored

GEO Organic Egg White Protein
100% egg white protein, unflavored

I also love Great Lakes Gelatin as a supplemental food source for recovery and general health. It isn't an isolated protein powder and, in my opinion, is great for anyone to add to their diet and even post-workout plan.

Great Lakes Gelatin Green Label  (dissolves in water, can be added to smoothies or other powders that are shaken) 

Great Lakes Gelatin Orange Label (makes gelatin you can eat like “jigglers”).
Check out this recipe from The Food Lovers.

Do you use protein powder supplementation?

If so, why? If not, why not?

What brands have you found with the cleanest, most paleo-friendly ingredients out there?

Comments 82

  1. I see no advantages of protein powder versus just going home and eating dinner after my workout. Sometimes it’s tasty and convenient to make a shake w/ coconut water, and almond butter w/ fruit for a snack…but that’s about it.

    Just eat real food. I read somewhere that consuming bone broth allows enables one to require less protein…maybe you can comment on that?

    1. I’m with you – which is why I feel folks need to “qualify” for the powder. Many athletes I work with have told me they feel a LOT better/stronger/less fatigued when they get in the fuel quickly.

      I love the idea of broth or even gelatin powder post workout. Not sure it replaces other protein for everyone but for some it may. I think it’s about testing and seeing what works for you.

    2. yes, and the reason is that broth doesn’t require digestion – so 99% gets into the bloodstream quickly. there are advantages to protein powders in shakes. 1 a day is a good health choice – don’t drink all your meals, but definitely consider 1 per day. AminoMarine is a fish protein powder full of peptides – USA consumers DO NOT get enough marine ingredients in their diets (fish, shrimp, kelp, you name it – all are good and bring a nutritional profile different from the industrialized land protein options.

    3. Yep, that’s what I was saying. I’m actually testing it right now for myself to do some whey + blueberries but I think for most people it’s just an interstitial if real food is going to take too long to get to and they’re hungry/shaky post-workout…

  2. I see no advantages of protein powder versus just going home and eating dinner after my workout. Sometimes it’s tasty and convenient to make a shake w/ coconut water, and almond butter w/ fruit for a snack…but that’s about it.

    Just eat real food. I read somewhere that consuming bone broth allows enables one to require less protein…maybe you can comment on that?

    1. Yep, that’s what I was saying. I’m actually testing it right now for myself to do some whey + blueberries but I think for most people it’s just an interstitial if real food is going to take too long to get to and they’re hungry/shaky post-workout…

  3. Would you consider a gelatin/collagen product like the ones from Great Lakes to be a protein powder? I have trouble keeping up with making so much bone broth.

    1. It’s a form of protein powder- definitely worth including in your diet. I’m adding a video to YouTube now and talk about it a bit.

  4. Would you consider a gelatin/collagen product like the ones from Great Lakes to be a protein powder? I have trouble keeping up with making so much bone broth.

    1. It’s a form of protein powder- definitely worth including in your diet. I’m adding a video to YouTube now and talk about it a bit.

  5. I do use protein powder to supplement. I do a fair amount of weightlifting and lots of cardio. I eat a big steamer-bowlful of veggies every night at dinner with lean meat or fish. I also eat a salad with lots of veggies in it at lunch with some type of lean meat or fish. Breakfast and snack time is usually where I mix protein powder in with greek yogurt, and after dinner I’ll have a snack with some protein powder mixed with fruit and greek yogurt, and maybe nut butter. Since I work out twice a day many days and get cardio in where I can, and real food is always best, but then, there are so many offshoots of paleo and some won’t touch dairy, some won’t touch grains, beans or potatoes, etc. What certain groups define as “real food” differs even among… “real food” 🙂

  6. I do use protein powder to supplement. I do a fair amount of weightlifting and lots of cardio. I eat a big steamer-bowlful of veggies every night at dinner with lean meat or fish. I also eat a salad with lots of veggies in it at lunch with some type of lean meat or fish. Breakfast and snack time is usually where I mix protein powder in with greek yogurt, and after dinner I’ll have a snack with some protein powder mixed with fruit and greek yogurt, and maybe nut butter. Since I work out twice a day many days and get cardio in where I can, and real food is always best, but then, there are so many offshoots of paleo and some won’t touch dairy, some won’t touch grains, beans or potatoes, etc. What certain groups define as “real food” differs even among… “real food” 🙂

  7. I’m a big Balanced Bites fan, and I can say trying an undenatured whey drink is completely worth it but is has to be the right whey. IsaLean Pro and IsaPro Whey are New Zealand-sourced, undenatured and grassfed, and loaded with trace minerals and active enzymes. They are formulated with good carbohydrates to be a complete meal replacement, but use as part of your overall Paleo eating plan, not in replace of! Be smart, use the knowledge you have gained here. Your body will know the will the difference!
    http://www.jmurgatroy.isagenix.com

  8. I’m a big Balanced Bites fan, and I can say trying an undenatured whey drink is completely worth it but is has to be the right whey. IsaLean Pro and IsaPro Whey are New Zealand-sourced, undenatured and grassfed, and loaded with trace minerals and active enzymes. They are formulated with good carbohydrates to be a complete meal replacement, but use as part of your overall Paleo eating plan, not in replace of! Be smart, use the knowledge you have gained here. Your body will know the will the difference!
    http://www.jmurgatroy.isagenix.com

  9. I do ..becaue my life is not my own…so I rather have smoothies then the alternative 🙂 I have used Optimum nutrition but I have switched to EPXBODY nourish which has amino acid profile, grassfed and NO sugars are anything added to it.

  10. I do ..becaue my life is not my own…so I rather have smoothies then the alternative 🙂 I have used Optimum nutrition but I have switched to EPXBODY nourish which has amino acid profile, grassfed and NO sugars are anything added to it.

  11. I do use protein powder ever so often because of my fibromyalgia/ vertigo. I can’t cook or trust myself around sharp objects during a flare so I take veggies, fruit and coconut or almond milk. Sometimes kefir because of it’s probiotics and blend with the protein powder and drink it. It can take up to an hour depending how sick I am. Otherwise I will choose not to eat or drink because Iam to tired or the pain Iis too intense.

  12. I do use protein powder ever so often because of my fibromyalgia/ vertigo. I can’t cook or trust myself around sharp objects during a flare so I take veggies, fruit and coconut or almond milk. Sometimes kefir because of it’s probiotics and blend with the protein powder and drink it. It can take up to an hour depending how sick I am. Otherwise I will choose not to eat or drink because Iam to tired or the pain Iis too intense.

  13. I hate the idea of meal or snack replacements, but I am a nurse that gets lucky when I get to pee, so a non dairy/GF/soy free/nut free option would be super welcomed. I am allergic to wheat and milk and something else according to biopsies and symptoms. On 6/17 I am eliminating all allergens. I am currently unable to get to a healthy weight because of the skipping meals and snacks (no time). Before anyone gives me the no time lecture a) I make ALL of my food from scratch, work 60+ hours salary, am a full time student, make homemade dog food for 3 dogs, and entertain my husband. b) I think a says it all .. ; )

    1. If you are eliminating ALL allergens, eggs included, then there aren’t any protein powders I’d recommend for you – at all. I’m sorry that this isn’t convenient, but it’s the truth of the matter! :/ Feel free to eat and snack as much as you like, but you’re going to need to do it with food vs shakes IMO.

    2. katie – try AminoMarine fish protein powder – new to USA market. taste is great – choose the Paleo+Citrus flavor – mix into a shake with 1/2 banana, some berries and kale – a tspn of flax seed (or similar) you will be amazed 1

    3. I use sunwarrior warrior blend natural. its dairy/gluten/soy and nut free. It contains raw pea, raw cranberry and raw organic hemp protein, salt and medium chain triglycerides. Its not perfect but with a histamine intolerance my foods list is pretty limited and I react to so many foods. It works for me, maybe it will help you!

      1. Thanks for the suggestion! I too use vegan protein powders occassionally as they are quick, nutritious and seems to help with my weightloss. Whey powders make me cough! I hadn’t tried this brand and I am looking forward to it! I also add mixed berries, greens plus, and gelatin to mine!

  14. I hate the idea of meal or snack replacements, but I am a nurse that gets lucky when I get to pee, so a non dairy/GF/soy free/nut free option would be super welcomed. I am allergic to wheat and milk and something else according to biopsies and symptoms. On 6/17 I am eliminating all allergens. I am currently unable to get to a healthy weight because of the skipping meals and snacks (no time). Before anyone gives me the no time lecture a) I make ALL of my food from scratch, work 60+ hours salary, am a full time student, make homemade dog food for 3 dogs, and entertain my husband. b) I think a says it all .. ; )

    1. I use sunwarrior warrior blend natural. its dairy/gluten/soy and nut free. It contains raw pea, raw cranberry and raw organic hemp protein, salt and medium chain triglycerides. Its not perfect but with a histamine intolerance my foods list is pretty limited and I react to so many foods. It works for me, maybe it will help you!

    2. Arbonnes is gluten, soy, dairy, whey free. Also vegan and kosher. No GMO either. Check out MarlissaTutaj.arbonne.com

  15. I used to rely on protein powder for morning smoothies and the like, mainly because I had this fear that I wasn’t getting enough protein. At the time I had a goal of getting a gram of protein per lb of lean mass everyday. In the past year I’ve come to realize that I don’t need that much protein, that it isn’t really necessary to feel satisfied and maintain lean mass. There was a really interesting post by Mark Sisson about protein intake recently that covered this well: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/how-much-protein-should-you-be-eating/#axzz2VjEeQ7w3
    Ostensibly, I’ve tried to get away from using protein powder because it doesn’t seem necessary (for me anyway). Fat satisfies me way more than protein.

  16. I used to rely on protein powder for morning smoothies and the like, mainly because I had this fear that I wasn’t getting enough protein. At the time I had a goal of getting a gram of protein per lb of lean mass everyday. In the past year I’ve come to realize that I don’t need that much protein, that it isn’t really necessary to feel satisfied and maintain lean mass. There was a really interesting post by Mark Sisson about protein intake recently that covered this well: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/how-much-protein-should-you-be-eating/#axzz2VjEeQ7w3
    Ostensibly, I’ve tried to get away from using protein powder because it doesn’t seem necessary (for me anyway). Fat satisfies me way more than protein.

  17. I just switched to Paleo Pro. No whey and its awesome. Ive been Paleo for 3 years and recently needed to add a smoothie to my mornings. It is so good mixed with berries, spinach and coconut milk. http://Www.paleoproproducts.com.
    I am not in any way affiliated with them. I just love their protein.

    1. I considered that one, but no where on their site do they mention Grass Fed. I even emailed them to find out, and they never replied. I need to stay away from hormones, and a cow eating soy is no bueno!

    2. the Paleo Pro guys make a good product. If you want to mix up your proteins to avoid potential allergies, consider Fish Protein Powder as well – AminoMarine is on USA market

  18. I just switched to Paleo Pro. No whey and its awesome. Ive been Paleo for 3 years and recently needed to add a smoothie to my mornings. It is so good mixed with berries, spinach and coconut milk. http://Www.paleoproproducts.com.
    I am not in any way affiliated with them. I just love their protein.

    1. I considered that one, but no where on their site do they mention Grass Fed. I even emailed them to find out, and they never replied. I need to stay away from hormones, and a cow eating soy is no bueno!

  19. A great source of whey is New Zealand grass fed whey. They animals are the A2 variety of cows that dont have the histidine amino acid on the 67th amino acid chain. And these cows are more in line with their ancestors from before they were domesticated. Pair that with New Zealands avoidance of antibiotics and growth hormone plus being raised as naturally grazing organic grass eater. Makes for a great protein choice

    http://www.recoverynutrition.ca/

  20. A great source of whey is New Zealand grass fed whey. They animals are the A2 variety of cows that dont have the histidine amino acid on the 67th amino acid chain. And these cows are more in line with their ancestors from before they were domesticated. Pair that with New Zealands avoidance of antibiotics and growth hormone plus being raised as naturally grazing organic grass eater. Makes for a great protein choice

    http://www.recoverynutrition.ca/

  21. Fish Protein Powder is an alternative – at least it is not dairy. AminoMarine is one on the market in USA.

  22. Protein Powder is a great supplement, should not be a meal replacement. Going further, you can now find several options for protein powder sources like hemp, brown rice, other vegan options, etc.

    Check out http://www.hellenicprotein.com for an overview of protein types.

  23. there is a new Fish Protein Powder from AminoMarine on the market – taste is good – Chocolate-Hazelnut flavor is Paleo friendly. not everyone wants to take the time to cook fish, and there is a nutritional benefit to hydrolyzed fish protein as it is 99% fish peptide – fast update, full conversion to muscle. lots of independent scientific research on the market today.

  24. I do use whey protein isolate from True Nutrition. It’s well known to have the highest whey protein isolate quality and I only take it as a post workout meal since whey protein is easily digestible for the body after a hard workout compare to protein from meat/fish.

  25. I do use whey protein isolate from True Nutrition. It’s well known to have the highest whey protein isolate quality and I only take it as a post workout meal since whey protein is easily digestible for the body after a hard workout compare to protein from meat/fish.

    1. At this time I only recommend items that are 100% protein – with no other ingredients.

    1. At this time I only recommend items that are 100% protein – with no other ingredients.

  26. I had a nutrition store owner tell me that the process of making the protein powder/ whey, denatures the protein due to the heat and all the benefits of using grass fed animals is destroyed, therefore you are getting the same protein/ whey as any other product just at a higher price. Is there any truth to that?

    1. With regards to the denaturing, a raw grass-fed whey will not be heat-processed or destroyed. That said, the benefits of grass-fed products is more than just the product itself, it’s also supporting a sustainable method of raising cows – on pasture.

  27. I had a nutrition store owner tell me that the process of making the protein powder/ whey, denatures the protein due to the heat and all the benefits of using grass fed animals is destroyed, therefore you are getting the same protein/ whey as any other product just at a higher price. Is there any truth to that?

    1. With regards to the denaturing, a raw grass-fed whey will not be heat-processed or destroyed. That said, the benefits of grass-fed products is more than just the product itself, it’s also supporting a sustainable method of raising cows – on pasture.

  28. I do make a shake but add no real powders, rather a whole pastured egg and gelatin in a base of kevita with some frozen fruits, fresh ginger, cinnamon and dehydrated homemade lemon peel for Vitamin C!

  29. I do make a shake but add no real powders, rather a whole pastured egg and gelatin in a base of kevita with some frozen fruits, fresh ginger, cinnamon and dehydrated homemade lemon peel for Vitamin C!

  30. I have been trying out using hemp powder in a berry smoothie here and there. I don’t always want lunch and so this is my midafternoon meal/snack. Still seeing if it works for me or not…

  31. I have been trying out using hemp powder in a berry smoothie here and there. I don’t always want lunch and so this is my midafternoon meal/snack. Still seeing if it works for me or not…

  32. I use a grassfed pure whey isolate shake sweetened with stevia, and no gross additives but I’ve been considering just bringing a pre-made meal with me to every workout instead. My only concern is that I usually finish my WOD at around 5:00 and I feel like I wouldn’t be hungry at 7:00 if I ate a full blown meal after my workout. I just recently started IF and my eating window ends at 8:00 so that would not be ideal if I wasn’t hungry at 7:00.

  33. I use a grassfed pure whey isolate shake sweetened with stevia, and no gross additives but I’ve been considering just bringing a pre-made meal with me to every workout instead. My only concern is that I usually finish my WOD at around 5:00 and I feel like I wouldn’t be hungry at 7:00 if I ate a full blown meal after my workout. I just recently started IF and my eating window ends at 8:00 so that would not be ideal if I wasn’t hungry at 7:00.

  34. Are protein powders an option if you can’t tolerate dairy or eggs? Are there any DF/GF/Egg free protein powders worth trying? Thanks so much for all the information you share!

  35. Are protein powders an option if you can’t tolerate dairy or eggs? Are there any DF/GF/Egg free protein powders worth trying? Thanks so much for all the information you share!

  36. I’m not a meat eater so eggs, chicken and tuna are about all I can handle. I workout right before lunch so I typically go with shake (powder and unsweetened almond milk), a huge salad and serving of fruit.

  37. I’m not a meat eater so eggs, chicken and tuna are about all I can handle. I workout right before lunch so I typically go with shake (powder and unsweetened almond milk), a huge salad and serving of fruit.

  38. I’m a 15-year vegetarian trying to learn to like the taste, smell and texture of meat. (I’ve never enjoyed meat, so it’s not an ethical aversion.) Until my palate is trained, I’ve been supplementing my smoothies and other sweet dishes with organic vanilla hemp protein powder. It sits well in my sensitive tummy and provides omega-3 and fiber as well as protein. I look forward to the day when I can stomach whole proteins beyond eggs and salmon …

    1. I totally hear that. The only meat I eat is filet of tenderloin (or filet mignon), it’s the softest cut but tends to be the most expensive cut as well. Its the only cut of beef I can tolerate. If you want to try it, buy it on the last day the store is allowed to keep it on the shelf. (The label will say the date to take it off.) …because they usually mark it down dramatically.

  39. I’m a 15-year vegetarian trying to learn to like the taste, smell and texture of meat. (I’ve never enjoyed meat, so it’s not an ethical aversion.) Until my palate is trained, I’ve been supplementing my smoothies and other sweet dishes with organic vanilla hemp protein powder. It sits well in my sensitive tummy and provides omega-3 and fiber as well as protein. I look forward to the day when I can stomach whole proteins beyond eggs and salmon …

    1. I totally hear that. The only meat I eat is filet of tenderloin (or filet mignon), it’s the softest cut but tends to be the most expensive cut as well. Its the only cut of beef I can tolerate. If you want to try it, buy it on the last day the store is allowed to keep it on the shelf. (The label will say the date to take it off.) …because they usually mark it down dramatically.

  40. In the fermented yam recipe from cavegirlplusone it calls for whey….can’t you ferment the yams without it?

  41. In the fermented yam recipe from cavegirlplusone it calls for whey….can’t you ferment the yams without it?

  42. I have a 6 year-old who has always been a terrible eater. She is bringing her lunches home, uneaten, and tries to get all of her calories in snacks. I am looking for a paleo protein smoothie recipe that I can get into her and perhaps she would even look forward to. We do paleo to address ADHD concerns; however, she is at the 3rd percentile for height and weight, so I need to do something to get calories and protein into her.

  43. I have a 6 year-old who has always been a terrible eater. She is bringing her lunches home, uneaten, and tries to get all of her calories in snacks. I am looking for a paleo protein smoothie recipe that I can get into her and perhaps she would even look forward to. We do paleo to address ADHD concerns; however, she is at the 3rd percentile for height and weight, so I need to do something to get calories and protein into her.

  44. What are your thoughts on Garden of Life protein? I make a ‘treat’ smoothie with that, and add 1 green tipped banana, unsweetened almond milk and avocado. Bad? Good?

  45. What are your thoughts on Garden of Life protein? I make a ‘treat’ smoothie with that, and add 1 green tipped banana, unsweetened almond milk and avocado. Bad? Good?

  46. One of the best places I’ve found to buy 100% whey protein isolate (grass fed or cold fitration) with no other ingredients is truenutrition.com — been ordering from there for years.

  47. I am also interested in a paleo protein powder for smoothies (mix of frozen fruit and kale) for my son who is adhd and as an alternative to eggs in the morning or when he has a upset belly say after a party and he gets into foods he should not. Great way to get kale into him to but to keep his blood sugar level, would like to add protein. I sometimes also add avocado but he eats that a lot during lunches now as well.

  48. Diane – do you have opinions of vegan types of protein, like rice protein etc? Would it be a better option that traditional whey?
    Thanks!

  49. I use protein supplements when I am on the go and do not have time to eat breakfast (not healthy, I know). I quickly blend a protein shake with bananas (or honey etc) and drink it as I am doing my hair. Aside from that, I think eating a balanced diet gives you all the protein you need.

  50. I supplement with whey because sometimes it’s hard for me to get to my 150g protein target every day. I don’t drink a shake every day but I do on days when I lift heavy. I make my shoes with almond milk and a teaspoon of flax oil so my body can better absorb that needed protein. I’m particularly for of the Moss Nutrition unflavored whey (I buy unflavored because the less added the better). https://www.mossnutrition.com/products/selectwheyunflavored/

  51. Hi Diane,

    I love the work you’re doing and I agree with most of what you say. But on this topic I think you missed some. Living in San Francisco, which I know you did recently, it is rarely possible to make every meal of your day. And chewing every bite, while is the best idea, it’s not always possible to get in all the nutrients we need. I don’t think you should make people feel guilty for making the occasional HEALTHY protein shake. It’s hard enough to get people to eat at all sometimes.

    I really like Chris Kresser’s response to this same question: http://chriskresser.com/5-reasons-you-may-need-more-protein-even-on-a-paleo-diet

    This is not in any way intended to devalue your work. Keep it up!

  52. I use Philosophie Superfood Blends for a quick mid-morning smoothie. It is raw, vegan, GF, and has 10g of Protein. No crazy fillers, sugars, or chemicals. I use the Green Dream blended with a handful spinach, green tipped banana and Almond Milk.

  53. I use a tablespoon of the Great Lakes Gelatin in my coffee every day along with a teaspoon of grassfed butter. It blends into a nice frothy drink. The extra 11 grams of protein and all the amino acids really help my energy levels.

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