Whey-ing in on Protein Powders

This week I got a question about protein powder and this is a somewhat controversial topic among the paleo circles, so let’s tackle it here.


white powder of whey protein

The original question was “I’m currently using a protein powder that contains whey protein, pea protein and brown rice protein; is that OK to continue using on a paleo diet?”
My response was:
To give you the least complicated answer, the “official” stance is that protein shakes are not paleo. Period. Real food is always best. Personally, I’m not a fan of drinking your meals, I have a massive problem with bypassing the biological process of chewing to signal the start of digestion.
Reality is, it’s a hot topic in the community and you have to do what’s right for you, after you’ve done your total elimination for 30-90 days, you can see what your body tells you to do. If it works for you, then so be it, just don’t call it Paleo. The end all and be all of what works isn’t whether it’s paleo or not, but whether your body can handle it.
Here are some resources to look at when educating yourself and making your decision:
According to Amy Kubal, RD in this article about whey protein:
“If getting/staying lean and enhancing health and longevity are also on your list of ‘things to do’ – then liquid food will not the best choice make.  Why?  Two-words: Insulin Response.  Granted after you workout your insulin sensitivity is heightened and it takes less of it to clear the post workout meal glucose from the blood; but this phenomenon should be taken advantage of not hindered by a liquid induced blood sugar surge.  Liquids require less processing and digestion, so instead of the slow steady blood sugar rise that happens with a dose of starchy carb and some protein from real food sources; the ‘shaker bottle’ cocktail results in a zero to 60 increase in blood glucose levels.  This pedal to the metal rise requires insulin fast and even though sensitivity is heightened the end result is more insulin being produced to clear the sugar bombarded blood.  This folks – is NOT what we’re going for!”

And her follow up post looking at real food options to post workout meals here offers some whole food solutions to get the results you want:

Protein Options:

  • Packets or easy-open cans of water-packed tuna, salmon and/or sardines
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Pre-cooked steak or chicken sliced into easy to eat strips
  • Mini paleo meatloaves (make your meatloaf in muffin pans)
  • Jerky (get the good stuff – Slim Jim’s are NOT the ‘good stuff’)
  • Pre-cooked frozen shrimp (just run them under water to thaw and they’re ready to eat!)


Carbohydrate Options:

  • Pre-cooked sweet potatoes (baked, roasted, etc) – these are even good cold!!
  • Packets of baby food sweet potatoes and/or squash blends (there are lots of them out there!!!)
  • Cans of sweet potatoes, squash and/or pumpkin (unsweetened)
  • Fresh fruit (this is not the best choice – but can work in a pinch!)


Fat Options:

  • Unsweetened Coconut chips/flakes
  • Raw coconut meat
  • Medium Chain Triglyceride oil (MCT oil)
  • Nuts and/or olives (not the best choices – but can work in a pinch)

According to Dr. Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet:

“We believe that whey protein can have some potential adverse effects, because it greatly elevates insulinemia – although it can be therapeutic for diabetics in the short term. We suspect that whey protein could be detrimental long term, as hyperinsulinemia can down-regulate the insulin receptor and lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance underlies the Metabolic Syndrome, and is implicated in various other diseases, such as Acne, Alzheimer, various cancers, Coronary Heart Disease, Myopia, PCOS, and the like.”

In this article, from Stupid Easy Paleo, the 5 main arguments against Whey and other protein powders are posed, yet again, ultimately the answer lies in your body.
1. Protein powders are processed products, not real food.
2. Whey protein is a dairy product – and/ or whey protein may not be tolerated by the user similar to the gluten and casein proteins. In addition, lactose intolerant users may or may not react to whey.
3. Whey is obtained from low quality dairy (in other words, not grass fed) – does that really matter?
4. Are athletes the exception and does meal timing (ei post workout) really make a difference?
5. Does using protein powders make you “less paleo”?
Will you find protein powders calling themselves paleo? Yes. Absolutely. But I’ve also seen paleo “bars” using soy and agave. Just because it’s labeled paleo, doesn’t make it so.

As for pea protein, I’m going to be very brief, while I don’t have a problem with peas – protein is best sourced from protein sources. If I’m adding protein to a recipe (like my lara bar look alikes), I’m more partial to egg whites or ground up beef jerky.
Addressing the brown rice in this particular product, to me, and my body, and many others… Brown rice is the equivalent of the gastrointestinal anti-Christ. One teaspoon of brown rice causes me to swell/bloat almost instantaneously. It’s bran reacts almost identically to that of wheat. Even looking ancestrally at the consumption of rice, rice was  prepared by soaking and removing the bran. They may not have known why brown rice wasn’t tolerated or edible, but we do. That is because brown rice is full of phytates and lectins, which bind to vitamins and minerals and prevent them from being absorbed.
This article by Ancestral Nutrition, goes into the hows and whys of brown vs white rice.
Ultimately the choice to use it is yours. You don’t need whey to get strong. You can get all your nutrition from real, whole foods. If you’re not an athlete, I strongly recommend against it. If whey fits your athletic goals, you may decide to use it…even if you’re Paleo in all other aspects. Be sure you understand it’s pros and cons, and how it affects your personal goals.


About Leanna Cappucci

I am a woman, a mother, a wife, an entrepreneur and I have worn a hundred different hats in my lifetime. I've recreated myself when I've needed to, I've gleaned from the experiences I've been lucky enough to have - both positive and negative, and they have impacted the person that I am today. Like you, I've succeeded and failed and I will continue to do so, because failure is simply the precursor to success! As a coach, as a blogger and as a friend; I am just who I am. I will ramble, I will be honest, I will be emotionally invested and I will say it like it is. I am not a sugar coater, I value honesty. I am not afraid to disagree or have conflict, as those are both healthy and vital to individual growth. I enjoy teaching, learning, discussing and collaborating. As a mother, there is nothing more important to me that the responsibility I have been given to shape the lives of my children, to empower them, to protect them and to help them learn to be strong and independent adults some day.