FAQs: Is protein powder okay on a Paleo diet?

FAQs: Is protein powder okay on a Paleo diet?

Diane Sanfilippo Athletic Performance & Athletes, FAQs, Most Popular 80 Comments

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?

  • Carolyn

    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.

  • http://www.leanrunnerbean.com Kate

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

  • http://www.thelegveindoctor.com/blog/2014/7/18/why-are-women-at-significantly-higher-risk-of-experiencing-varicose-veins-during-menopause Maxine

    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.

  • http://dears.tumblr.com Emily

    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/

  • http://www.primohealthcoach.com Daniel Sanelli, MS

    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!

  • Stacey S

    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.