How Do You Use Protein Powder? 7 Shocking Things Doctors Want You To Know

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

Protein drinks have been around for a while, but have seemingly become more popular in recent years. Since you can pretty much find a tub of protein powder anywhere you go, it can make you curious about trying one. According to science, there are both pros and cons to using protein powders. But what do doctors think? If you use protein powders regularly, or you're curious about it, there are some things doctors think you should know.

A 2016 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, found that increasing your protein intake after exercise or an athletic performance can help in retaining muscle mass and recovery. As Dr. Ruby Lathon, certified holistic nutritionist with Body Complete Rx, tells Bustle, "Protein powders are an easy and convenient way to increase your protein intake, but protein powders are not all created equal."

There are several things you need to consider before in order to find the right protein powder for you. For instance, the source of the protein used can make a big difference. According to Lathon, the best protein powders are made from plant-based sources not milk-derived powders like whey protein. "Plant derived protein powders cause less bloating and are easier to digest," she says.

Protein powders are widely available and can be used as part of your post-workout routine. But what do we really know about them? Here are some things doctors want you to know about protein powders.

1. Watch Out For Sweeteners

It's important to be aware of any sweeteners that are in the protein powder you're consuming. You may want to steer clear of artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sugar, or corn sugar. "The best sweeteners will be natural and minimally processed such as stevia or agave," Lathon says. "Artificial sweeteners are toxic to the body, and [may] only undermine your health goals."

2. Protein Powders Aren't Really A Necessity

"In general, Americans are over-proteinized. They won't lack protein in their diet," Dr. Steven Gundry MD, medical director at The International Heart and Lung Institute Center for Restorative Medicine and author of the The Plant Paradox, tells Bustle. So it isn't absolutely necessary to use. But if you are using protein powders to help you build muscle, adding "specific amino acids" that can help to increase muscle mass like flaxseed, hemp and spirolina, may be a good idea.

3. Excess Protein Gets Converted Into Sugar

Excess protein that is ingested gets converted into sugars in a process called gluconeogenesis. During this process, the liver and kidneys turn non-sugar compounds, like amino acids from protein, into sugar, which is then used for energy. It's a process that's meant to help the body. But of course, too much of anything is not a good thing. So if you are using a protein power after exercise, Gundry recommends using it a maximum of five days a week.

4. Excess Protein Consumption Can Be Very Damaging To Your Health

"The risks of protein powder supplementation are not trivial," Dr. Anthony Kouri, MD, orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center, tells Bustle. "Many individuals self-prescribe themselves protein supplementation without understanding the problems with excess protein consumption." For instance, a lifestyle that's excessively high in protein can generate acid in the body fluids. The kidneys excrete the extra acid while the bones absorb it. When this happen, this can lead to calcium loss and insufficiency fractures. Eating excessively high amounts of protein can also cause disorders in your liver function and can increase your chances of getting coronary artery disease. So while using protein powders aren't really bad for you, too much can be harmful.

5. It's Important To Drink A Lot Of Water

Part of staying healthy is drinking enough water each day. It's really important to drink more water when you're consuming more protein. According to Kouri, excess protein intake with low fluid intake can lead to the formation of gout or kidney stones. "With excess calcium being excreted through the kidney, in conjunction with relative dehydration, a person has up to a 250% greater likelihood of developing painful uric acid or calcium kidney stones," he says.

6. Avoid Whey Protein Powders If You Have A Lactose Intolerance

There are tons of options on the market today, and a lot of them contain whey protein. As family and emergency medical doctor, Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, tells Bustle, whey protein powders are great because they not only help you build muscle while exercising, they're also filling. But it's important to keep in mind that whey protein powders are milk-based. According to Dr. Thanu Jey, clinic director at Yorkville Sports Medicine Clinic, whey protein is a by-product of cheese production from milk. "If you suffer from lactose intolerance or a lactose allergy, you'll want to avoid whey based proteins and seek vegan options," he says.

7. You Can't Expect Too Much From Your Protein Powders

Protein powders aren't magic. "It's not going to automatically add 20 pounds of muscle, you have to do the hard work in the gym, too," Dr. Shawn Vedamani, MD, hormone and lifestyle expert, tells Bustle. In fact, some people might even be better off keeping to organic, nitrate-free chicken or wild smoked salmon for a quick hit of protein.

"Protein powders are a very convenient way to boost your protein intake, especially for athletes who have higher protein needs," Vedamani says. "I suggest that my clients aim for at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This should go up with age and level of physical activity."

While protein powders aren't a necessity, they aren't really bad for you either. It's just important to be cautious and do your research. Pay attention to the type of powder you're using, especially if you have dietary restrictions. It's also not a bad idea to consult with your doctor before making protein powders part of your regular routine. Remember that it's a supplement. The best way to get enough protein is through eating actual food.