Is Protein Powder Harmful?

OPEX HQ Coach and CCP Nutrition Instructor Sean McGovern shares his thoughts on a recent study.

If you’re a fitness or health nut, chances are high that you’ve used or are using protein powder to build muscle and for recovery purposes. Protein powder has become so prevalent outside of gyms that it’s even being used to replace meals due its appeal as a generic health supplement. And why not? It’s easy to use and protein powder generally digests more easily than traditional sources of protein like meat, eggs, dairy, or fish. Much of the reason why protein powder is so popular is that it allows even the busiest people to get the appropriate amount of protein needed to function and train. Despite this proliferation in its use, few have ever asked the question as to whether protein powder can be dangerous to our health.

A recent report by ConsumerReports.com, in partnership with the Clean Label Project, discovered that many top-selling protein powders contain concerning levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead, and toxins like bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in some plastic containers and food can liners. The Clean Label Project tested 134 products from various companies. Of the 134 tested, almost all contained the presence of a heavy metal and 55% percent of them tested positive for BPA. It goes without saying that high consumption of products containing heavy metals or BPA can have some negative health effects.

Despite how dire this report may seem, it doesn’t mean you need to toss the protein powder out just yet. In fact, according to OPEX HQ Coach and CCP Nutrition Coach Sean McGovern, everyone already consumes foods that contain arsenic. “Looking at this Consumer Reports article can lead to some wrong conclusions and irrational fears, since most people already eat a great deal of products that contain arsenic like brown rice. Does that mean we should stop eating brown rice? Everything we eat has a positive and negative to it. What nutrition really comes down to is are you resilient enough to handle that toxic load.”

Some other foods that contain arsenic that you may already be ingesting include fish (depending on the source), some meats, brown rice, and brussel sprouts. It sounds like everything a staunch fitness guru already consumes daily. However, the human body is remarkably capable of handling these toxins from both food and protein powder. “Everything you eat is going to have a cost associated with it, but you have to judge what you eat based on how well your biological systems, like the liver, can eliminate toxins. One of the primary responsibilities of the liver is eliminating toxins. The real question is, how much toxic load or burden can you handle?”

To CCP Nutrition Instructor Sean McGovern, there’s no escaping the toxic burden associated with both foods and protein powder, especially since they are vital to our health and training. Instead of placing the blame on arsenic in our foods for all our woes, it’s best to take a look at how we live our lives and how that may be aiding or detracting from our ability to detox. Sean speaks further on the subject, “Where else are toxins coming from your life? If you are overloaded or bombarded with toxins due to working conditions or the location in which you live, your system will already be overloaded having to deal with that. In this case, it may be advantageous to stay away from nutrition sources that could be piling on to your already overtaxed detoxification”

According to coach McGovern, the toxin doesn’t matter as much as the dose or amount received. This means that we can negate the side effects of these toxins by carefully moderating what we eat and how we live our life. This includes choosing a protein powder that contain as little heavy metal poisoning as possible. You can see which protein powder scored the highest in customer safety in the CustomerReports article.

A little protein powder shake to aid in physical recovery or to supplement your daily protein intake won’t kill you. However you should take precautions to minimize your exposure to heavy metals and the effects of heavy metal poisoning by moderating both your lifestyle and your nutrition as well your choice of protein powder. Toxin exposure is a natural part of life. However, our bodies ability to detox is completely in our control provided to balance our exposure to toxins.

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