One Cannot Subsist On Protein Powder Alone: A PSA

August 28, 2019

New research suggests that excessive amino acids in the blood can lead to weight gain and a shorter life.

Sure, protein is necessary for building and maintaining muscle, bone strength, skin, nails, general cell maintenance, all of it! Nevertheless, loading up on protein powder is not the answer to our dietary woes.

What is in those protein powders anyway?

Most commercially available protein powders contain whey proteins, which are made up of branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs for short. Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the three amino acids in the chain, and some people believe these help build muscle mass. There is research to suggest that they do, and there is also research to suggest that they don’t.

Regardless, bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts alike get excited about protein powder. So excited that in 2017 alone, the whey protein industry had a net worth of about $9.4 billion and is still on the rise. Since protein powders are so popular, scientists are interested in studying how they really affect the body.

Research published in the journal of Nature Metabolism analyzed how a diet with excessively high levels of BCAAs affected mice. As you can probably guess, it was not good for them.

This is your brain on protein powder:

Mice who ingested a lot of BCAAs subsequently had high levels of those amino acids in their blood. High levels of those amino acids in the blood interrupts tryptophan, an alpha-amino acid that creates serotonin. We all know and love serotonin, our favorite feel-good hormone.

So, with tryptophan busy competing with unusually high levels of amino acids for transport into the brain, the mice were left with unusually low levels of serotonin. This is a bummer not only because those mice were probably in a terrible mood, but also because a lack of serotonin triggers appetite.

"The serotonin decrease caused by excess BCAA intake led to massive overeating in our mice, which became hugely obese and lived shorter lives."

Professor Stephen Simpson, via MedicalNewsToday

This is not to say consuming protein powder leads to obesity, but it is food for thought (or protein for thought?!). The mice in this study were fed double the normal amount of BCAAs for their entire lives. In order to avoid the negative side effects of whey protein, simply strike a balance of different protein sources in your diet. No matter how many gains we may seek, one cannot subsist on protein powder alone.

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