Help me safely increse my non-meat protein intake
August 14, 2010 4:52 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering going to a mostly meat-free diet, but I want to make sure that I still keep my protein intake up by supplementing with whey protein (up to about 80% of my total protein). Are there any health concerns here?

I exercise routinely and try to keep my protein intake at around 200 grams per day and have a well rounded diet. My concern is that there may be some "side-effects" from getting the bulk of my amino acids from whey. Does anything come to mind? I use Optimum Nutrition brand, if it matters.
posted by Dr. ShadowMask to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've never heard about any side effects, and ON Whey is good stuff (not like some cheaper brands which have been found to have uncomfortable levels of lead).

But is there any reason you don't want to get a chunk of your protein from milk/cheese/soy in addition to whey supplements?
posted by Diplodocus at 5:03 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I get gas from taking in too many milk-related foods. This could be mitigated, since you're only ingesting the whey part.

Ingesting way more protein than you'd usually do, in the name of trying to bulk up is sort of Weight Gainers Fallacy #1. Any extra protein will just be converted into energy. Going overboard with the protein is just going to cost you money.

What type of exercise are you doing? Your protein intake needs are going to be different if your at the gym for an hour, when compared to, you know, going for the Ironman in Kona.
posted by alex_skazat at 5:04 PM on August 14, 2010

ON is generally a good brand but one thing you need to consider is the amount of sugar and cholesterol that will come along from getting the majority of your protein from whey protein powder. Most reputable brands of protein powder also come preloaded with high amounts of sugar and / or cholesterol. There are some brands that do a good job of limiting both without using sugar alcohols, and also have a good mix of healthy carbs. Jay Robb brand whey is about as clean as it gets, although you do pay a premium for it. It is very expensive, but I have since switched over to that brand after using ON myself for many years. Its been a while since I've researched brands out there so there may be others that have low sugar. The Jay Robb brand one uses stevia, and somehow manages to avoid a bitter stevia-like after taste.
posted by jnnla at 5:18 PM on August 14, 2010

Response by poster: I think milk and cheese will be okay too... but whey has a certain convenience factor to it, and that was one of my considerations. Whether it's true or not, I've heard that it's not great for guys to supplement with soy, so I was avoiding it to be on the safe side. As far as the type of exercise, fairly intense weight lifting four times per week and a two to three mile run twice a week.
posted by Dr. ShadowMask at 5:25 PM on August 14, 2010

I would suggest begin making yourself some good soups, let some beans soak overnight or in a crock-pot and use those as your base of protein, it's closer to its more natural form.

Most cultures around the world use meat as an additive or side-dish. I wouldn't worry about your protein intake since most vegetarians suffer from not enough calories rather than a loss of protein.

I did not eat meat for the better part of a decade and loved it, and now I eat some but i can't bring myself to touch anything besides chicken or fish.

finally: people that say meat is the only way to get your full diet are not informed, shrug their comments off.
posted by zombieApoc at 5:33 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unless you have health problems we don't know about (in which case you should consult your doctor before a big dietary change like this), you'll already get plenty of protein in your diet as a vegetarian without having to make special plans for it.

Caveat: if you are planning to be vegan, or you're lactose intolerant such that you will be almost entirely vegan in practice if not in politics. In which case, as above, consult a professional.
posted by Sara C. at 6:06 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Assuming you're a reasonably-sized male who actually lifts heavy, 200g of protein/day is certainly not way more than you need. All macronutrients cotain energy, but protein is much more difficult to store as bodyfat than carbs or fat, so there's no need to be concerned there. As a 200# lifter who's trying to grow, I aim for 300g/day myself.

If you're buying ON's Gold Standard whey, there's very little non-protein energy in the powder, but there is a small amount. You can easily get purer and cheaper protein, though. I use this whey isolate from, which is unflavored. There's also a lot of different cheap options at

All of that said, I've certainly heard from several of the strong, knowledgeable dudes I know that it's advisable to get as much nutrition as possible from whole foods rather than supplements. However, I don't know of any specific reason not to do what you're asking. You will probably want to supplement creatine if you're not already, though, as it's largely found in meat.
posted by JohnMarston at 6:22 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's important to note that amino acids and protein are not the same. Amino acids are the bricks, and protein is the wall, if you will. Your body assembles the wall. However, some people are better at masonry than others. (If this clunky metaphor is still making sense, anyway.)

Is there anything wrong with eggs? I can buy free range, totally delicious eggs for about $2.50/doz. Egg white is the gold standard of protein. Each egg has around 7 grams of protein, but it's such high quality that you may well be able to cut back on the whey powders and what not.

I am a 32 year old woman. I have been meatless since age 17, been through two pregnancies, 3+ years of nursing, and never had any problems not getting enough protein (or with anemia, for that matter).
posted by Leta at 7:11 PM on August 14, 2010

Consumer Reports had long report on protein supplements, especially whey, just this July (July 2010). I saw some summaries of their reports, but didn't read the whole coverage. My recollection is that they were concerned about heavy metals in whey. You could dig up the articles in the library or pay online.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:37 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Welcome to the meatfree (or almost meatfree) club!

Plant sources of iron are less well absorbed than animal sources, so vegetarians need to bulk up on iron rich foods.

B12 deficiency is a risk for vegans, but you should be fine.

The fake meats made from other proteins like mycoprotein are pretty tasty actually (i.e Quorn, Lightlife, Smart Choices). I like eating fake chicken/turkey/etc. and some tofu a lot better than trying to use a lot of the protein powder, but to each his or her own!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:11 PM on August 14, 2010

A friend of mine with genetic OTC deficiency claims that doctors are starting to encounter healthy people without the disorder manifesting similar symptoms by overloading their system with protein (beyond recommended amounts, usually bodybuilders with whey powders), but I haven't been able to find any hard science.

If you want to spread out how you're taking in protein, consider the classic, beans (also high in potassium), japanese buckwheat noodles (soba), firm tofu, cheese, yogurt, etc.

Also, if you want to make sure you're hitting your full amino acids without meat, you want brown rice and beans. Together you get all of them. (I was looking up the amino acid stuff about a month ago, since I was trying to isolate why my body responded very well to red meat for a certain situation).
posted by yeloson at 11:58 PM on August 14, 2010

At Large Nutrition makes a really great protein powder called Nitrean. It's a mix of whey from milk, casein from cheese, and egg albumin. They claim this mixture is better than pure whey from a protein-absorption POV.

Here's a blurb from their web site re: the protein mix:
Whey is absorbed quickly and feeds your muscles immediately. Casein is more slowly digested and, therefore, provides muscle-building nutrients for a longer period of time.

The problem with whey-only products is that, although whey’s rapid absorption gets amino acids into your bloodstream quickly, that spike in amino acids soon dissipates and the body is left short of the amino acids it yearns for.

By combining whey and casein, Nitrean gives you the amino acid spike you need just after a workout and also provides you with a relatively constant supply of amino acids for the entire duration of the post-workout muscle-building period.
I don't know if that's true or false but Nitrean was my go-to protein source for a long time as it's what pretty much everyone on the John Stone Fitness forums swears by, and that's my favorite fitness community. Nitrean, to me, is the best tasting protein powder (chocolate and strawberry are delicious) so that's why I used it.
posted by Khalad at 8:19 AM on August 15, 2010

One thing you'll want to do is rotate between two or three different kinds of protein powders to help prevent food allergies.

I'd recommend using a well mixed protein source instead of just straight whey too. Save the whey for post workout. Buy a protein powder that is a combination of micellar casein, undenatured whey\milk proteins, and whey-protein isolate.

Micellar casein is a better thing to take as a dietary replacement than just straight whey because it's absorbed much slower and digested in a more constant manner.

If possible, try to get a little more of your daily protein from real food sources than you are aiming for now. If you can introduce Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, and almond milk you'll really cut down on your supplement bill and have better growth results.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:30 AM on August 15, 2010

you'll already get plenty of protein in your diet as a vegetarian without having to make special plans for it.
I wouldn't worry about your protein intake since most vegetarians suffer from not enough calories rather than a loss of protein.

This isn't good advice for someone who is lifting. The protein levels are as essential as the total daily caloric intake for gains or even just maintenance and they should definitely be monitored when making a huge dietary change.

I could write about protein for hours but basically 1g/lb of body-weight is important for just maintaining a neutral balance. It's a good rule and easy to follow.
For individuals you are trying to gain lean mass or have a fast metabolism they should consume 1.5g/lb of lean body-weight.

High protein based diets (following the above metrics) lead to increased mass and more active utilization of fat for energy during rest and work.

This study "Effect of protein intake and physical activity on 24-h pattern and rate of macronutrient utilization," took 14 males and put 8 of them on a lower protein diet and 6 on a higher protein diet. The high protein group was at a little over 1g/lb. The high protein group used 10% more fat during rest and work.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:04 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you want to avoid relying too much on whey protein, you might try mixing it up occasionally with some other protein supplements. I haven't tried these personally, but Mistress Krista recommends the ones sourced from eggs, hemp, brown rice, or peas/beans (Vega is the pea/bean one I've heard the best things about, potential GI effects notwithstanding).
posted by en forme de poire at 6:04 PM on August 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the great information! And here is a link to the table from the Consumer Reports website that bluedaisy was referring to. It's particularly useful concerning the heavy metals.
posted by Dr. ShadowMask at 10:52 AM on August 16, 2010

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