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Buying protein powder in bulk is a cost-effective strategy, particularly if a shake or two is part of your daily routine.
As you can purchase protein powder at an exponentially cheaper price by buying large containers, it's pretty typical to see a gigantic protein jar somewhere in most lifter's kitchens. However, how much is too much? And if you do end up buying more than you thought you needed, can protein powder expire?
Perhaps you're here because you found some unused protein powder in the back of your cupboard. You're not sure how long it's been there, but you don't want to waste it. Or, maybe you're considering buying it in bulk, but want to determine how much you'll have to consume so it doesn't expire.
So, can protein powder go bad? Is expired protein powder safe to drink, or do you need to throw it out? This article will go over what you need to know about any expired protein powder product you may find.
Table of Contents:
To fully understand if protein powder can expire, we need to know what it's made of. Organic material can expire, while non-organic material can have an unlimited shelf life, so you probably shouldn't be eating it anyways.
Protein powder is designed to be an effective and efficient way to get in your protein intake, especially for those with high protein needs.
Therefore, to create a product with this concentration, companies extract protein from various sources and then process it into a powder. Whey protein powder is a dairy protein made from the protein in whey, pea protein powder is derived from the protein in peas, and so on.
That means the protein in whey protein powder is the exact same protein you'd find in the whey of milk. It's just been extracted and processed further to isolate the protein.
Many protein powders also add various artificial flavors, natural flavors, emulsifiers, and other ingredients commonly found in foods.
In summary, protein powder is made from organic protein mixed with other ingredients, meaning it can go bad.
Protein powder definitely has an expiration date, but going past this doesn't necessarily mean the protein is harmful.
Some products will use terminology such as a "best by date" or "sell by date" printed on the container to indicate ideal consumption periods.
A "best by date" generally implies that a product is still safe to eat, but doing so past this date may make the taste unpleasant or consistency less desirable. Therefore, if you want the best experience, you should eat the product before that date.
A "sell-by date" is usually used for unprocessed foods, which will expire quickly. Many foods with a sell-by date are organic or freshly made, meaning they have a shorter shelf life.
The good thing is that protein powders have a very long shelf life. Assuming the protein tub has been tightly sealed and stored away from moisture or direct sunlight, there shouldn't be an issue.
You may think that because whey is dairy, it will go bad quickly. That's actually not the case. The type of whey protein can affect its shelf life, but that's about it. Let's look at some studies to show us how whey protein acts in real life.
A study from 2005 looked at the effect of storage temperature on whey protein. Researchers found that when stored at 70 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity of 35 percent, whey protein can last 12-19 months1.
Another study from 2016 examined whey concentrate and found that even when stored at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the protein still lasted nine months. When stored at a more typical 70 degrees Fahrenheit, whey concentrate will last 18 months2.
Whey isolate, on the other hand, seems to have a slightly shorter shelf life than concentrate. A study from 2009 found that, on average, isolate has a shelf life of 8-15 months (3). Again, even if you buy a big tub, that's at least six months longer than you need, assuming you take one scoop daily.
For some great whey options, check out our article on the 7 Best Whey Isolate Protein Powders. Or, you could go straight to my best pick: Kaged Whey Protein Isolate. It mixes great, and in addition to its 25 grams of protein, it's only around $1.25 per serving.
But please don't let it expire; this stuff is awesome!
Egg white protein comes from egg whites. However, like whey protein, this doesn't mean it will go bad quickly.
While there are no studies specifically on egg white protein powder, my guess is that the average product will be similar to whey. You may want to start getting cautious at the 9-month mark, which is the shorter shelf life for whey isolate. Just give it a sniff test and pay attention to the color and taste before you chug a shake.
Looking for one of the cleanest protein powders there is? Check our article on the 7 Best Egg White Protein Powders for some high-quality protein powder.
I really like Jay Robb Egg Whites for its purity, incredible taste, and 24g of protein and 40g of calcium in each serving. Plus, they use free-range eggs with no hormones in the chicken feed, so the sustainability is an added bonus.
Vegan protein is composed of various plant-based protein powders. Unfortunately, there have been no scientific studies on the shelf life of vegan proteins, so we can't give you an exact expiration date. That being said, it's made from real organic plants, so it will expire at some point.
Assuming it's processed with similar ingredients, a vegan protein powder expiration date isn't going to be crazy short. Still, you should start to be cautious around that 12-month mark.
Getting a high-quality product will be your best bet. To see our top picks for vegan proteins with a long shelf life, you'll want to pick one of these 7 Best Vegan Protein Powders.
My top pick, KOS Vegan Protein Powder, combines a blend of five different types of plant-based protein to ensure that you get a full complement of amino acids, a common concern for vegan proteins.
Hemp protein is a vegan protein that's growing in popularity. And, it will have a similar expiration date to any other vegan protein, which is about a year. Although it's relatively low in protein when compared to other vegan options, it can be a good choice for those who like the flavor or are just a fan of this plant.
If you want to try some fresh hemp protein, check out Nutiva's Organic Hemp Protein Powder for a top-quality product with 11 grams of protein, 11 grams of fiber, 2.1 grams of Omega (3&6) fatty acids, and a low-calorie count of 110.
Or, you can read more in our article 7 Best Hemp Protein Powder Supplements for our other favorites!
Pea protein is becoming one of the most popular vegan protein powders. Being that it is organic, it will expire. Unfortunately, similar to other vegan proteins, there seems to be an absence of studies. Therefore, I'd guess that it's similar to other protein powders.
As mentioned, pea protein powder is quickly becoming a very popular vegan protein powder. It also has one of the highest amino acid concentrations, especially mixed with rice protein. If you have been thinking of trying plant-based protein powders, we definitely recommend a quality pea protein powder.
Naked Pea Protein Powder is my favorite for its price, protein content (27 grams per serving!), and flavor. You'll also get a solid dose of BCAAs, supporting any muscle gain goals you have.
Check out these 9 Best Pea Protein Powder Supplements for some great options.
The longest shelf life we have seen given for a protein is two years, given by Optimum Nutrition. That said, here's a summary of the average shelf times for proteins.
One suggestion: If you find that you're consistently unable to consume all of your protein powder within these time frames, try including protein powder into recipes to use it more quickly. For example, using your protein powder you can make high-protein meals and snacks, like protein pancakes, homemade protein bars, and protein cookies!
When protein powder expires, two things may happen.
The first is that the safety of the protein can begin to drop. There will be a greater chance of contamination which could lead to adverse reactions.
Secondly, the actual protein can begin to deteriorate. While this won't necessarily hurt you, you simply won't get as much protein which defeats the point of taking protein powder anyways.
Let's say you get a tub that's, shall we say, iffy. How can you tell if your protein is good or bad? The first sign you may notice is the smell. Old protein can give off a bit of a pungent smell.
Another sign could be clumping, which is usually due to moisture getting into the powder. When this happens, the protein has been tainted, indicating contamination.
Before you drink the protein, your last major indicator is the color. Old protein powder may become discolored, so it should be pretty easy to determine whether your protein powder has gone bad.
Maybe, maybe not. Remember that the expiration date isn't so much a safety date. Instead, it's a guide to estimating the quality of a product.
That said, a protein powder that has expired does raise the risk of adverse effects. As mentioned, general nausea and gastric issues seem to be the most common adverse reaction.
Still, there are a ton of factors that will dictate when a protein powder becomes less safe for consumption. For example, how you store protein powder can have a significant effect.
With all this in mind, three months is the time commonly given as to how long you can consume a protein powder after an expiration date.
Let's say you're in a bind and find that your only choice is some expired powder. You obviously don't want to mess with building muscle, so you decide to drink some. What's going to happen?
The first likely occurrence will simply be an unpleasant experience. The taste and smell will likely be slightly off, perhaps causing some gagging and questioning if you should finish your old protein shake.
Second, you might experience some stomach issues, such as diarrhea. Protein by itself is known cause gastric issues for some people, even when it's fresh. That effect seems to be exaggerated if it's expired.
The third and worst scenario is you'll be a bit nauseous and may need to lie down for a while. Don't forget this will come alongside the gastric issues, so really consider whether drinking that old protein shake is worth it.
Even though expired protein likely won't cause any major problems, it can still cause some unpleasant side effects. Fortunately, most protein powders have a long shelf life if they're stored properly.
Assuming you store protein powder correctly, there's little reason for expiration to even be a concern. Follow these simple guidelines to keep your protein powder fresh and maximize its shelf life:
According to one user on Reddit, if you're in doubt, try the smell/eye test:
"Protein powder should be fine pretty much indefinitely so long as it's sealed and no water gets in; I buy expired protein all the time because it's cheap. Sometimes expired protein bars etc. can get sketchy, but the smell/looks test has never failed me." (source)
Still got more questions? Let's get some answers to other things you might be curious about when it comes to consuming old protein powder.
Storing protein in heat cause protein to go bad faster.
Yes! While there don't seem to be reports of severe side effects, nausea and diarrhea seem to be the most common issues.
If protein powder extends past the expiration date, the protein can break down, reducing the total amount absorbed by your body.
Well, it's not great. The best-case scenario is it'll taste and smell awful. The worst case is it may cause stomach issues that may put you out for a while. Further, the protein has likely lost its quality.
If you must, you can probably drink protein powder past the3-4 month mark.
To sum up this conundrum, yes, protein powder can go bad. However, the shelf life of most protein powders is quite long. Assuming you store your protein properly, there's little cause for concern.
If you do happen to come across some very old protein powder the safest option is to simply buy a new tub. Before buying more, be sure to check out our article on the 14 Best Protein Powder Supplements to find the perfect fit for you!
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