Protein Powder & the Brain

Protein powder is frequently marketed to athletes, weight lifters and those looking to shape up and build muscle. Often containing whey, wheat and soy, protein powder is mixed into drinks and taken as an over the counter protein supplement. While protein does have a positive effect on the brain, you should speak to a doctor before taking protein powder, as excess protein can also have negative consequences.

Protein and the Brain

Protein plays a crucial part in brain development and function. Consuming protein provides your body with amino acids, which are used to make neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters help your brain communicate and send out signals to your body, and are essential to brain health. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine help regulate your moods and also play a part in important brain functions like concentration, memory and learning.

Protein Powder and Cognitive Function

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According to a 2002 study published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," whey protein may help with cognitive performance in people vulnerable to stress. This study focused on a particular whey protein with high levels of tryptophan called alpha-lactalbumin, and found that it increased serotonin function in the brain in stress-vulnerable people. This whey protein increased memory scanning and cognitive performance, suggesting that whey protein with tryptophan may specifically improve brain function in people sensitive to stress.


The American Council on Exercise warns against excess protein consumption, as it can have a variety of negative effects. Too much protein may cause dehydration, since extra water is needed to metabolize protein. Increased protein intake also causes a loss of urinary calcium. When taken in excess, protein can cause chronic calcium loss, which increases your risk of developing osteoporosis. Finally, since your body can't store protein, any excess will convert to fat and cause weight gain. The American Council on Exercise also notes that physical harm from excess protein is more likely to occur in people who take protein supplements such as protein powder.


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Before you decide to incorporate protein powder into your diet, talk to a doctor to make sure it's the right choice. While protein is good for your brain, eating a healthy and balanced diet will also fuel your brain without any potential danger to your health. Talk to your doctor about your lifestyle and caloric needs to determine whether extra protein will benefit you. Also, keep in mind that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that no more than 35 percent of the calories you eat per day should come from protein. For women 19 years and older, that amounts to about 46 grams of protein per day. For men 19 and older, the CDC recommends approximately 56 grams of protein a day.