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Does Protein Powder Contain Steroids? (The Answer)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

Scandals in the fitness industry and a lack of sports nutrition knowledge often lead to misinformation.

As someone who’s trained clients for over a decade, I hear all the fitness gossip. Recently, I heard a rumor that whey protein powder contains steroids.

So, I spent a week digging up information and reviewing various news articles, and, just like with most rumors in the fitness sphere, there was a bit of truth and a lot of lies involved.

Let’s get into it.

Quick Summary

  • Recent scandals from certain fitness brands have led people to believe that all protein powders are laced with steroids.
  • Steroids and protein powder help with muscle building but at different rates and in different manners.
  • Certain protein powder brands contain artificial sweeteners, fillers, and other ingredients that lower product quality and might lead to unpleasant side effects.

Do Protein Powders Contain Anabolic Steroids?

A person pouring protein powder into a bottle

No, regular protein powders do not contain anabolic steroids.

When people bring up the false claim that protein powders contain steroids, they’re referring to performance-enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids.

Just because protein powder and anabolic steroids share a common feature — facilitating muscle building — doesn’t make them the same type of substance.

What Are They Actually Made Of?

Protein powders are usually made of protein isolate or concentrate, sugars, vitamins, minerals, binders, and natural or artificial flavoring.

There are different kinds of protein powders, and each of them is composed of different base protein ingredients:

  • Whey protein: Most whey protein products — like whey concentrate and isolate — are a mixture of beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, bovine serum albumin, and immunoglobulins [1].
  • Plant protein: Plant-based protein powders are derived from various sources like brown rice, hemp, soy, and pea. They’re a good option for vegans or people with lactose intolerance.
  • Casein protein: Like whey supplements, casein is obtained from milk.
  • Egg protein: These are made from powdered egg whites.

The processing of powders does not require the addition of any steroids; however, they might support natural hormone production, which includes testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH).

“Whey protein powder is particularly helpful at raising HGH.”

- Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD, Women's Health Expert

Differences Between Protein Supplements and Steroids

A person scooping protein powder

Let’s take a look at some of the major differences between steroids and protein supplements.

Composition

Anabolic steroids are synthetic or natural derivates of the male sex hormone testosterone. On the other hand, protein supplements are mainly composed of protein, a macronutrient.

While they both help build muscle, steroids do so by increasing testosterone levels exogenously. Protein builds muscle through muscle-protein synthesis.

Side Effects From Misuse

The dangers of misusing protein supplements result from overly high protein intake or poor supplements.

While there isn’t any correlation between protein consumption and kidney and liver problems, people with these issues may have to restrict their protein powder intake [2].

Also, people with certain conditions shouldn’t take protein supplements. For example, lactose-intolerant people should avoid casein and whey protein products.

In this case, opting for whey protein isolate might be helpful as those generally contain a minuscule amount of lactose, or maybe choosing a whey protein powder that contains lactase, an enzyme for digesting lactose [3].

Steroid use and misuse pose severe threats to the human body. Some of these are high blood pressure, heart attacks, kidney failures, testicular cancer, and male sex characteristics in women [4]. 

Health Benefits

Other than muscle-building, the health benefits of protein supplements may depend on the other ingredients. But generally, optimal protein intake from whichever source, including powders, contributes to better health overall.

Steroids can be used for medical interventions like treating delayed puberty and muscle damage [5] [6].

Why Do Some People Think Protein Powders Contain Steroids?

Top shot of protein powder with a scoop

Some people think protein powders contain steroids because there have been many cases where low-quality protein powder led to health problems in users.

On top of that, some people think the muscle-building effects of protein powder are due to steroids.

Another reason why some might be inclined to believe protein products contain steroids is that there are a few recorded instances of illegal steroids or growth hormones being found in powders.

For example, the FDA from the state of Maharashtra in India recently found traces of steroids in certain brands of protein powders sold to the public [7].

Why Does Picking the Right Supplement Matter?

Close up shot of protein powder with a scoop

Picking the right supplement matters because there are many untrusted brands in the fitness industry.

Many brands try to make a quick buck by adding unnecessary and sometimes dangerous ingredients into their blends.

Here are some of the ingredients you need to watch out for:

  • Artificial sweeteners and flavors: Many companies will mask low-quality protein powders with artificial flavoring and sweeteners to distract you from the fact that their product is subpar. Some common ones are sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, neotame, and acesulfame K. In addition to being unnatural, these ingredients may cause headaches, gastric issues, mood swings, and weight gain in some people [8].
  • Fillers: Some supplements use fillers — many of which have no nutritional value — to increase the product quantity. Some commonly used ones are magnesium stearate, silicon dioxide, titanium dioxide, starch, microcrystalline cellulose, stearic acid, simethicone, vegetable gum, talc, and propylene glycol.
  • Thickeners and gum: These are usually manufactured from wheat, corn, and soy. They can cause gas and bloating in some people.
  • Fats and vegetable oil: These ingredients are usually added to whey protein powders to increase their richness. However, many of them are derived from processed and hydrogenated sources that contain unhealthy trans fats.

Many of these ingredients can negatively affect the quality of your protein, cause unpleasant side effects, and ultimately backtrack your fitness journey.

Go for a protein powder that contains all-natural ingredients, preferably one sold by a trusted brand.

Read More:

 

FAQs

Can Someone On An Anabolic Steroid Cycle Consume Protein Powders?

Yes, someone on an anabolic steroid cycle may consume protein powder as part of the supplementation.  In fact, steroid users require more protein than natural lifters because they have an elevated rate of protein synthesis.

Taking steroids can also increase how much protein your body can use to build muscle.

What Supplements Contain Steroids?

Certain supplements like creatine, ginseng, ashwagandha, DAA, zinc, magnesium, DHEA, 5-alpha-hydroxy-laxogenin, and many others contain “natural steroids”.

These compounds aren’t illegal substances and don’t carry the same physical or psychological side effects as illegal steroids. They are deemed “natural steroids” because of their contribution to hormonal health and muscle building.

How Much Protein Should an Average Person Take to Build Muscle?

An average person should take 1.2-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day to build muscle (from 0.5g to 1g of protein per pound of body weight).

This range can vary depending on your body composition. Elite athletes usually take 1–2 grams per kilo of body weight.

The Route We Recommend

It’s safe to say that most protein powder supplements do not contain steroids. However, you need to be careful about what brand you choose because many contain additives, fillers, and other potentially harmful ingredients.

I recommend taking a look at our list of research-backed protein powders.

We’ve personally tested each of these products, and our clients have nothing but positive things to say about them.

Order yours today and see how much of a difference it’ll make in your training.


References:

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263371
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1262767/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6669050/ 
  4. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/steroids-other-appearance-performance-enhancing-drugs-apeds/what-are-side-effects-anabolic-steroid-misuse
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1030008/
  6. https://www.news-medical.net/health/Taking-Anabolic-Steroids-After-a-Sport-Injury.aspx
  7. https://www.hindustantimes.com/pune-news/steroids-in-muscle-building-protein-powders-fda-pune-orders-statewide-checks/story-biEiAkl4t0a6QFEc0CYmLL.html
  8. https://www.bmj.com/content/378/bmj-2022-071204
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