In 2018, consumers spent $5.28 billion on protein supplements. Based on current projections, the expectation is for this number to increase to $8.71 billion by 2025.
These billions of dollars can be money well spent. The benefits of protein powder include weight management, muscle growth, exercise recovery, and enhanced nutrition.
However, enjoying protein powder's benefits requires using—and storing—it safely. You might wonder, then, "Does protein powder expire?"
Read on to learn everything you need to know about protein powder's shelf life.
Does Whey Protein Powder Expire?
The short answer is yes. Whey protein, by definition, is a dairy product and all dairy products have a shelf-life. The factors are many and include unknowns such as:
- Type of whey (isolate, concentrate, hydrolysate, native)
- Moisture Content
- Processing Methods
- Packaging Seals (Air-tight pouch, rigid tub, polyurethane-kraft bag, foil)
- Exposure to Elements
- Purity (stability & shelf-life of added ingredients)
- Artificial or Natural Ingredients
If you examine a package of protein powder (dairy - casein, whey, milk powder), you'll find an expiration date or a "best by" date. Of course, following this date is always a safe bet.
Studies have shown that protein powder's shelf life ranges from 9 to 19 months. Some products contain additives that extend their lives beyond this range. In most cases, manufacturers identify a product's expiration date as two years from the manufacturing date.
Large producers of protein powders often include these additives as preservatives. They may also add ingredients to make their products more appealing to consumers. For example, ready-to-mix drinks offer "convenience." Likewise, consumers may find sweetened protein powders more palatable.
For all their seeming "appeal," however, consumers should exercise caution with these products. The more complex the ingredients, the less stable the supplement tends to be, and the less they tend to last.
When purchasing a protein powder, therefore, it's wise to examine the ingredient list. A minimal list of ingredients can often indicate the highest quality product.
Simple, single-ingredient protein powders haven't been "dressed up" or altered. Their producers know that wise consumers seek high-quality protein content first. Taste is a concern, but it is secondary. It is also something that many consumers desire to control themselves. Single-ingredient protein powders, like AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey, offer this control and quality.
Single-ingredient protein powders are also more stable and have a longer shelf-life. Consumers can purchase them with confidence that they will last at least as long as the expiration date and, in many cases, if appropriately stored, will last well past their stamped expiration.
Is the "Expiration Date" the Only Factor to Consider?
Notably, a product's "best by"—or even "expiration"—date speaks more to its quality than to its safety. Experts suggest that it can be safe to consume protein powder slightly beyond its expiration or "best by" date. For protein powders, this owes, in part, to the product's low moisture content. Low moisture foods are less hospitable to bacteria growth.
However, bacteria growth is only one measure of a product's safety. Also, protein powder users consume supplements to enjoy the supplements' benefits. Therefore, they also should be concerned not just with safety but with quality and effectiveness.
Thus, it's always essential to examine the product for signs that it has spoiled. It's also important to remember that you consume expired products at your own risk. The safest option is always purchasing a new product.
Expiration Dates: A Word of Caution
A word of caution is warranted if you're considering stocking up when your local grocery store or health food store has a sale. Reputable merchants won't knowingly sell expired products—even at a sale price. However, stores often run sales to clear products that are close to the expiration date.
Products sometimes inadvertently get pushed to the backs of shelves. They may also take long trips from the production facility or warehouse.
It's always wise to check the expiration date on a product before you purchase it. It's also wise to estimate how much of the product you can expect to use before that date. Stocking up during a sale saves nothing if you don't have time to use the product before it goes bad.
How to Know If My Protein Powder Has Expired
If you're wondering, "How long is protein powder good for?" the expiration or "best by" date can give you some idea. However, time is only one factor that can make protein powders unsafe and ineffective.
Protein powder can expire and become unsafe due to age or improper storage. Being able to identify the signs of an expired product can keep you safe.
Signs that your protein powder has expired include:
- Rancid smell
- Color changes
- Bitter taste
If you notice these signs, don't consider using the product even if it's within its expiration date.
A Word About Color
Consumers who purchase many commercially available protein powders have come to expect a pure white product. When these products appear yellowed or browned, they have likely gone bad.
The story is not as simple when it comes to higher-quality, single-ingredient protein powders. The white color of commercial protein powders is not natural. Instead, manufacturers achieve it by bleaching their products. Bleaching processes introduce additional chemicals. These chemical detergents include hydrogen peroxide and benzoyl peroxide.
Naturally, simple whey protein can have a slightly yellowish hue. Consumers may even notice slight variations in color from batch to batch. However, AGN Roots clients can consistently expect a product that is naturally off-white in appearance. This consistency results from the ideal conditions of AGN Roots farms in Ireland.
This off-white color, moreover, is a sign that the AGN Roots product is natural and high-quality.
What Happens When Protein Powder Expires?
A protein powder that is significantly beyond its expiration date or is stored improperly can be ineffective. It can also be unsafe.
Changes in Whey Powders
A study published in the Journal of Dairy Science explored the effects of humidity and temperature on whey protein. While humidity left several samples unaffected, it found significant changes in the powders stored at higher temperatures.
Visual changes included several of the signs identified above, such as clumping and yellowing. Samples stored at temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) became so disagreeable in appearance that they were removed from the study after 12 months.
In addition to changes in appearance, researchers noted chemical changes as well. These included decreases in lysine, an essential-amino-acid (EAA), and the key to protein powder's benefits. The study found that lysine levels fell from 5.5% to 4.2% in samples stored at temperatures as low as 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees C).
Samples stored at higher temperatures also exhibited:
- Higher water content
- Increased formation of volatile compounds
- Increased levels of mesophilic bacteria, coliforms, yeast, and mold
This study's findings regarding the formation of volatile compounds confirmed an earlier study with similar results. That study, published in Dairy Science and Technology, found that increased temperatures increased oxidization in the samples.
Oxidization refers to the reaction of fats when exposed to oxygen, and it can damage protein powders. In the study, increased oxidization led to the formation of volatile compounds and an unpleasant taste.
Notably, the protein powders in these samples did not include additives to extend their shelf lives. These studies also looked exclusively at the effects of improper storage and age on whey protein.
However, similar studies suggest similar effects on other protein powders as well.
Changes in Milk Protein Powders
A Critical Reviews of Food Science and Nutrition study found similar changes in milk-based supplements.
Once again, changes in appearance reveal changes in the product's chemical composition.
When stored at higher temperatures and in higher humidity, milk proteins experience chemical changes over time. For example, the lactose in whey protein concentrate (WPC) is susceptible to crystallization. The crystallization of simple-sugar is visibly noticeable at the surface of powder particles.
It also destabilizes the structure of the milk proteins, causing them to unfold. Confirming the effects seen on whey protein, the study of milk protein also noted increased oxidization.
A similar study added increased acidity to the chemical changes observed in milk proteins over time.
As a result of these chemical changes, the product's appearance and behavior change. These physical changes include:
- Decreased flowability
- Decreased solubility
- Decreased emulsify and foaming properties
- Increased density
- Color changes
Once again, the results suggest caution when consuming old or improperly stored powders of any kind. Expired protein powders can make you sick. They can also be less effective.
Is Expired Protein Still Effective?
Using protein powder a few days or weeks after its expiration date may not make you sick. It may also still offer you some of the protein powder's many benefits.
The physical and chemical changes noted above, though, advise caution. These changes indicate that the protein in older or improperly stored powders is breaking down.
That means that expired products may not offer the same amount of protein and amino acids as fresh products.
Always remember that you consume expired protein at your own risk. The safest and most effective option is still to purchase a new product.
Preventing Spoilage: Storing Your Protein Powder Safely
Ensuring that your protein powder lasts at least through the date stamped on the package requires you to store it properly. A best-practice is to close the container immediately after using it like you would an ice-chest in a power outage. It also means sealing the whey-container tightly. Sealing diary protein will protect the product from excess moisture and heat.
Protein Powders Sold or Stored in Rigid Plastic Containers
Many cheap protein powders sold in stores come in plastic tubs. If you purchase protein powder in these containers, be sure to secure the lid tightly.
For a variety of reasons, however, wise consumers tend to shy away from protein powders sold in rigid plastic tubs. These containers are not ideal for maintaining a product's freshness. They also can introduce contaminants. When exposed to sunlight, the plastics in the tub can leach into the product.
Protein Powders Sold in Resealable Pouches
Higher quality protein powders, like those available from AGN Roots, come in resealable pouches. AGN Roots pouches include a nylon layer and foil. These nylon sheets make the pouches thermally stable and provide a UV barrier. This protection, in turn, keeps the product from becoming denatured. Rigid plastic tubs do not offer similar protection.
To enjoy these benefits and increase the longevity of your protein powder, it is, once again, essential to seal the pouch securely. Before closing & sealing, always squeeze as much air as possible from the bag.
Where to Keep Your Protein Powder Container
In any container, the best conditions for storing protein powder are cold, dry, and dark. Do not store protein powder in the refrigerator or freezer. Temperature changes can produce condensation, which damages the product.
What About Ready-to-Drink Protein Shakes?
Protein powders may remain safe and somewhat effective beyond their expiration dates. However, ready-to-drink protein shakes (fully reconstituted in a liquid) offer no such leeway. Therefore, if you have a protein shake past it's prime, throw it away. There are significant differences in microbial growth potential in liquid dairy drinks versus dehydrated dairy powders.
Can I Make My Own Protein Shake Ahead?
You can add protein powder to your favorite drink and store it for a short time in the refrigerator. However, you should consume these drinks within 48 hours of mixing them.
Once reconstituted with water, our recommendation is to treat it like you would a glass of milk, and yes, refrigeration is essential. You must also be sure to store your protein shake in a well-sealed container.
When you're ready to drink a shake you made earlier, remember to mix or shake it again.
Finally, if you allow any protein shake to get warm, throw it away immediately.
Can I Freeze My Protein Shake?
As with refrigerating, a homemade protein shake should be ok for short periods. Here again, keeping the solution away from the typical harmful elements is vital. If you intend to freeze a shake, do so immediately after mixing. And, again, store the shake in a well-sealed container. Also, remember to mix or stir the shake again to redistribute the ingredients before consuming it.
Can Protein Powder Go Bad? Yes, Whey!
If you've ever wondered, "Does protein powder expire?" the short answer is yes. Protein powder has a limited shelf life. It can expire, becoming ineffective and unsafe overtime. It can also lose effectiveness and become dangerous due to improper storage or processing.
All the dangers of a spoiled dairy product can apply to dairy protein powders. Well-kept high-quality protein powder can easily outlive by several years the stamp date depending on the product, package, and environment. We always recommend messaging the manufacture and merely asking. When contacting the manufacturer, remember this - the larger the company, the more likely you will receive a very conservative and legally safe answer to limit their liability.
Knowing what to look for in and on product packaging can help you choose the highest quality and most stable protein powder. Knowing the signs that indicate the correct time to throw away an expired product can also keep you safe.
The highest quality protein powders are those with the simplest ingredients. AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey is a single-ingredient, plant-based protein powder. At AGN Roots, we offer the highest quality product and spare no expense protecting it; this is why AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey is packaged in a thermally stable, ait-tight pouch with a UV protective barrier layer. Order yours and begin enjoying the benefits today.