By Dr. Josh Axe
What sets the keto (ketogenic) diet apart from other low-carb diets is that it’s high in fat, but not overly high in protein. So does this mean that protein powder is okay on keto, or not?
While it’s a good idea to avoid eating too much protein while on the keto diet — in order to prevent some of the protein from negatively affecting your ability to get into ketosis — certain types of protein powders can be still included.
If you find that protein powder in your diet is a convenient way to make a satisfying smoothie or snack, then you’ll be happy to know that you can include low-sugar, low-carb protein powders in a keto diet, as long as you also eat plenty of fats.
The key here: choosing a keto protein powder that doesn’t include added sugar, and ideally one that also includes healthy fats such as MCTs.
Related: How the Keto Diet Works
What Is A Keto-Friendly Protein Powder?
When following a traditional keto diet, fats should provide about 70 percent to 80 percent of your total daily calories, protein about 15 percent to 20 percent, and carbohydrates just about 5 percent.
One way to meet your protein needs is to make recipes using keto protein powders, such smoothies or “energy balls.” While following the keto diet these supplements can offer benefits such as:
- Boosting energy and reducing fatigue
- Increasing focus and mental clarity
- Supports a healthy metabolism and a healthy weight
- Supporting healthy energy levels
- Supporting a healthy response to stress
- Helping to reduce stress-related carb cravings
- Boosting muscle size and strength
- Promoting healthy fitness and sexual function
While not all protein powders are good for keto dieters, there are some types that typically work well in a very low-carb, high-fat diet. As always, however, you should consult your healthcare professional prior to starting any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including dietary supplementation.
Most unflavored protein powders have almost no carbs, so these are usually good options. Here are some protein powders that can be included in a well-rounded keto diet:
- Collagen protein powder (also known as collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen) — Collagen protein is a dried powder made from hydrolyzed bovine, chicken, eggshell membrane and fish collagen. Most collagen protein powders are unflavored (unless flavored) and nearly free of carbs, making them versatile in recipes or even a good addition to coffee.
- Whey protein isolate — Is whey protein powder keto-friendly? In most cases, yes. Whey protein isolate is about 90–95 percent protein by weight, meaning it’s very low in carbs due to how it’s processed. You can find whey protein isolates that contain either zero or one gram of carbs per serving, along with about 20 grams of protein.
- Casein powder — Casein protein is another dairy-derived protein that undergoes processing that reduces its carb count. When unsweetened, it’s usually free of sugar and fat and almost all protein.
- Hemp protein powder — This plant-based protein option is low in carbs as long as it’s unflavored; however, many brands contain added sugar so look for a low-sugar option.
Why Many Protein Powders Are NOT Good for Keto
When shopping for a keto-friendly protein powder, you’ll likely need to select one carefully and avoid many popular types due to their carb content.
This can be tricky, because many manufacturers add sugar and other flavorings to improve the taste of protein powders; however, these ingredients obviously contribute unwanted carbs.
Will too much protein kick you out of ketosis? It can. In order to get into ketosis, in which you’re burning fat for energy instead of glucose/carbohydrates, you need your reserved glucose/glycogen stores to run out. This happens after several days on a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein keto diet.
Your body then creates compounds called ketone bodies (or ketones) from your own stored body fat, as well as from fats in your diet. Being in ketosis can offer benefits such as help with healthy weight management, reduced hunger, support for healthy energy levels, and more. However a diet that includes too much protein and too much carbs/sugar can interfere with your ability to stay in ketosis.
Generally speaking, excess protein in your diet can result in some protein being turned into glucose via the process called gluconeogenesis, which is why you need to keep an eye on your protein intake and macronutrient balance.
It’s critical to understand how much of each type of macronutrient you’re consuming while on keto.
If you plan to include protein powder in your diet, you’ll want to carefully look for a keto protein powder that is made without added sugar and is very low in carbs, or entirely free of net carbs. And you’ll want to keep your protein powder intake to about 1–2 servings per day max.
Best Keto Protein Powders
What's the best keto powder for healthy weight management? As mentioned above, you’ll want to choose a low-carb protein powder for healthy weight management that has no added sugar and/or is unflavored.
Look for a keto protein powder that contains a good amount of fat — about 12 to 15 grams per serving — as well as a moderate amount of protein — such as 12 to 20 grams per serving.
Also pay attention to the carb count: look for one with 1 gram of carbs per scoop or less. This combination is ideal when choosing the perfect keto protein powder because it can support your ability to make ketones and stay in ketosis.
Many keto protein powders are fortified with medium-chain triglycerides (or MCTs), which are types of fatty acids found naturally in foods like coconut oil that are easily absorbed and used to make ketones. MCTs help to provide your body with an alternative source of fuel and can support your ability to stay in ketosis, which can maximize your results and help limit keto side effects.
When choosing the best protein powder for keto, consider Ancient Nutrition’s line of Keto Proteins that are specifically formulated to help keto dieters meet their macronutrient goals thanks to an ideal ratio of fat-to-protein-to-carbs.
These keto collagen protein powders are made with MCTs, are great-tasting, easy-to-use and come in versatile flavors including Chocolate, Vanilla, Golden Chai and pure/unflavored. Here are some of the key features of Ancient Nutrition’s Keto Proteins:
- Provides 10 grams fat, 18 grams protein and up to 2 grams carbs per serving (vanilla has zero carbs)
- Supports healthy skin, gut, joint function and muscle recovery
- Features high-quality protein and fat from chicken bone broth and coconut MCTs
- Includes energizing antioxidant and adaptogenic herbs (such as ashwagandha, ginger, black pepper) along with bone broth for extra digestive support
- Contains approximately 50 milligrams of caffeine per serving for energy support
- If you prefer a plant-based keto protein powder, try the Keto Plant Protein formula that features organic protein from sunflower, pumpkin and watermelon seeds and other seeds, and provides 11grams of protein, 4 grams of net carbs and 11 grams of fat per serving.
Mix one heaping scoop of Keto Protein in 12 ounces of water, almond milk, coffee or tea. You can enjoy this product warm or cold, such as in smoothies or “hot chocolate.”
Is keto protein powder a meal replacement? No. It is not.
To help you benefit from using protein powder while also staying in ketosis, here are tips for making keto protein powder recipes:
- Combine keto protein with flavor enhancers like cinnamon, stevia, monk fruit or cocoa powder
- For the smoothest texture, blend powder into beverages like almond milk or coffee
- If using an unflavored keto protein powder, try some in savory recipes like soups or stews
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet, Collagen Diet and the just released Ancient Remedies.