Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein from animal or plant foods, such as dairy, eggs,soy, rice or peas. Once the protein is extracted from a food, these powders are turned into dietary supplements that many people use to help build muscle, aid in weight loss and repair body tissues.
While protein powders are made from whole foods, protein powders are stored very differently than the foods they’re made from. For example, egg white protein comes from eggs; however, you shouldn’t keep egg protein powder in the refrigerator like you would with a carton of eggs. (Also, egg protein can last months longer than eggs themselves. This means the expiration dates of protein powders are also different than the expiration dates of whole foods they come from.)
Keeping your protein powder fresh requires proper storage — but are all protein powders stored the same? Where should you keep your protein powder? How do you know if your protein powder has gone bad?
Below, find out everything you need to know about protein powder storage.
Where should I store protein powder?
Whey is one of the most popular protein powders on the market, especially among bodybuilders and people who regularly do resistance workouts. It’s most commonly used as a post-workout protein because whey protein is quickly absorbed (particularly when supplementing with whey protein isolates). When a protein is absorbed fast, the body can immediately begin its muscle repair and rebuilding process. Whey protein also contains more of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine and valine. While all essential amino acids are important for building muscle, leucine is the one that kickstarts muscle building. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Dairy Science titled “Physical and chemical changes in whey protein concentrate stored at elevated temperature and humidity,” whey protein powder has a shelf life of at least 18 months when stored under normal conditions. These normal conditions are defined as 70°F and 35% humidity.
Most kitchen pantries, cabinets or closets meet this description.
For the study, researchers monitored the physical properties of two batches of whey protein concentrate under less-than-ideal storage conditions in an effort to learn how hot, humid areas affect the shelf life of protein powder. Whey protein concentrates with 34.9 grams of protein per 100 grams and 76.8 grams of protein per 100 grams were stored for up to 18 months under conditions such as elevated temperature and high humidity. The samples became yellower much earlier than they would have under normal conditions. The whey protein stored at 95°F were actually removed from the study within a year because of their concerning appearance. When stored in sealed bags, the samples had a shelf life of around nine months at 95°F. Researchers concluded protein powders can go bad much sooner — including before the listed expiration date — if they’re not stored under cool and dry conditions or if their containers are not properly sealed.
The recommendations for other protein powders like pea protein, brown rice protein and egg protein aren’t much different than those for whey protein. You want to keep your protein powder in a cool, dry environment with the temperature as close to 70°F as possible, such as in the pantry or inside a kitchen cabinet.
A quick list of ideal storage places include:
Inside the pantry
Inside a cabinet
In a drawer
On a wall shelf that does not get direct sunlight
In a closet
Remember: The key is to keep your protein powder room temperature or “cool,” not freezing or cold. You shouldn’t store protein powder in the refrigerator or freezer, as the frequent change from hot to cold as the container is taken in and out may cause condensation and cause your protein powder to go bad before its expiration date.
Also avoid the other end of the temperature spectrum — warm or hot. If you place your protein powder in a space that’s typically warmer than 70°F, or any area with high humidity or moisture, you run the risk of spoilage or shortening your protein powder’s shelf life.
As for storage containers, you can store your protein powder in a tightly-sealed tub, pouch or zip-lock bag. Most brands design their packaging with proper storage in mind, so if your protein powder comes in a pouch, you shouldn’t need to transfer it to a tub or canister (or vice versa). As long as the protein powder is stored in reusable packaging that can be securely sealed and kept in a dry, dark place, your protein powder should be fine in its original packaging. If your protein powder comes in a tub, just make sure the lid is twisted on tightly after each use; if your protein powder comes in a resealable pouch, make sure it’s sealed airtight after each use. Keep all packaging away from sunlight and water, as heat and moisture are the biggest risks to the shelf life of your protein powder.
Whether you keep your protein powder inside a cabinet or on a shelf in your pantry, it’s probably a good idea to store your protein powder front and centre among your products, so you always remember it’s there. You don’t want to do a pantry clean-out and discover a batch of protein powder well past its expiration date.
How long does protein powder last? Protein powder shelf life
As mentioned above, research shows most protein powders have a shelf life of roughly 1.5 years when stored under normal conditions (70°F and 35% humidity). If a protein contains additives, that can then extend the shelf life for up to two years.
Plant proteins generally keep better than milk protein like whey protein or casein protein because the exclusion of milk ingredients immediately eliminates significant bacterial concerns. That said, nearly all protein powders — from whey protein to pea protein — are low-moisture foods so they’re less prone to bacterial growth (even if they’re not dairy-free). As long as you consume your protein powder within a few years of purchasing and store it in ideal conditions, you shouldn’t have too much concern about dry food, like protein powder, going bad.
How to tell when protein powders go bad
Similar to spoiled foods, protein powder that has gone “bad” will often have several signs, including:
rancid or sour smells
changes in colour
clumping or wet lumps
Although supplements are not required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to label their products with an expiration date, many high-quality brands do. They want their customers to have realistic expectations of the quality of their product. Depending on how you stored your protein powder, however, your products could go bad earlier than the listed expiration or “use by” date. That’s why it’s more important to pay attention to your storage conditions, as well as how your powder looks and smells, rather than focus solely on the date printed on your product. If you open up the container of protein powder and it smells bad, tastes bad or is full of damp clumps, throw it away regardless of what date is listed or the amount of protein left.
Does a protein shake need to be refrigerated?
We know that protein powders shouldn’t be stored in the refrigerator — but what about protein shakes? Many people enjoy premade protein shakes, or they make protein shakes that they don’t consume right away. The protein powder itself does not need to be refrigerated but if mixed into a shake or smoothie and not consumed right away, it should be refrigerated.
Expiration dates and suggested storage for protein powder are just for the dry protein powder, not a protein shake. Once you mix protein powder with other food products — especially perishables like milk or produce — the expiration date of the powder no longer applies, as food storage is different from dry protein powder storage.
If you mix your protein powder with your favourite liquid, fruits or veggies, you’ll want to consume it right away or put it in the refrigerator. You can leave your protein shake in the refrigerator for a day or two.
If you leave the protein shake out in warm or hot conditions, you are not going to want to drink the contents after a few hours. So if you didn’t drink your protein shake immediately or put it in the refrigerator, just toss it and make a new one in a clean shaker.
Using your protein powder before it reaches its expiration date: Recipe & shake ideas
Don’t forget: Protein powder doesn’t have to just go in shakes or smoothies. Protein powders mix well into a variety of recipes, including baked goods, oatmeal, homemade ice cream, pancakes, waffles, pizza crust, frittatas, quinoa breakfast bowls, peanut butter balls, power bars, edible cookie dough and more. Adding a scoop of protein powder to a recipe can actually improve its nutritional profile — especially if the recipe is carb-heavy — and it’s an easy way to use your protein powders up before they go bad. You can snack on your favourite treats while also helping your body build muscle mass or kickstart weight loss in the process.
For more ideas or ways to use any extra protein powder before it expires, consult a nutritionist. Gainful subscribers have access to a personal Registered Dietitian, who can give recipe ideas or answer any lingering questions you may have about your protein powder storage, protein sources or protein intake.