Protein Powders: Are They Okay for a Kidney Diet?  

By Anna Richardson, MPH RD  

A common question for people with kidney disease is, “Should I use protein powder?” The answer is, like it is for many kidney nutrition questions: it depends!  

The amount of protein recommended for people with kidney disease does vary by stage of kidney disease. For CKD stages 3-5 (not on dialysis), the typical protein recommendation is 0.6-0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight – for example, a person weighing 70kg would need 45 to 60 grams of protein daily. This is a moderate protein diet and may help preserve kidney function and manage symptoms. For people with CKD Stage 5 on dialysis (including hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis), the recommendation is 1.0-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight – so this 70kg person would need 75 to 90 grams of protein per day. It is important to meet your protein needs no matter what stage of kidney disease you have to help you maintain a healthy weight, preserve muscle, and help your body repair tissues or fight infections. Too much protein, however, can cause waste buildup in the blood, causing fatigue, nausea, low appetite, and taste changes.   

So, how does protein powder fit into this? Protein powders can be an easy way to get more protein into your diet if you are not able to meet your needs with foods (protein-rich foods include meats, poultry, fish, legumes, whole grains, dairy, nuts and seeds). They can be easily mixed into smoothies or soft foods like yogurt, pudding, soup, or oatmeal. It is important to note that protein powders are not necessarily “better” sources of protein than protein-rich foods, and in some cases, they can be quite expensive to purchase.   

The most common type of protein powder is whey protein – this is a protein taken from milk. Other common protein powders include soy, casein, rice, egg, collagen, and hemp protein. There are many options available to meet your needs – if you are lactose intolerant, vegan, vegetarian, or prefer specific flavours. Protein powder is also added to food products like protein bars and meal replacement drinks or mixed into green powders. Although many protein powders do not contain extra ingredients, some contain many extra additives, vitamins, minerals, or herbal extracts that could potentially harm your kidneys or interact with your medications. Usually, a protein powder with a very short ingredient list is best! If you think that a protein powder is right for you, ask your kidney doctor or renal dietitian about how to safely incorporate one into your diet.