Gluten-free protein powders are important to supporting protein intake in those who on a gluten-free diet who need it. However, given the lack of regulation in the supplement industry and varying recommendations on protein timing, finding the right gluten-free protein supplement might feel overwhelming.
In this post, we will cover why you might want to use a gluten-free protein powder when it’s best to use them based on your goals, how to find safe gluten-free protein powders, and how to incorporate them into your routine.
First, when talking about gluten-free protein supplements, we need to talk about why they are important.
Protein is an essential part of a gluten-free diet. Protein helps create the tissues in the body, from muscles to connective tissues. Our hair, skin, and nails are also made up of proteins. Additionally, hormones that regulate our body and enzymes that aid in digestion is all made of protein.
If you don’t get enough protein over time, it can impact muscle mass, hair, and nail health, cause you to feel tired all the time, impact hormone health with celiac disease, and more. That said, it is possible to get all the protein you need from your diet. From gluten-free whole grains like quinoa offering a complete source of protein, to simply making sure you’ve got beans, meat, eggs, nuts, or seeds at every meal, getting enough protein doesn’t have to be hard.
However, some people may need a boost in balancing their diet to make sure they’re getting enough. That’s where gluten-free protein powders come in…
There are many reasons why someone might use gluten-free protein powder. Sometimes you might not want to eat or cook meat, and shaking up protein powder is a way easier option. You might also need some extra protein for wound healing or other body traumas. You might also just like protein shakes. Whatever the reason, gluten-free protein supplements can be helpful.
As always, when trying to determine your protein habits, discuss your needs with a dietitian to make sure you’re doing things right. That said, depending on what you are eating the protein powder for, the timing of protein may matter.
If you’re doing aerobic exercise for instance (like brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, dancing etc.) then research has shown that eating protein right after the exercise is most helpful. This means if you’re looking to support your muscles after a run, having some protein right after may be helpful.
However, if you’re doing resistance training (like weight lifting or doing bodyweight exercises), research suggests timing might not matter as much. In one study of over 500 participants, they found that there was no major difference in muscle strength when consuming protein 1 or 3 hours after a workout.
And unless you’re a bodybuilder, it’s not necessary to consume protein immediately before a workout. Though having protein a few hours before your workout can be helpful.
And really, exercise-wise, if you are not trying to drastically increase muscle mass, it doesn’t fully matter when you take a protein supplement.
Otherwise, protein, in general, is best evenly distributed throughout the day. Not only does this help with blood sugars and hormone health, but also with energy levels. If you find a certain meal-time tends to be lacking in protein, gluten-free protein powders may help bridge the gap.
So we know what protein is important and when to take gluten-free protein powders, now let’s talk about what makes a good protein powder. First a foremost, the best protein powder for you fits your dietary needs. That means if you have celiac, then you have a celiac-safe protein powder. If you are vegan and gluten-free, then finding a gluten-free and vegan protein powder is important.
Then, you need to pay attention to the ingredients of the protein powders. From common GI irritants to types of protein, depending on your goals, you will want to look at what the protein powders offer when making a decision.
First, understand that not all protein is created equal. When it comes to eating protein, there are what we call complete and incomplete proteins. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids that the body can not produce enough of on its own. Incomplete proteins are missing some of the essential amino acids.
Now you might not always need all of the essential amino acids in a protein powder, depending on what your goals are. For example, if you’re looking to boost your protein intake to support your hair, skin, and nail health, then collagen, an incomplete protein, can help.
In other cases, you may want to try to find protein powders that have complete proteins, like whey, chia, or hemp. While not necessary, as long as you’re getting sources of complete protein somewhere throughout the day, if you’re trying to boost overall protein intake or support your exercise with protein powder, complete proteins may be especially helpful.
As I mentioned above, the best gluten-free protein powders are those that meet your dietary needs. This includes protein powders that don’t contain anything that causes GI irritation. This is important to pay attention to because many protein powders often contain common GI irritants.
Examples of GI irritants to monitor with protein powders include sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols are often used in protein powders as a way to sweeten the protein powder without added sugar An example of sugar alcohol used in protein powders is maltitol and other sugars ending in -ol. While sugar alcohols are considered generally safe, some people find they are sensitive to them. With sensitive people reporting gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort after eating them.
Another example of common GI irritants in protein powders is lactose ingredients. If you are lactose intolerant with celiac disease, you can experience GI distress if their protein powder contains lactose ingredients. Whey should be avoided as it is derived from milk and can contain considerable amounts of lactose.
Of note, both sugar alcohols (ex. mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol) and lactose are also categorized as FODMAPs. These are highly fermentable sugars that can also cause GI distress in some people. If you suspect this, you’d definitely want to talk with your celiac specialized dietitian about a temporary low-FODMAP and gluten-free diet to assess for triggers.
One last example of common GI irritants in protein powders is gums. Things like xantham gum, which is generally safe, can cause GI distress in some people. It’s important to monitor your reaction and discuss tolerance with a dietitian if you think this might be you. And if you know you can tolerate certain gums, you’ll want to make sure the protein powder you buy doesn’t contain any.
Now that we know how to identify a helpful gluten-free protein powder for ourselves, we need to understand labeling laws around these kinds of dietary supplements in the USA to find safe ones. First, understand that protein powders are considered a dietary supplement per the FDA, and thus, FDA regulations of dietary supplements apply.
However, the FDA regulations of these products are lacking, to say the least. First, there is no gluten-free claim protection on these products (like there is with food labels). Meaning, companies aren’t required to have their products meet the <20ppm standard for foods.
Additionally, the responsibility falls on the manufacturers and brands to ensure the safety of their products, something that often is skipped by these companies. So how can you buy gluten-free protein powder that is celiac-safe?
Because the supplement industry is largely unregulated (including the use of gluten-free claims), buying gluten-free protein powders that are safe for celiac disease can be difficult. The key issue is that because the claim “gluten-free” is unregulated, you need to make sure you’re buying safe products.
When looking for gluten-free protein powders your best option is to choose gluten-free certified products. Now it’s important to note here, with food products you do not always need a gluten-free certification except on rare occasions (like with celiac-safe oats). But with supplements, it’s the gold standard to buy products that are certified gluten-free because of the lack of protection we have in this area and because the supplement industry is largely unregulated.
Your next best option is if you’re considering a product with a gluten-free claim (a reminder that a claim is “no gluten” or “gluten-free” where certifications will feature the certifier logo on the package) to verify with the company that they are testing their products to be gluten-free. You can do this by calling, emailing, or sending the company a message on social media. I find calling gives me the best results. Of course, you know your body best, so use your best judgment here but these are my celiac-safety recommendations.
For more on finding safe gluten-free supplements, medications, and foods, check out the Celiac Crash Course, where I give you the simple strategies to do so PLUS I provide simulations and practice problems to help you feel confident.
When it comes to gluten-free protein powders, don’t confuse them with meal replacers or nutritional shakes. The main goal of protein powder is to boost protein whereas meal replacers are to replace meals. Of course, you can turn protein powders and supplements into meals, just understand meal-replacers are different. Often featuring gluten-free fiber, carbs, and more calories as they are meant to provide everything a meal would as opposed to just protein.
Now that we understand how to buy gluten-free protein powders, let’s touch base on a common confusing protein: glutamine. Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in our bodies. It is also found in protein-rich foods such as beef, fish, chicken, dairy products, etc.
Glutamine is a gluten-free amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of complex proteins like gluten. Bottom-line: glutamine is gluten-free and in some forms, like L-glutamine (affiliate link), it can be helpful for healing the gut.
Okay, so now we’ve covered the basics of gluten-free protein powders, so let’s talk options. There are many gluten-free protein supplements out there. For the purpose of this post, we’ll divide them into single-ingredient protein supplements, and mixed protein powders.
Single-ingredient protein powders are going to be sources of protein that have only one ingredient. They likely will be unflavored and unsweetened compared to mixed protein powders which may have many sources of protein and ingredients to provide flavor.
Below are some gluten-free options depending on what you’re looking for. Of course, always do you due diligence in checking the suitability of products for your individual needs.
Some examples of single-ingredient protein powders include collagen, gelatin, spirulina, and whey. Take a look at the ingredients list and double-check that they are really single ingredients. And make sure the company has verified the product is gluten-free. Some of these may be affiliate links.
When it comes to mixed protein powders, there are many gluten-free options. Below I’ve outlined some options. Some of these may be affiliate links.
There are many plant-based protein powders out there that are both vegan and gluten-free. Spirulina mentioned above in the single protein powder section is a vegan and gluten-free option, and so is pea protein. Some of these may be affiliate links.
There are many ways to incorporate protein powder into your daily routine. Protein powder can be mixed with water and drank. It can also be added to oatmeal, pudding, coffee, or even soup if unflavored.
You can incorporate protein powder into your gluten-free diet by making a protein milkshake. Simply add milk, protein powder, frozen bananas, ice cubes, and flavorings of choice to a blender and blend until thick and creamy. You can add more milk to soften it up, or more ice/frozen bananas to make it thicker. Check out this gluten-free protein milkshake recipe for inspiration!
Adding it into your morning oats is easy! These overnight oats has banana, almond milk and butter and chia seeds for added protein. You can prep them the night before and they’ll be ready in the morning! And yes, oats can be celiac-safe in the USA.
Another example is easy iced protein latte recipe. It’s is just espresso, almond milk (or any variety), protein powder, and ice. You can use flavored protein powder to add any flavor you want to the coffee!
My favorite way to use protein powder is to mix collagen into my energy bites. It’s a great way to boost satisfaction, energy, and protein in these compact treats.
Gluten-free protein powder can be an excellent addition to your daily diet. It has many benefits such as helping to produce hormones and enzymes, building muscles, and repairing tissues. It can assist with building muscle strength from exercise but can also help improve your overall health.
There are many options for gluten-free and vegan protein powders. Make sure to do adequate research and try to find safe gluten-free supplements. It is also important to be aware of any food intolerances you may have and avoid protein powders that may contain ingredients that will cause you discomfort.
There are many different ways to start taking protein powder, and it isn’t necessary to make any big changes in your daily routine. Adding it to your coffee, or oatmeal is an easy way to get started if you’re looking for small ways to boost your protein.
And if finding safe gluten-free supplements is the iceberg for you, and you ALSO need help with identifying gluten on a food label, finding gluten-free medications, and more…
Those are some of the many topics I cover in the Celiac Crash Course. Complete with practice worksheets and simulations to help you build you confidence and celiac safety skills! Learn more here!