The high cost of protein powders, especially whey protein isolate, has left many wondering, why is protein powder so expensive?

In today’s blog post, I’ll explore the eight reasons behind the protein powder costs, including the cost of raw materials, the expenses of marketing and packaging, and the premium prices of more expensive protein powders.

By the end of this article, you will have an in-depth understanding of why expensive protein powders are a common issue nowadays.

1. Processing and Manufacturing Costs

One of the main reasons why protein powder is so expensive is because the manufacturing process itself is costly.

From sourcing raw materials like milk solids to processing them in specialized facilities, the process of making protein powder is intricate and time-consuming.

Let’s take a look at whey protein, for example.

Whey protein powder is a byproduct of the cheese-making process.

Whey isolate (the most potent form of whey protein) is derived through a food processing method that removes most of the fat, lactose, and other “goodies” from whey, leaving you with essentially pure proteins.

While you get more protein compared to other protein powders, you also have to account for a more expensive manufacturing process.

That’s not all.

Companies need to invest in expensive machinery, pay skilled workers, and ensure that their production process meets strict quality standards during the process mentioned above. They must also pay energy bills, suppliers, and every other associated cost.

To make matters worse, if these facilities are located in the US, Australia, or the UK, these costs will be even higher.

2. High-Quality Ingredients

To ensure that their products deliver a good amount of nutrients and meet customers' needs, manufacturers (at least reputable ones) often use premium ingredients.

They use organic ingredients such as real milk from grass-fed cows for whey protein isolate (or whey concentrate) or foods like meat, egg white, beef, or even monk fruit for other types of protein powder.

If we’re talking about vegan proteins, like soy protein, brands tend to use specific sorts of soy, which are primarily grown for this purpose.

Also, using high-grade ingredients significantly impacts the product's effectiveness and, therefore, your performance.

So, rest assured - this is not just a ploy to raise prices.

Jacked Factory Salted Chocolate Caramel Whey Protein Recipe

3. Research and Development

Making protein powder requires significant investment in research and development.

Manufacturers must continually innovate to create products that meet customers' changing needs and follow the latest trends.

All of this involves investing a ton of resources in research, testing, and formulation to create new and hopefully improved products.

While one could argue that what worked five years ago would also work now, we kind of have to accept that investing in R&D is essential for driving innovation and improving the caliber of protein powders and other products.

4. Branding and Reputation

If you have made a name for yourself - you can charge more.

It’s as simple as that.

Therefore, established brands with a strong reputation can, and often will, charge a premium for their products.

Now, it is easy to say it’s unfortunate that you also have to pay for a reputation and a name, but remember this:

You’re paying for the actual quality of the product and peace of mind!

And in this case - it actually makes a difference. It’s not like you’re just paying for a trademark name, as you do with gym clothes.

5. Demand and Supply

It's all about supply and demand when it comes to pricing!

And, let’s be real - everyone and their grandma is buying protein powder.

So, high demand for protein powder, especially when protein prices are already going up, will inevitably lead to an additional price increase.

Thankfully, the supply chain (farming and dairy industry, for example) is still fairly robust, so at least you can find some peace of mind in knowing supply issues shouldn't raise the prices even further.

6. Packaging and Marketing

Most of us would only buy a protein powder if it came in a good package.

And we’re not just talking about the looks.

Protein powder has to come in a resealable package (whether a bag or a tub), so you can use it for a long time. Those things are pricier than ever!

Check this out.

Not directly related to the protein powders, but have you noticed that many pre-workouts nowadays come with different types of lids?

That’s because there’s an ongoing shortage of pretty much all-things-plastic-packaging, which also contributed to a price rise.[1]

And as for marketing - that one’s pretty self-explanatory.

You can’t sell anything if you don’t promote it - especially in an oversaturated market such as this one. So, businesses HAVE TO invest a ton in marketing.

And marketing is VERY expensive.

MyProtein Impact Whey Protein

7. Shipping Costs

Whether we’re talking about overseas shipping, shipping the product from a warehouse to a brick-and-mortar store, or from an e-commerce store to your home - shipping costs are a major factor behind these costs.

For example, it could easily cost up to $10 with today’s gas prices to ship a pound of whey protein isolate or any other protein powder across a large country like the US.

That’s a significant amount of money, especially if you consider that a pound of whey protein powder costs about $40 on average.

8. Inflation

Finally, we have the most dreaded word of the last few years - inflation.[2]

Everything went up in cost over the past two or three years - from ingredients to packaging costs - so it was only natural that the cost of protein powder followed.

Not to say manufacturers were forced to up their prices to cover their costs… but they kind of were.

Cheap Vs Expensive Protein Powder (Pros & Cons)

Now that we've gone over why is protein powder so expensive nowadays, it's time we tackle another issue - the pros and cons of cheap and expensive protein powders.

Why this matters?

Well, sometimes the most cost-effective solution isn’t the most effective one, but more on that later.

Cheap Protein Powder

Pros

  • Pricing:
    One of the most obvious benefits of cheap protein powder is its lower price point. The fitness industry is all but affordable, so naturally, if you can get some proteins for pennies on the dollar (especially if you’re buying in bulk) - you probably will.
  • Availability:
    You can usually find cheaper protein powders at most grocery stores, pharmacies, or online retailers. Also, there are a ton of products to choose from, making it easier for anyone to get their hands on some protein.
  • Satisfactory for basic needs:
    For those who are not overly concerned about the specifics of their protein intake and simply need a basic supplement, these protein powders can often get the job done.

Cons

  • Quality concerns:
    Cost savings and quality sometimes don't go hand in hand. It's common for manufacturers of low-cost protein powders to cut corners and use lower-quality ingredients. Naturally, this means the products will contain less protein content, fewer essential nutrients per serving, artificial flavors, or added fillers like guar gum, carrageenan, and sugars.
  • Incomplete amino acid profile:
    Some more inexpensive protein powders may not contain all essential amino acids. And not just vegan stuff. Some whey proteins could also come from questionable dairy products.
  • Taste and mixability:
    Many users find that affordable stuff does not taste as good or mix as well as their more expensive counterparts. Not a deal-breaker, but definitely something to keep in mind.
  • Non-essential amino acids:
    Cheap protein powders may contain higher amounts of unnecessary amino acids, like taurine and glycine, which can be used as fillers to cut costs and inflate the perceived nutritional values of these products.

Expensive Protein Powder

Pros

  • Higher-quality ingredients:
    Pricey protein powders often use higher-quality protein sources - plain and simple. Thankfully, these premium ingredients will lead to better absorption and utilization by the body.
  • Complete amino acid profile:
    Top-notch protein powders almost always contain a complete amino acid profile, ensuring you receive all the EAAs and BCAAs you and your muscles need.
  • Enhanced features:
    Many of these protein powders come with added benefits, such as digestive enzymes (probiotics), vitamins, or minerals, to support overall health and wellness. Once again, this is not something that’s super necessary, but it can be a good thing.
  • Trust:
    Expensive stuff comes from reputable companies with higher standards for quality and purity. If they’re third-party tested and praised by the users, there’s pretty much no reason for you not to trust them.

Cons

  • Cost:
    Obviously, the main drawback is the cost. Buying these isn’t feasible for everyone, particularly those on a tight budget.
  • Overkill for some:
    If you're not an athlete or a highly active individual, the added benefits and higher-quality ingredients of expensive protein powders may not be worth it.
  • Questionable marketing:
    Some companies may overhype the benefits and features of their protein powders, leading to inflated expectations and potential disappointment for consumers who don't experience the dramatic results they were led to expect.

Is Protein Powder Worth The Money You Pay?

After our cheap protein vs. expensive protein standoff - let’s explore another important question - is protein powder actually worth it?

Muscle Gain

First and foremost, let's talk about those GAINS.

Protein powder is a go-to supplement for those looking to build lean muscle and bulk up.[3][4]

Supplementing with protein powder makes it super easy to hit your daily protein targets, which in turn helps maximize muscle growth.

So, is protein powder worth it for muscle gain?

In short, yes.

It's a convenient and effective way to ensure you're getting enough protein to support muscle growth, especially if you fail to consume enough protein through your diet alone.

Weight Loss

Protein powder is to weight loss as what the curveball is to pitching - a deceptive yet oddly effective strategy.[5]

Incorporating protein powder into your diet so you can maintain a calorie deficit (which is the only thing that actually matters for shedding those extra pounds) is a rockstar move.

It can help you feel fuller for longer, which can curb those pesky snack cravings.

Plus, it's low in calories compared to other sources of protein.

PLUS, it’ll help you maintain lean muscle mass while dropping your body weight.

So, in the weight loss department - protein powder is definitely worth it.

Remember, though; it's not a magical potion. You still need to maintain a balanced diet and exercise regularly!

Healthy Diet Supplement

Protein powder isn't just for gym rats or fitness buffs; it can also be a valuable addition to a healthy diet for any average Joe.

Also, for people with dietary restrictions, such as vegans or those with food allergies, protein powder can help fill the nutritional gaps.

There’s even a protein powder for lactose intolerant!

All jokes aside, pretty much any kind of protein powder can be a worthy investment if it helps you maintain a balanced diet and get all the protein and nutrients you need.

Just make sure you use it as a supplement, not as a meal replacement!

Cost-effectiveness

Wait, wait… Protein powder is cost-effective?

Well, it is. Protein powders save money!

Sure, some protein powders can be pricey, but even at a premium price tag, whey protein powder is more affordable than any protein source coming from a plant or an animal.

Feed yourself with just meat, dairy, nuts, veggies, and the rest of the whole foods, and try to hit 200 grams of protein every day, and you’ll quickly notice the difference.

Still, we’d suggest shopping around and comparing prices to ensure you're getting the best bang for your buck.

Just keep in mind that it's always better to invest in a high-quality product that will give you the results you're looking for rather than “saving” while you’re actually wasting money.

Woman Scooping Gnarly Vegan Plant Protein

Common Questions About Protein Powder Pricing

Why is whey protein so expensive?

Whey protein is so expensive because everything, from the manufacturing process and raw material to shipping and marketing, costs quite a bit. All these factors influence the price of whey proteins.

Is it cheaper to make your own protein powder?

Theoretically, it can be cheaper to make your own protein powder if you're using oats, soy, sunflower seeds, or even pea. However, keep in mind that these companies have invested millions to perfect their supplements. The main reason we don't make our own protein powder is not that it is not convenient but because professionals usually do a much better job - especially when it comes to whey or casein.

What is the cheapest way to get protein in your daily nutrition?

The cheapest way to get protein in your daily nutrition is to drink multiple servings of protein each day through protein shakes. Even with protein prices going up, it's still cheaper than trying to load up on proteins and other nutrients from real food.

What is the most expensive brand of protein powder?

It’s hard to say what is the most expensive brand of protein powder because many brands have both expensive and affordable products. That said, mass gainers are usually the most expensive protein supplements.

Conclusion

So, to sum up - protein powder isn't cheap. Advertising and distributing it also is a costly undertaking. That's why whey protein powder or any other protein powder isn't cheap.

Still, compared to other proteins (mainly the ones coming from your food) - you can't really call most protein powders expensive.

Also, whey protein powder, casein protein powder, or even some vegan protein powders like soy or hemp are relatively inexpensive compared to other supplements.

And compared to food? These things are dirt cheap.

References: 

  1. https://foodinstitute.com/focus/packaging-shortages-to-impact-food-manufacturers-into-2022/
  2. https://www.forbes.com/uk/advisor/investing/what-is-inflation/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16937979/
  4. https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/ajpendo.00517.2011
  5. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/effects-of-whey-protein-isolate-on-body-composition-lipids-insulin-and-glucose-in-overweight-and-obese-individuals/C6262253BDFA6D16F6B143ABBC9073B3
Miloš Lepotic

Miloš Lepotic

Meet Miloš, a certified sports nutritionist and self-taught supplement expert whose pharmacological background and nearly a decade of gym experience make him the perfect guide for optimizing your health and athletic performance through supplement reviews and practical advice rooted in factual, science-backed information.