Can Too Much Protein Give You a Headache?

Some people may persuade you to think you need a protein supplement with all the protein shakes, powders, and bars. These protein products aid in weight loss, build muscle and curb appetite.

Some people may persuade you to think you need a protein supplement with all the protein shakes, powders, and bars. These protein products aid in weight loss, build muscle and curb appetite.

However, it leads us to the question: can too much protein give you a headache? How do you even know if you’re taking in too much protein in the first place? Read on to find the answers.

How Much Protein Is Too Much?

Excessive protein is greater than 35% of the total calories you consume. As a result, it can lead to protein poisoning. 

Although rare, this buildup of metabolic wastes can put your body at risk for increased levels of amino acids, urea, and ammonia in the blood. Protein poisoning is often treated by eating more carbohydrates and fats and decreasing protein intake.

Protein should comprise 10 to 35% of your daily calorie needs. Since adults should consume around 2,000 calories daily, that’s 10 to 35% of your calorie needs. It also amounts to 50 to 175 grams of protein.

Eating a hard-boiled egg, Greek yogurt, and a banana amounts to 19 grams of protein. A half-cup of vegetables and a 3-ounce chicken breast will get you 25 grams of protein.

The recommended protein intake depends on different factors, including age, activity levels, gender, or whether one is pregnant or breastfeeding. Pregnant women and breastfeeding moms may have to eat more protein than other people.

Generally, however, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound or 0.8 grams per kg. of bodyweight. A guideline on Dietary Reference Intakes suggests that males over 18 years old should consume 56 g. of protein daily while females consume 46g.

How does exercise affect dietary protein intake?

You need more protein if you exercise and burn more calories. Protein is essential for exercise because it strengthens and repairs muscle tissues.

Moreover, being physically active increases the RDA for protein. To meet the functional needs, like promoting physical strength and skeletal-muscle protein accretion, experts recommend eating: 

  • 1.6 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight (intense activity levels);
  • 1.3 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight (moderate activity levels); and
  • 1.0 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight (minimal activity levels)

So, Can Too Much Protein Give You a Headache?

The short answer is yes. Like other things in life, too much of a good thing can be harmful. Headache is one of the problems caused by a high-protein diet that the body can’t get enough fiber or nutrients. 

The headache that forms after taking protein powder can be linked to sinus inflammation, which causes pressure in the head. If you experience it, it’s best to consult your doctor for appropriate treatment options and diagnosis.

Other problems include constipation and bad breath. A study showed that people who consume a diet that is very high in protein also have an increased risk of kidney stones.

Not only that. A high protein diet with more saturated fat and lots of red meat may increase the risk of colon cancer and heart disease. However, consuming high plant-based proteins may not have the same risks.

Keep in mind that for the body to function properly, it needs protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates. Too much or too little of any of these and the way the body function declines. So, make sure that there’s balance for optimal health.

Good dietary protein sources are poultry, eggs, seafood, fish, lean meats, cottage cheese, nuts, seeds, tofu, seitan, and reduced-fat cheese.

Protein and migraine headaches

Some people report suffering from this when they take whey protein powder. Still, there’s little reporting or research on whey protein as a migraine trigger.

Whey protein causing migraines may also be because of other reasons. For example, some shelf-stable protein powders are made with preservatives, which likewise cause migraines. Processed whey protein may be high in glutamate, like eggs, and is dangerous for people who suffer from migraines.

Instead of whey protein powder, a good alternative is a supplement that’s organic, natural, and free of additives and other migraine triggers.

Protein and milk allergy

If you experience headaches each time you consume protein powder, you may be allergic to whey protein, a form of milk protein. It is also commonly used in protein bars, drinks, smoothies, and other supplements. 

During an allergic reaction, your immune system creates IgE or immunoglobulin E, antibodies that try to combat the milk proteins. Your immune system mistakes the whey protein for harmful substances. It then causes other chemicals in the body to respond, including histamine.  

That chemical is produced by various cells in the body, including the sinus cavity. This can cause swelling, irritation, and inflammation in the sinuses, leading to pressure on the head.

So, if you’re allergic to milk or whey protein, avoid casein or whey products. Instead of consuming whey protein-based products, opt for vegetable-based or soy protein powders.

Protein and artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners in protein powders are also potential headache causes. As isolated factors, aspartame and sucralose have been found to trigger migraine in small studies.

Related: Best Protein Powder Without Artificial Sweeteners

Excess protein and dehydration

High protein diets may help you lose weight, but they increase your risk of dehydration due to an increased strain on the liver and kidneys. 

These organs will work hard to remove the excess protein and nitrogen waste.  And when you urinate too much, it can lead to dehydration and headache.

Does This Mean Protein Powder Is Bad for You?

No, it doesn’t necessarily mean protein powder is bad for you. The ingredients in these supplements vary among products and brands. As much as possible, choose a protein powder from a trusted company that has undergone third-party testing.

Lastly, make an effort to eat a healthy diet to help you feel your best. It means you shouldn’t just focus on protein but a variety of food in good proportions.


Protein is essential for optimal body functioning. It’s the building block of each human cell. But, too much of a good thing is bad, especially if other macronutrients in your food are missing.

For access to more exercise and fitness articles, lifestyle tips, celebrity workouts, nutrition and health info, visit

Nathan Lloyd, MSc

I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.

If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.