If you eat a high-protein diet, you won’t be a stranger to the stinky side effects. We ask nutritionist Alice Mackintosh what causes protein-induced flatulence and how to make it stop…
Why can protein cause bloating/gas?
There are a multitude of reasons why we can feel gassy or bloated – and a lot of things can come down to digestion not working optimally. There are also many different types of foods that can be the culprits and, to make it even more confusing, these vary from person to person.
Though for most, protein from meat, eggs and fish do not tend to normally be at the top of this culprit list, having regular consumption of protein powder can cause problems. This can be because the higher quantity of protein can cause fermentation in the gut that can lead to gassiness or bloating. This might also be worse if you’re consuming products that contain whey, which is the most common type of protein added to powders for sports. Whey comes from dairy so contains lactose and some people find this can make them more gassy, especially if they don’t digest it well.
Meanwhile, other types of protein such as hemp, pea and brown rice may be easier to digest, so try these if whey is causing issues. Some protein shakes can also contain ingredients such as sweeteners, additives, chemicals and caffeine, which do not support healthy digestion either.
How can you stop protein-induced gas?
Choosing less processed protein powders is a really important first step. It’s also worth considering the overall state of your gut flora balance if you’re someone who is suffering with bloating, whether from protein or not. A healthy gut requires plenty of fibre, which helps to support a nice balance of bacteria, so be sure you’re getting this through your diet. Some old fashioned high protein diets such as Dukan or Atkins, for example, are low on fibre from wholegrain and veggies which can also lead to constipation and worsening digestion. If you’re consuming simple protein powder with water, then switch up to smoothies containing some fruit, vegetables or nuts/seeds.
It’s also vital to ensure you’re not eating on the go. Sit down and savour the food you’re eating rather than bolting it, as this helps to send messages from the brain to the gut that trigger efficient digestive processes. Lastly, rather than forcing something down post-workout because you’ve been told it may help tone or build muscle, consider if you are actually hungry first. If it’s too soon after a workout, your body may still be in workout mode, not digestion mode.
How much protein do we actually need?
This is a hotly debated question, but the general consensus is that we need between 45-55g/day for adult women, and 55-65g/day for adult men. This will increase if you are very active, doing weights or have specific needs such as being pregnant so get advice from an expert to know what you should be consuming. A very high protein diet can also put added strain on the kidneys which have to process the protein metabolite, so it’s vital not to have too much. It is also thought that we can only absorb around 30g protein in one sitting, so having more than this in your shake is unlikely to lead to any more benefits in the body.
Alice Mackintosh is a registered nutritional therapist based in west London. She runs a practice helping people to manage skin disorders and is the founder of nutritional supplement range www.equilondon.com.
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