While we all understand many of the great health benefits that can come from supplementing our diets with proteins, carbohydrates, and other nutritional ingredients, we must also understand the potential side effects so that we may identify and eliminate the root cause for discomfort. One user writes in regarding some unpleasant, but not uncommon, issues with gas and bloating that he is experiencing in his daily supplementation:
Hi TN team! This is a little embarrassing, but the protein I am using is giving me a ton of gas! What can I do to help?
Never fear, TN is here!
Gas and bloating are not uncommon by any means when using particular protein powders. Many users experience the same symptoms daily, which can lead to some embarrassing moments at home and at the gym, where we can’t blame it on the dog. Thankfully, the gas and bloating that may result from protein powder use can often be avoided with a few simple changes to your diet!
First, let’s take a look at the main causes.
When protein powder is consumed, it first enters the stomach, where naturally-occurring stomach acids and digestive enzymes work to partially break down complete protein strands into smaller, readily-absorbable components. From here, the remaining protein materials will pass on to the smaller intestine, where pancreatic fluids and additional digestive enzymes will continue to break apart these smaller di- and tripeptides into individual amino acids, which are the building blocks for our muscular metabolism. The rate at which protein powders will be broken down and absorbed throughout this process will depend on the bioavailability (or Biological Value) of the material that is being consumed, and our own personal physiology.
Proteins that possess a lower Biological Value may not be properly digested by the stomach or small intestine, which causes them to pass on through to the large intestine before exiting the body as waste. It is here, in the large intestine, that some remaining protein particles may be broken down by the naturally-occurring bacteria that exists within our system. This breakdown results in a release of various gases that will continue to build up within the large intestines until released, and may potentially cause the cramping, bloating, and gas that many users have experienced in the past.
Although undigested protein is one potential cause, it is also important to note that proteins and fats only account for a small amount of the gas production within the digestive track, and that carbohydrates are more often the cause of this type of discomfort.
Users of protein powders with a higher naturally-occurring carbohydrate content may exhibit symptoms of gas and bloating more often than users than users of protein powders that have lower overall carbs. The most frequently-cited culprit for this form of reaction comes from users of whey protein concentrate, which will typically contain higher amounts of milk sugars (such as lactose) than the more refined versions of whey protein isolate. This is a particular concern for individuals with a mild to severe lactose intolerance, which results in the body’s inability to digest milk sugars. Once again, these materials will bypass the stomach and small intestine, and be broken up by bacteria in the large intestine, thereby causing the same uncomfortable feelings described above.
Many formulas on the market are also combined with various forms of carbohydrates that would not normally appear in the protein powder, itself. While many of us are aware of these added ingredients, some of us are not, and it is possible that some of these added carbohydrate materials may act much in the same manner as the naturally-occurring milk sugars if they are not digested properly.
What can we do, then, to help resolve these issues?
Here are a few helpful tips to help reduce the effects of gas and bloating in conjunction with your protein powder use.
- Maintain a healthy pH balance within your stomach. The stomach produces hydrochloric acid on command to help initiate the digestive process. Sometimes, we may not be producing enough hydrochloric acid to effectively dissolve the peptide bonds in protein powders. Adding an additional ingredient like Betaine HCL to your diet may help to create a more acidic environment in the stomach to potentially increase the body’s ability to digest proteins.*
- Add digestive enzymes in to your daily supplementation. Digestive enzymes like amylase, lactase, and protease can be taken throughout the day (particularly before consuming a protein-enriched meal or shake) to potentially increase the body’s ability to break down protein and carbohydrate materials.* Lactase may be particularly beneficial to individuals suffering from lactose intolerance.*
- Change the way you eat. If you are noticing any unwanted effects while using a particular protein powder or carbohydrate, try changing to another material to see if it resolves the issues. Whey protein isolates may offer a considerable reduction in the amount of carbohydrates as compared to a whey protein concentrate, for example. Hydrolyzed whey proteins undergo an enzymatic treatment that breaks long-chain protein peptides into smaller di- and tripeptides prior to consumption, which can potentially reduce the amount of additional digestion required by the body. Individuals with an extreme lactose or dairy intolerance may consider switching to an egg– or plant-based protein powder.
- Try to identify food allergies. Considering the wide variety of foods that we consume within a given day, it is important to identify which of these items might be causing the symptoms we are experiencing. Keep a log of the foods you are eating throughout the day along with the accompanying symptoms, or perhaps consider trying an elimination diet to narrow down potential causes.
- Consult a physician. If the issues continue to persist, contact a health care professional for additional advice in identifying and eliminating the problem. Be sure to ask if any potential medications may be conflicting with your daily diet.
None of us want to suffer through the pain and embarrassment of gas and bloating, but with this knowledge in hand, you may be able to avoid these issues in the future!
*DISCLAIMER: The above description is provided for information only and does not constitute medical advice. Please consult your physician or the appropriately licensed professional before engaging in a program of exercise or nutritional supplementation. No information in this site has been reviewed by the FDA. No product is intended to treat, diagnose, or cure any disease.
1. Cash, B., et al. (2012). “Gas in the Digestive Tract”. NIH Publication No. 13â€“883. Retrieved 12 July 2013 from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gas/.