Gassed Out: How to Combat Protein Bloat
Protein supplements can be a sneaky cause of bloating and gas — two symptoms that make working out uncomfortable. Not to mention embarrassing and disruptive. If you're extra gassy using protein powders in your shakes, it's not uncommon. Whey and other proteins can have unintended consequences when taken in their concentrated form, known as an isolate or concentrate.
Why Do Protein Supplements Cause Gas and Bloating?
While sugar alcohols can be the culprit of gas after eating protein bars, protein powders can also underlie problematic gas.
Whey Protein Isolate
Whey is a dairy-based protein that contains lactose. After infancy, 65% of people lose the ability to digest lactose, according to the National Institute of Health. That said, whey protein powder can cause indigestion for many adults. When the lactose can't digest, it ferments in the gut, which causes smelly gas to form.
Plant-based come from sources like rice, soy, mung beans, and peas. In their isolate forms, plant-based protein supplements are mostly protein in their composition. However, mung bean protein powder and brown rice protein powder are rich in fiber. Fiber absorbs water and bulks up fecal matter in the gut. This can cause bloating and extra fiber may not be required in your diet. For a plant-based protein with minimal fiber content, go with pea protein isolate.
The Best Types of Protein to Avoid Gas and Bloating
Hunting down the best protein powder for you could be a game-changer. If you don't have luck with whey or pea protein, you still have options. Beef protein isolate and egg white protein are highly concentrated protein sources without complex molecules like fiber or lactose.
Beef Protein Isolate
Beef protein isolate is made up of collagen — a peptide containing 19 amino acids. It gives you the benefit of lean meat without requiring you to digest a full meal. In a human trial that compared whey protein and beef protein isolate side by side, researchers found no significant difference between supplementing with whey and supplementing with beef protein isolate during eight weeks of resistance training.
Egg White Protein
Only the egg yolk portion of eggs contains the sulfur that causes gas, whereas egg white protein is sulfur-free. As a result, protein powder made with egg whites tends to have a mild flavor and requires little sweetener for taste. They will also have a saltier consistency as well.
How Gas and Bloating Hurt Your Performance
Exercise performance relies on efficient digestion and assimilation of nutrients so that your muscles can function optimally. When you're bloated or have indigestion, blood gets diverted to your digestive tract, and your energy levels will decline. If your workout feels unbearable because of gas, you won't be able to push yourself and get the most out of your efforts. If your workout is too painful to continue because of trapped gas or uncomfortable bloating, you may have to stop altogether.
Ways to Prevent Gas & Bloat While Supplementing with Protein
The good news is, you don't have to ditch your protein powder if it's causing you gas. You should try and find the protein type that works best for you, but you can also prevent discomfort with dietary techniques. Here are several ways to avoid protein gas and protein bloat:
Probiotics are friendly bacteria the gut requires to help break down food and hydrogen gas produced during digestion. Supplementing with probiotics, which can be taken in pill form, means better digestion and less gas.
In a placebo-controlled clinical trial involving 60 patients with gastrointestinal complaints, taking probiotics twice a day reduced bloating over eight weeks.
Probiotics also prevent and help relieve constipation, which is a common cause of gas and bloating. Lactobacillus and Bifibacterium are probiotic strains shown in a recent study to help your gut digest lactose — the common culprit of protein gas from whey protein.
2. Digestive Enzymes
There are three major types of digestive enzymes, including the enzymes that break down protein, the ones that break down fat, and the ones that break down carbohydrates. Proteases are the digestive enzymes that break down proteins into peptides and amino acids. If you supplement with protease digestive enzymes, you may be able to offset any indigestion from consuming protein isolates.
Enzymes like Bromelain cut excess water retention, which can also prevent bloating. Digestive enzymes are supplements you can take with your protein shake or meals to improve digestion. With less energy spent on digestion, you can make better use of the nutrients you take in.
Many herbs have been used in folk remedies for thousands of years to reduce gas and bloating. Fennel seed, ginger, spearmint, peppermint, and chamomile are examples of natural remedies for GI complaints. They work by breaking down gas, which is known as a carminative effect. By making gas bubbles smaller and promoting gas expulsion, herbs prevent problematic gas, leading to bloat and discomfort.