Top 3 Reasons Whey Protein Makes You Fart
Do you even lift bro? If you do, chances are you’ve heard of and may even be a consumer of whey protein.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, whey protein is a popular supplement taken by many, especially athletes or gym enthusiasts looking to gain muscle or lose weight. It’s made from the liquid separated from dairy milk during cheese making, which can be further purified of carbs and is then dried into a protein-rich powder.
Despite its health benefits, a major side effect reported by many whey users is…whey farts. Here are the top 3 reasons why whey protein may give you that dreaded gas and bloating and how to fix it:
1. You might be lactose intolerant
Did you know that as many as 30-50 million American adults and approximately 65% of the worldwide adult population is lactose intolerant? That’s about 3 of out of 5 people. In other words, it is more normal to be lactose intolerant as an adult than not to be.
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is the reduced ability to digest lactose, a sugar found in dairy milk and milk products like whey protein. Lactose is normally broken down by lactase, an enzyme produced by cells in the lining of the small intestine.
Consuming lactose in lactose intolerant individuals may cause mild to severe gastrointestinal distress such as abdominal pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, and nausea.
What causes lactose intolerance?
Most lactose intolerance actually develops in adulthood. As a baby you (and most babies) are actually born with high levels of the lactase enzyme because baby bodies need to be able to break down and absorb breastmilk or dairy-based formula either of which contain plenty of lactose. Though rare (but not unheard of), a few babies are born lactose intolerant. This is called congenital lactase deficiency or congenital lactose intolerance.
In adulthood, lactose intolerance is caused by the reduced production of lactase. So while you might’ve had no issues digesting milk and milk products as a baby and kid, your ability to digest milk sugar naturally decreases as you get older.
Your heritage may also factor into your likelihood to develop lactose intolerance. According to the NIH, lactose intolerance is prevalent in over 90% of adults of East Asian descent. It’s also very common in people of West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek and Italian descent.
Lactose in whey protein
Lactose content varies from milk product to milk product, with some things like cheese and yogurt containing less lactose than fresh milk and ice cream. Because whey is made from dairy milk, it naturally contains lactose.
Freshly separated and dried whey is typically only about 12-16% protein and about 73% sugars, most of which is lactose. However, manufacturers use a filtering process to remove a lot (but not all) of the lactose thereby increasing the protein content and results in the more commonly known whey protein concentrates and isolates.
Whey protein concentrate (WPC) is whey that has been further processed to contain roughly 70- 80% protein, which is then dried, flavored and sweetened before being sold as a powdered supplement. Whey protein isolate (WPI) is whey that been processed to contain a minimum of 90% protein. It is also then dried, flavored and sweetened before being sold as a powdered supplement. Because the protein content is so high, WPI tends to have much lower lactose than WPC.
The problem is most whey protein supplements use a combination of WPC and WPI, so most whey supplements do still contain some level of lactose. And if you’re one to use 2+ scoops of said whey protein per day, the lactose dose you’re getting is even higher, resulting in said whey farts.
If you’re using a whey protein powder made solely with WPI (check the ingredients on the label) and still experiencing gas and bloating, read on:
2. You might be reacting to sugar substitutes in whey protein
Whey protein supplements are generally low in sugar, which is great for those aiming to cut calories and get in shape, but maybe not so good for your gut. One way manufacturers keep whey protein tasting good while keeping calories low is using alternative sweeteners, including artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols or a combination thereof. While there are some, few manufacturers use natural sweeteners (other than sugar alcohols) in whey protein.
Sugar alcohols are a class of calorie-free, natural sweeteners which contain no ethanol despite their name. They are commonly used to sweeten “sugar-free” candies, chocolates and gum and are notorious for digestive side effects especially for those with sensitivities to sugar alcohols or when taken in moderate to high doses.
The thing is, sugar alcohols act more like dietary fiber by going mostly undigested in the small intestine and rather, getting fermented by the gas-producing bacteria in the large intestine. Small amounts of sugar alcohols may not cause any issues in most people, but when taken in moderate to high doses (such as when using 2 or more scoops of whey protein in one sitting), they may definitely result in digestive issues including excessive gas, stomach upset or diarrhea.
The most common types of sugar alcohols include:
Artificial sweeteners are another class of non-nutritive additives commonly used to sweeten whey protein supplements. Here are some of the most common artificial sweeteners:
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal)
- Saccharin (Sweet’n Low)
- Acesulfame K (Ace K, Sweet One)
While the low-calorie sweeteners like these may help people eat less sugar and lose weight, their effects on things like gut health and risk of cancer is still hotly debated. For example, some pre-clinical research conducted in vitro and in rats has shown than consumption of artificial sweeteners may disrupt the beneficial bacteria found in guts. Though further clinical research is needed to confirm these effects in humans, unhealthy gut microbiomes have been shown to be associated with increased risk of irritable bowel syndrome among other diseases.
So if you’re taking whey protein (and doubling and even tripling your serving), and you know you’re not lactose intolerant, it’s possible your body may be having trouble digesting the sugar substitutes in them.
Here’s one more possibility to consider:
3. You might be consuming too much whey in one sitting
There’s no denying that if your physical activity levels are high, your body demands more protein. However, the convenience of being able to drink down 40+ grams of whey protein powder within minutes after your workout might be putting your digestive system into overdrive.
The thing is, protein digests at a slower rate than carbohydrates do, so when give your system a lot of protein on top of that, it takes your digestive system that much longer to get it all through. In fact, the “excess protein” may travel directly to your large intestine where it is fermented by bacteria, producing that buildup of nitrogen and sulfur gasses. Sulfur, being on the main causes of those room-clearing farts. Yikes.
One unquestionable way to stop whey protein farts altogether is to give plant protein powders a try:
Why Growing Naturals’ Plant Proteins Work
- They’re naturally lactose- and dairy-free. Growing Naturals’ rice proteins and pea proteins contain absolutely zero ingredients made from cow’s milk. That means absolutely zero lactose and dairy-free. In fact, they are all 100% plant-based and perfect for the 30-50 million Americans and more worldwide that are affected by lactose intolerance and or those affected by dairy allergies.
- They don’t contain sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners (in fact, nothing is artificial). The only sweetener used in the rice protein products is organic rice syrup solids (i.e. sugar made from rice) and it is added at minimal quantities (>1g per serving). The only sweeteners used in the pea protein products are organic coconut palm sugar and organic stevia—also used in minimal quantities.
- They’re 100% digestible proteins. Rice and pea protein have been tested to show 100% digestibility, which means your body is getting every single gram of protein you consume.
- They build muscle as good as whey. If vegan bodybuilders aren’t enough proof, Growing Naturals’ rice protein has actually been clinically tested in 2 different studies to be effective as whey at building and maintaining muscle mass in both college and elite (MMA) athletes. Plus did you know, even the “Terminator” himself has said ‘hasta la vista’ to meat and dairy and is helping to dispel the myth that plant proteins are inferior protein sources?
By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian