Can Whey Protein Powder Cause Constipation and Gas?

Updated October 15, 2022
Young woman in sports clothing preparing whey protein shake at home

Whey protein powder can cause gas and sometimes, constipation. So if you use these supplements to increase your protein intake, you might want to expect some changes to your digestive system as your body adjusts. But the amount of whey protein powder that you use can make a difference.

Excess dietary protein, such as whey protein, causes gas through fermentation of protein as it is used by bacteria in your large intestine (colon). This process is referred to as putrefaction. Experiencing gas from whey protein can be a sign you're getting too much protein or you're not able to digest it properly. Certain people who have trouble with lactose may also experience constipation, but this is not a common side effect of using whey protein powder.

How Whey Protein Causes Gas

In its original form before it's processed, whey protein is a product of the cheese-making process. Whey is considered an excellent source of protein and is even used in certain infant formulas. Due to the benefits for muscle building and repair, it's easy to see why people are interested in adding whey protein powders to their diet regimen.

But high levels of protein in the diet or consuming proteins that are difficult to digest can lead to digestive issues. Protein can escape normal digestion in the small intestine and land in the colon. Proteins that make their way to the colon are not used properly by the body as amino acids to help build and repair muscle, but they can be used by the microbes in your colon. While microbes work on the protein in the colon, this produces smelly compounds such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia.

There may be two reasons why your protein powder is causing gas. It could be that you're taking in too much protein and don't need the additional protein from the whey powder, or you're not able to digest the whey protein fully. Either way, the solution to stopping smells is to use less protein powder or to stop taking it entirely.

And by the way, gas isn't the only problem that can result from protein making its way to your colon. Although this protein can help produce healthful short-chain fatty acids that support the body, it can also cause damage the cells in the wall of the colon leading to leaky gut, which can make it easier for dangerous inflammatory compounds to make their way into the body.

Tips to Manage Gas

If you experience gas while using whey protein powders, it's a good idea to stop using them to see if the issue resolves. But gas can be caused by other foods and drink.

Here are some common causes of gas to help you rule out the cause:

  • Cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and cauliflower.
  • Dairy products.
  • Foods and candy sweetened with sugar alcohols such as xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol.
  • Fruit juices, apples, peaches and pears.
  • Sports drinks and energy drinks.
  • Whole grains.

Seek advice from your healthcare provider or licensed nutritionist about managing gas symptoms.

Does Whey Protein Powder Cause Constipation?

Atlhough there isn't much evidence to show that whey protein powders are linked to constipation, there are substantial reports of people becoming constipated when they increase their protein intake with whey protein powder. There are some potential common sense reasons why constipation might occur.

It is possible that when people increase their protein intake with supplements, they decrease their intake of other foods - like fruits and vegetables or whole grains. These are foods that provide fiber and fiber helps you to maintain digestive regularity.

Tips to Manage Constipation

If you have started using whey protein powder and are getting backed up, here is some advice on avoiding constipation.

  • Be sure to get enough fiber from whole grains, legumes, avocadoes, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Depending on your age and gender you need 22 to 34 grams of fiber every day.
  • Drink enough fluids to help the fiber work better in your digestive system.
  • Get regular physical activity.
  • When you're ready to go to the bathroom, don't wait! This can cause the stool to harden and make it harder to pass.

Do You Need Whey Protein?

Whey protein powder is one way to help supply necessary protein to the body to build, maintain and repair muscle. Whey protein is shown to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which is helpful after exercise training, and may help improve recovery performance. But if you're experiencing problems with whey protein, it's possible you don't need this protein added to your day.

Although there is good evidence on the benefit of whey protein powder for athletes and those who exercise regularly, it may not be necessary for non-exercisers. In fact, protein powders can be overused, especially when the diet already includes enough protein. If you're a non-exerciser having digestive side effects from whey protein it's fine to stop taking it.

Constipation is an uncommon side effect of using these powders, while gas is a more common complaint. If you are having problems tolerating whey protein powder, stop using it and talk with your health care professional or licensed nutritionist for guidance.

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Can Whey Protein Powder Cause Constipation and Gas?