It’s time to answer the questions which you are probably too embarrassed to ask your friend, let alone your girl/boyfriend!
Like bread goes with butter, the same holds true with protein and gas. But unlike that bread and the vast majority of other foods you eat, whey protein farts smell bad… really bad.
Both men and women experience this. Pungent, disgusting scents.
It’s not just the generic cheap brands, either. People even complain about high quality top sellers like Optimum Nutrition, Quest, EAS, BSN, etc.
Stink aside, the bloating can give you stomach pains and headaches. We won’t even repeat the grotesque things bodybuilders post about their poop on forums!
But we can’t just rip on whey isolate, as other mixes and protein bars cause flatulence, too. Even some vegan powders can be offensive to the nose; Vega causes gas for some of us here at Superfoodly.
Why does protein make you fart so much? Why can’t you buff up and build muscle without having this nasty side effect?
No time to read it all? Then just read this…
Whey protein is the worst, since it contains high amounts of volatile sulfur compounds. Those make farts smell. Pea protein is better, but being a legume, it ferments in the intestines and that can create gas.
The best option is brown rice protein. It does not ferment in your intestines like pea. Its amino acid profile is similar to whey, but even better for the BCAAs isoleucine and valine. Here’s one on Amazon we highly recommend.
Top 10 causes of protein gas
Before reviewing the best protein powders that won’t cause gas in excess, let’s take a step back and review what causes this problem in the first place – both in your general diet as well as your supplements.
Everyone does it, but no one wants to admit it. The healthy or average number of times per day someone farts is up to 20 (1).
That means almost one episode every hour is actually normal.
Of course, normally those will not have a noxious odor or make noise due to how you strategically position yourself (don’t lie, you know you do that).
So what causes the higher frequency and strange odors? One or more of these following reasons may be to blame.
Reason 1: swallowed air
People always focus first on the ingredients in their diet, but remember that a gassy symptom needs air to occur. There’s no avoiding it altogether and it is normal, but you don’t want to take in excess amounts which only increases the problem. That air will leave your body eventually and it only has two exits; upstairs or downstairs… burps or farts (2).
This advice doesn’t just apply to eating food. Don’t gulp down your 10 ounce shake in 10 seconds. Bad idea.
Reason 2: blending your protein shakes
If your shake consists of peanut butter, milk, bananas and other fruits or vegetables, then you really have no choice but to blend it thoroughly. However know that blending can increase the amount of air in a drink.
What we prefer post-workout is something much simpler. Protein shakes and gas from them can be reduced by not using a blender.
A scoop or two of powder with some juice and then mixing with a spoon. Whether that even counts as a smoothie or shake is debatable, but it gets the job done; protein after a rigorous bodybuilding session and the simpler carbs (fructose from the juice) to replenish your muscles’ depleted levels of glucose and glycogen.
If you want less of a glycemic impact, you can simply mix the powder with water.
We do that almost daily, it makes a great “pudding” you can eat with a spoon. To replenish glucose and glcogen eat an apple or other fruit – its fiber will reduce the blood sugar spike.
Reason 3: carbonated beverages
Think about it. Carbonation is air bubbles. It goes into your stomach. How does it come out?
Try cutting out carbonation for a while, or at least reduce how much you drink to see if that helps.
Many people claim Muscle Milk makes you fart (why that might be is discussed in moment). If you think it does, then their carbonated version – Muscle Monster energy drink – should probably be avoided.
Even a so-called non bloating protein powder is more likely to cause gas when carbonation is added.
If you can’t survive without these beverages, you can open them and keep in the fridge until they go flat before drinking. They definitely won’t taste as good, but it’s a compromise to consider… flatulence vs. flavor.
Oh and this includes beer too, sorry.
Reason 4: using straws
Another cause of excess air is drinking through a straw. This isn’t an old wive’s tale, as there are studies going back decades which confirm this (3).
With how much we’re on the go, this can seem like it’s impossible to avoid. Making the change isn’t as hard as you think though. Really it just comes down to breaking a habit.
When eating out, you need to remove the lid and drink from the cup like you do home.
Reason 5: not chewing enough
Again, something else that runs counter to culture. We are in a hurry and we don’t have time to chew. Well you have two choices… chew thoroughly to a fine pulp and the food will be digested more easily.
If you don’t chew, it will ferment longer in your gut and create gas in the process. Plus, chewing can reduce the amount of air in the food.
How many times should you chew? Who was largely considered to be the head of the macrobiotic movement, Michio Kushi, instructed people to chew around 50 times per bite or mouthful (4).
Obviously you will almost never have time to do that, especially at lunch break when rushed.
Reason 6: compounds in your protein
Why do protein farts smell so bad? It may have to do with the type you are consuming.
There is a big difference between a milk allergy versus lactose intolerance in adults. An allergy is your immune system thinking a specific protein is an enemy substance and responds by overreacting in an attempt to combat it.
This can result in milder symptoms like itching and hives or dangerous and even life threatening side effects like wheezing and anaphylactic shock.
Lactose intolerant means you don’t produce any or enough of the enzymes (lactase) needed to digest the sugar in dairy, which is called lactose. That can cause those nasty digestive side effects like diarrhea, cramps, gas and bloating.
Normally it’s not dangerous, but certainly is uncomfortable and embarrassing when you have to let one rip in public.
Unlike a milk allergy which is said to affect only 1-2% of young children and 0.2-0.4% of the adult population, lactose intolerance is reportedly quite common. How prevalant? Reportedly about 25% of Americans lose their lactase enzymes after being weaned off milk as a baby. For the overall world population, it’s as much as 75% (7).
The NIH’s National Library of Medicine cites a slightly lower frequency “approximately 65% of the human population” has a reduced ability, with higher prevalence in East Asian descent (over 90% affected), West African, Jewish, Greek, Italian, and Arab (8).
Out of the 5,416 species of mammals, humans are the only ones who regularly consume milk as an adult (9). And as a baby, no other mammal consumes the milk of another species. So the shockingly high prevalence of lactose intolerance makes sense when you think about it.
Do you have it?
When you consume whey protein, does your belly bloat within 30 minutes to 2 hours later, along with toxic emissions out your backdoor that are so severe, they may actually constitute an EPA air quality violation?
If so, lactose intolerance may be a big cause for your protein gas. The reason you might not notice it with other foods such as cheese pizza or even a glass of milk is because whey protein isolate is such a heavily concentrated form.
Almost powders claim to be “pure” and “high quality” and certainly some contain less than others, but they still have it. Think about it… even if it’s as little as 1%, that’s taking 1% of something which may be much more concentrated than the amount found in foods like ice cream and pizza.
There are brands which advertise lactose free whey like this Isopure Zero Carb powder. Something like that would definitely be a good protein powder over the less refined whey isolate.
How it may cause a foul smell
Over 99% of the air in flatulence is nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen, methane, hydrogen, and methane (10). None of those have a bad smell.
What causes that wretched scent is the other stuff which is less than 1%. Within that, research points to the pungent scent coming from volatile sulfur compounds (VSC).
There have actually been studies which show that the amount of these sulfuric compounds in a fart directly correlates with how bad people think they smell.
The bad news is that protein farts may be inevitable, since protein can be high in VSC. In particular, there are 4 common sulfur-containing amino acids according to the American Society of Nutrition (11):
- methionine – animal and plant sources, but significantly higher in animal (see below)
- taurine – only from animals
- cysteine – animal and plant sources
- homocysteine – created by your body, higher methionine = higher homocysteine production
Homocysteine is a non-protein amino acid that does not come from food. It’s produced by your liver after ingesting methionine. Yes, methionine is an essential amino but it’s not a Branched Chain Amino Acid.
Since it’s not a BCAA and excess isn’t helping your with bodybuilding goals, lower levels of methionine (and therefore homocysteine) are ideal. Not just to avoid your smelly gas, but for much more important health reasons.
Animal sources like whey, egg and casein protein tend to have higher amounts of methionine. Likewise for many creatine supplements. One of the highest plant sources, soy protein isolate, is still relatively low versus something like casein. Many bodybuilders actually criticize soy because of that. If they only knew the full story!
So what else is causing volatile sulfur compounds?
They often go hand in hand polysaccharides, which are a type of complex carbohydrate.
Polysaccharides are in dairy and milk products, which makes them a two-time offender since they may also have high levels of sulfur-promoting amino acids.
Bananas are another relevant offender, since they are the most popular fruit used in shakes.
However the more ripe a banana is, the less polysaccharides it contains (because of conversion to monosaccharides AKA sugars). Use yellow, not green bananas!
While typically not used in protein powders, other major culprits include beans (though less with soy), lentils, onions, garlic, cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower), wheat and bread yeast. This is why some vegan protein powders are also bad for gas.
Worried about eating those things around friends and in public? Get the Beano “home away” combo pack which includes the discreet portable carrier you can take to restaurants with you. Works like a charm.
Reason 7: protein allergy
Whether you’re talking about the pollen in the air, the dander from the cat, or the food allergy you have… those are all caused by your body reacting to a specific type of protein that’s in them.
For some it only takes parts per million for a major reaction, while others require higher amounts for noticeable side effects.
In theory, there is the potential for you to have an allergy to any food.
Though realistically, it’s not as common as the media and health food manufacturers make you think; only 4% of adults have a food allergy and 8% in children (higher because they outgrow most by age 16) (5).
Those statistics are contested by many and for good reason: according to a CDC study published in 2013, allergy rates went up almost 50% in children from 1997 through 2011 (6).
Whether the increase was due to better diagnosis, chemicals in food, GMOs, hypochondria, or a combination thereof is a can of worms we won’t get into right now.
But one thing can be said for sure – even if the rates were double what the studies say, it still means the vast majority of the population does not have a food allergy.
But maybe you are allergic. Maybe your soy, egg, whey or casein protein powder mix is triggering inflammation in the digestive tract that causes gas and bloating.
These 8 most common food allergens account for 90% of all cases:
- milk – not just milk protein isolate, but whey protein and casein also come from it
- eggs – whether its egg protein powder or egg whites, these are popular with bodybuilders
- peanuts – not as prevalent as people perceive; only 0.6 to 1.3% of population is affected
- tree nuts – such as cashews, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, and almonds
- soy – while less common in the higher-end powders, many protein bars and other fortified foods use soy protein isolate since it has a complete amino acid profile rich in the BCAAs as well as arginine and glutamine
- gluten – wheat, barley, spelt, farro, kamut, rye
- crustaceans – shrimp, crabs, lobster, crayfish
- fish – finned fish such as salmon, tuna, halibut
There are blood tests, skin tests, and even fecal antibody analyses which can be done to help diagnose an allergy, but rarely are they conclusive. You may test positive for one method and negative for another.
What may be the best way to diagnose – under the supervision of your doctor – is to try eliminating suspect ingredients one at time from your diet for a period of a few weeks and seeing if your flatulence symptoms and side effects improve. Trial and error by switching your powder protein brand is a good idea.
Reason 8: too little fiber
Here’s some interesting trivia for you. Most people are in agreement that vegans pass gas slightly more often than average, but they stink less.
Omnivores or those on a typical American diet may fart less often, but when they do it can produce bad smells exponentially worse (not always, but more likely). The vegan farts are shorter and quieter, while the omnivores are longer and louder. Why is that?
If you guessed it’s caused by the amount of air in each diet, you’re actually wrong. The total quantity of gas producing bacteria (and therefore how much can be produced) is fairly comparable for both groups (18).
Why does protein keep you full? Carbs and fats are digested faster, so right off the bat you’re in a more precarious position to create more gas, no pun intended, because that food is fermented longer in the bacteria. That holds true for both animal and plant-based proteins.
However with pure animal forms, no fiber is present, which typically means it moves slower through your digestive tract. To make matters worse, meat can take a long time to digest and may produce a large amount of smelly volatile sulfur compounds, as your gut bacteria munches away at it while journeying at a snail’s pace (19).
These factors may cause the gas to be “bottled up” longer, so the fumes become more concentrated and hence, more foul once they finally pass through your exit door. Each episode may be more like the eruption of Mount St. Helen versus the smaller, more frequent gusts of wind a vegan may experience.
Those eating lots of meat and dairy have lower amounts of fiber in their diet. This is because fiber only comes from plants.
There is literally zero in your pure whey protein shake. Look at Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard, since it’s pure, there’s no fiber listed on the nutrition facts label. Likewise for EAS 100% whey protein.
If there is any, it’s coming from other plant-based ingredients which are added.
For example if you review the label on the Muscle Milk chocolate shake mix, you will see it only contains 1 gram of fiber, which is from ingredients like soluble corn fiber and inulin. If you drank a glass of regular milk or ate a grilled chicken breast, it would literally provide you with zero grams of fiber.
BSN SYNTHA-6 powder adds fiber to their mix. Other offerings from Optimum Nutrition and EAS have it too.
The other difference between healthy fiber intake vs. not enough is your poop. Ever seen horse poop? Or from an elephant? It’s basically well formed pellets. Broken open, it’s fibers of grass and other plants. You can’t call it “clean” but at least it isn’t messy.
Contrast that to what a carnivore like your dog just plopped down in your backyard. Someone asked us why do protein shakes make me poop?! That’s why. If your diet is deficient in fiber, it may lead to a diarrhea disaster story.
Reason 9: too much fiber
It’s kind of like your alcoholic friend or family member who drinks way too much red wine and claims they’re doing it for the health benefits (yeah right!). As Americans, we’re known for taking something that’s healthy in moderation and way overdoing it, to the point where it’s actually quite bad for you.
Eating too much fiber is another example of that.
The fiber in a fresh carrot may not be the same as the fiber in your processed protein bar. Even if the total grams of fiber are the same in both, it doesn’t mean the body digests each type the same way.
When you have to artificially add fiber to foods, it often ends up being in the least preferred forms.
Going back to those polysaccharides mentioned above, one of the worst types for gas is oligosaccharides. Inulin is one of the most popular fiber additives in protein bars, cereals, you name it. Guess where inulin usually comes from? Chicory root, which is an oligosaccharide (20). That’s why you also see it called chicory root fiber on ingredient labels.
More ironic is that up until recently, only polysaccharides were counted as dietary fiber (21):
“…more recent definitions have included oligosaccharides as dietary fiber, not based on their chemical measurement as dietary fiber by the accepted total dietary fiber (TDF) method, but on their physiological effects.”
Based on physiological effects, huh?
Inulin is not bad though. We would prefer polysaccharides per the old definition of fiber, but if you’re on a normal American diet and are not eating lots of veggies, then some inulin supplementation (via protein powder or bars, etc.) is good for you and may help reduce gas.
However if eat a healthy amount plant-based foods, then you may not need this added inulin, because you are already are eating lots of fiber in the form of polysaccharides found in common vegetables and fruits.
Just as too little fiber is bad, so is too much.
There’s a very delicious brand of protein bars, NuGo, which one of us here at Superfoodly had to stop using. Why? After getting repeated stomach aches and constipation from them for many months, it was eventually discovered that the Nugo protein bars and other dietary sources of inulin were the triggers. When eliminated, that problem was cured.
However that inulin was on top of a plant-based diet. Obviously, most people – especially those eating fast food daily – can handle inulin just fine and it’s actually beneficial for them.
Whichever forms you get your fiber in, it’s about getting the right amount. Too little and foods moves through the digestive tract slower, leading to greater fermentation and more stench. Too much and a similar albeit milder effect occurs, since fiber takes longer to digest.
“High fiber” is such a marketing buzzword. They love to claim it keeps you feeling full longer and infer that has weight loss benefits. This trend has led to too much fiber and inulin being added to foods and supplements.
How much fiber is in that Muscle Milk – even though it’s a small amount – is probably the right amount for that type. Even if it’s not, getting too little inulin is better than too much.
Fiber could be making your symptoms worse, not better, if you’re consuming it in abundance. Don’t count on inulin to replace most or all of your polysaccharide fiber.
Reason 10: probiotics
Today, saying no to probiotics may seem blasphemous, but they aren’t necessarily a good thing.
No one is disputing the vital importance of healthy gut bacteria. What is disputed is whether taking probiotics will help you achieve that.
- How much of the room temperature probiotics are even alive in the first place?
- Does oral consumption of probiotics survive past your stomach acid?
- Even if they do, along their journey is it good idea to be introducing them into your small intestine, which normally contains very little?
Even with these question marks, apparently probiotics help many people. However for some they are known to cause gas and bloating. That may be due to more probiotics ending up in places that normally have very little.
Just like fiber, some protein powders go overboard (at least in our opinion) with adding probiotics to their mix. We don’t like using those, as we actually experience more gas and bloating with them, though your results may vary.
Added probiotics are the reason we don’t like one of the bestselling vegan protein brands, Vega. Though we admit if you do want probiotics, the chocolate Vega Sport Performance protein mix is quite tasty.
3 protein powders that don’t cause gas
Sure, you may have perfected the art of strategically positioning your body to minimize those sounds, but that won’t resolve their stench! Why else do you think people are giving you that repulsed look in the gym?!
Based on all of the above science, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that some farts from protein shakes are inevitable. 100% non bloating isn’t achievable. We would agree with that statement.
How to reduce gas from protein shakes is what your focus should be on. Especially reducing the stinkiest, most offensive odors which can result from them.
Or just keep drinking your whey, casein, or whichever other type might be causing horrendous side effects for you (and those nearby).
Interested in trying something new? Based on reviews, here are 3 of the best recommendations…
- 80% of the calories are from protein.
- Enzymatically processed rice protein from whole grain sprouted rice. Super easy on the tummy!
- Only one added ingredient and that’s vanilla.
- No added sodium. Just 10 mg which is naturally occurring.
- Not a brand you see often at stores
- Pea-based, but easier on stomach versus almost every other brand. The use non-GMO golden peas grown in northern France and processed in Belgium.
- It’s sweetened with thaumatin, a non-glycemic extract from a rare African flower.
- Tastes incredible, even with water.
- Blends easily with just a spoon and cup.
- Availability in US is limited.
- Organic plant-based blend of pea, navy bean, sprouted lentil, sprouted garbanzo, and cranberry seed protein. Despite the legumes, few report gas. This may be due to the added 2 billion CFU Bifidobacterium lactis probiotic.
- 30 grams of protein which includes 5.5g of BCAAs per 2 scoop serving.
- No filler ingredients like gums or emulsifiers.
- Contains muscle-recovery phytonutrients like organic tart cherry, turmeric, blueberry, and goji.
Premium pricing accompanies this premium brand.