The wrong protein powder and a sensitive stomach just don’t mix. If you’re on a high protein diet but suffer from stomach problems after consuming protein, you’ll need to switch to a protein source your body handles well. That probably means no more whey protein. The best protein powders for sensitive stomachs are dairy-free, gluten-free, hypoallergenic, and use only high quality, pure ingredients. The following protein powders meet all of these requirements. Below the list, we’ve provided detailed information about each category. We also dive into the science behind protein digestion and include some tips for improving your ability to digest protein – that means less bloating and gas, and more nutrients being used by your body.
|Pure Vegan IntestiCleanse Chocolate Protein Powder||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Manitoba Harvest Hemp Pro 50 Protein Supplement||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Pea Protein Isolate - Vegan, Non-GMO, Lactose, Soy and Gluten Free||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
How lactose-intolerant people can prevent gas from protein shakes
Let’s look at the main reasons people have stomach distress from protein powder. One of the most common causes is lactose intolerance. Whey protein, the most popular form of protein powder, is a dairy product and therefore it contains large amounts of lactose. Unfortunately, many people (actually the majority of the earth’s population) just cannot digest lactose very well. Lactose intolerant people get symptoms such as bloating, cramping, gas, and nausea after consuming lactose. Sound familiar? Some individuals even get acne from lactose. Even if you can handle small amounts of lactose, chances are you will not do very well with big doses of it every day, like you’re getting from your protein shake. For lactose-intolerant people, we’ve made a list of whey protein alternatives.
Whey protein allergy symptoms
Even if you aren’t lactose intolerant, you may be suffering from a whey allergy. Some people have such a bad allergic reaction to whey that they actually get a rash. Your allergy may not be this bad, but if your stomach feels upset after a whey protein shake, you should consider the possibility you’re allergic to whey. Here are some common symptoms of a whey protein allergy:
- Bloating and gas within an hour of consuming whey
- Stomachache and even diarrhea after consuming whey
- Stuffed up nose (in conjunction with the other symptoms)
- Excessive mucous in the throat after consuming whey
- Sometimes coughing and sneezing will occur if the reaction passes to the lungs
- Skin rash, for some people.
Gluten-free protein powder
People with gluten allergies have to avoid protein powders with wheat ingredients, which most cheap protein powders contain. You may not realize that you are gluten-sensitive, but it could be the cause of your upset stomach from protein powder.
- Stomachache and bloating after consuming gluten
- Diarrhea or constipation
- For some people, headaches and brain fog can also occur
- Sometimes a skin rash as well
High quality protein powders made from pure ingredients only will typically be gluten-free. Cheaper brands often use filler ingredients, and often contain some amount of wheat – and therefore gluten.
Pure, natural, and hypoallergenic: These are the keys
If you aren’t lactose or gluten-intolerant but still have trouble digesting protein powder, you’re probably allergic to the highly-processed filler ingredients that are typically mixed into cheap protein powders. Unethical companies “spike” their protein powders with low quality, factory ingredients designed to trick lab tests to show a higher percentage of protein than the powder really contains. (You can read more detailed information about this at Jim Stoppani’s site here and you can see the results of a detailed lab test for protein spiking here.) Since your body isn’t really designed to digest these artificial ingredients, some of the protein powder goes undigested in your body, which causes gas, bloating, or worse. You can avoid this by using pure protein powders with no added ingredients besides the protein source.
Artificial flavoring and digestive problems
One of the biggest culprits for sensitive stomachs are artificial flavors composed of sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols are a type of chemical used as an artificial sweetener in many protein powders. They actually contain neither sugar nor alcohol, contrary to what you would expect. Nonetheless, they are not very good for you, and some people have a very bad reaction to them taking the form of stomach pain and nausea. Sugar alcohols are considered more healthy than regular sugar since they do not fully digest and therefore do not increase your blood sugar as high as sugar does. Unfortunately, this also means that they can cause great digestive distress since they are not fully absorbed by the small intestine and cannot be completely removed by the body without a lot of trouble. Your best bet is to just buy unsweetened protein powder and add something natural to it like cocoa for the taste.
Hypoallergenic protein powders are free from all ingredients that can cause allergic reactions, which is why we always recommend them to anyone with digestive symptoms after drinking protein supplements. Generally, the purer and higher quality the protein source, the better for those of us with gastrointestinal issues.
Probiotics: Essential for digestion
If you are confident that your stomach problems with protein powder aren’t stemming from a food allergy or intolerance, then it’s possible that you are suffering from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). The key to managing your IBS and still getting an adequate protein intake is to consume probiotics alongside the protein. There are colonies of beneficial bacteria in your gut, which are essential for digesting protein properly. Scientific studies have found that IBS sufferers have less of these beneficial bacteria than a healthy person. (Source: Probiotic Therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.) Probiotics are a source of these beneficial bacteria – adding them to your protein powder can be just the ticket for smoother, pain-free digestion. Although you can buy probiotic supplements, by far the best source of probiotics is unpasteurized sauerkraut or kimchi.
Digest the best, discard the rest
For many people, large doses of protein are simply too much to digest properly. In order to fully digest protein, your body creates stomach acid, primarily out of hydrochloric acid. There needs to be enough of this stomach acid in order to use a digestive enzyme called Pepsin. Pepsin is what your digestive system uses to turn the complex chemical structure of protein into simple building blocks that can be fully absorbed by your body. You can use the Heidelberg Test to diagnose if this digestion process is working properly. If you are having issues we strongly advise adding probiotics to your food as mentioned earlier. You can also use a protein powder like IntestiCleanse with digestive enzymes included, which gives the stomach the necessary ability to digest the amino acids in the protein.
Combining foods for better digestion
Combining your protein powder with a whole food source can also help you digest it better. Foods high in fat tend to digest slower, making them the best choice if you go this route. Peanut butter makes a perfect addition to protein powder in our experience!
Mix it up!
Finally, if you are mixing your protein powder with milk, the source of your stomach issues might not be the protein powder at all. It might actually be the lactose content of the milk that you are reacting to, especially if you are lactose-intolerant. Try goat’s milk instead; it contains a significantly lower amount of lactose than cow milk. Strange as it sounds, lots of people have been finding that replacing cow milk with goat’s milk actually helps their digestion a lot!