Got Bloating? Move Beyond Whey Protein

Javier Garza


New York, New York, United States

Strength Training, Olympic Weightlifting, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu


If you’re involved in the fitness world, you are probably familiar with the benefits of using whey protein in a post-workout protein shake. The speed of absorption, high bio-availability, and large amount of branched-chain amino acids make whey ideal for muscle recovery. There’s a reason whey protein powder has been the gold standard for many years.


However, whey isn’t suitable for everyone's digestive system. This issue is rarely discussed. Milk proteins tend to be more allergenic, so it is not uncommon for people to have allergic reactions to whey and casein.



Before attempting to single out whey protein as a culprit, make sure you are consuming a high-quality whey protein free of additives and sweeteners like sucralose, which itself can cause digestive distress. Once you have chosen a high-quality whey from a reputable brand, try drinking the protein in plain water without adding anything else into the shake. This step will eliminate as many variables as possible and ensure the digestive issues aren’t caused by some other ingredient.


Choose high quality protein and watch for additives.


If you experience more subtle, low-level reactions such as producing excessive phlegm, having headaches, or feeling bloated, nauseous, or drowsy, it can be difficult to make the connection between these symptoms and the consumption of whey protein. Some symptoms, such as increased stiffness in the joints and skin break-outs, may not even show up for one or two days after consuming a shake. Just like any food intolerance, symptoms will vary from one individual to another.


By far the most common symptom I hear people complain about is bloating. Most people think this is normal, but it actually means you aren't able to properly digest the protein. This causes excessive gas. You may be thinking, “What's the big deal if all I feel is a little bloated?” The reality is that over time, the repeated consumption of foods you are sensitive to results in chronic low-level inflammation, which can damage the intestinal wall. Besides, why put up with symptoms when there are more effective alternatives?


4 Alternatives to Standard Whey Protein

#1: Goat or Sheep Whey Protein

If you want to keep the benefits of a standard whey protein and lose the bloating, your best bet would be to try goat or sheep whey protein. These proteins are often more easily digested than cow whey, but have the same anabolic benefits and high proportion of BCAAs. You'll have a tough time finding sheep whey in the U.S., but goat whey is more readily available in retail stores and online. I will admit that goat whey protein has a stronger flavor than cow whey protein. Some may find this unappealing, but the taste is definitely much more mild than goat cheese or goat milk. If you want to mask the flavor, one of my favorite shake recipes is goat whey blended with sweet potato, banana, and cashew milk. It may sound a bit strange, but it’s definitely worth a try.



Try these:


#2: Vegan Protein Powder Options

In recent years, the demand for vegan protein powders has exploded. As a result, there are many more options available to the consumer. The plant-based protein powders are derived from many sources, with the most common ones being brown rice, pea, and hemp. The most significant advantage plant-based proteins have over animal-based proteins like whey, casein, and egg, is that the plant-based proteins are hypoallergenic. This means they are not likely to elicit an allergic response in most people. They are also useful for those who are following a vegan diet and looking for convenient ways to boost their protein intake.


"I recommend finding at least three different protein powders that agree with your digestive system."

The drawback, however, is that individual plant proteins, even if they are complete proteins, tend to be deficient in certain amino acids. That means they don't have the best muscle-building properties when taken on their own. Many brands blend multiple plant proteins together to get a more balanced amino acid ratio. 



In addition, plant-based protein formulas geared towards post-workout recovery are often fortified with BCAAs and glutamine to increase the anabolic and anti-catabolic effects.


Try these:


#3: Beef Protein Powder

Beef protein powder has also been gaining in popularity in recent years. Beef protein powder has a better amino acid profile than any of the individual plant proteins, so it doesn't need to be combined with other proteins to be a good post-workout option. As with any protein supplement, some may not find the flavor to their liking, but it is definitely worth giving a try!



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#4: Essential Amino Acid Supplements

Essential amino acid supplements (EAA) are specially formulated to provide all of the necessary amino acids. The primary benefit of taking an EAA supplement as opposed to a protein powder is that it does not need to be digested and is rapidly absorbed into the blood stream. This means it will be absorbed more rapidly than any of the proteins mentioned above. You can actually take EAAs during training without feeling nauseous. In addition to that, you will avoid any potential allergic reactions from protein supplements. 


"The reality is that over time, the repeated consumption of foods you are sensitive to results in chronic low-level inflammation, which can damage the intestinal wall."

The only real drawbacks are that most companies who sell amino acid supplements in powder form tend to add a lot of artificial sweeteners and flavorings in order to mask the bitter taste of the plain amino acids. Look for brands that use natural flavorings and sweeteners like stevia. You can avoid these issues by taking EAAs in capsule form, but it is a less convenient way to take your supplements.


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Make Sure Your Protein Is Doing You No Harm

First and foremost, you want to make sure that your protein powder is not doing more harm than good. If you experience any of the side effects we discussed from ingesting whey or any other protein powder, it may be time to try a new protein powder.


When trying different protein powders, take a scientific approach and change only one variable at a time. This strategy makes it easier to identify what is causing positive or negative changes. I recommend finding at least three different protein powders that agree with your digestive system. Then you can rotate through them and prevent the development of food sensitivities from overeating a particular protein.


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