According to a 2008 study in "Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity," a moderate high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet can benefit body weight and composition. If you're on a mission to lose weight or increase muscle mass, protein may be your weapon of choice. The USDA advises females over the age of 14 to consume about 46 grams of protein per day, but high-protein diets can prescribe a lot more than that. While weight loss and muscle growth are known benefits of gobbling up egg whites and whey, a rather embarrassing side effect of high-protein diets can be a gnarly case of gas. Understand what causes this and what you can do about it to keep yourself -- and those around you -- in the clear.
Is Protein Your Problem?
Depending on the source and quality, protein can be hard for your body to break down. Because of this, any protein can cause gas. However, the most common culprit is supplementation with protein powders containing whey. If you're sensitive or intolerant to lactose or protein, whey can be a smelly problem.
Other Culprits: Sugar Alcohols and Sucralose
Sugar alcohols are often used as sweeteners and bulking agents in processed low-carb, high-protein foods such as protein bars and can cause digestive nightmares, including gas, bloating and diarrhea. The most common sugar alcohols are mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, isomalt and maltitol. If a product is marketed as "low-carb," be sure to check the nutrition panel for sugar alcohols. Many protein supplements contain the artificial sweetener sucralose, which can cause severe bloating and gas in some people. If you're eating a diet high in protein, supplements in your arsenal may contain sucralose, which can exacerbate gas. Not everyone is sensitive to sucralose -- but if you are, check ingredient labels for the sweetener, which will usually appear toward the end of the list.
Pass on the Gas
You don't have to let a little gas sideline your protein consumption. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are a few things you can do to alleviate bloating and gas. Eat and drink slowly to prevent swallowing excess air and avoid carbonated beverages, which can release carbon dioxide as gas. Skip gum and candy, which aren't good for your teeth and can also encourage you to swallow excess air. Don't smoke and treat heartburn with antacids.
Digestive enzymes may also help your gut effectively break down proteins that are causing gas. When taken orally before you consume protein, digestive enzymes can help break down and use nutrients without excess gas production. If you're lactose intolerant and are supplementing with whey, select a pure whey isolate, which has the lowest amount of lactose per tablespoon. Or, switch to a soy or hemp-based powder and avoid whey altogether.
Consult with your doctor before changing your diet or adding supplements. Also, discuss whether a high-protein diet is a safe choice for you. See your doctor if you have excess gas that doesn't subside when you drop your consumption of protein, sugar alcohols and sucralose, as this can be a sign of an underlying medical problem.
- Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity; Benefits of High-Protein Weight Loss Diets: Enough Evidence for Practice?; B.J. Brehm and D.A. D'Alessio
- USDA: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- MayoClinic.com: Gas and Gas Pains
- Yale-New Haven Hospital: Eat Any Sugar Alcohol Lately?
- Mercola.com: New Study of Splenda Reveals Shocking Information About Potential Harmful Effects
Jessica Bell has been working in the health and fitness industry since 2002. She has served as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Bell holds an M.A. in communications and a B.A. in English.