Your Guide to Whey Protein Side Effects
Have you experienced stomach or other issues and believed them to be the result of your protein supplement? If so, you would not be alone.
It's relatively ubiquitous to experience some gastrointestinal unease and varying intensity levels when consuming whey protein supplements. If this sounds familiar, you may then be curious if your sensitivity is due to one of the following.
- Whey protein allergy
- Lactose intolerance or sensitivity
- Quality of the whey and digestibility
While whey protein undoubtedly has numerous health benefits, it does offer its own set of side effects depending on the above.
In this comprehensive guide, we're going to go over everything that you need to know about whey protein side effects and potential sensitivities. Let's first start at the beginning.
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is a type of protein that constitutes about twenty percent of the proteins found in milk. As you may know already, milk's macro-nutrient composition includes two main types of protein. These proteins are whey and casein. Where caseins constitute roughly eighty percent of the milk protein volume, whey protein accounts for the remaining twenty percent.
Whey is hugely beneficial because it includes an extensive range of essential amino acids that take very little time for the body to utilize. Many bodybuilders, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts use whey to lose body fat, increase their strength, and increase their muscle gaining capabilities.
How Is Whey Protein Made?
The best grass-fed whey protein on the planet actually comes from the best cheese makers. Although many brands speak to whey protein that is a "by-product" of the cheese making process as if this means it is bad or cheap protein, this notion couldn't be further from the truth.
In many countries like the U.S.A. there are periods where the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) throw off the national supply of milk, essentially creating supply with little demand to match. When this occurs, the cheese makers get the pick of the litter.
As a cheesemaker, you want the best, thus you purchase the purest grass-fed whey possible. When the market has a choice to discard the remaining milk or sell it for pennies to those brands who make what the industry calls "native whey" the choice is easy. The milk used to make "Native Whey" is typically the milk from CAFOs that no manufacture wants for several reasons related to quality.
Learn More Here: What is a CAFO
Learn More Here: Native Whey Explained
Steps to Making Whey Protein Powder
Making whey protein powder is simple. The first few steps performed are the same, whether you are talking about whey protein or cheese making.
- Pasteurization - fresh milk undergoes pasteurization.
- Culture - milk is kept warm, and culture (LABs - Lactic Acid Bacteria) is applied along with mild agitation.
- Coagulation - The culture (bacteria) produces "Adenosine triphosphate" (ATPs) from the milk's lactose (sugars), creating lactic acid. The lactic acid then separates the curds (solids) from the whey (liquid). Curds are sticky casein proteins that form around fat globules. Whey is the watery substance that the curds float in.
- Micro-Filtration - The whey is then pressured through a micro-filter to isolate out excess fat and lactose. Whey Protein Isolate stays in this filtering process longer, which results in a higher protein concentration. More importantly, as it pertains to the topic of side-effects, Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) will contain very little if any lactose. Lactose-free WPI is very beneficial if you know your body's limitations and sensitivities to lactose.
- Spray Dried - The whey is then spray dried and tested for heavy metals and contaminants before being packaged.
When the discussion is about quality, like any form of food, if the quality is low, it's not likely to bode well for your gut. Sourcing, in general, is critical in the supplement industry that operates utterly unregulated in terms of unverified quality and widespread marketing claims.
Learn More Here: Whey Protein Isolate vs. Whey Protein Concentrate
Learn More Here: Everything Guide to Whey Protein & Heavy Metals
Learn More Here: Cold Processing Explained
Whey Protein Side Effects
While whey protein, in theory, we at AGN Roots consider a superfood and very safe to consume, some people may experience side effects due to many reasons. As far as the health benefits outweighing any adverse reactions when your system may experience, this assessment depends entirely on you.
Below is a shortlist of the potential side effects that you may experience while embarking on a whey protein journey:
Many people are unaware that whey protein concentrates range from thirty to eighty percent protein and contains carbohydrates in sugar (lactose). When you purchase whey protein concentrates, it's critical to account for the other macros apart of the protein content.
It becomes especially true if you are attracted to protein powders that taste like desserts. Many protein powders taste like popular desserts because intense indulgent flavors are the best at masking any unpleasantries typically associated with low-quality whey protein powders.
Whey protein powder in the wrong environment will act like baking soda in your refrigerator. Powdered dry protein will naturally attract all the ambient odors and moisture around it. The air maybe cleaner, but that whey may end up smelling and tasting like copper.
The impact on a sensitive stomach when committing to a fully flavored plastic tub of dessert-tasting whey powder then becomes two-fold -
- Flavored products are loaded with natural & artificial sweeteners and other additives to create a popular flavor like a chocolate brownie or peanut butter.
- The intense indulgent flavors can now mask whey that has gone sour or full of impurities that expose harsh and undesirable notes that require masking.
If your stomach holds up, and you can avoid purging your vanilla sherbet sugar powder, be sure you count macros correctly. The cost to your health may no longer be worth the benefits of your protein supplement.
One of the incredible perks of whey protein and honestly, dairy protein, in general, is in its very high digestibility factors. Typically expressed in percentage terms, high-quality grass-fed whey protein has a perfect rating of one hundred percent. For example, oat protein ranks in the 90% tier, similar to other carbohydrates in that class like corn and rice.
The high digestibility score for whey protein powder represents the degree to which macro-nutrients work through the gastrointestinal tract. Digestion is critical for proper absorption, and the efficacy of these two independent actions make up the metric known by most as "bioavailability" or "biological value."
On another scale where protein digestibility is expressed as a whole number, whey protein's "Protein Digestibility-Correct Amino Acid Score" (PDCAAS) is a perfect 1.0 (the best score possible).
Here are some other sources of complete proteins with high PDCAAs -
|Protein Type||Rate of Absorption||PER||BV||NPU||PDCAA|
|Soy Protein||3.9 g/h||2.2||74||61||1.0|
Rate-of-Absorption is defined by the time it takes digested food to be transported from the intestinal walls to the blood vessels/capillaries noted in grams per hour.
Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER), although it provides an excellent reference, is one of those data points not necessarily valid to humans given all the data behind it comes from studying rats. A great protein to spark muscle growth will have a PER of 2.7 or higher.
Biological Value (BV) is an index that shows the utilization of a given protein, taking into account the concentration and quality of amino acids. BV is quantified by measuring the protein's nitrogen and comparing it to what is needed for soft tissue generation.
Net Protein Utilization (NPU) is a directly measured ratio of absorbed-nitrogen versus nitrogen that is digested.
Some experts believe that consuming whey protein can have positive impacts on blood pressure. A study published on the International Daily Journal shows that whey protein when taken by patients battling stage-1 hypertension will result in a significant decrease in systolic blood pressure (SBP), diastolic blood pressure (DBP), and mean arterial pressure (MAP) . The same study also notes whey beverages significantly decreased total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations.
Like the Yin and the Yang, for every study that illustrates the benefits of whey protein on the heart another exists that concludes negatively. Most of these studies however that show arterial plaque build up in rats when provided high-protein, high-fat diets are unable to bridge the gap to confidently apply a correlation to an active human consuming whey protein as a form of exercise recovery or general health.
Increase in Blood Acidity
It is not widely known; however, your blood has an ideal pH that is slightly basic. When your blood's pH is between 7.35 and 7.45 your system is operating optimally and functioning in a successful environment.
Eating acidic foods will push your blood pH levels lower, while eating more alkaline foods will push your blood pH levels higher to more basic levels. This fact is what makes sustaining a well-balanced diet so critical for long term health.
A rule of thumb that we employ within the design of the AGN Roots Protein Calculator is to keep your whey protein supplement allocation in reference to other sources down to thirty five percent or under.
Whey protein powder that is made from milk by animals confined to concentrated animal feeding operations can be extremely acidic. As a result, this can cause a decrease in pH levels in the blood. High-quality grass-fed whey however provides a very well pH-balanced protein source.
A long time point of contention for dieticians is whether or not too much whey protein is bad for the kidneys. It is true that as the kidneys process whey protein, acidic waste builds up on the kidneys and through normal healthy renal function is then removed and excreted by the urine. There is however no correlation that when an individual has normal and healthy renal function and stay hydrated, that "acidosis" is a common impact to consuming whey protein.
It is important to maintain proper hydration levels when consuming a protein supplement. common talking point for dieticians cause of acidosis as a result from too much protein intake occurs when the kidneys are overloaded. When athletes are very dehydrated and the acids excreted by the kidneys are no longer efficiently removed by means of urine.
Weakness and Fatigue
Not only can you begin to experience digestive problems when you're consuming whey protein, but you also may notice development and weakness, and fatigue. This side effect relates to the whey's underlying quality and your body's digesting capabilities and limitations. Both of these limiters drain energy stores to reallocate all your might into breaking down the contents of your gut.
Quality matters: One reason for frequent fatigue is the many unnecessary additives, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives found in mainstream plastic tub whey supplements.
The worst offenders of using low-grade whey protein concentrate happen to be the manufacturers of bars and protein cookies. When the finished product is a highly cooked food replica made of more additives than protein, it's reasonable to assume the quality isn't there.
When the body has to exert all kinds of energy to break down the highly processed stabilizers, and gums associated with processed whey products, the onset of bloating and fullness are likely to follow. The feeling of weakness and fatigue is then only a matter of time.
Digestive Capabilities: Your body may reject dairy proteins in general. There are several indications that your body isn't effectively breaking down whey protein; these indications have all the hallmarks of excessive inflammation:
- Mucous production
- Airway swelling
- Stuffy nose
- Tightening throat
As a general solution, if you have been experiencing this type of reaction to whey and casein powdered supplements, following these steps may help you sort this out.
- Switch Brands and go with a verified source of Origin.
- Use your sweeteners and flavors and purchase a naked whey or plain whey version
- Commit to trying a plant-based solution. Although AGN Roots does not currently offer this type of product, we happily recommend the Garden of Life brand.
Development of Ketones
Another common side effect that many people experience when supplementing with whey protein is neglecting a balanced diet. Protein supplementation will no doubt fill you up; however, it is critical that it's strictly "supplementation", in addition to a well balanced, thought out diet.
Many people follow the ketogenic diet, which focuses on consuming low levels of carbohydrates (glucose) and high-fat levels. Your body turns to the breakdown of fats for energy. When the body begins processing fats, the resulting ketones begin to build upon the liver.
To Learn More: Whey Protein & The Keto Diet
Going back to the acidic blood information above, ketones built on the liver are very much acidic and will lower your bloodstreams ph balance. If hydration is lacking, this acidic build-up of ketones isn't efficiently cleared from the body by your urine.
As a result, this ends up putting a lot of pressure on your liver. If left for an extended period, it can even lead to the development of liver problems.
On the flip-side, when you aren't following a ketogenic diet and your body begins producing ketones, your body will eat through the protein in your muscles for energy .
When blood sugars drop, the pancreas signals the body to produce glucose from glycogen's breakdown within the muscles, a nightmare scenario for any aspiring athlete trying to build mass and gain lean muscle.
If you ever wondered what "bulk season" is all about, this is it. Bulking season is typically the period when an athlete is trying to pack on the pounds and ensure the only energy consumed is readily available glucose from carbohydrates. This strategy leaves zero doubts that not for a single second, the body is working against your goals of building a more significant body.
Whey Protein and Lactose Intolerance
If you know that you consistently work around a lactose intolerant gut, you may be wondering if you're able to consume whey.
To better understand whether or not you can comfortably tolerate whey protein with your current degree of lactose intolerance, it's essential to understand precisely what lactose intolerance is and whether whey protein is the issue at all.
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
The reality is, lactose intolerance affects around 75% of the entire world population.
For most self-identifiers of lactose intolerance, dairy products are off the menu as a dietary source for their protein macros. Lactose intolerance is a type of digestive disorder. The lactose-intolerant population struggles to efficiently breakdown lactose, the main carbohydrate (simple sugar - glucose) found in dairy products and dairy by-products.
What are Symptoms of being Lactose Intolerant?
Some of these lactose intolerance symptoms include:
- Abdominal cramping
What is Lactase?
Lactase is the missing functional enzyme in those who suffer from lactose intolerance. This enzyme found within the small intestine is responsible for the breakdown of lactose in dairy products such that the sugar can be digested and utilized.
People who don't have enough of this enzyme in their body struggle with varying lactose concentrations within foods, especially dairy. The symptoms of lactose intolerance can, of course, range from mild to severe and can develop and cease at any period in a person's life for a variety of reasons.
Can You Have Whey Protein While Also Having Lactose Intolerance?
Yes, Whey protein is not lactose. Depending on the type of whey protein you are consuming, there may or may not exist the lactose quantity that triggers a noticeable reaction.
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) contains a significant amount of lactose compared to Whey Protein Isolate (WPI). When interested in taking a whey protein supplement, if lactose is an issue or an unknown, WPI is the direction you will want to go first.
A common myth about WPI that is commonly promulgated by WPC brands is that it undergoes harsh processing. The only difference in WPC and WPI when processing is how long the wet whey spends circulating through the cold-pressed active system. AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey will circulate wet-whey through the 125-micron cold-pressed filter until the resulting whey concentration is roughly 93%.
It is also essential to understand that having a lactose sensitivity isn't the same as having a full-on milk allergy or whey allergy. It is common to find athletes compatible with specific whey protein supplements; however, they are very allergic to whole milk.
Keep in mind that a true allergy is a type of immune response . Lactose intolerance means that your body is efficient at breaking down lactose in the small intestine; it isn't life-threatening like a true allergy. Also, lactose levels will vary between brands, so you may have to end up experimenting with different types of whey isolates to find the best brand for your specific sensitivity threshold.
Whey allergies and lactose intolerance are not the same things. If you have an allergy to cow's milk, you may or may not also be allergic to whey.
During an allergic reaction, your immune system will go into overdrive to protect you from harm. As a result, your immune system will produce antibodies, causing physical symptoms when you have an allergic reaction.
In other words, your body goes into an attack mode against the product that you've consumed.
What Are the Symptoms of a Whey Allergy?
If you have a whey allergy, you may not experience a noticeable allergic reaction the first time you ingest whey. Once your body has become sensitized to it, you may react poorly in the future when it comes to contact with whey again.
A person's reaction to a whey allergy will be dependent on that specific person and their unique situation. Some people are so sensitive to whey protein that they experience severe reactions like developing a rash or hives on their skin when they touch whey protein.
Other people may experience itching on their skin when they contact whey or even develop hives. People who have an allergic reaction to their skin to weigh may find that their skin swells up and becomes itchy.
An Allergic Reaction to Whey
People who digest whey protein and have an allergy to it may experience the following symptoms:
- Runny nose
- Watering eyes
- Red eyes
- Coughing & Sneezing
When your body begins to digest the whey protein, you may experience these symptoms as well:
- Stomach pain
- Intestinal cramps
- Gas & Diarrhea
If you have a severe whey protein allergy, you may find it that your throat will begin to tighten up and that your breathing becomes impaired. When severe reactions occur as described, these are referred to as anaphylactic reactions and are life-threatening .
Always be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms listed above. While there is a chance that you may not have a whey protein allergy, there could be another ingredient in your whey protein powder that is causing your allergic reaction.
Talking it out and undergoing a proper food allergy evaluation via a medical professional is the best way to protect your health.
Whey Protein and Upset Stomach
Many people experienced an upset stomach after they've had whey protein. Upset stomachs are very common, and as we have detailed above, most of the side effects of consuming whey protein are related to digestive problems .
Some people have problems digesting the whey of protein itself, so they experience symptoms such as diarrhea, gas, stomach cramps, and bloating. However, this may also be due to undigested lactose working through your small intestine.
If you have problems with an upset stomach after you've had whey protein, you should consider switching to whey protein isolate. Whey protein isolate is more refined than whey protein. By committing to WPI you will be far less exposed to the quantities of lactose and fat that may trigger your body's undesired reactions.
Lactose Intolerant Versus Dairy Allergy Quiz
Below are seven questions we at AGN Roots ask customers who are trying to determine the cause of their stomach sensitivities when it comes to consuming whey protein. This is simply a guideline that may help you distinguish between the most common whey protein sensitives, lactose intolerance and dairy allergies.
Read the questions in the first column, then chose which answer best fits your specific experience. Each answer is associated to a most probable cause.
Q1.) How often do you experience digestive discomfort after consuming whey protein or dairy products in general such as, milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt?
Discomfort may include symptoms such as – upset stomach, bloating, gas, diarrhea.
Every Time Like Clockwork
|Q2.) How long after consuming whey protein powder do you feel stomach discomfort?||
< 4 hours
> 4 hours
|Q3.) How often do you experience feeling sluggish, heavy, or bloated?||
Only after I consume dairy products or whey protein
I live that bloated lifestyle and rock a bloated gut pretty much ALWAYS
|Q4.) Do you ever experience an abnormal itching or tingling feeling around the lips or gums after getting your whey protein in?||
No, I do not
Yes, I endure one or more of these conditions
|Q5.) In general do you ever experience skin irritation or respiratory problems that may include:
Skin Issues – rash, hives, eczema
Respiratory Issues - asthma, shortness of breath, wheezing
No, I do not
Yes, I endure one or more of these conditions
|Q6.) Have you ever tried lactose-free products—such as Lactaid, a2 Milk, AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey Isolate—and still experienced discomfort?||
Yes, I have, and these type of products work for me
Yes, I have, and they are hit or miss when it comes to my stomach issues
|Q7.) Do you have immediate family or relatives (within 1 degree of separation) that have issues tolerating dairy products?||
Yes, there are members of my family that struggle with lactose intolerance
Yes, I have family members that suffer occasionally from hives, respiratory problems (allergic reactions) when exposed to dairy products
Protein Farts -
Does Protein Powder Give You Gas?
There isn't any scientific evidence that proves that a high protein diet can cause an increase in flatulence. While there is some evidence showing that protein powders can increase flatulence, this is mainly because of undigested lactose components paired with the users inability to break it down.
In general gas is a systemic issue and requires a systemic solution. Even if you don't have a lactose sensitivity, a high lactose diet can increase flatulence. Some protein powders contain additives that can also contribute to flatulence, such as sorbitol, gums, thickening agents, "natural flavors" and other types of both natural and artificial sweeteners.
Certain types of protein powders can increase flatulence, but they can also make the gas your passing smell terrible. The main culprit behind protein powder giving you gas is the quality of the whey protein itself.
Not all whey protein is created equally, as some cheaply made whey protein concentrates can have additives that make you bloat like crazy.
You should also make sure that you're reading through the ingredient list of the whey protein powders that you are purchasing.
Make sure that the whey protein powders you are purchasing contain limited filler ingredients, flavors, and sweeteners.
Does Whey Protein Make You Poop?
If you're drinking protein shakes to work towards your goals, the last thing that you want to happen is for you to flush all of your gains away.
There are many reasons why protein powder can make your trips to the bathroom much more frequent. There are three main reasons why protein powder can cause bowel irregularities.
- Artificial Sweeteners
- Protein Overload
As we've mentioned throughout this guide, a lactose problem could be the biggest reason you have digestive issues after you've had a protein shake. However, let's take a closer look at the other two reasons why protein powder is making you poop.
Artificial sweeteners, also commonly referred to as sugar alcohols, can be another contributing factor to why you're having digestive problems after drinking your protein shake; this is due to the sugar alcohols causing bacteria fermentation in the colon.
As a result, all of the undigested sugar alcohols attract water to the colon through osmosis, which forces the colon to release loose stools.
Lastly, you could be having digestive problems because you're drinking your protein shake to quickly. Digestive problems can occur if your stomach isn't able to digest all of the whey protein that you've ingested timely.
You may find it beneficial to make sure that you're drinking enough water and consuming a high-quality whey. Filling your body with high-quality whey and enough water will ensure that your body can digest everything effectively.
Does Protein Powder Make You Constipated?
Constipation is one of the more abnormal side effects of drinking protein powder. Many people experience diarrhea because of an unknown lactose intolerance problem, but it's far less common to be stopped up due to the addition of a powdered protein supplement.
However, if you aren't consuming enough fiber in your diet, protein powder, like everything else, can make you constipated. Constipation is likely to occur when you aren't eating enough vegetables and fruits, which is especially common on a low carbohydrate diet.
Eating enough fruits and vegetables is essential because they are a great source of fiber. Fiber is responsible for helping your body to form stool and encourage regular bowel movements.
If you're finding that you're getting constipated after you drink a protein shake or consuming protein powder, you should double-check with your diet to make sure that you're eating enough dietary fiber. You could also try adding in a soluble fiber supplement or drink to help get your bowels moving.
Learn More Here: Fiber Benefits of Adding Oats to Your Whey
Eating a balanced diet is important, especially when you're trying to lose weight or gain muscle. If you aren't eating enough whole foods rich in nutrients, and instead our meal replacing with protein shakes, this could be why you were having constipation problems with protein powder.
Protein Powder Side Effects
Not all protein powders on the market have whey in them. Some other protein powders are dairy-free, such as soy protein powders and pea protein powders. These types of protein powders are vegan and vegetarian-friendly.
If you're worried about consuming more whey protein powder, you must understand that other types of protein powders still present side effects that may make you wary.
Let's take a closer look at some of the most common types of side effects that come with other protein powders:
Protein powders can cause gastrointestinal problems, such as inflammation. When gastrointestinal problems develop, it can cause bioactive peptides and hormones to trigger sebum release. If managed, sebum can cause an increase of acne breakouts.
If you're using protein powders to lose weight, you may not properly balance the necessary nutrition composition to keep yourself healthy. Other proteins such as milk, eggs, and meat have other essential minerals and vitamins that you may not be found in a protein shake.
Protein powders often have a dense amount of protein, resulting in you developing an imbalance of essential nutrition inside your body.
Learn More Here: Heavy Metals In Plant-based Proteins
Understanding the Impact of Whey Protein and Whey Protein Side Effects
Learning about the impact that whey protein can have on your health and the most come and whey protein side effects can help you best understand if you should continue using whey protein.
If you battle a well-characterized lactose sensitivity, you may have problems digesting the whey protein you're consuming because of the lactose inside of whey protein powder. This can easily be the case, regardless of the disclosed lactose. Protein supplements are post-market regulated in the U.S., so the label may not necessarily be accurate.
Other types of poorly manufactured protein shakes can cause you to have problems with your nutrition, digestion, and gut health. Always be sure to read through the ingredients before you purchase protein powder and verify the source!
Vetting your supplier and source of origin will ensure that you're investing your money into an accredited manufacturer producing the highest quality whey protein isolate.
Try switching to whey protein isolate if you're currently having issues with your whey protein concentrate.