If done right, drinking one can help you reach your weight and fitness goals. But done wrong, pain is sure to follow. For many, shakes have a stomach-churning downside — and we mean that literally. Drinking the stuff causes stomach pain and nausea—and other unexpected protein powder side effects — in countless people. And oddly enough, it’s not a problem that’s often discussed.
While trading tips with fellow gym rats online has its benefits, the best way to remedy the issue is to seek out the advice of an expert — and that’s exactly what we did. Here, what might be going wrong in your shaker bottle, plus, how to tweak your shake so that you’re not left doubled-over in pain after you sip.
YOU’RE OVEREAGER TO REFUEL
You might have heard that consuming protein after a workout is necessary for optimal recovery, and that’s true — but you don’t need to start sipping your shake the second you get off the squat rack. In fact, if you down a shake too soon after your workout, it’s bound to upset your stomach. This could make it harder for the body to absorb and utilize the shake’s nutrients, explains Cassie Bjork, RD, LD of Healthy Simple Life.
Eat This! Tip
“Wait thirty to sixty minutes after your workout before consuming a protein shake,” suggests Bjork. “This gives your body time to transition out of the workout-fueled ‘fight or flight’ mode and into ‘rest and digest’ mode, in which your body can efficiently absorb nutrients. That’s why this is such an effective way to prevent stomach pain,” explains Bjork. So take an extra ten minutes to cool down, take a shower, change and relax a bit before whipping up your shake. Your stomach and muscles will thank you!
YOU’RE SIPPING SWEETENERS & INULIN
Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols may make your protein powder tasty, but the body can’t absorb them very well. “Because they aren’t completely digested, they hang out in our intestines where they become fermented by colonic bacteria,” explains Bjork. “The by-products of fermentation include gastric distress, diarrhea, cramping, gas and bloating,” she adds. And that’s not the only cause of your uncomfortable side effects. “Inulin, a naturally occurring carbohydrate found in many fruits and vegetables, is sometimes added to protein supplements and is a prime offender of upset stomachs,” explains Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN.
Eat This! Tip
Chuck any product that contains inulin and steer clear of powders that contain artificial sweeteners like Splenda (sucralose), acesulfame potassium (acesulfame-K or AceK), aspartame or saccharin. You’ll also want to avoid sugar alcohols like erythritol, marital, sorbitol and xylitol. Too much to remember? These all-natural vegan protein powders fit the bill.
YOU’RE USING TOO MUCH POWDER
If one scoop of protein is good, two or three is even better, right? Not in the least. “Protein is the most difficult macronutrient to digest, and because of that, consuming too much at once can cause indigestion,” says Bjork. And you’re not just getting more protein in those extra scoops, you’re also getting additional carbs that will turn into sugar the instant they hit the bloodstream. “This can lead to nausea due to the blood sugar spikes and drops,” Bjork explains.
Eat This! Tip
Post-workout, Bjork recommends that women consume between 20 and 25 grams of protein. Men should aim for 30 to 35. She also recommends blending avocado, coconut milk, coconut oil, or your favorite nut butter into your protein shake to slow the absorption of the carbohydrates. Adding one of these healthy fats will help ward off nausea and sugar cravings.