We're all adults here. Let's talk about this.
If you're lifting weights and working in the gym to build strength and muscle, there's a good chance you've upped the protein in your diet significantly from your non-lifting days.
That's good! That's what you should be doing.
But you've likely discovered an embarrassing issue with your new diet, either through research (lucky you) or you've found out about it the hard way:
Yes. A high protein diet is known to make you fart more, and, well... the farts will probably smell worse, too.
This lethal combination of frequency and stank has turned protein farts into a damn near epidemic issue in the bodybuilding community.
The question is... what exactly are protein farts, and what can be done about them?
Why does protein give you gas?
Let's start with the why and get all the sciencey stuff out of the way.
Protein is one of the three main macronutrients our bodies need in large quantities to survive and thrive (the other two, of course, being fat and carbohydrates), and it serves a bunch of super essential functions. Our hair and nails, for example, are made primarily out of protein. It's also important for maintaining good bone health.
But for our purposes, the biggest thing protein does is aid in the construction and repair of muscle tissue.
That's why we eat so much of it when we're lifting weights!
But there are a couple of important things to know about how our bodies break down protein and why a lot of it can lead to those notorious protein farts:
- It takes a lot of energy to turn protein into energy (moreso than with carbs and fats), which is one reason high protein diets are so good for weight loss
- When we do break that protein down, the byproducts left behind are some seriously stinky gases: Mostly nitrogen, but also methane and hydrogen sulfide.
- In fact, this "positive nitrogen balance," as its known is absolutely KEY to growing and building new muscle, but...
- These gases have to escape somehow...
And that's the not-so-secret secret behind protein farts. Breaking down the protein we eat results in an excess of nitrogen and other gases, which means more and worse smelling flatulence.
(The nitrogen is what gives protein farts their famous, or infamous, and instantly recognizable smell.)
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Are protein farts good or bad?
Ah! A great question.
But also a hard one to answer.
For starters, no, protein farts aren't bad in the sense that they're not dangerous. If you're farting a lot and the smell is really bad, it's probably just a result of the nitrogen build up we discussed above. There's likely nothing wrong with your gut.
Put another way, you could say that protein farts are good: A build up of nitrogen in your body to the point where you're farting more than normal is probably a good sign that you're getting the right amount of protein your body needs in order to build new muscle.
But, and here's the key: This all sounds a bit funny, but a lot of weightlifters and bodybuilders report protein farts having a seriously negative impact on their lives. Seriously!
It's all well and good that you're eating the right things and building muscle, but life isn't going to be very good if you can't stop lighting up every room you walk into. Not exactly a formula for making friends and lasting romantic relationships.
So what to do?
How to stop protein farts
If your high protein diet is having seriously unfunny consequences on your social life, try these quick tips to curb the damage:
- Get more fiber in your diet: If you're trying to lose weight, cutting carbs is a decent place to start. But be careful not to cut too much. The fiber and carbs found in veggies and whole grains are really helpful when your body breaks down protein, and should help you absorb it a little more effectively. (It also keeps your digestive track moving, so there's less old, rotting stuff sitting in there... Gross, but true.)
- Mind the dairy: Too much dairy (also a great source of protein) can cause a lot of the same problems as meat protein and protein powder... that being major gas! If you're prone to any amount of lactose intolerance, that will only make things worse. Try mixing your protein shake in water and cutting down on milk and cheese in general if the protein farts are getting really bad.
- Priobiotics or yogurt: Probiotic supplements, or yogurt if you like it, are great for creating a good environment in your gut. It should help "calm things down" for lack of a better word, and hopefully at least make your protein farts not smell as bad.
- Eat more spices: A lot of your favorite spices qualify as "carminatives," meaning they help curb bad gas. Try getting some extra garlic, cinnamon, or ginger in your diet. They're good for digestion and have other great benefits as well!
- Hydrate: You probably need to be drinking more water anyway. It's important for muscle repair and also excellent for keeping digestion on schedule. Bottoms up!
How to prevent gas from protein shakes
All high protein foods seem to be at least somewhat guilty of causing bad gas, due to the nitrogen buildup we discussed above.
But protein shakes are a separate beast all together, and can be one of the worst culprits when it comes to protein farts.
Here are 3 things to try if you want to prevent gas from protein shakes:
- Mix slowly: Using a high powered blender brings a TON of air into your protein shake, and can lead to a bunch of bloating and extra gas. Try stirring more slowly in a glass or using a shaker gently. If you can't get a good mix without a blender, maybe try a different protein powder.
- I've actually had much better luck using a shaker bottle than a blender. Sure, you're more likely to find a few clumps when using a shaker vs a blender, but the shaker bottles tend not to whip nearly as much air into the drink.
- Isolate vs Concentrate: Make sure you're using a protein isolate and not a protein concentrate. Isolate, essentially, is a much more pure form of protein and less likely to contain different additives that may be exacerbating the problem.
- Use better quality protein: Not even all protein isolates are created equal. Better quality protein powders typically have less problems with extra additives, additional air, and harsh stomach reactions.
- Use water: You might have some level of lactose intolerance. If mixing milk into your protein shakes is leading to bad gas (or diarrhea), try water instead.
BONUS: Why does protein make you poop?
This is a really common question, and there could be a lot of things going on here.
Protein by itself isn't really known to make you poop more.
Protein shakes could be upsetting your stomach due to the lactose giving you diarrhea, as mentioned above. (Even protein shakes made with water might have this effect, since most protein powders are a byproduct of the dairy making process. You could try plant based protein instead and see if that helps.)
Or it could be that you're on a bulk and just eating a lot more food than before, hence more poop!
Beyond that, it's best to consult with a doctor if you think something's wrong with how your body is responding to your diet. As with all the information and advice here, I've researched this to the best of my ability, but I'm not a physician or professional nutritionist. If you're concerned, talk to someone who is.
Got any other questions about protein farts? Ask below and I'll do my best to answer or point you toward a resource that might help!
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Protein Farts F.A.Q.
Why does protein make you fart?
When our bodies break down a lot of protein, it creates a lot of excess nitrogen gas that has to... escape.
Do stinky protein farts mean something's wrong with me?
Nope! It just means you're eating a lot of protein, and the gas is a totally normal side effect.
OK, so they're not dangerous, but how can I stop them?
I'm not sure if you can totally get rid of them, but try to cut back on protein from dairy, eat some gut-healthy foods (like yogurt), and add some more spices like garlic and cinnamon to your diet to quiet the rumblings.
What about gas from protein shakes? Is that the same thing?
Sometimes. Protein shakes are super highly concentrated sources of protein, so the nitrogen problem is part of the issue. But there's also a lot of air that gets whipped into protein shakes during mixing or blending, and that's really what gives you the immediate gas and bloating.
What if my high-protein diet is making me feel really awful?
You should see a doctor before making any major changes to your diet or exercise routine, especially if you have a known health condition.