Written by Ben Carlisle
Last updated on: Sep 18, 2022
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Yes, sometimes pea protein can make you gassy. In fact, many people experience feelings of being gassy or bloated the first time they use a new protein supplement. As your body adjusts to taking a supplement whether it is pea protein, soy protein or whey protein, the symptoms of gassiness should subside.
Whey protein powders are the most well known protein supplements. Whey is a milky by-product of cheese. Research into the prevalence of food allergies revealed that of self-reported allergens up to 17% of people reported milk (1). This immediately, makes whey protein not suitable for a lot of people, such as those lactose intolerant or wanting a plant based protein supplement. In contrast, pea protein is hypo-allergenic. It is also free from the eight most common allergens, one of which is milk, making it a great option for those with food sensitivities.
Allergens are not the only possible cause of stomach discomfort following the consumption of protein supplements. The added fibre within protein powders also impacts this (2), as do lectin levels (3). Should you feel any stomach discomfort it is important to carefully check the labelling of your supplements. It is important to check you are taking the correct serving size as over consumption of protein powder is like to cause discomfort such as excessive gas (sometimes referred to as 'protein farts').
Whilst checking the packaging of your protein powder also check the levels of non-artificial sweeteners (NAS). Studies have found a link between sugar alcohol content and stomach discomfort (4). Finally, if you have any underlying health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) protein powder consumption is more likely to affect you. IBS is a condition suffered by approximately 10–20% of the general population (5). It may be necessary to try a few protein powders before you find the one that is best suited to you. Due to having a low lectin count, being hypoallergenic, a complete protein and easily digestible pea protein isolate is a good supplement to try first.
All plant based proteins are high in fibre. Fibre is the part of plant-based foods which cannot be completely broken down by digestive enzymes. There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Both types are good for the body (6). Peas have soluble fibre within them. Pea protein powders are made from yellow split peas. During the manufacturing process the shell of these yellow peas are removed.
This outer shell is mainly made up of insoluble fibres. Once the shells is removed the pea is turned into a fine powder/flour. This flour is a mixture of proteins, starches and soluble fibres. Due to being water soluble, the proteins can be separated from the starches and fibres using wet filtration and centrifugation. The result is pea protein isolate. Next the pea protein isolate is spray dried to form a powder.
This process of wet filtration and centrifugation, results in a powder which is more digestible and has a greatly reduced fibre content. The typical fibre content of a pea protein supplement is 5%, this means a 25 gram serving would contain 1.25 grams of fibre.
Consuming too many lectins is another common cause of stomach problems. Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins. Lectins are found in most plants. Studies report some of the plants with highest levels of lectins are: beans, peas, soybeans and lentils (7).
Research into lectins have shown eating lots of food containing high levels of lectins, can lead to some of these lectins binding to the cells of the digestive tract. If this happens, it is very difficult for the body to breakdown food and absorb the nutrients. This can then result in gas, bloating and general stomach discomfort (3).
However, for most pea protein powders the majority of these lectins are removed during the manufacturing process. A typical pea protein isolate powder will have 0.2 (HU/mg protein). This means if you take a pea protein isolate supplement lectins is something you shouldn’t have to worry about. However, if you do encounter gas and bloating after consuming protein shakes based on pea protein, it is possible lectins may be an issue.
Non-calorific artificial sweeteners (NAS) are another potential reason for gas and bloating. NAS are used globally to sweeten food protein bars and powders due to their low-calorie count. However, studies have found non-calorific artificial sweeteners can drive the development of glucose intolerance and digestive upset (4).
Research into the effects of sugar alcohol has also shown stevia extracts may affect gut microbiota. Furthermore, depending on the dosage, a side effect can be excess gas, especially in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (8). If you encounter problems after taken a protein shake it is worthwhile to check how much NAS are in your supplement. If this is the case it is advised to switch to another supplement to see if your discomfort subsides.
A further study warns large quantities of sugar alcohols, like xylitol or erythritol, can cause stomach problems for the average person, even if they have no food sensitivities (4). This serves as another reminder of how important it is to follow the protein powder serving instructions carefully and not to over consume.
Pea protein shakes are not only a great way to increase your daily protein intake. It also has a multitude of other health benefits. As mentioned before, pea protein powder is hypo-allergenic and free from the 8 main types of allergens (6). Making it a great choice for anyone with food sensitivities such as being lactose intolerant (not all whey protein shakes are high in lactose, an example would be whey protein isolate).
It contains all the essential amino acids. Noticeably having good levels of the branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine which play critical roles in the regulation of energy homeostasis, nutrition metabolism, gut health, immunity and disease (9). Although low in the amino acid methionine some of the best pea protein powders have added ingredeints to give a complete amino acid profile.
Recent studies have concluded pea protein could help reduce cholesterol levels and fat production. Scientists discovered after 16 days of being fed protein powder the lab rats had a lower concentration of total cholesterol and fat production (10). A further study into pea protein powder discovered consuming 3 grams of pea protein hydrolysate a day for three weeks blood pressure was reduced in both human subjects and lab rats (11).
There is also evidence which suggests pea protein can increase intestinal SCFA levels, which are considered anti-inflammatory (12). Another benefit of pea protein is it is rich in iron making it a quick and effective way to top up iron levels each day. Lots of people, particularly women, do not meet their daily recommended iron dose (13) this makes pea protein a great way to top up low iron levels.
For those with weight loss goals, pea protein contains fibre resistant starch components which help to suppress appetite and glycemia (3). Most pea protein powders also have low calorie counts per serving making them a good alternative to a snack or meal.
Pea protein is one of the leading plant based proteins. It is a great way individuals can get more protein into their diet. The high levels of leucine, trigger protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis acts as an opposing force to muscle protein breakdown. If muscle protein synthesis outpaces muscle protein breakdown muscle tissue is developed. A high protein diet will help achieve this.
Pea protein vs soy protein is often a question related to plant based supplements. There is no definitive answer. However, when it comes to promoting muscle growth pea is clearly ahead of soy. Pea protein is comparable to whey protein for those wanting to build muscle. Studies have found pea protein and whey protein show no difference in results, when it comes to strength development and muscle growth (14).
This is due to both powders having a complete amino acid profile which supports the development of muscle (15). Researchers advise those looking for optimal results when building muscle-mass, should take protein supplementation within 2 hours of exercise (16). Pea protein is a versatile supplement suitable for supporting a range of goals when combined with a balanced diet. This includes: weight loss, athletic development and muscle gain.
If after checking the nutritional information of your pea protein isolate supplement, you believe none of the ingredients are the cause of your excess gas. Here are some ways you may be able to find a solution to your problem.
When eating food make sure you are chewing slowly. If we chew our food quickly we are more likely to swallow air as we eat. This excess air then causes gas to form in our stomachs and creates pain. Further to this, by chewing slowly you work more saliva into your food and saliva is an important part of digestion (17). The enzymes within saliva help to break foods down and the saliva itself makes food easier to swallow.
Remember, if you are suddenly changing to a plant-based diet, there is high fibre content within plants and your stomach may take time to adjust. For some individuals, it might be beneficial to make the switch slowly. This should limit any feelings of gas and bloating. Finally, remember to not over consume food or protein supplements. Eating smaller meals throughout the day can help you to feel more comfortable and less bloated or full.
To conclude, pea protein powder should not make you gassy. The commonly referred to 'protein farts' are normally a consequence of an ingredient in the powder not the protein itself. Pea is hypoallergenic and lactose free. This means it is great for people with any of the 8 most common allergies and those who are lactose intolerant.
Pea protein is suitable for most people and should only be avoided by those who have an allergy or sensitivity to peas. Additionally those who suffer from IBS or IBD may be more susceptible to feeling gassy or bloated after consuming pea protein. If you do encounter any problems with a pea protein supplement and do not have a pea allergy or intolerance, it is likely one of the ingredients in the supplement not the pea protein itself. Of course, if you change supplements numerous times and the problems persist, you should consult with a medical professional.