Whey Woes? Why Protein Shakes Are Making You Feel Queasy (and How to Fix It!)

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Last updated on February 29th, 2024 at 11:35 am

The most obvious reason that whey protein makes you feel sick is because of the lactose content. It is estimated that 68% of the world’s population could be lactose intolerant. However, many people may not even realise that they are part of this statistic. This is also why many people turn to whey protein isolate, as opposed to concentrate. Furthermore, you should be wary of “additional” ingredients in whey protein, e.g. sugar, sweeteners, carbohydrates, fibre, and fats.

Are You Taking Whey Protein Concentrate or Isolate? (Lactose)

So, as I’ve mentioned, many whey protein supplements contain lactose.

And approximately 2 out of every 3 people are actually lactose intolerant.

However, the vast majority of us may never actually realise that we’re lactose intolerant.

In fact, from a personal perspective, I myself have frequently “enjoyed” many dairy and lactose-based products without actually realising that they were making me feel sick.

Menno Henselmans: "Some people are lactose intolerant and get digestive issues from whey protein. Opt for a plant-based or hydrolyzed whey option in such cases."

And probably, much like yourself, when I started to take my training seriously I immediately increased my protein intake.

Let’s face facts, if you’re training in order to increase muscle mass, then you know that you should also increase your protein intake.

So, much the same as most people, I turned to whey protein to help me achieve my goals.

However, in my newbie ignorance, I didn’t realise that not all protein powders are created equal.

Now, of course, in the modern day and age there are various protein supplements, many of which are specifically geared towards those with special dietary requirements.

But, that said, most of us typically veer towards whey protein when we first break our “supplement virginity”.

However, it wasn’t long before I realised that not every single protein powder was suitable for me.

So, if you are potentially lactose intolerant, you’ll want to avoid the most popular of all whey protein supplements, namely concentrate.

In fact, I would suggest switching to isolate.

How “Lean” is Your Whey Protein?

I would hazard a guess that one of the main reasons that you take whey protein is to build muscle.

Protein will not only help you to maintain muscle mass, but when combined with strength training, you can also experience muscle growth.

Furthermore, you’ll typically need to eat at a calorie surplus in order to gain weight and increase muscle mass as well.

So, it’s not uncommon for certain protein powder varieties to also include carbs and fats.

In fact, you could find that consuming a single protein shake which includes carbs and fats has as many calories as a main meal.

Mike Mentzer: "Listen to your body. If you're experiencing negative side effects from protein shakes, try switching brands or cutting back on your intake."

Plus, you’ll also find that many whey protein supplements also contain the fibre inulin.

Inulin is a natural fibre found in many plants and obviously in some of the foods that we eat, e.g. asparagus and onions.

However, although inulin has numerous health benefits, it can cause digestive issues when consumed in high quantities.

In fact, too much inulin in your diet will not only make you feel terrible, but it can also cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, and flatulence.

So, this is something you should definitely be wary of.

Check Your Whey Protein’s Other Ingredients

Jay Cutler: "If you're getting bloated or gassy from your protein shakes, you might be using a low-quality brand or have a sensitivity to an ingredient."

Carbs, fibre, and fats aren’t the only ingredients that could be causing you to feel sick.

Let’s face facts, if you’ve ever tried “plain” whey protein powder it usually isn’t the best.

We’ve all been there, you swallow your protein shake following your workout, it’s a struggle, your grimace, but you eventually force it down.

Basically, as I’ve mentioned, not all protein shakes are the same, and some, not to put too fine a point on it, taste awful.

But, let’s not forget, whey protein is an extremely popular supplement.

In fact, market research conducted by Statista in 2018 revealed that 46% of Americans regularly consume whey protein drinks and shakes.

Just to put that into perspective, this equates to around 151,570,000 people.

So, as a whey protein manufacturer this obviously means one thing – you have to make your product as enjoyable as possible to the consumer.

And unfortunately this means that many whey protein supplements are packed with sugar and artificial supplements.

These include fructose, dextrose, aspartame, maltodextrin, and many other ingredients that are guaranteed to spike your blood sugar levels.

So, check the label, as there could be an obvious reason why your particular brand of whey protein makes you feel so bad.

Are You on a High-Protein Diet?

The issue of feeling nauseous may not be down to whey protein alone.

What I mean by this is that you need to consider your diet as a whole, and this is especially true if you’re following a high-protein diet.

Okay, I’ve mentioned a few times now that when it comes to building muscle or losing weight that protein is an extremely important macronutrient.

Protein intake will help your muscles to recover faster, plus it will help your muscles to grow back bigger and stronger.

A table with high protein foods, including beef, chicken, salmon, prawns, nuts, beans, legumes, eggs, cottage cheese, etc. And a small blackboard with the word "protein" written on it in white chalk.

With that being said, protein can also be considered a diuretic, and protein also requires water to be processed efficiently.

So, when you increase your protein consumption it’s also extremely important to also increase your water intake as well.

Additionally, if you are consuming more protein you may have also decreased your carb intake.

And carbs cause the body to store water.

Therefore, if you haven’t increased your water intake, but you’re eating more protein and fewer carbs, there is a chance that you’re dehydrated.

And one of the symptoms of dehydration is nausea.

So you need to make sure that you are drinking enough water.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Can I Use Instead of Whey Protein?

Three tubs of whey protein in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry flavours

I’ve spoken about whey concentrate and isolate in terms of protein powders.

However, while whey protein is certainly a popular choice for athletes and fitness enthusiasts, it’s not the only option out there. 

So, if you’re looking for alternatives, here are some great choices, each with its own unique benefits.

Plant-Based Protein Powders

Pea Protein: Easily digestible, hypoallergenic, and rich in BCAAs, pea protein is a fantastic plant-based alternative to whey. It has a slightly earthy flavor that blends well with fruits and greens.

Brown Rice Protein: This hypoallergenic option is known for its gradual release of amino acids, making it ideal for sustained energy throughout the day. It has a mild, slightly nutty flavor.

Hemp Protein: A complete protein source with all nine essential amino acids, hemp protein is also packed with healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants. It has a slightly grassy flavor.

Soy Protein: A highly digestible and affordable option, soy protein is a good source of iron and isoflavones, which have potential health benefits. However, some people may be sensitive to soy, so it’s best to start with a small amount and see how you tolerate it.

Other Protein Sources

Eggs: A classic and convenient source of protein, eggs are also packed with vitamins and minerals. They’re versatile and can be enjoyed in countless ways, making them a great addition to any diet (more on eggs in a moment)

Greek Yogurt: This thick and creamy yogurt is a fantastic source of protein and gut-friendly probiotics. Choose plain Greek yogurt and add your own fruits, nuts, or seeds for a delicious and nutritious snack.

Cottage Cheese: A low-calorie and high-protein option, cottage cheese is perfect for a post-workout snack or a light meal. It can be mixed with fruits, vegetables, or herbs for added flavor and nutrition.

Quinoa: This ancient grain is a complete protein source and also contains fiber, iron, and magnesium. It can be cooked and eaten like rice or used in salads, soups, and casseroles.

Lentils and Beans: These legumes are an excellent source of plant-based protein, fiber, and other nutrients. They can be added to soups, stews, salads, and pasta dishes for a boost of protein and flavor.

Choosing the Right Alternative

The best alternative for you will depend on your individual needs and preferences. 

Consider factors like your dietary restrictions, allergies, taste preferences, and desired protein intake. 

It’s also a good idea to experiment with different options to find one that you enjoy and that fits your lifestyle.

Additional Tips

When choosing a plant-based protein powder, look for one that is certified organic and free from added sugars and artificial ingredients.

Be mindful of portion sizes, as it’s easy to overconsume protein, especially from supplements.

Does Pea Protein Build Muscle Like Whey?

Both pea protein and whey protein are great choices for those looking to build muscle and improve their performance. 

But how do they stack up against each other?

Muscle Building Potential

The good news is that both pea protein and whey protein can effectively promote muscle growth when combined with regular exercise. 

Studies have shown that they lead to similar increases in muscle mass and strength. 

Key Differences

Amino Acid Profile: Whey protein is considered a “complete protein” because it contains all nine essential amino acids, while pea protein is deficient in the amino acid methionine. However, research suggests that consuming enough total protein throughout the day can compensate for this difference, and studies haven’t found a significant impact on muscle building.

Absorption Rate: Whey protein is absorbed more rapidly than pea protein, which some believe may give it an edge for muscle protein synthesis. However, studies haven’t shown a significant difference in muscle growth outcomes between the two.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson: "My pre-workout ritual always includes a protein shake. It fuels my body and mind for a killer session."

Additional Benefits of Pea Protein

Plant-Based: Pea protein is a great option for vegans, vegetarians, and anyone with dairy sensitivities.

Hypoallergenic: It’s less likely to cause allergic reactions than whey protein.

Digestive Health: Pea protein is generally easier to digest than whey protein and may cause less bloating and gas.

Antioxidant Benefits: Pea protein contains beneficial antioxidants that can help protect your cells from damage.

Choosing the Right Protein

Ultimately, the best protein powder for you depends on your individual needs and preferences. Consider factors like:

Dietary restrictions: Choose pea protein if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or lactose intolerant.

Digestive sensitivities: Opt for pea protein if you’re prone to bloating or gas.

Taste preferences: Try both pea and whey protein to see which one you prefer (Admittedly, although they both offer great benefits, personally, I find that pea protein tastes pretty gross).

Overall protein intake: Ensure you’re consuming enough protein throughout the day from both food and supplements.

Remember: Protein is just one piece of the puzzle for building muscle. A balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate rest are also essential for achieving your fitness goals.

Additional Tips

  • Look for high-quality protein powders with minimal additives.
  • Start with a small amount of protein powder and gradually increase the dosage as tolerated.
  • Don’t rely solely on protein powder to meet your protein needs. Focus on eating a variety of protein-rich foods throughout the day.

Eggs vs. Whey Protein: Can Eggs Replace Your Protein Shake?

Both eggs and whey protein are good sources of protein, but they have their own pros and cons. 

The answer to whether eggs can fully replace whey protein depends on your specific needs and goals

Protein Power

Whey Protein: Packs a punch with around 20-25 grams of protein per scoop (depending on the brand). It’s absorbed quickly, making it ideal for post-workout muscle recovery.

Eggs: One large egg delivers roughly 6 grams of protein, so you’d need 3-4 eggs to match the protein content of a typical whey protein scoop. However, whole eggs come with additional nutrients like healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Muscle Building

Whey Protein: Contains all nine essential amino acids, building blocks for muscle growth. Its rapid absorption further aids muscle protein synthesis.

Eggs: Not a complete protein in terms of amino acids, lacking one called methionine. However, studies show that consuming enough total protein throughout the day (from eggs and other sources) can compensate for this.

Chocloate protein powder, a scoop, and two eggs

Convenience

Whey Protein: Easy to mix and whip up a quick shake, making it a convenient source of protein on the go.

Eggs: Require cooking or preparation, making them less convenient than a portable protein shake. However, eggs can be versatile and enjoyed in various ways throughout the day.

Other Factors

Digestion: Whey protein may be easier to digest for some people, while eggs might cause bloating or discomfort in others.

Cost: Whey protein powder can be expensive, while eggs are generally more affordable.

Dietary Restrictions: Whey protein is dairy-based, while eggs can be enjoyed by most people except those with egg allergies.

The Verdict

Eggs can be a good alternative to whey protein for some people, especially those looking for a more whole-food approach or with dairy sensitivities. 

They provide a decent amount of protein along with other essential nutrients.

However, if your primary goal is rapid muscle recovery or convenience, whey protein may be a better choice due to its higher protein content, complete amino acid profile, and fast absorption.

Ultimately, the best choice depends on your individual needs and preferences. 

Experiment with both eggs and whey protein to see what works best for you. 

Here are some additional tips:

  • Combine eggs with other protein sources like beans, lentils, or nuts for a complete amino acid profile.
  • Enjoy eggs in different ways throughout the day, like scrambled, boiled, or in omelets.
  • Choose high-quality whey protein powder with minimal additives.
  • Listen to your body and adjust your protein intake accordingly.

Final Thoughts

So, as you can see, there are many reasons why whey protein makes you feel nauseous.

Firstly, two out of every three people in the world are estimated to be lactose intolerant.

So, if you’re consuming whey protein concentrate, the lactose could be the root of your problems.

Additionally, there are various ingredients in whey protein shakes that could be to blame.

Protein powders typically contain inulin and sweeteners, plus in the search for extra calories, your whey protein could also contain carbs and fats.

Finally, if you’ve increased your protein intake you will also need to increase your water intake.

Not doing so may leave you dehydrated, which can lead to you feeling unwell.

While I’m on the subject of whey protein, here’s something that has always annoyed me, and I’m sure it has annoyed you too, namely, why do protein powder tubs always seem to come half full?

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