FARTING IS A fact of life. We tend to think of the usual culprits (broccoli, beans, asparagus) as natural, light foods. But, one heavier diet staple may also be the cause of that undesirable sound and stench— protein.
“Protein is an important part of your diet, providing essential nutrients for muscle growth and development,” says Lori Walker, a registered dietitian and recipe developer of Easy Kitchen Guide. “Unfortunately, it can also cause digestive problems in some people, such as bloating, flatulence, and stomach pain.”
If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. What you’re eating and how you’re eating it may both contribute to how often this problem occurs. In fact, it’s not necessarily about how much protein you’re ingesting as it is about what kinds of proteins you’re ingesting. So, yes, reach for that second protein shake if you’re still hungry without fear of flatulence— just be weary of what’s inside.
There’s good news, though. Adding small tweaks to your diet and eating habits can make a big difference. There are tips and tricks you can utilize to help slow digestion and reduce the risk of gas production that results. Simple things like drinking enough water and watching your diet can all help.
Ahead, the best strategies to reduce or altogether vanquish protein farts.
What Causes Protein Farts?
"A common myth is that the amount of protein you are taking will make it more likely for you to fart. There is no evidence for that at all," explains gastroenterologist Sameer Islam, MD, who sees patients in Texas and also explains all things gastro in his segments such as Poop Tip Thursday and Let's Talk About Poop on his YouTube channel. "The type of protein you are ingesting (like protein from meats or the ingredients from shakes) plays a more significant role in gas."
When it comes to protein type, most animal proteins (eggs, beef, pork, poultry, and fish) contain sulfur, which can contribute to the nasty smell. And in your protein shake, it's not necessarily the protein—it's usually the sugars that give you trouble. "The additive sugars in a protein shake, like xylitol, mannitol, and fructose, will help the flavor but wreak havoc on your gut. That's also a reason why sugarless gums, candy, and diet drinks can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea," Dr. Islam says.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, even plant-based sources of protein, such as beans, soy, and lentils, can cause digestive problems, thanks to short-chain carbohydrates called oligosaccharides that are fermented by the bacteria in your gut, says Ryan Maciel, R.D., C.S.C.S., a dietitian based in Boston, MA.
While passing some gas is totally normal and healthy, if you’re noticing bloating, diarrhea, or constipation regularly, you should touch base with your doctor to rule out medical issues including irritable bowel syndrome and even colorectal cancer.
How Do You Get Rid of Protein Farts?
Our experts recommend a few strategies to help eliminate protein farts or keep them under control:
Add Some Herbs to Your Diet
"Peppermint and ginger are very effective tools to help soothe your gut. Take them before or in your protein shake to allow your colon to relax," says Dr. Islam.
Otherwise, just cross your fingers and hope you can squeak out a silent one. Or just own it. Either one.
Eat probiotic-rich foods
“Getting your digestive tract to work efficiently in order to prevent gas would require improving bacterial balance within your gut,” says Yelena Wheeler M.P.H., R.D.N., registered dietitian nutritionist of MIDSS. “Having a balanced microflora in your gut will make your digestion work more efficiently and can reduce the amount of flatulence you are experiencing.”
A great way to rebalance the body is to consume probiotics, which are the “good” and necessary bacteria that live in your gut to help breakdown food. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut.
Rethink Your Go-To Sources of Protein
Walker says switching around the types of protein you are consuming in order to find the ones that work best for you may prove beneficial if you are suffering from excess gassiness.
“For example, swapping out animal proteins for plant-based sources like quinoa or nuts might make a difference in how your body digests them,” Walker says. While beans and lentils are very healthy for you, they can cause an increase in gas production, so you might want to look to other protein sources to round out your diet if you’re always blowing air.
Wheeler says to evaluate the types of protein that you are consuming to see if they’re dairy-based or full of additives. Steer clear or minimize proteins in those categories and you may see your flatulence levels dissipate.
And Yes, That Means Your Protein Shake Products
"Many protein shakes have dairy, which can be problematic for those who have a dairy intolerance. A simple fix is to take a Lactaid medication or have a shake that doesn't contain dairy," Maciel says.
Other protein shakes, bars, and snacks contain whey protein. "The problem is that not all whey protein is created equal. Some are made from concentrates, which are high in lactose," he adds. "I recommend whey protein isolate because it has less lactose, which your body might digest more easily."
You can also consider switching to non-milk protein powders, such as those made of pea protein and soy.
In addition, pay attention to the additives, as mentioned above. Try protein powders that don't contain sugar alcohols such as sorbitol or mannitol.
Watch Your Fiber
Pay attention to how much fiber they are consuming along with protein sources if you're looking to fart less. Of course, many fiber-rich foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and you want to make sure you’re getting enough in your diet. But, too much can cause some excessive toots.
“Eating too much fiber can also interfere with digestion and lead to flatulence,” Walker says. “Keeping your overall intake of fiber in check may help reduce digestive problems associated with protein consumption.”
When Should You See A Doctor?
If you feel like protein is causing more than just occasional gas, Walker suggests scheduling that doctors appointment.
“While some flatulence is normal and nothing to worry about, too much may indicate an underlying digestive issue or food intolerance that should be evaluated by a healthcare professional,” says Walker. “Paying attention to the types of food you are eating and how they make you feel can help you identify which ones cause the most gas so that you can either reduce or avoid them in the future."
Cassie Shortsleeve is a skilled freelance writer and editor with almost a decade of experience reporting on all things health, fitness, and travel. A former Shape and Men’s Health editor, her work has also been published in Women’s Health, SELF, Runner’s World, Men’s Journal, CNTraveler.com, and other national print and digital publications. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her drinking coffee or running around her hometown of Boston.
Perri is a New York City-born and -based writer; she holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Columbia University and is also a culinary school graduate of the plant-based Natural Gourmet Institute, which is now the Natural Gourmet Center at the Institute of Culinary Education. Her work has appeared in the New York Post, Men's Journal, Rolling Stone, Oprah Daily, Insider.com, Architectural Digest, Southern Living, and more. She's probably seen Dave Matthews Band in your hometown, and she'll never turn down a bloody mary. Learn more at VeganWhenSober.com.