If you’re reading this article, it’s fair to infer that at one time or another you may have experienced the phenomena of protein farts. Protein farts or to put it more correctly; protein indigestion, generally occurs for one of two reasons. The first is due to lactose intolerance, which is caused when an individual doesn’t harbour the enzyme lactase in their digestive tract, which is required to breakdown lactose into its constituent monosaccharides, namely, glucose and galactose. The second most common cause of protein farts is excessive protein consumption. The human digestive tract is limited in the actual amount of protein it can digest in any one sitting. While the type and form of protein can affect overall digestive capacity, most individuals cannot digest and absorb more than 35-40g of protein in a single meal. Protein farts can usually be averted by using either one of the above approaches. Below we will delve into these two issues a little deeper.
Protein Farts & Lactose Intolerance
The degree of lactose intolerance is said to vary from individual to individual based on the nationality of one's ancestors; with Europeans, Asians, Indians and East Africans believed to be able to maintain production of lactase into adulthood. Fortunately, nowadays, there is a wide range of protein supplements available that have very low lactose or are in fact free of lactose. The most popular protein supplements in this category are whey protein isolates. WPIs are known for their low/minimal sugar and fat content and therefore don’t pose a problem for the average lactose intolerant individual. Exceptions are individuals who have a severe degree of lactose intolerance. Such individuals are best suited to WPIs advertised as certified free of lactose.
Soy proteins are another options for individuals susceptible to indigestion from the lactose in dairy proteins such as whey. As a vegetable protein source, soy protein does not contain any lactose and therefore can be consumed without issue by lactose intolerant individuals.
Protein Farts & Digestive Capacity
Overloading the digestive system with too much protein is generally the most common cause of the dreaded protein farts. There are two key reasons why having too much protein at any one time can lead to protein farts. The first, as touched on above, has to do with the body’s proteolytic enzyme capacity. Once protein is ingested and reaches the stomach, the body secretes various protein digestive enzymes (i.e. pepsin, trypsin, chymotrypsin) which are then activated by the acidic environment of the stomach. However, the body can only secrete enough proteolytic enzymes to digest between 30-40g of protein atmost. Turns out, there are plenty of protein powders or mass gainers that come with more than 40g of protein per serve, which explains why it’s easy to get a bout of the protein farts when your smashing down your favourite mass gainer.
The other key factor affecting the digestibility of protein is the type of processing it has undergone. Dairy proteins inherently contain their own digestive enzymes, but they are subject to the effects of acid and heat when processed to be made into protein powders. This is one of the reasons companies make such a big deal about the fact that their whey protein is processed using ‘low-temperature’ or ‘low-acid’ conditions. The proprietary digestive enzyme Aminogen is one example of an enzyme that has been studied in humans to improve the digestion capacity of whey protein concentrate when consumed in a 50g bolus. Another proprietary proteolytic enzyme that is starting to surface in whey proteins powders is ProHydrolyase. Similar to Aminogen, ProHydrolyase works by helping to increase the breakdown of larger peptide fragments resulting from whey protein digestion. This enzyme helps to increase protein absorption and therefore limit the amount of protein that goes on to reach the colon, where it leads to bloating, nausea and cramping.
Whey protein hydrolysates are the one category of whey protein that are ideally suited to individuals suffering from protein blow outs. Whey hydrolysates have already been subject to hydrolysis during manufacturing so they are in a form that is much easier for the body to digest and absorb. The only problem though is that there is a wide range in the degree of hydrolysis between different whey hydrolysates. You can be rest assured that unless a manufacturer goes to the trouble of advertising the degree of hydrolysis for their particular whey hydrolysate, its likely that their particular whey hydrolysate is only minimally hydrolysed, which ultimately may not provide much meaningful benefit in terms of improving digestability and the dreaded protein farts. If you suffer from protein farts, make sure you go for a whey hydrolysate with a high degree of hydrolysis (i.e. >15%) or one that explicitly states its overall dipeptide and tripeptide content.
If you’re an individual that seems to be prone to protein farts, even when consuming your standard dose of whey protein, you might want to consider protein powders that come with added digestive enzymes. Alternatively, you might like to be picky about getting high quality whey proteins from reputed brand names that contain whey which has been purified in a way to preserve the integrity of its enzymes.