Are you spending more time trying to go than you would like? Constipation is often the result of what you eat or what you don’t eat, and protein shakes are no exception. Could your plant-based protein powder be causing your constipation?
Plant-based protein powders like pea, brown rice, soy, hemp, and pumpkin seed protein are not the main cause of your constipation. Too much protein, dehydration, lack of fiber, lack of exercise, and not enough healthy fats can cause constipation and are more likely the culprit of your constipation.
Constipation comes from several factors, including too much protein, but is there a difference between plant-based protein and whey protein? Read on to learn more!
Types of Plant-Based Protein Sources
Aside from whey protein and egg white protein powder, several plant protein powders are suitable protein sources. When combined with other ingredients, each one has several properties, giving you all the essential amino acids you need for building lean muscles and muscle repair.
Protein is more difficult to extract from plants than, say, egg white or whey protein, so processors go through a complicated process to remove the carbohydrates and fiber from the plants to isolate the protein.
Different plant proteins can cause constipation in one person while going in the opposite direction for another person. What are the different types of plant protein, and what are the pros and cons of each?
The protein that comes from peas is not from the green sweet peas found in a tuna and pasta salad, but rather the yellow split peas that are usually made into soup with onions and ham. Yellow split peas have more protein than sweet peas, which make them ideal for pea protein powder.
Pros of Pea Protein
Why would you choose pea protein powder? Here are some of the advantages:
- It contains more protein than many other plant protein powders and can make you less gassy than other protein powders.
- It is rich in the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine, stimulating muscle growth.
- Pea protein might help you feel full longer than with other plant protein powders.
- It might lower blood pressure.
- It contains 21 grams (0.7 oz) of protein.
Cons of Pea Protein
Why might you avoid pea protein powder? Here are some of the cons of pea protein powder:
- It is low in fiber and might contribute to constipation.
- It is low in the essential amino acid, methionine, which is critical for normal cell function.
- Since it is a legume, it might produce an allergic reaction in some people.
- Anyone who suffers from migraines might need to avoid pea protein powder, as peas have a compound that can trigger them.
- Pea protein is higher in sodium than other plant protein powders.
Brown Rice Protein
If you’re trying to avoid carbs in your diet, you might think you need to avoid brown rice protein powder, but there is no need to worry. As mentioned earlier, protein is separated from the carbohydrates when used in a protein powder blend. Brown rice protein can support muscle growth and repair almost as well as whey protein.
Pros of Brown Rice Protein
Below, you will find some of the advantages of brown rice protein powder.
- You can find brown rice protein powder almost everywhere, and it’s not very expensive, making it one of the most important protein powders to blend with pea protein.
- At 22 grams (0.8 oz) of protein, it is one of the few plant protein powders with the highest amount of protein.
- Brown rice protein is easier on your stomach than whey protein.
- If you have allergies, brown rice protein doesn’t cause an allergic reaction in most people.
- Unlike pea protein, brown rice protein is rich in branched-chain amino acids to complement pea protein for a complete protein source.
Cons of Brown Rice Protein
On the other hand, brown rice protein by itself doesn’t provide a complete protein. Here are some other drawbacks of brown rice protein:
- It is low in fiber, which might cause constipation.
- It is low in lysine, which is important for neurological function and skin, nail, and hair growth, as well as fatty acid metabolism.
- Brown rice protein powders have the potential for arsenic and lead poisoning.
One of the most controversial plant proteins, soy protein, can cause severe allergic reactions for many people, including hives and painful rashes. People also experience constipation or diarrhea more often with soy protein than any other vegan protein powder.
Pros of Soy Protein
Here are some of the advantages of soy protein:
- While many people are against soy protein, it is a complete protein with all the essential amino acids, which is rare for a plant protein source.
- It contains several plant compounds that can lower your cholesterol.
- At 22 grams (0.8 oz) of protein per serving, it is one of the higher vegan protein powders.
- If you can tolerate soy protein, it can help build and repair your muscles.
Cons of Soy Protein
Some of the disadvantages of soy protein are listed below.
- Soy protein is one of the major crops that are genetically modified, which could cause hormonal imbalances.
- It can also cause constipation for those who can’t tolerate it.
- Soy contains goitrogen, which disrupts your thyroid and metabolism.
- The phytoestrogens found in soy mimic natural estrogen and could cause breast cancer.
- Cheap soy protein sources cause more problems than higher-quality soy protein powders.
Hemp protein comes from the seeds of the cannabis plant, but not the part that contains THC, so you won’t get the high you would if you smoked marijuana when consuming hemp protein. It is a healthy vegan protein powder you can use if you have issues with other plant protein.
Pros of Hemp Protein
Here are some of the pros of hemp protein:
- When you use hemp protein, you get several minerals that add to your daily nutrition.
- It is a great source of fiber, which can help keep you regular.
- It also contains more magnesium, iron, and zinc than other vegan protein powders.
- It might be rich in blood pressure-lowering compounds, but the effects have not been widely tested in human subjects.
Cons of Hemp Protein
Here are some of the drawbacks of hemp protein:
- Hemp protein powder contains the least amount of protein of any vegan protein sources. There are only 12 grams (0.4 oz) of protein per serving.
- The protein is low in most of the essential amino acids necessary for muscle growth and maintenance. It would be best if you ate other plant proteins to fill the gap of essential amino acids.
Pumpkin Seed Protein
When you prepare a jack-o-lantern for Halloween and throw out the pumpkin’s guts, you are throwing out a potential protein source. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of healthy fats and protein in their whole form, but most healthy fats are removed when they are turned into protein powder.
With very little fiber, pumpkin seed protein might cause constipation, and without healthy fats, things might not work so well, digestively speaking.
Pros of Pumpkin Seed Protein
Below, you will find some of the pros of pumpkin seed protein.
- Pumpkin seeds are a healthy source of magnesium, which translates to protein powder after processing. It contains high amounts of magnesium, zinc, and iron.
- There is evidence that it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- It might help heal liver damage and lower LDL cholesterol.
Cons of Pumpkin Seed Protein
Here are some of the cons of pumpkin seed protein:
- It contains 18 grams (0.6 oz) of protein, which is mid-range for protein powders.
- It is not a complete protein.
- It contains very low levels of lysine and threonine.
Causes of Constipation
Now that you’ve learned about the different vegan protein powders and the pros and cons of each regarding digestive health, let’s take a look at the reasons why you might become constipated.
High Protein Diet
A high protein diet can cause constipation if you do not eat the proper amount of carbs and healthy fats because protein consumed in high amounts can lead to dehydration. If you’re eating more protein, you are eating less fiber, which also keeps things moving in the right direction.
After your stomach breaks down the protein into amino acids, your liver and pancreas process the amino acids further while your kidneys filter the byproducts into the urine. If you’re not drinking enough water, the byproducts will not be released as easy as it could be.
While this doesn’t happen as much when you eat whole protein sources, protein powder gives you much more protein without the added fats of whole proteins, which can also cause constipation.
To avoid this problem while still having a daily protein shake, use the protein shake with added fats like coconut oil and a few berries for one meal out of the day. Doing that will keep your protein intake to a minimum.
As mentioned above, a high protein diet can cause constipation. When you don’t drink enough water to handle the added protein, everything slows down, and you won’t have enough fluid to flush out the protein byproducts.
Without water, your colon can also become dehydrated, which is when things slow down. The traditional school of thought about how much water to drink per day is eight 8-oz (227-g) glasses. Others say that you don’t need that much, and half that will suffice. Still, others say that your body will tell you when you need water and drink water when you are thirsty.
If you are constipated and need some relief, try drinking an 8-oz (227-g) glass of water once every hour until you reach eight glasses. For a couple of days, you might still be stopped up, but eventually, you should get some relief. Talk with your doctor if you don’t have any movement.
Lack of Fiber
When you eat more protein to lose weight, you eat fewer vegetables, which can drastically reduce your fiber intake. Fiber gives you bulk, which keeps you regular by encouraging your intestinal muscles to push the remaining material out with your stool.
If you don’t get enough fiber, there’s a good chance that you won’t have the bulk you need to keep things going.
Therefore, the solution is to make sure you have low carb vegetables with your meals and keep your protein shakes limited to one per day.
Not Enough Healthy Fats
On the other hand, if you’re not getting enough fats because you are worried about cholesterol or heart disease, you could experience constipation because not enough things are getting lubricated very well. While this might seem strange, healthy fats encourage regularity, and your digestive system needs a small number of healthy fats to function properly.
Fatty fish, nuts, and coconut oil can help relieve constipation. If you want to make a meal replacement shake from your protein powder, try adding some coconut oil or coconut butter to boost the fat content.
Very Little Exercise
If you’re already doing everything listed above and are still not getting the relief you need, try some gentle movement like walking or gardening. Gentle exercise keeps your muscles toned and your lymphatic system moving things along. You could take on a more intense exercise routine, but if you’re already feeling sore from constipation, it might make things worse.
Are Plant-Based Protein Powders More Digestible?
Dairy is one of many common allergens that causes issues for people, including constipation and gas. Whey protein comes from milk as the byproduct of making cheese, which is then dehydrated and made into a protein powder.
Those allergic to dairy products often have problems digesting whey protein powders. If you have gastrointestinal distress after your morning protein shake, it could be the whey protein.
Plant-based protein sources are generally more digestible and should not cause too many issues, providing you don’t consume more than one or two shakes per day. Too many protein shakes, in general, can cause constipation.
Why Too Much Protein Powder Can Cause Constipation
Before you try other methods to get relief from constipation, consider how much protein powder you are using per day concerning how much you need. Too much protein can cause constipation because after it gets processed by the stomach, liver, and pancreas, the kidneys filter the byproducts out with urine. It can also dry out your colon, which slows down movement.
If you’re eating enough whole food protein like beans and rice, chicken, or eggs, you more than likely don’t need extra protein from the shakes. However, if your diet lacks protein, a protein shake shouldn’t pose any problems once in a while.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Conventional wisdom says that you need 0.36 grams (0.01 oz) of protein per pound of body weight per day.
So, if you weigh 175 pounds (79 kgs), you would need 63 grams (2.2 oz) of protein per day. If you have a half-cup serving of cooked and diced chicken, you will get 19 grams (0.7 oz) of protein. Three ounces (85 grams) of beef is 22 grams (0.8 oz) of protein.
If you eat larger servings than the above suggestions, you could end up at your protein limit for the day. Add a protein shake with 20 grams (0.71 oz) of protein, and you could easily slide past your limit and find yourself constipated.
How to Avoid Constipation With Protein Shakes
The simplest answer to avoiding constipation with protein shakes is to avoid them altogether. However, this advice is sometimes not practical as you might need a convenient protein source while on the go. Here are some tips to help you find relief or avoid constipation:
- Drink Enough Water. When you’re active, you naturally drink more water because you get thirsty more often. However, when you’re consuming protein powder shakes daily, make sure that you drink plenty of water so that the extra protein doesn’t cause constipation. Provide your body with enough fluid to assist your kidneys with discarding the protein byproducts. When you’re working out, carry a water bottle with you.
- Move Gently And Often. Stretching, walking, and gentle movement can keep things moving in the right direction. Your muscles stay limber and strong by daily activity and exercise, which also helps your stool move regularly.
- Add Flaxseed Or Chia Seed To Your Protein Shakes For Fiber. Fiber provides extra bulk in the stool that helps move waste. Try adding flaxseed or chia seed in your protein shake, as they are low carb sources of fiber to help you be more regular. It also has the added benefit of keeping you full longer, which could help your weight loss journey be more successful.
- Use Coconut Oil To Keep You Regular. As mentioned before, healthy fats can move things along, so to speak, and keep you regular. Add a tablespoon of coconut oil to your protein shake for added nutrition. Coconut oil can also keep you satisfied and control your cravings.
Plant-based protein powders are more digestible than non-plant protein powders, but if you consume too much protein, you will become constipated, nonetheless. As with everything in life, moderation with protein powder will keep you regular.
While protein can help you lose weight, you will gain weight if you get too much through food sources or protein powder because your body turns protein into glucose to be used for energy. If you have more glucose than you immediately need, it will be stored as fat.
Protein powder needs to be approached as you would with supplements—once a day and in moderation.
Here’s an article you may find useful: THE BEST Vegan Meal Replacement Shakes for Weight Loss 2021
- Healthline: Protein Intake—How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Day?
- Healthline: Best Foods for Chronic Constipation: Recipes and More
- Livestrong: Does Eating a Lot of Protein Cause Constipation?
- Healthline: The 9 Best Vegan Protein Powders
- Plant Based: Does Vegan Protein Powder Help With Constipation (or Cause It)?
- Livestrong: Protein Powder & Constipation