Are you taking protein supplements, whether in the form of powders, pre-mixed shakes, or bars, to increase lean muscle mass and improve workout performance and recovery?
Well, that’s a smart move.
However, despite protein’s many health benefits, there are still controversies about its safety. Some claim that consuming too much protein may result in kidney damage. Or that there are protein formulations that make a person urinate or poop so much.
How true are these? Does this mean they’re just flushing their gains away?
Let’s find out in this post, and we’ll begin with the basics.
What Are Protein Shakes?
Protein shakes are a delicious, easy, and safe way to add extra protein to one’s diet. These drinks are a combination of protein powder and milk or water. They are often sold in the protein supplement market as prepackaged products and have become popular among many fitness enthusiasts in recent years.
Extra protein from shakes could reduce your hunger and appetite if you’re trying to manage your weight or achieve weight loss.
Additionally, they can lead to weight loss. Protein shakes can help you achieve your fitness goals by improving your workout recovery and performance and promoting muscle gain. Still, most adults can quickly get enough protein from food without drinking protein shakes.
How much protein do you need per day?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kg. of body weight. The RDA is the level of intake of essential nutrients based on the scientific knowledge that the Food and Nutrition Board judges.
Using that metric, a 150-pound person should consume around 54 grams of protein daily.
The protein content of foods
And if you have roughly no idea how much protein you eat every day, I share below some examples of the amounts of protein you can find in common foods:
- 3-ounce cooked chicken (skinless) = 28 grams of protein
- 3-ounce cooked steak = 26 grams
- 1 large egg = 6 grams
- 3-ounce salmon = 22 grams
- 1/2 cup/ serving size of cooked spinach = 3 grams
- Two tablespoons of peanut butter = 7 grams
The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that most people already get enough protein from their diets, following the RDA guidelines. The healthiest protein sources are from plants, such as lentils, beans, and soy.
Other options (animal proteins) are lean meats, such as turkey or white-meat chicken. On the other hand, you may consider a variety of seafood or fish, low-fat dairy, or egg whites.
However, the RDA is only a baseline. If you exercise regularly, you will have a higher need for protein. That’s about 1.1 to 1.5 grams per kilogram.
People who train for a cycling or running event or regularly lift weights need 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kg. of body weight. That’s why fitness enthusiasts consume protein shakes or supplements. You are maintaining a high-protein diet if your protein intake is around the upper limit of 1.6 grams per kg. of body weight.
Do Protein Shakes Make You Pee a Lot?
Yes, consuming protein shakes may cause frequent urination because protein has a diuretic effect, causing the kidneys to make more urine. Furthermore, your kidneys work hard to eliminate the waste productions that accumulate because of protein digestion.
High-protein diet facilitates higher production of urine
A high protein diet can harm the renal system, and this effect shows up in the urine. Let’s discuss the contents of protein to understand better.
Protein contains nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and sulfur. The body can metabolize all except nitrogen. The said chemical element is essential for forming several amino acids needed for body function, but the body will convert the excess nitrogen in the liver into urea.
As a chemical waste product, urea travels from the liver to the kidneys. The kidneys filter out urea, and the excess urea is in the urine. High protein diets may increase urea production, thus making you urinate more.
The increased urea in the body causes more water to be pulled out from the blood to make up for the urea removal. The American Kidney Fund even cautions that a high-protein diet can cause excessive urination and lead to dehydration.
High-protein diet and dehydration
Dehydration is one of the side effects of too much protein in your daily diet. Therefore, you’d benefit from drinking plenty of water by consuming a lot of protein in your diet.
Why drink more water
Hydration is necessary before, during, and after a workout. Staying hydrated replaces the fluids lost as you sweat, reduces the risk of heat stress, maintains your performance, and supports your normal body function.
Monitor your digestive health, your physical performance, and the color of your urine to determine how much water you need. Begin with eight (8)-ounce glasses daily and increase if needed. Meanwhile, other foods, like watery fruits and vegetables, contribute to your daily fluid intake.
A 2014 randomized controlled trial suggested that adding protein to carbohydrate-electrolyte rehydration drinks can benefit the results of your workout as well as your recovery.
Protein powder to water ratio
A standard amount of powder to mix is one scoop per 20 ounces of water. However, you can experiment with different amounts if you prefer a thinner or thicker delivery. An extra glass of water is good if you prefer a leaner protein-to-water ratio approach.
Side effects of whey protein related to digestion
If the protein shake you’re taking or is planning to take is from whey, it may cause digestive issues too. Don’t get me wrong, whey protein is generally safe and is known to boost metabolism and reduce the appetite.
However, some people experience problems digesting whey protein. This problem caused them to experience diarrhea, stomach cramps, gas, and bloating. Most of these adverse effects are linked to lactose intolerance because lactose is the main carbohydrate in whey protein.
If you’re lactose intolerant, try whey protein isolate powder for your protein drink because it is more refined and has less lactose and fat than whey protein concentrate.
Read More: Best Low-Calorie Protein Powder
Does Protein Powder Make You Poop?
Not all, but some people get an upset stomach after taking a protein shake. Symptoms can include diarrhea, bloating, or excessive gas. Many stories online show how protein intake made them dash around the toilet.
There are a few reasons why some people may get an upset stomach after taking protein powders. However, the main three reasons are:
- Reaction to the artificial sweeteners in protein dietary supplements or powders;
- Intolerance or sensitivity to lactose; or
- Gulping down the protein shake too quickly
No matter how jacked or ripped it promises to make you, protein powder is just another form of dairy in your balanced diet. While for some people, it can spell trouble due to the naturally occurring sugar in milk called lactose.
The amount of lactose you consume in your fitness journey depends mainly on the quality and type of protein product you buy. As mentioned earlier, whey protein isolate (WPI) is low in lactose.
An estimated 68% of the world’s population has a reduced ability to absorb or digest lactose. The good news is that you don’t have to bear it if an upset stomach is the unpleasant side effect of taking a protein shake or your protein diet. You still have few options to avoid feeling that horrific gurgle in your stomach.
How Do I Avoid Protein-Related Pee and Poop Problems?
The first solution is to look at your protein powder’s ingredient list. If you read “whey protein concentrate,” gift it to a relative or friend who can tolerate lactose.
Secondly, try taking low-lactose or soy-based protein powders. The plant is a good source of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals like zinc, iron, magnesium, and calcium. Soy protein is vegan-friendly and does not contain lactose.
Your next option is to eat fiber. Your digestive issues may not be directly related to protein but to what you are not eating. According to a review by the Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics journal, it’s not the protein shake but the lack of fiber in your diet causing constipation.
In contrast, reducing or stopping dietary fiber intake could reduce constipation for people who suffer from idiopathic constipation (constipation without a known cause).
Lastly, consume more protein from natural foods instead of spending $80 for a branded protein powder. Plant protein or animal protein are good options.
Tips to Prevent Excessive Urination From Protein Shakes
- Drink more water to reduce the diuretic effect of protein shake on your body
- Drink less water pre-or post-workout
- Spread the protein shakes out over several small meals rather than one big meal
Does This Mean Protein Powder Is a Bad Thing?
No, protein powders are not harmful to you. Instead, they are a proper nutritional supplement known to help people feel fuller longer, bulk up after strength training, and repair damaged tissues and muscles. However, protein powders do have some side effects.
High doses of protein powder can cause acne, nausea, headache, tiredness, reduced appetite, increased bowel movements, or digestion distress.
Related Post: Muscle Milk Smoothie Review
5 Best Alternatives to Protein Shakes
Below are some accessible alternatives to protein shakes that are high in protein, can’t take hours to prepare, and can be stored in a gym bag.
1. Hard-boiled eggs
Hard-boiled eggs have been a bodybuilding staple for years for a reason. Depending on size, each hard-boiled eggs contain 8 grams of amino-acid protein. To successfully nail your pre-and post-workout nutrition, we recommend eating three to four hard-boiled eggs daily for maximum muscle build.
2. Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt is one of the best protein shake alternatives because it has a low GI rating, meaning it is absorbed and digested relatively slowly. A plus point is that Greek yogurt has a taste you won’t turn down.
To round off your snack, add pita bread crackers, and you have a post-workout meal that tastes good; it feels like you’re cheating on your diet.
3. Fruit smoothies
Fruit smoothies are great alternatives to protein shakes because they contain the nutrients you need without the unhealthy ingredients and extra calories in commercial drinks, like sodas or fruit juices.
Fruit smoothies go down quickly because they are made only with fruit juice and ice. So, there’s no need for sweeteners, like honey or sugar, when making them.
4. Cereal or toast with hemp seeds
If dairy and eggs aren’t your jam, consider preparing a cereal or toast and sprinkling them with hemp seeds. Hemp seeds are rich in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
5. Quinoa protein pancakes
Quinoa protein pancakes are an excellent way to increase your protein intake because the whey content serves as the flour in a mix. Thus, it cuts down the carbohydrate content you consume. What’s better is they can easily be stored in your gym bag and taste good, whether hot or cold.
It may take time to see the effect when taking these natural alternatives, but there’s no need for drastic changes if they are unhealthy for you. If you are considering protein supplementation, avoiding those with high added sugar is best to seek out only trusted brands.
Protein is essential to good health. However, too much of it could be useless or harmful for healthy individuals.
If you feel like you always have to pee every time you take protein supplements, it is a warning sign that you may be packing excess protein into your day. Your kidneys can only process so much of such essential nutrients at once, so avoid protein buildup in those renal organs.
If you need a protein shake regime, limit the quantity of the protein powder initially and understand your daily macro needs relative to how much you need.
If you like this post, check out our other reviews at ExpertFitness.org.
Nathan Lloyd, MSc
LICENSED PERSONAL TRAINER
I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.
If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.