Health experts say that protein supplementation could have a serious impact on digestive health. In brief, the fitness industry is lying to you.
As the saying goes, too much of something is never good. And everything should be in moderation. So in fact, ingesting too much protein supplements could be bad for your gut health.
Australians spent over $1 billion on sports nutrition in 2017 and this figure is forecasted to grow to $2.4 billion by 2022/23, says international market research company IBISWorld
For most people, simply eating around 20-25g protein each meal is more than enough protein. In fact, a systematic review by Robert Morton, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that anything beyond this won’t offer benefit for muscle growth.
Dr Eric Wegman is a Clinical Gastroenterologist at the The Newland Street Specialist Clinic and is concerned about the relationship between protein supplements and digestive health.
“You are what you eat. And if people eat certain types of food, they’re going to consume certain types of bacteria which will then be found in their gut. And sometimes the bacteria they consume can be harmful,” he says.
“A change in the diet, with an increased selection of protein intake mainly, (especially through shakes) may induce an inflammatory bowel. The classic example . . . People that do a lot of weightlifting and body building, who pack their protein shakes can get colitis – an inflammatory bowel disease.”
With the rising popularity of nutritional supplementation, there is a common perception that ‘the more protein the better’ and that protein powder will lead to quick weight loss and lean muscle.
But this is not necessarily the case.
Rebecca Lancaster, a mental health dietitian with NSW Health, says “where you might start to incur issues is if you are consuming excessive amounts of protein (this is much easier to do when consuming the powder forms rather than litres of milk).”
“For example, high doses of whey protein (a popular protein powder) can potentially cause bloating cramping, increased bowel movements and nausea” she says.
Lancaster says, “protein powders are definitely not a necessity when it comes to meeting your protein requirements. As always, the priority is first and foremost to be consuming a healthy balanced diet consisting of real wholefoods. Protein powders and shakes are not a replacement for good food.”
For the average woman aged 19-50 years this amounts to 2½ servings of protein which may include 2 large eggs for breakfast and 100 g cooked fish fillet for dinner.
If you’re still convinced that protein supplements are essential to your diet, it is important that you monitor your health and understand warning signs when they present.
Luckily, our bodies are incredibly sophisticated at indicating when our gut health is deteriorating.
One such way is to regularly check your stool for any abnormal or red flags.
For more information, The Centre of Gastrointestinal Health demonstrates the different types of poo and when you should be concerned.