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Can Too Much Protein Cause Constipation?
Gut Health

Can Too Much Protein Cause Constipation?

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Published on 2022 July 14
271 Views
6 min

Being on a high-protein diet has its fair share of pros and cons. But, for the most part, proper protein consumption is an excellent weight loss technique. Can it be the cause of constipation?

can-too-much-protein-cause-constipation

However, eating too much protein does pose several health challenges, even for the healthiest of people.

Diarrhea, restricted bowel movement, constipation, and other gastrointestinal (GI) health issues are inherently common with increased protein intake.

Nonetheless, let us take an in-depth look at the facts surrounding a high-protein diet. Does eating too much protein cause constipation? If so, how can you prevent it?

How Are Protein and Constipation Linked?

A diet high in protein relates to constipation and other gastrointestinal health issues because protein has slower digestion than other food classes. The more protein you consume, the less fiber you consume. The known byproducts of broken-down protein make it increasingly glaring where your inability to stool easily comes from.

Can Too Much Protein Cause Constipation?

The straightforward answer is yes – overeating protein can cause constipation. However, the deal with this is that it is not the protein itself that causes constipation but the lack of fiber.

Fiber, generally in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, is essential in a constipation-free life. Insoluble fiber is responsible for adding bulk to your stool as it absorbs water and draws waste through the gastrointestinal tract. On the other hand, soluble fiber mixes with the fluids in the GI tract.

Research shows that high-protein diets are usually low in fiber. The Atkins diet is a prime example, as it stays focused on eating animal proteins. According to Dr. Joanne L. Slavin, a Food Science and Nutrition professor at the University of Minnesota, fiber helps stabilize food transit time. In addition, consuming more fiber is a recognized panacea to sluggish bowel movement, hard stools, and constipation.

What Are the Side Effects of a High-Protein Diet?

Many bodybuilders, fitness and wellness experts constantly advertise the need to consume more protein and cut down on excess calories. Although there are tons of pros associated with consuming a diet high in protein, it does come with its fair share of cons, such as heart disease, bad breath, increased cancer risk, etc. Unfortunately, most times, they never really highlight these cons, leaving you unable to weigh your dietary options.

Fatigue and exhaustion

Contrary to popular belief, protein is not a great energy source. You can only get a significant amount of energy when your protein consumption is high. Nonetheless, the conversion of protein to sugar is slow because protein has a slower digestion rate. Therefore, it is not recommended to replace the primary energy source in your diet with protein. 

In addition, with low energy levels, fatigue and brain fog begin to occur more frequently. However, your best bet is to maintain a proper protein and carb balance.

Weight gain

This is where bodybuilding comes into play. It is straightforward to reverse the current structure associated with weight loss – calories deficit and high protein intake. Weight gain is increasingly common among those who are strict on high protein consumption. The majority of the protein these people eat contains more fat than they want. Since more fat directly translates to more calories, you have them gaining weight instead of shedding weight.

Kidney stones

In 2013, ISRN Nutrition published a study containing the results of protein research. The study showed that high protein consumption could cause long-term health crises, like developing kidney stones.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) states that kidney stones typically occur when there is an imbalance in the components of urine. When concentrated, these components – calcium, phosphorus, oxalate, and uric acid – become hard and form tiny, stone-like mineral deposits in the kidney. 

Kidney stones block the passage of fluid, which will lead to infections or other damages if left unchecked. In addition, too much protein in one’s diet will overwork the kidney and flush out the byproducts of protein breakdown, such as futile, excess nitrogen in amino acids.

Similarly, you now have calcium loss to worry about with excess protein. This is because some of the protein consumed carries acids that bind with calcium, which we pass out when we urinate.

How to Prevent Protein Constipation?

If you’re thinking about going on a high-protein diet, you should stop to weigh the pros and cons before trudging forward. The most sensible thing to do is to stick to a proper dietary regime, as you can achieve all your health and body goals this way.

However, if you are currently on a high-protein diet, you need to take several steps back and reevaluate your options of being on a healthy diet. Some key steps to take to prevent protein-based constipation include:

Eating plenty of high-fiber foods

Vegetables, whole grains, and fruits are good sources of protein and fiber. Consuming them in the right quantity is a step toward preventing constipation. If you want to cut down on carbs or avoid legumes, you can fill up on low-carb vegetables. 

Kale, spinach, cabbage, Asian green, or dark leafy green are superb nutrient powerhouses. Zucchinis, cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, and broccoli are excellent additions. Finally, you can choose a robust salad at lunch loaded with your favorite low-carb, high-fiber vegetable, getting the best of both worlds.

In the same vein, you can go with flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, or any other seed and nut, as they come with a high amount of fiber and protein with low carbs. The rule of thumb is to go for fruits like blueberry with a higher skin to pulp ratio in terms of fruit consumption. Overall, you need not worry about overconsumption as they contain natural sugars that are not harmful.

Opting for plant-based protein

Animal proteins such as red meat, fish, eggs, etc., do not contain fiber. An excellent strategy is to switch to plant-based protein, which allows you to have protein and fiber in good quantities. For example, lentils, peanuts, chickpeas, quinoa, kidney beans, and almonds are good.

It is also essential to take in lots of fluids. One great practice is to carry a water bottle with you at all times. Drinking lots of water will soften your stool, making it pass out easily. It will also keep you from dehydration.

Trying out the keto diet

Most people tend to switch to a keto diet, as it allows them to consume fewer carbs while maintaining a healthy amount of protein and fat. For the most part, people associate the keto diet with a weight loss regime, but it does not end there. It also aids in reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and many others.

The Keto Cycle app is a great addition to your dietary plans, a personalized assistant to help you lose weight. Keto Cycle offers a meal prep plan with a list of must-have groceries, a progress tracker, personalized workout schemes, informational content, and access to an exclusive community.

What Is the Recommended Daily Protein Dose?

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein varies based on age, gender, active lifestyle, and total diet. For the most part, nutritionists calculate the recommended daily amount for adults based on their body weight, 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight.

You should consider this when getting your daily protein amount if you exercise daily. Regular gym-goers consume between 1.2g to 1.7g per kilogram of body weight to maintain muscle mass and general fitness. Elite athletes take things further, consuming up to 3.5g per kilogram of body weight.

In addition, you should factor in protein supplements when calculating your daily protein amount. If your supplement contains a large amount of protein, such as protein powder and protein shakes, try to scale that into your RDA.

While it is common for people to believe that healthy people can consume as much protein as they desire, they must stick to the recommended dietary allowance. Consult a nutritionist if you are worried about under or overconsumption.

Conclusion

Over the years, protein has received unfair blame for several health issues. The majority of these claims are without facts; however, some hold scientific backing. We need high-protein foods to build muscle mass, keep fit, and stay healthy.

Nonetheless, a high protein diet will mean that constipation and other GI issues are reoccurring. The best bang for your nutritional buck is to maintain a balanced diet. Substitute animal protein for plant-based protein to get the nutrients your body needs. Fruits and vegetables are your friends, so do not go without them.

While at it, it is important to avoid processed food since the additives are detrimental to our health. Remember that staying hydrated is good for your health.

Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed byRosmy Barrios, MD
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