The temptation is there, isn’t it? You made your protein shake before you went to the gym, and now your workout is over and it’s just sitting there, ready for consumption and you just don’t fancy it. Maybe it's warmer than you’d like, you’ve picked up a flavour you’re not too fond of, or you’re coming to the end of a bag and can’t wait to start a new one. So you make the decision to chug it, down it, drink it all in one - whatever you want to call it - and now you feel slightly unwell, and probably a bit gassy.
So how can you avoid the bloating, nausea, gas and cramps that might come along with drinking your shake too fast? The obvious answer is that you slow down and sip your shake as you would any other drink. Here are some of the reasons why chugging your protein shake might be preventing an optimal digestive experience, and what you can do to improve it.
When you work out, your body places a priority on getting blood to your muscles, especially during a heavier session. This stops a process called peristalsis, which is where muscle contractions move food through your digestive system (Patel and Thavamani, 2020).
Drinking a protein shake too fast, or too soon after exercise, means that your shake will sit in your stomach instead of starting the process of digestion and absorption. This can cause nausea, and that sloshy feeling in your stomach - not what you want after a workout!
But what if you’re worried about the fabled ‘anabolic window’? If you’re looking to improve muscle gain, then you might be used to downing your shakes as quickly as possible after a workout. However, studies have shown that consuming protein and carbs immediately after a workout has no influence on your rate of muscle recovery. It also has no effect on the rate of muscle protein synthesis, which is the process the body goes through to repair your muscles after they have sustained damage, causing them to grow in size (Aragon and Schoenfeld, 2013).
Therefore, it stands to reason that sipping your shake slowly over time will not diminish your gains, or your muscle recovery, and may in fact be beneficial for your digestion.
Bloating and Stomach Problems
It’s not only exercise which can put a stop to digestion. Eating or drinking too fast can also cause your digestive system to slow down. When this happens, whatever is in your stomach just sits there until your digestive system can restart.
However, when you eat or drink too fast you also swallow a lot more air than you do when you take your time. Combine this with the slowing down of your digestive system and that air may well be sitting in your stomach making you bloated and, eventually, gassy (Wilkinson, Cozine and Loftus, 2019). By drinking your protein shake more slowly, you can avoid the discomfort and pain which comes with bloating and trapped gas, and give your digestion an easier job!
If you haven’t yet discovered the benefits of a plant-based protein powder, and you love to chug your shakes, then you might want to consider making the switch. Whey protein powders can be a source of digestive discomfort, even when sipped slowly, so drinking them too fast can exacerbate bloating and gas. When you consider that an estimated 65% of people have an impaired ability to digest lactose after infancy, then it might seem a little more understandable why you wouldn’t want to down it! (Fisher, 2019)
In short, it really pays to be kind to your digestive system (especially after a workout!), so you should be looking for a high performance protein powder which is also specifically designed to benefit your digestion. Vivo Life’s PERFORM protein powder with BCAAs uses easily digestible and bio-fermented protein, and contains digestive enzymes to help you train harder and recover faster. PERFORM uses organic yellow pea protein, which contains over 80% protein by weight and is gently fermented for easier digestion and a superior amino acid profile. This means it can not only provide you with all your protein needs, it can help to erase bloating and gas from your post-workout routine!
So, to chug or not to chug, that is the question. What it really comes down to is to do what’s right for you. If you’ve been chugging down your shakes with no discernible problems for years and years and it makes you happy, then keep on! If you’ve noticed that you feel nauseous, cramped, bloated or gassy after your workout shake, then try sipping a shake designed for better digestion!
Fisher, R. (2019). Definition & Facts for Lactose Intolerance | NIDDK. [online] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance/definition-facts.
Aragon, A.A. and Schoenfeld, B.J. (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1). doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-5.
Wilkinson, J.M., Cozine, E.W. and Loftus, C.G. (2019). Gas, Bloating, and Belching: Approach to Evaluation and Management. American Family Physician, [online] 99(5), pp.301–309. Available at: https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2019/0301/p301.html [Accessed 1 Aug. 2022].