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Can Too Much Protein Cause Constipation?

July 16, 2019

Many people wonder if too much protein can cause constipation. The simple answer is “Yes,” as well as many other stomach problems.

The ideal amount of protein you should consume each day depends on how much you weigh. The Dietary Reference Intake is 0.36 grams per pound. That’s about 56 grams of protein per day for average-sized men and 46 grams per day for women. But keep this in mind: You could get as many as 46 grams of protein in one serving of low-fat Greek yogurt, a 4-ounce serving of lean chicken breast and a bowl of cereal with skim milk.

So it is possible to get too much of a good thing.

Why Too Much Protein Causes Constipation

Protein is an essential part of a healthy diet. It helps build and repair muscle, organs and bones. High-protein diets have also been shown to help with weight loss and muscle retention. But if you’re on a high-protein diet, you’re most likely getting it from a lot of animal proteins.

A high protein diet can cause constipation due to a lack of fiber. It’s not necessarily the protein causing constipation, but it’s the lack of fiber you have in your high-protein diet. Fiber is found mostly in fruits, vegetables, and grains. It adds bulk to your stool and helps ensure the foods you eat move more efficiently through your body.

That’s why you need to pay attention to your fiber intake if you increase your protein intake. The recommended fiber intake is 20 to 35 grams per day for adults or 10 to 13 grams for every 1,000 calories in the diet.

Dehydration is another risk of high-protein diets. It's one of the most common causes of chronic constipation. Your kidneys have to work harder to rid the body of waste products from protein digestion, and they rely on water to do their job efficiently. In a nutshell, eating a diet that’s high in protein but low in fiber will affect your bowel movements.

One way to get around this is to drink plenty of water and eat plant-based proteins. These include:

  • Lentils (high in soluble fiber)
  • Chickpeas
  • Edamame
  • Black beans
  • Kidney beans (high in insoluble fiber)

If you’re looking for high protein foods that are low in carbs but are also considered to be high-fiber options, you’re in luck. Good options include:

  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are nutrient powerhouses)
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes
  • Squash
  • Green peppers
  • Broccoli

When it comes to fruit, a good rule to follow for a low-carb, high protein diet is to pick fruits with a higher ratio of skin-to-pulp (like blueberries). These have a lot more fiber and fewer carbs. You’ll reap all of the health benefits these fruits and vegetables provide, as well as preventing constipation. It’s a double whammy!

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Additional Stomach Troubles From High Protein Diets

Diarrhea is another common side effect of a high-protein diet, also caused by a lack of fiber in your diet.

To avoid diarrhea, drink plenty of water, avoid caffeinated beverages, limit fried foods and excess fat consumption, and increase your fiber intake. The same foods that help with constipation will also help diarrhea.

In general, if you’re on a high-protein diet and constipated, you need to drink more fluids. Eating non-starchy vegetables, which are low in carbs and high in fiber, will also get more fiber into your diet. Low-carbohydrate fruits, such as berries, are also rich in fiber. While your body may need a little time to get used to your new dietary regimen, taking these simple steps can help to keep your gastric discomfort to a minimum.

Now that summer is here, you may find it harder to eat healthy. With all of the cookouts and outdoor activities to attend, your diet may not be top of mind. In order to stay on track, check out our guide “Eating Healthy on a Busy Schedule.” It provides tips for eating on the run without giving up nutrition.