My protein shake makes me nauseous.

Written by Jack Schrupp and reviewed by Ella McGonagle, M.S. Nutrition

The average protein shake makes me nauseous. The average protein powder makes me nauseous too, which is why I created drink wholesome. It is additive-free, dairy-free, and made with real foods, not protein isolates – 99% of supplements fail to meet at least one of these criteria. This makes it perfect for people with gut issues and sensitive stomachs, as well as for people just looking to boost their protein intake without the processing and added junk. Order samples to see if my protein powder is right for you. 

“If you have a sensitive gut, you need simple ingredients.”

-Brittany Carpenter, MS, RDN/LDN

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drink wholesome will not make you nauseous. 

What is nausea?

Why do protein shakes make me nauseous?

Why drink wholesome?

What is nausea?


Nausea is the feeling of discomfort that makes you feel as though you might vomit, but may or may not lead to vomiting. It is a feeling that everyone dreads, and you have almost certainly experienced it at some point – perhaps while reading in a moving vehicle, or after drinking too much coffee. There are many causes of nausea, including motion sickness, medication, viral infections, and even the foods you eat. The timing of the nausea often indicates the causes, so if you feel nauseous shortly after drinking a protein shake, it is likely that the protein shake is causing the nausea. How long nausea lasts depends on the cause. Nausea from eating food will usually start to improve after a few hours. Nausea from other causes can last a lot longer. Call your doctor if your nausea lasts for more than a week.

Why do protein shakes make me nauseous?


Protein supplements can cause a number of gastrointestinal (GI) side effects, including nausea, for a number of reasons. If you are sick of protein shake nausea or protein powder nausea, you have come to the right place. Keep reading to learn more about supplements, and the top ingredients to avoid if you have gut issues or a sensitive stomach. The average protein shake makes me nauseous too, so I feel your pain.

Food additives can cause nausea.

There are two types of protein supplements: ready-to-drink (store-bought) protein shakes, and protein shakes made with protein powder. In order to make a protein shake with protein powder, you have to mix the powder with milk or water. This requires a blender or a shaker bottle, and a little extra time and effort. Some people therefore prefer to buy ready-to-drink protein shakes, but if they knew what they were drinking, they would probably vomit. 

Ready-to-drink protein shakes are full of emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners, sweeteners, and flavors. Ingredients like these improve characteristics like taste, texture, and shelf stability, but can cause uncomfortable side effects like nausea. This is why I recommend that you make your own protein shakes with protein powder. That said, not all protein powders are created equal, and many contain the same additives found in ready-to-drink protein shakes! 

Although not necessarily bad for you in small quantities, additives can add up quickly (especially if you drink a protein shake every day) and cause nausea. This is because food additives are, generally speaking, hard to digest. They sit in your gut for longer than food should, which gives your gut bacteria more time to eat. As they eat, these bacteria produce gas, which itself can trigger feelings of nausea. Gas also slows colonic transit (the amount of time it takes food to travel through the colon), which can lead to constipation and an overgrowth of gut bacteria. Both constipation and bacterial overgrowth can also cause nausea.

Here is a list of the most common food additives in protein powder:

acacia gum, artificial flavors, carrageenan, cellulose gum, dextrin, dextrose, gellan gum, guar gum, gum arabic, inulin, locust bean gum, “natural” flavors, maltodextrin, rice syrup solids, soy lecithin, silica, sunflower lecithin, xanthan gum

When it comes to identifying food additives, go with your gut. 😉 As a rule of thumb, they are the ingredients that you cannot pronounce. Food additives are not the only thing to look out for when buying protein powder that will not cause nausea, however. There are several other ingredients that can upset your stomach.

Sweeteners can cause nausea. 

Artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and stevia are added to many protein powders to make them sweet, and are popular because of their intense sweetness – a pinch can be used to achieve the same amount of sweetness as several tablespoons of sugar. This intense sweetness is also why they can make people feel sick. It is easy to overdo it, and many protein powders are thus way too sweet. These types of sweeteners also activate bitter taste receptors in addition to sweet taste receptions, which can make you gag. 

Dairy can cause nausea.

Dairy-based proteins like whey and casein, which are byproducts of cheese and yogurt production, are known to cause digestive issues, especially for people with lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Over one in three Americans are lactose intolerant, and the prevalence of IBS is somewhere between 10 and 15 percent in the United States. You may therefore be lactose intolerant or have IBS and not even know it. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a poorly understood condition, and it is unclear why dairy triggers symptoms. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is clearly understood. People with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest lactose, the sugar in dairy. As you just learned, partially digested food feeds the bacteria in your gut, which produce gas that can cause nausea. 

Protein isolates can cause nausea. 

Finding an additive-free, dairy-free protein powder is hard. Finding an additive-free, dairy-free protein powder made with real foods is next to impossible. Why? Most protein powders are made with protein concentrates and/or isolates, foods stripped of everything but the protein. They are listed on the ingredient list as “pea protein” and “whey protein” as opposed to “peas” and “whey.” I will not go into the details, but protein concentrates and isolates undergo heavy mechanical and chemical processing before becoming protein powder. Sometimes, manufacturers use chemical solvents like hexane to isolate (separate) the protein from the food. This means that what you end up putting into your body looks nothing like real food. 

If you think about it, your gut was designed to digest naturally occurring foods, not laboratory formulated imitations, so if you feed it anything but real food, it might get upset. Moreover, unlike real foods, protein concentrates and isolates are missing the nutrients that make food taste good. They therefore have an unpleasant chalky aftertaste that can trigger the gag reflex (make you feel like you are going to vomit).

vegan vanilla protein powder serving suggestion
vanilla protein powder lifestyle image 1

Why drink wholesome


Instead of protein concentrates or isolates, we make protein powders with egg whites and almonds. Egg whites are simply pasteurized and dried before becoming protein powder. Almonds are just roasted, pressed, and ground. Minimally-processed ingredients like these are an easy to digest, gut-friendly alternative to protein concentrates and isolates. Unless you have a sensitivity or allergy to eggs, egg white protein is the best protein for your gut. Egg whites are low in fiber, low-FODMAP, and naturally alkaline. Our customers have experienced fewer digestive issues with egg white protein than with any other type of protein. If you cannot eat eggs, try our almond protein powder. Unlike protein concentrates or isolates, almonds contain lots of healthy fats, fiber, and other nutrients like calcium and vitamin E. We prefer almonds to other minimally-processed plant protein sources because they are more gut-friendly. Research suggests that almonds possess prebiotic properties and can improve the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome.

vegan chocolate protein powder lifestyle image 1
chocolate protein powder serving suggestion

Moreover, instead of artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, or stevia, we use a natural sweetener called monk fruit. Monk fruit – also known as luo han guo – is a melon-like fruit native to Southeast Asia. Monk fruit sweetener is created by removing the seeds and skin of the fruit, crushing the fruit, and collecting the juice, which is then dried into a concentrated powder. As far as low/zero calorie sweeteners go, monk fruit is the most natural and best tasting. It actually tastes like sugar, and most people love it. 

★★★★★

easy to digest

“I’ve had Crohn’s disease for 20+ years and it’s always been hard to find a protein powder my stomach can handle. I’ve had no problem digesting drink wholesome AND it tastes great. I highly recommend this protein powder if you have IBS or Crohn’s.” – Jesse

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This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. drink wholesome is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.