Is Your Protein Shake Killing You?

October 09, 2013

Two months ago I decided to ramp up my muscle building efforts. I calculated how many macronutrients I needed to build significant size and began tracking them like my life depended on it.

I weighed about 190lbs and calculated that I needed to consume about 4,000 Cal per day. I also cycled my carbs so that I would not gain too much fat along with muscle.

Here were my Target Macronutrient Guidelines:

Moderate Carb Days:
285g protein split into 6 meals (47.5g/meal)
285g carbs split into 3 meals (95g/meal)
191g fat split into 3 meals (64g/meal)

High Carb Days:
285g protein split into 6 meals (47.5g/meal)
356g carbs split into 3 meals (119g/meal)
191g fat split into 3 meals (64g/meal)

Low Carb Days:
285g protein split into 6 meals (47.5g/meal)
213g carbs split into 3 meals (71g/meal)
191g fat split into 3 meals (64g/meal)

My splits looked like this:
Monday: Mod Carb Day
Tuesday: Low Carb Day
Wednesday: High Carb Day
Thursday: Moderate Carb Day
Friday: Low Carb Day
Saturday: High Carb Day
Sunday: Low Carb Day

I kept my High Carb Days when I worked legs (pistol squats, Hannibal squats, Hindu squats, etc.) because these were the most intense days.

I wanted to get my macronutrients spot on so I decided to supplement with a couple protein shakes. This is not something I usually do but thought it would help.  BIG MISTAKE (But I’ll get more into that later).

After about a month I noticed the scale increase and my strength and size increase as well.  I was excited because it is hard for us skinny guys to build size. It takes extra effort on the part of nutrition and making sure you get enough Calories.

This Part May Get A Bit Disgusting… Fair Warning

About a month into my plan I noticed that my bowel movements were becoming more frequent. I started taking a crap immediately after waking up, then before I ate breakfast, then after I ate breakfast, then 30 minutes after that and so on.

There were days when I would be on the toilet for 20 minutes after eating.

And you know how your stool (that’s the official word for poop) should be one long, unbroken formed lump? Well, not mine. It was broken in many, many different pieces.

At first, I ignored the issue. Ignorance is bliss, right?

I kept consuming my diet as if nothing was wrong. All of a sudden I noticed the scale falling back down. Before my stomach problems I was pushing 195 and 196. Now I had dropped down to my starting weight of 190.

WT*!!!

I looked into the mirror and saw less mass. This was really frustrating because I was eating so much.

So I decided to do what any hard-headed man would do… I ate more. And the visits to the toilet increased.

Finally it dawned on me that my digestive system was all out of wack. I had a faint realization that it might be the protein shake so I decided to stop taking it and schedule an appointment with my nutrionist.

In the week that it took me to get in, my bowel movements stayed the same. My stomach was in shambles and I did not know what was wrong.

Do I have a parasite living inside me???

I showed my nutritionist my diet plan including the ingredient list for my protein shake and the next words that came out of his mouth rattled me.

Todd, of all the protein shakes I have looked at, in terms of causing inflammation, this is absolutely the worst I have ever seen. This should not even be on the market.

*Face Slap!*

How could I have been so stupid?

Why Is Inflammation A Problem?

Our gut (small and large intestine) have millions of villi in it. These are finger like projections that “grab” food particles and pull them into our blood stream so we can utilize it.

When we consume foods that are irriating to the gut it creates inflammation. If these villi become inflamed than we can’t absorb nutrients as effectively. Someone could be consuming 285 grams of protein but actually absorbing a small percentage of that (eh, me for example).

The word for absorption is assimilation. In terms of getting nutrients into your body its all about assimilation NOT ingesting (aka eating).

People say you just need to consume larger and larger quantities of food in order to gain size but if your gut is inflammated you are not assimilating it into your body. You are literally crapping money down the toilet.

What Protein Shakes Are Bad For You?

Instead of listing all of the protein shakes that are good or bad for you I am going to tell you the ingredients that are bad for you. I will of course warn you against Carnivor because this is the product I was taking. My stomach is tightening up just thinking about it. Bad Carnivor, bad!!

Harmful Chemicals Found In Protein Shakes:

GMO’s, Soy Protein, Maltodextrin, Refined Sugar, Heavy Metals (and this), rbGH, Artificial Colors, and Carrageenan

Yeah, I know. That’s a long list.

Where Should I Get My Protein?

Below you will find some awesome sources of protein. Make sure that you are buying grass fed and organic foods. I know it is expensive but it is THAT important. Make healthy foods a priority. Give up your movie nights if you have to but please eat organic, free range foods.

Healthy Sources of Protein:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Tempeh
  • Nuts
  • Quinoa

Legumes (I’m getting into sprouting. They taste so good and are super healthy! Talk about live food!)

How Do You Heal Intestinal Problems After You’ve Consumed A Bad Protein Powder?

My doctor has me on Ultra Flora Spectrum (4X per day) and Glutagenics (4X per day).

And guess what? (Eeeeek.. I’m so excited! Can you tell?)

After only a few days I am already having solid poops! Cue the applause.

I never thought I could get so excited about my bowel movements.

*Final Thought:

Guys, the best thing that you can do for your gut health (and muscle building efforts) is to eat whole, unprocessed foods. Quality IS MORE IMPORTANT than quantity. If you harm your gut then you will not be able to absorb the nutrients needed to build muscle. When you eat chemicals it will destroy you. When you eat live foods it will bring you life.

It’s as simple as that.

Eat things in their “original package” and you’ll grow stronger, get leaner and live longer.

-Todd

P.S. Don’t forget that you get a free copy of my New Isometrics Strength ebook when you pick up a bundle during the Harvest Your Health sale. Yep, you get Bodyweight Overload, Isometrics Strength and 70 other ebooks for $37. Pretty good deal I’d say. Just forward your receipt to me and I’ll send you Isometrics Strength.

Show/Hide Comments (36 comments)
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36 Comments
  1. Matt

    I came across this post because I am on day 3 of using the carnivore shred formula and have had the exact same issue. My stomach has been destroyed the last couple days. I will be returning this protein ASAP. It’s weird because I used the normal carnivore formula a few years ago and didn’t have this problem.

    Reply
  2. Malcolm Ridenour

    I don’t believe the optional poster. No one is skinny at 190lbs. No one. What is he seven feet tall?

    Reply
  3. ROB ROSE

    I’m amateur at this but what I’m eating..
    1 banana followed by cup of oats
    6 egg whites omelette
    Packet of almond nuts
    Steak or grilled fish with salad.
    Grilled chicken shish with salad
    More almond nuts
    Cup of oats .
    Any seasoned guys out there give me a ok on this or should I modify.
    Appreciate any reply .
    Kind regards Rob.

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Rob,

      That looks perfect, I like it!

      – Todd

      Reply
  4. Henry

    You’re actually quite lucky nothing more serious happened. There should seriously be a warning for a lot of bodybuilders out there (not all, mind you, as it seems some guys can eat the worst shit and still not have problems). I had similar issues- I was paying no mind to what was in my protein powder (sorbitol) and I was taking a lot of creatine, in addition to a lot of milk. During bulk I was pooping around 3-4 times per day. Sometimes the poops were hard pebbles that produced hemorrhoids, mild blood and even a fissure once. To compound things I wasn’t breathing properly during lifts. After a year of this I noticed a big painful lump in my perianal area….it turned out to be an abscess caused by clogging of the anal glands (yes, we have them just like dogs and cats, only ours are internal) due to all of the pushing and straining. This resulted in a fistula. It took 3 months for everything to heal 100% and resulted in a ton of tests (colonoscopy, biopsies, blood tests, fecal tests, etc.) being done to make sure I didn’t have a serious disease (e.g Crohns) which thankfully all came back normal. Now two years later I am still lifting and eat a lot but I eat clean and I have removed all of this artificial shit from my food and I increased my soluble fiber intake and, guess what? All is well. Back to the normal 2 poops per day. I think the reason the dangers aren’t widely reported is because there haven’t really been any scientific studies conducted specifically on the bodybuilding community.

    Reply
  5. Victoria

    Oh wow this is exactly what happened to me too! I thought I had a terrible stomach bug! Then when it cleared up I went back onto my protein shakes and had exactly the same symptoms again. Started suspecting it was the protein powder and your post has pretty much confirmed this. Ok…..back onto “proper” food I guess……

    Reply
  6. whatever

    What’s so special about GMOs that causes inflammation? You make it seem like GMOs are special ingredients, rather than a set of ingredients from genetically-modified sources.

    Whatever works for you, but what do all GMOs have in common that would cause inflammation?

    Reply
  7. J

    Lol
    i took Carnivore and did the same.
    i was bloated and my bowel movement was really bad.
    also, green stool.
    glad that is over.
    did nothing good to me.
    Trying Iso Pure. Any good?

    Reply
  8. sean

    Why is Whey protein isolate listed as bad..unflavored pure whey (isolate or concentrate) should be just fine (NOW Foods has a good one) also why would you be taking so much protein?? There’s no need to go over 1g per pound of lean body mass.

    Reply
    • Shane Irish

      lads im some man

      Reply
  9. LeRoy Jackson

    I am very new to your website and have only been getting posts from you for a few days. I appreciate you sending this to me so I can get signed up.I was sick a few years ago and have been away from working out for a quite awhile but I am now back. My cancer is in remission and I also beat meningitis 2 years ago, so I am ready to hit it hard and get back the muscle I lost. This nutrition stuff is new to me so I have a lot to learn. I used to lift and ran marathons but paid no attention to nutrition, hence, cancer. Again thanks for sending this post to me. I appreciate it.

    Reply
  10. Sam

    Hi Todd
    It has been very interesting reading this. I also had the same issue where i ate too much and drank so much protein that my gut became inflamed.
    I have stopped taking my protein shakes now for a bout 3 months and my stomach is a lot better.
    However i am a hard gainer and so being able to gain weight now is very difficult.
    Do you think that it is possible to find a good balance between meals and protein shakes?
    Also would you suggest that i go and see professional about a diet plan?

    Reply
  11. Jeanne mitchell

    Hi Todd
    I’m learning a lot from your website. I use an egg white protein in my shake under the Jay Robb label. It wasn’t on your bad list but wondering what is your opinion of this. My shakes generally are made with 1 scoop of egg white protein, flax seeds, chia seeds, fruit ( berries in season and 1/2 banana) a handful of fresh greens (collards, kale Spanish etc) and Greek yougart mixed with either almond milk or coconut water. How can I improve on this to maximize its effectiveness. I am 73 yr old female . Always worked out and stayed physically active, biking, hiking. Fractured an ankle hiking the Canadian Rockies so laid off for 2 yrs. add another 2 to that and because of hypothyroidism I have put on a few too many pounds. Ok I’m ready to get back into shape. I already eat a mixture of paleo, raw and organic. Only cook with olive oil, coconut oil or butter. But too many restaurants have taken their toll. I’ve started with the jump/burpee workout with 50 & 5 and will work into 200 & 50. Thanks again. Next time you hear from me I’ll be a lot fitter.

    Reply
  12. Gail

    I have found trying to eat a lot of protein (not in the form of protein shakes) caused me copious amounts of stool issues. I tried eating Paleo…so doesn’t work for me. Went back to using good Carbs (oats, brown rice, wild rice) and bowels were back to fine form. Clearly what works for some, doesn’t work for others! I have been celiac for years, so gluten was not the problem.

    Reply
  13. Kariss

    Have you checked in to Hammer Nutrition products? They are about as pure as they can be. I use their products regularly. They are gluten-free, non-GMO, and contain no sugar. Check them out at http://www.hammernutrition.com. They have their labels posted on their website so you know exactly what you’re putting in to your body. If you want to order something from them, let me know and I can get you a 25% discount on your first order. I have used their products for a long time now and I generally don’t get any cramping or stomach distress when I’m working out or afterward. And no, I’m not affiliated with them whatsoever. I just like to let people know when I find a high quality product. I use their whey protein after I do strength training, and I use their recovery product after I do long bike rides. I also use some of their fuels during training to keep my energy stores up. Again, I know that what I’m putting in my body has been researched and tested by people who care about quality and who care about providing products that are as pure as possible. They even tell you what’s in the actual capsule that holds their supplements.

    I appreciate all the information, Todd. Thanks for what you’re doing.

    Reply
  14. Jamie

    Hi, just wondering about the recommendation for Tempeh as a protein source, since Tempeh is soy, but soy protein was listed as one of the harmful ingredients in the post.

    Thanks,

    Jamie

    Reply
    • Shane Irish

      JAMES PATRICK STOKES!!!!!

      Reply
  15. Lisa Wolfe

    Thanks Todd for a great post. There is a lot of packaged junk out there that promises great results. I have decreased my overall protein intake based on information gleaned from articles posted by Dr Mercola. He posted on January 20 in an article about the pros and cons of the Paleo diet:

    “When you consume protein in levels higher than recommended above, you tend to activate the mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) pathway, which can help you get large muscles but can also increase your risk of cancer. This pathway is ancient but relatively recently appreciated and has only been known for less than 20 years.”

    I have upped my consumption of healthy fats, while maintaining a diet free of grains and severely limiting sugar, and have had no trouble maintaining lean muscle mass and remaining lean/fit, even as a woman going through menopause.

    Reply
  16. Stan Purcha

    I take a Protein Shake daily which includes theses ingredients and love it:

    2 cups spinach
    2 scoops LeanFit Whey Protein Powder ( http://www.leanfit.com )
    1 cup of frozen berries
    5 fresh strawberries
    2 tablespoons flaxseed
    1 tablespoon hemp hearts
    1/2 large avocado
    3 cups water

    362 calories 8g fat 54g protein 22g carbs

    Tod or anyone. Any thoughts on this is appreciated

    Reply
  17. Michael Custer

    I make a green protein smoothie in the morning and I love it. I feel great when I drink it. I never have problems with my gut and I know that I’m getting a super boost of nutrients in the morning.

    – 2 scoops raw vegan protein (usually Sun Warrior Vanilla Warrior Blend, it’s awesome)
    – Spirulina and Chlorella tabs
    – ground seed mix (there are so many out there, just choose one!)
    – 100-150 g of some type of green (usually spinach or kale, occasionally some broccoli stems)
    – occasionally some shredded coconut (or any kind of coconut really)
    – 1-2 bananas
    – various other fruits, including berries, apples, pears, pineapples, etc.

    Very healthy, no animal products, soy, GMO, artificial anything. Just real, raw, goodness!

    Reply
  18. Rodolfo

    Oh! And the Bundle was RIDICULOUS! You provided us with a lifetime of bodyweight training and references to the top people in the game! Have you heard of Convict Conditioning? I am also meddling with it and it is sweet! See ya bro!

    Reply
    • Shane Irish

      Hi Rodolfo just wanted to say well

      Reply
  19. Rodolfo

    Hey Todd! Your pal from Brazil! You should try Primal Meal from Mark Sisson. It is made entirely of natural ingredients and it also contains Prebiotics (I believe your nutritionist gave you them to help your flora, which was superb from his part) to help bowel health. He also have a supplement for intestine flora called Primal Flora to help maintain ideal bowel health! The best thing is natural food though… and I would also keep a little distance from beans as they are difficult to digest and tend to stress your digestive system. Great post bro!

    Reply
  20. Fran

    My apologies for all the typos (embarrassed): wonderful not fonderful, very and not vet, some and not so e.

    Reply
  21. Fran

    Hi Todd,
    Thank you for all your fonderful posts! I’ve been following you for a while . Just a quick question.. Where did you find that comparative chart?(reference) I am vet familiar with The Vega line; they are 100% plant based and third party certified GMO free!! I can’t speak for any of the other proteins on the chart but there may be so e discrepancies. Also, do you believe all protein powders should be avoided? I’ve heard they have a negative impact on thyroid… Also not sure if this comprises all protein powders, including plant..?
    Thanks
    Best
    Fran

    Reply
    • Rodolfo

      Hey Fran, I believe that the GMO and other chemicals can wreak havoc with your hormones. The best thing is to stay away from what you can’t find in natue ;D

      Reply
    • Michael Custer

      I agree with Fran. Vega products are pretty great and I’m fairly sure, based on Brendan Brazier’s lifestyle, that GMO ingredients would not be allowed into his products! If there is a better example of a man that lives a super clean life than him, it’s hard to find

      I have 2 scoops of vegan protein every morning (usually Sun Warrior Vanilla Warrior Blend, which also has probiotics in it… I think?!? lol) and I don’t feel negative impacts to my gut. I believe that it’s the nasty, animal content, artificial content, whey proteins that are the worst for you and should be avoided. I’m not here on a vegetarian\vegan trip, just that this is one source of nutrition where you can avoid extra animal protein, especially crappy sources like that’s contained in so many of those whey protein powders, and eat something you know if good, raw, and healthy.

      Reply
  22. Daniel Kidd

    Todd,
    Thanks for the post and the info about protein shakes. I have been drinking protein shakes for years, but just recently upped my workout regimen and started comsuming them on a much more regular basis. I started getting constipation and having some trouble on the toilet. After reading this I decided to stop drinking shakes and see what happened. In about a week, the constipation stopped and I became very regular again. Thank you so much for the information.

    Daniel

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Awesome Daniel! So glad I could help! Although protein shakes are convenient they can wreak havoc on our intestinal tract.

      Reply
  23. James Vanderhyde

    Hi Todd. I have two questions:
    1. How can you tell if your villi have become inflamed? I tried to do some Google searches but all the came up was info about Celiac disease.
    2. What ingredients can cause inflammation?

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hey cuz! 🙂

      Signs of inflammation include redness, heat, swelling and pain. Obviously we’re talking about the gut so only the last one really applies in any noticable way. One way to “self diagnose” is to pay attention to what you eat, when you eat it and if pain develops in your gut. Then pay attention to your stool several hours afterward. The process of eating should not be painful and produce solid, formed stool. If it is not than the villi are probably inflamed. Even eating healthy food can cause problems if your gut is inflamed. The most common ingredients will be your processed foods (look for artificial colors and ingredients) as well as eggs, nuts, gluten, dairy and corn. You want to eliminate everything and then slowly introduce things to see how your body reacts.

      Hope you are doing well!

      Todd

      Reply
  24. Martin

    Hi Todd,
    That was one bad experience with that protein powder. Try out this protein Smoothie, none of that rubbish in this recipe!

    500ml Almond Milk
    1 Banana
    1 Handful Brazil Nuts
    2 tbsp. Bio Live Yogurt
    1 tbsp. Hemp Protein Powder
    2 tsp. Spirulina Powder
    1 tsp. Wheatgrass Powder
    1 tsp. Raw Cocoa Powder

    Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend for 45 – 60 seconds.

    Recipe from one of Jason (the Juice Master) Vale’s many books so should be OK as it’s all natural products.

    Kind Regards
    Martin

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Wicked Martin!!! I am definitely going to try it! I’ve never used Spirulina or Wheatgrass powder but I’m sure it is packed with phytonutrients! Mmmm…. 🙂

      Reply
      • Angela

        Hi Todd,
        This is so awful, I am sorry you had to go through this! Have you ever heard of Arbonne, we are a gluten free, vegan, non gmo, Petro chemical free company, and we have a protein powder made from pea, cranberry, and brown rice, you should check it out

        Reply
  25. Dennis Habern

    Greetings from Germany:

    I am an American citizen, currently residing in Germany.

    In addition, I consider myself an amateur body builder and am in the gym

    Monday-Friday for at least 1.5 hours. I weigh 155 pounds, but I would prefer to

    increas my weight with muscle, to 175, but I believe that I require a daily calorie

    consumption of 4000 calories. I eat well, but I have not devised a nutrition plan

    that will yield the calories that I seek, spread over 6 small meals. I am a hard gainer,

    therefore, if there is anyone out there whom can e-mail me their 7-day diet plan so

    that I can maintain an idea how to tweek your plan to fit my requirements. I can be

    reached at dennishabern@hotmail.com

    It would be great to hear from someone out there that feels that their diet plan is

    functioning well for them. I am willing to do the work in the gym. I just require

    nutritional guidance. Ha!!

    Sincerely,

    Dennis Habernk

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Dennis,

      Nice to meet you. If you wanted to send me your 7 day food log I’d be happy to glance at it and make some recommendations. todd@ashotofadrenaline.net.

      Peace!
      Todd

      Reply
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