If you have IBS, SIBO or acid reflux, you may be wondering how much protein you should be eating when you have digestive conditions.
Every single one of our clients is on a personalized dietary protocol to address gut health issues like IBS, SIBO or acid reflux.
If there is one thing our clients have in common, it is confusion surrounding protein intake with IBS, SIBO and acid reflux.
Before they started nutrition counseling, most of our clients were not eating balanced meals. Most were eating carbohydrate-loaded breakfasts like a bagel (or skipping breakfast) then having a moderate serving of protein for lunch and having the biggest serving of protein for dinner.
What is wrong with this scenario?
Meals Without Protein Can Lead to Digestive & Other Symptoms
Meals that do not include adequate servings of protein and fat will set you up for hunger and fatigue within a couple of hours. Meals that are mostly carbohydrates will spike your blood sugar (also known as glucose) and then cause it to plummet shortly thereafter. This drop in blood glucose sends a signal to the brain that you are hungry and need more food. Not only will you be more likely to snack but it can increase your cravings for more carbohydrates only for the cycle to repeat again.
When this cycle happens too often, excess blood glucose can lead to inflammation across the body. This manifests in many ways such as weight gain, gut inflammation, acne, joint pain, and increased cholesterol levels, to name a few.
Not meeting your protein needs with EVERY meal can lead to:
- Anxiety and depression
- Being hungry and hangry
- Increased brain fog
- Worsening of GI issues due to increase in gut inflammation
- Headaches and migraines
- Poor sleep
- And more!
Most clients believe these symptoms are related to their gut health condition but we find that they improve tremendously when they have balanced meals. And that is often the first thing we recommend.
Further, when you have an extra-large serving of protein for dinner, when you have IBS, SIBO or acid reflux, this can be hard to digest. This is another reason why we often recommend spreading the protein intake out evenly through the day.
Protein for IBS, SIBO and Acid Reflux is Important
As we just discussed, meals with protein can help keep blood glucose levels steady. And you may know that muscle is comprised of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. We also use amino acids to make enzymes, neurotransmitters and hormones – really important biological compounds essential to bodily functions.
How Much Protein Do You Need With IBS, SIBO or Acid Reflux?
Of course, how much protein you need depends on numerous factors such as your age, your gender, your activity level, your health conditions and so on.
Protein needs range from the bare minimum of 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight for healthy but sedentary people to a maximum of 2.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight for elite athletes (1). To convert your weight in pounds to kilograms use this formula: Weight in pounds/2.2 = kilograms. So 150 lbs = 68 kg.
Who May Have Higher Protein Requirements?
Most everyone! Those who may need more than the minimum 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight include:
- Everyone who doesn’t want to lose muscle mass!
- Older populations require more protein to help retain muscle mass.
- Chronically ill or injured populations require more protein to repair muscle and tissue (depending on the condition).
- Athletes and those wanting to build muscle require more protein to build and repair muscle.
- Pregnant & lactating women need more protein to meet the demands of the growing baby.
- Those wanting to lose weight so you don’t also lose muscle mass in the weight loss process.
- Vegans and vegetarians have higher protein needs because plant sources of protein are not as digestible as animal based proteins.
You may have higher than average protein needs but be mindful not to exceed your protein requirements. Just like excess carbohydrates and fat, excess protein can also be converted to fat.
Who May Have Lower Protein Requirements?
Those who may need to stick with the lower end of the protein requirements include:
- Potentially those with chronic kidney disease
When to Eat Protein?
When you have IBS, SIBO and acid reflux, it’s important to spread protein in our meals throughout the day for balanced blood sugar but also because digesting large amounts for dinner is hard on the GI tract.
We also want to retain the muscle we have or build muscle, right? In order to stimulate “muscle protein synthesis”, which is a fancy term for building muscle, we need to ingest between 20 – 40 grams per meal (1). So it’s best to spread out your daily need for protein throughout the day.
What does 20-40 grams of protein look like?
Mix and match these protein sources to create a meal with 20 – 40 grams of protein depending on your needs:
- Organic chicken or turkey breast – 25 grams per 3 ounce serving
- Fish like wild salmon, sardines, tuna, halibut, cod, etc. – 21 – 24 grams per 3 ounce serving
- Grass-fed beef steak – 26 grams per 3 ounce serving
- Greek yogurt (unsweetened) – 23 grams per cup
- Cooked lentils – 18 grams per cup
- Beans (navy, black, chickpeas) – about 15 grams per cup
- Hard cheese like cheddar & Swiss – 8 grams per ounce
- Nuts and seeds – range from 6 – 9 grams per ounce
- Nut and seed butters –range from 6 – 8 grams per 2 tablespoon serving
- Eggs – 6 grams each
Don’t forget there are smaller amounts of protein in grains and vegetables, so those foods can help you meat your protein needs.
Protein on a Low-FODMAP Diet for IBS & SIBO
If you are on a low-FODMAP diet for IBS or SIBO, keep in mind that most animal-based proteins such as poultry, fish, meat and eggs are low in FODMAPS with the exception of high lactose dairy products like milk and yogurt. Low-lactose dairy such as lactose-free milk, lactose-free yogurt as well as hard cheese such as cheddar, Gouda, feta and goat cheese are low in FODMAPS.
Plant-based proteins such as tofu and tempeh are low-FODMAP. But some plant-based proteins such as lentils and beans, as well as some nuts are high in FODMAPs. In large amounts, these types of proteins may be hard to digest and may cause symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhea.
Spot Check Protein in Your Diet
Tracking your food intake via My Fitness Pal or Cronometer can be a good way to see just how much protein you are eating. And for making sure your breakfast has enough protein. Yes, it’s a pain but it is a worthwhile exercise when starting a new food plan.
Meeting Your Protein Needs Improves Gut Health
No matter which gut-healing diet they’re using, when our clients have more balanced meals, they are shocked to see how much better they feel. They have more energy, improved sleep, less anxiety and see major improvements in their SIBO, IBS and reflux symptoms.
You can learn how to customize your own gut-healing protocol for SIBO in our Solving SIBO program. Enrollment is opening soon. Join the waitlist!
Sara Kahn, MS, CNS, CDN is a board-certified nutritionist specializing in digestive health conditions like SIBO, IBS, acid reflux and more. She’s the founder of Belly Bliss Nutrition and the Solving SIBO Program.