Whey protein powder is one of the most popular dietary supplements used by bodybuilders, exercise aficionados, and healthy eaters. So why is this product so popular and how do you find the best whey protein product to suit your needs? There are several factors that can help guide your search.
Supplements are widely used by people who are trying to increase their intake of protein in order to build muscle, maintain muscle, improve their body composition, or lose weight. While there are different types of protein powder supplements—including soy protein and pea protein—whey protein is often favored for several reasons.
Whey protein (like other milk and meat sources of protein) contains all of the essential amino acids. In addition, whey protein is quickly absorbed by the muscles and is known to stimulate muscle growth, repair, and maintenance.
There is quite a bit of research that supports the use of whey protein supplementation in a weight loss diet or in an eating program designed to build muscle.
For example, a study that compared whey protein supplements to soy protein supplements found that when consumed 30 minutes before mealtime, whey had a greater impact on appetite and calorie intake than soy. This lead to improvements in the body weight and body composition of overweight and obese men.
And in another study, the authors concluded that while there is no strong evidence to support one protein source over another in weight loss programs, animal proteins, especially those from dairy, support better muscle protein synthesis than plant proteins.
Lastly, research has concluded that whey supplementation provides benefits immediately after and possibly before and during resistance exercise to enhance muscle growth in response to resistance training in healthy adults.
But, not all studies support whey protein supplementation. For example, a study on healthy postmenopausal women found that the supplement did not improve muscle mass or physical function.
To make sense of the conflicting studies, it's important to keep the scope and limitations of research in mind. Many studies that evaluate whey protein supplementation are small and many investigate the benefits of whey protein on very specific populations (such as elderly men). Other studies are funded by food or supplement companies, and some research is conducted on rodents. The result is that you may see the benefits of whey protein powder overstated in ads for products or in supplement stores.
So what's the bottom line? While nutrition experts agree that there may be certain benefits to using whey protein supplements, most widely respected exercise and diet organizations still recommend that you get protein (and all of your nutrients) from whole food sources.
According to a position statement published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine, "when whole food protein sources are not convenient or available, then portable, third-party tested dietary supplements with high-quality ingredients may serve as a practical alternative to help athletes meet their protein needs."
Possible Side Effects
Most people are not likely to suffer serious adverse effects when they consume whey protein powder. However, because the supplement is derived from dairy, you may experience symptoms if you are lactose intolerant. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, it is even possible (although unlikely) to have a reaction to whey protein powder if you have not previously had a reaction to milk.
The most likely side effect that most people might experience if they supplement with whey is the displacement of other healthy (or unhealthy) foods. In other words, when you consume protein in supplement form, you are less likely to benefit from nutrients and micronutrients contained in whole food proteins, such as the vitamin D in milk or the fiber in legumes.
You may even find that an increase in your overall protein consumption may result in a decrease in your consumption of other macronutrients—carbohydrate and fat. While this might benefit your diet, it can also impact it in less healthy ways. In fact, one study showed that whey protein supplementation decreased fruit consumption in older adults.
Dosage and Preparation
Getting the right amount of protein in your diet is important for overall health. There are different methods to determine your protein needs.
The Institute of Medicine's acceptable macronutrient distribution range for healthy adults suggests that 10% to 35% of total daily calories come from protein. Of course, that's a wide range. It may be helpful to personalize your protein intake based on your weight and activity level.
The recommended dietary allowance for protein needed for 97%-98% of the population is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. But if you are a heavy exerciser or athlete you may need more. Athletes may need anywhere from 1.2 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. In general, endurance athletes (such as runners and cyclists) have lower protein needs in that range and strength-trained athletes (such as bodybuilders) need more within that range.
You can also add protein powder to soups, make-it-yourself protein bars, cookies, and other recipes.
What to Look For
When shopping for the best whey protein product, you're likely to see several different terms on the package. It's helpful to know what they mean so you can make a smart decision about which supplement to buy.
Whey protein powder is 11 percent to 15 percent protein. This type of protein may be added during manufacturing to certain protein foods (such as yogurt, shakes, meal replacements, or protein bars). Whey concentrate is 25 percent to 89 percent protein, contains some lactose and fat and generally has the best taste. Whey isolate is at least 90 percent protein, contains less lactose and fat, and lacks a lot of the beneficial nutrients found in whey. Whey hydrolysate has been pre-digested for increased absorption.
If you are buying a protein supplement to add to smoothies or include in home recipes, check the ingredients list on the package to see what kind of whey protein is in the product that you choose.
Supplements are not regulated by the FDA so make sure there is a third-party organization that has verified that the supplements are free from toxins or illegal substances. USP, NSF, and Consumer Labs, are third-party organizations that ensure the quality and safety of the ingredients that are listed in a product.
The truth behind protein supplements
Protein supplements have always been popular with athletes and body builders, but are they necessary for the average person?
There are many reasons to consider using a protein supplement, and with so many varieties, including many new plant based drinks and powders on the market, it can be hard to know what to choose, or if you even need one.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of using protein supplements.
If your typical breakfast is a handful of cereal or a toaster pastry on your drive to work, adding a protein shake can be a good way to incorporate protein in your morning routine. Consuming protein in the morning with breakfast can help you stay fuller longer and provide lasting energy. Look for a supplement with moderate calories (200-350) and at least 15 grams of protein. Bonus if it contains calcium and fiber as well.
Con: Nutritionally deficient – whole foods are better.
Protein shakes are low in fiber, compared to plant proteins, and lack the benefit of vitamins and antioxidants found in whole foods. A high protein snack can provide just as much protein as a shake, can be cheaper, and provide the added benefit of a more complete nutritional profile.
One Greek yogurt can contain 17g of protein with the added benefit of calcium. Other high protein snacks include low-fat cottage cheese, edamame, almonds, hardboiled eggs, cashew butter, and pumpkin seeds. However, if you are on the run, or meal prepping is not a practice you follow, having a protein shake can be a better alternative to a bag of chips or a handful of cookies.
Pro: Aid with weight gain/weight loss.
Protein can help you stay full for longer, and so a protein shake as a snack can be a better choice than traditional high fat and high sugar snacks. Choose a lower calorie (110-160 calories) shake with at least 15g protein.
Shakes can also be a good way to gain weight if you have had a recent illness and unintentional weight loss. In this case, choose a higher calorie shake (> 300 kcal) with moderate protein to drink in between meals to promote a high calorie intake.
Con: Possibility to over supplement.
The average person needs 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This would be 54-68 grams a day for a 150-pound person. Most Americans tend to consume more protein than is actually needed by the average person; however, some people may have a medical condition or activity level that requires additional protein.
For example, if you doing vigorous exercise or are a high performing athlete your protein needs are likely to be greater. Always be sure to check with a dietitian or physician to get an individualized recommendation based on your health and lifestyle.
Despite all this talk about protein supplements don’t forget that our bodies need a balance of fat and carbohydrates in order to function properly so be sure to continue to eat balanced meals even if you chose to add a protein supplement or incorporate more protein rich foods into your diet.
Using a protein supplement or protein shake can be beneficial depending on your individual goals and needs. Always discuss any supplements with your physician, especially if you have any chronic conditions, such as kidney or liver disease.
Rebecca Person, RD, LDN, CNSC, works at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.
Although often perceived as a supplement for workouts, whey protein offers health benefits that far extend beyond its use in the fitness world. Thinking that protein powder is mainly used by athletes and bodybuilders as a supplement to recover and refuel after training is an outdated concept.
Whey has been found to have high protein content. The amount of protein in whey makes it an excellent supplement for daily intake needs.
Apart from people who are into sports and bodybuilding, whey protein can also benefit vegetarians. People who don’t eat a lot of eggs, meat, dairy, or other common sources of protein can use it.
To understand how whey protein can help you, let’s first find out what it is all about.
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is a combination of proteins that have been separated from the whey. Whey is the liquid portion of milk that is removed during cheese production.
There are two primary types of protein in milk: casein and whey.
Whey can be found in the watery part of milk. Whenever cheese is made, the fatty parts in the milk coagulate, allowing the whey to be extracted from it as a by-product.
If you’ve tried opening a container of full-fat yogurt and see liquid floating at its top, that’s whey. Cheesemakers used to just discard it before discovering the health benefits of whey protein and its commercial value.
Once it has been separated, whey is processed to become what we now call as whey protein. This is a powder that can be mixed into meals, shakes, and protein bars.
On its own, whey protein is pretty much tasteless. That is why it is often added to vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and other flavours.
Reasons to Consume Whey Protein
Protein is a vital macronutrient that we need for muscle mass development. Our bodies use protein to create enzymes that repair and build tissues. Protein is also used in strengthening bones and making our bodies stronger.
Studies have found that protein supplements, such as whey protein, have been found to help in weight loss. These supplements can fill the nutritional gap of protein in most foods, helping people achieve their recommended intake.
Here are eight reasons why you should start incorporating whey protein into your lifestyle.
1. Whey is a Great Source of Quality Protein
Whey protein is a complete, top-quality protein that contains all essential amino acids the body needs to stay healthy. Furthermore, it is highly digestible and can be absorbed faster by the body than other types of protein. These two traits make it an excellent source of dietary protein.
2. Whey Protein Helps with Muscle Growth
As we age, the muscles we have will start to decline naturally. However, people can slow down, prevent, or even reverse this adverse change in their body through a combination of a balanced diet and strength training.
Going through strength training together with a diet of high-protein foods or supplements has been shown to prevent muscle loss. High-quality sources of protein, like whey, have proven to be quite effective especially due to its leucine content. Leucine is one of the essential amino acids that promote skeletal muscle growth.
It is why whey protein have been consumed to help stop age-related muscle loss. Researchers also learned that it can improve strength and make the body look better overall.
3. Whey Protein Could Lower Blood Pressure
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hypertension, or abnormally high blood pressure, is a leading risk factor for various heart diseases.
Several studies have revealed that consuming dairy products can help reduce blood pressure. Researchers have attributed this effect to a range of bioactive peptides found in dairy called angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors (ACE-inhibitors).
In whey, its ACE-inhibitors are known as lactokinins. Studies on animals have found that these lactokinins can effectively lower blood pressure.
There are only a handful of human studies that analysed the effects of whey proteins on blood pressure. Many experts consider its evidence to be inconclusive.
In a 2010 study, for instance, overweight individuals were found to have reduced systolic blood pressure after being given whey protein supplementation for 12 weeks.
In another study that was performed on young men and women, researchers found that the subjects had reduced blood pressure after consuming whey protein for six weeks.
4. Whey Protein Could Help in Treating Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a health condition characterized by an impaired insulin function and high blood sugar. Insulin is a necessary hormone that helps regulate blood sugar in cells and keep it within a reasonable limit.
Studies have shown that whey protein could effectively moderate blood sugar, improving both insulin levels and its effectiveness in functioning. Additionally, whey protein appears to be the better choice compared to other common sources of protein, like fish or egg white.
These beneficial properties of whey protein are similar to some diabetic medications, such as sulfonylurea. This means that whey protein may be used as a supplement in treating type 2 diabetes.
5. Whey Protein Could Help with Inflammation
Inflammation is a necessary response of the body against harm. Although inflammation can be beneficial for the short-term, it could become chronic in certain circumstances.
Having chronic inflammation can turn out bad, especially since it is a risk factor for many health conditions. It could reflect bad lifestyle habits or underlying health concerns.
In a 2015 review, high levels of whey protein can significantly lower C-reactive protein, a vital inflammation marker in the body.
6. Whey Protein Could Benefit Inflammatory Bowel Disease Patients
Inflammatory bowel disease is a health condition that occurs when a person has chronic inflammation in their digestive tract lining. It is a term that encompasses both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
According to two studies, human and animal subjects were found to have reduced effects of inflammatory bowel disease after taking whey protein supplementation.
Do keep in mind that the evidence provided is inconclusive. Further studies are required before any strong claims are to be made.
7. Whey Protein Could Help Enhance Antioxidant Defence
Antioxidants are chemical substances that work against oxidation within the body. It reduces oxidative stress and minimises the risk of experiencing a range of chronic diseases.
A critical antioxidant in the body for human beings is glutathione. Compared to other antioxidants that can be obtained from food, glutathione can only be produced by the body. The production of this substance highly depends on the supply of essential amino acids, like cysteine, which can oftentimes be limited.
That is why foods that are rich in cysteine, like whey protein, could promote antioxidant levels. One study found that whey proteins may help reduce oxidative stress while increasing the amount of glutathione in the body.
8. Whey Protein May Help Reduce Hunger
Satiety is the term used to describe being full after consuming a meal. It is the opposite of hunger and appetite and should help suppress food cravings or the desire to eat.
Some foods can be more satiating than others, an effect that is partially mediated by their macronutrient composition. One of the most filling macronutrients is protein.
Not all proteins, however, have similar effects in terms of satiety. Whey protein seems to be more satiating compared to the other types of protein, such as soy and casein.
This trait makes whey protein very useful for people who wish to consume fewer calories and experience weight loss. Additionally, having fewer food cravings between meals can help you establish a regular and moderated diet.
Types of Whey Protein
There are at least three primary types of whey protein nowadays. The main difference they have with one another is the way they are processed.
Whey protein concentrate contains about 70-80% protein. This type of whey protein may contain lactose, fat, and flavouring. Whey protein isolate is composed of 90% protein or even higher. It has less lactose and fat but also lacks many beneficial nutrients present in whey protein concentrate. Whey protein hydrolysate, also called hydrolysed whey, is the type that has been pre-digested for faster absorption. Compared to isolate, whey protein hydrolysate can increase one’s level of insulin.
Out of the three, whey protein concentrate appears to be the best option overall. It is the most affordable choice and also retains most of the naturally-present nutrients in whey. A lot of people also enjoy whey concentrate because of its taste and the presence of lactose and fat.
Whey Supplementation for Muscle Mass and Strength
The most popular way of using whey protein supplements is to enhance muscle mass and strength.
Whey protein is often used by fitness models, bodybuilders, athletes, and people who want to improve their gym performance.
The following are the ways by which whey protein can promote muscle growth and strength:
Building blocks – Whey protein provides protein and essential amino acids that are necessary building blocks to promote muscle mass growth.
– Whey protein provides protein and essential amino acids that are necessary building blocks to promote muscle mass growth. Hormones – Whey protein increases anabolic hormone release that stimulates muscle growth in the body.
– Whey protein increases anabolic hormone release that stimulates muscle growth in the body. Leucine – Whey protein is high in leucine, which is known for stimulating muscle protein synthesis.
– Whey protein is high in leucine, which is known for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Better absorption – The body absorbs whey protein faster compared to other types of protein.
Whey protein is said to be quite effective in increasing muscle growth when taken before, after, or during workouts. Furthermore, muscle protein synthesis is often maximised after training.
In comparison to other protein types, like soy protein, whey has been found to perform slightly better overall.
Whey Protein Dosage and Potential Side Effects
Experts often recommend a dosage of one to two scoops (approximately 25 to 50 grams) of whey protein each day. It is best to perform supplementation after workouts. Consumers are also advised to follow the serving instructions on the product label.
For people who wish to get technical concerning their whey intake, calculating the daily recommended intake is best. You can then choose to spread how much you consume across doses of 25 to 30 grams.
Most people find this approach to be more sustainable rather than cram as much protein between meals as possible. After you have a daily intake number to aim for, having whey protein supplementation and a balanced diet can be enough to achieve your daily nutritional goals.
Make sure you are also getting the right amounts of complex carbohydrates and healthy fats needed by the body as fuel. If protein intake is on point but muscle growth has not happened, you may want to add bananas and peanut butter to your protein shakes or switch over to a gainer formula.
Do note that if you already have a high protein intake, it may be unnecessary to add more whey protein on top of your existing intake.
There are also concerns regarding protein that can cause damage to the kidneys while also potentially causing osteoporosis. However, these health concerns are unwarranted. Protein has been found to protect against osteoporosis while having no adverse effect on healthy kidneys.
However, doctors recommend that people with existing liver or kidney problems should avoid consuming whey protein. At the very least, consult a medical professional before using whey protein supplementation.
Consuming excessive amounts of whey protein can lead to digestive problems, like flatulence, diarrhea, nausea, cramping, and pain. There are also individuals who are allergic to whey.
For those who cannot tolerate standard whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate or hydrolysate may be a better choice. You can also avoid taking whey protein altogether and just consume protein-rich foods as an alternative.
Taking whey protein is a very healthy way to increase protein intake. Whey is an excellent source of protein that is quickly absorbed and used by the body. This can be particularly helpful for bodybuilders, athletes, and individuals who wish to lose weight and gain muscle mass.