8 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Whey Protein

No matter what your goals, whey protein can help.

In fact, it is often a required supplement for anyone trying to drop body fat, build muscles, gain better performance or boost overall health and wellness.

Whey protein powders became known 20 years ago.

First introduced in the bodybuilding market, they are high quality source of muscle-building protein that taste pretty good.

Before that, protein powders tasted bad and didn’t digest well, causing more gas and bloating than anything else.

Today, once considered a secret formula for serious athletes and body-builders, is now gaining popularity for anyone who wants to add more protein into their regular diet.




What is Whey Protein?


Whey protein is a complete protein naturally found in milk.

It contains all the amino acids the body needs and is the best source of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), which includes leucine, an amino acid known to play a key role in muscle synthesis.

Whey protein is made during the process of manufacturing cheese, which starts when a special enzyme is combined with milk.

The enzyme causes the liquid whey and curd to separate.

The curds are used for making cheese while the liquid whey is dried to powder for different uses.


Why Whey Protein?


Did you know that our body is mainly composed of protein?

Our nails, hair, bones, organs, nerves, ligaments, organs and muscles are all made up of protein!

In our everyday living (apart from the injuries, sprains, muscle fatigue), our tissues wear out and should be repaired and replaced. In order to do that, you need to provide your body with a constant supply of high quality protein.

When we speak of high quality protein, we’re not pertaining to bacon, hot dogs and other processed meats that are full of saturated fats.

These ‘less lean’ protein sources can slow downy your metabolism and clog up your arteries.

To sum up, they’re not the best protein source for your body.

Lean protein sources such as skinless chicken and turkey breasts, egg whites and whey protein are your best bets for protein consumption.

Why whey protein?

When it comes to choosing the best protein source, there are two things to consider – the ‘biological value’ of the food and the ‘protein quality’.

The quality of dietary protein is an important factor to determine what kind of protein is the most valuable and beneficial when it comes to how the body breaks it down and its nutritional content.

On the other hand, according to Wikipedia the biological value (BV) refers the “measure of the proportion of absorbed protein from a food which becomes incorporated into the proteins of the organism’s body. It captures how readily the digested protein can be used in protein synthesis in the cells of the organism. Proteins are the major source of nitrogen in food.” 

When it comes to biological value, whey protein turns out to be the highest in value (104) compared to beef (80), fish (79), soy (74) and beans (49).

In addition, all the branched-chain amino acids found in whey protein such as isoleucine, leucine, valine, glycine and arginine help promote healing of skin, muscle, bones and connective tissues.

Whey protein contains that highest amount of BCAA’s of any protein in nature.




Different Types of Whey Protein


Whey protein comes in three types:

  • Whey protein concentrate (WPC)
  • Whey protein isolate (WPI)
  • Whey protein hydrolysate (WPH)

Each of the types listed vary in their degree of processing.

Whey protein concentrate is the least processed among the three.

Because of this, it is much cheaper than other types, which makes it a preferred types for people on a budget.

This type undergoes gentle filtering called ultrafiltration – a process that creates supplement with around 70% protein, with the remaining 30% being fat and carbs.

Whey protein isolate is more packed with protein than concentrate.

It undergoes longer filtering process, such as ion-exchange chromatography and cross-flow microfiltration, which makes it a more protein-packed powder.

Whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate both offer health benefits but their difference is that the isolate form contains more protein per gram because other components such as fats, lactose, vitamins and minerals are removed.

Hydrolysed whey protein is produced when protein chains are split into smaller chains called peptides.

This type of whey protein is common in medical protein supplements, infant formulas and sports drinks.


Health Benefits of Whey Protein


Now that you learned the different types of whey protein, here are some reasons why more and more people are using it.




Maintains Healthy Weight


As part of a high-protein diet, whey protein can help with weight maintenance.

Based on clinical trials, high protein diets can help preserve lean body mass and keep a better body composition.

Whey protein is an excellent source of high quality protein, and, hence, are highly valued as part of weight management foods.

Science is increasingly acknowledging that higher protein diets provide a key to weight loss.

Studies show whey proteins, peptides and minerals can promote weight loss through influencing blood sugar balance, enhancing satiety and maintaining leaner body mass.

If you follow a higher protein diet after losing weight, you’ll only gain weight in the form of muscles.

Furthermore, it can aid in weight maintenance by promoting thermogenesis and satiety, improving body composition and boosting energy efficiency.




Curbs Hunger


Consuming more protein can help people eat less, since protein, as part of a higher protein diet, enhances the feeling the fullness compared to fat or carbohydrates.

In fact, there is an evidence showing that an increase in protein consumption can lead to lower total caloric intake and body weight.

One research evaluates the role of glycomacropeptide (GMP), a whey ingredient in suppressing appetite.

GMP is the component that is separated together with the whey.

In animal studies, researchers have found that GMP may stimulate a certain intestinal hormone that inhibits gastric secretions, inhibits gastric emptying and enhance satiety.




Builds Lean Muscle


With regular resistance exercise, whey protein can help maximize muscle growth.

Being one of the best sources of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), whey protein increases the body’s rate of making lean muscle.

As a complete protein, it provides the essential amino acids necessary to maximize the benefits of your exercise program.

Whey protein is one of the leading sources of Leucine, a type of BCAA thought to stimulate muscle growth.

Most amino acids are first broken down in the liver and later, to the muscle tissue.

But in the case of BCAA, they bypass the liver and head straight directly to the muscle tissue.

Scientists have revealed how Leucine acts as the amino acid signal to ‘switch on’ or kick off protein synthesis in the muscles.

As such, experts have recommended that people who do regular exercise follow a diet high in Leucine to help speed up rebuilding of muscles after a workout.

One way to do this is by including whey protein in your diet.

Studies show that taking whey protein in combination with exercise can enhance the rate of the body making lean muscle.

Furthermore, protein intake with resistance exercise has been revealed to be more effective at increase muscle building than the combination of carbohydrate and resistance exercise.




Enhances Exercise Recovery


What you eat after working out is very important to maximize the benefits of your exercise routine.

Incorporating whey protein in your post-workout plan can help you keep on track.

Whey protein can help repair muscle tissues after exercise.

Studies show that consuming whey protein during or after exercise may promote muscle strength, support muscle function and prevent muscle fatigue.

When you exercise, muscle breaks down and taking whey protein after exercise can help rebuilding of muscles by increasing muscle synthesis.

Recent research suggests taking whey protein to help reduce muscle soreness and improve muscle performance and function on your next workout.

Intensive exercise can reduce your glycogen stores.

If glycogen isn’t replenished after exercise, your next workout could be more challenging.

Eating carbohydrates and whey protein together can help speed replenishment of glycogen in your muscles.




Prevents Muscle Loss


Numerous evidence reveals that whey contains many bioactive substances that may have beneficial effect on cardiovascular health, immunity, bone health, loss of muscle mass and general health of adults as they age.

Whey protein appears to suit well to the unique needs of seniors.

Senior adults should pay close attention to keeping their muscle mass as chronic diseases, decreased physical activity and nutritional deficiencies may contribute to the development of Sarcopenia.

Affecting 30% of senior population, Sarcopenia is a progressive condition where there is 3% to 8% reduction of lean muscle mass every 10 years after the age of 30.

Aging muscles tend to be less responsive to amino acids compared to younger muscles.

As such, taking more than the suggested daily intake of protein (0.8 grams per kg body weight) could be favorable for senior adults to help meet their physiologic and metabolic needs.

Timing and quality are also very important factors to take into account.

Experts recommend consuming 20 to 30 grams of superior-quality protein every meal to help senior adults maximize their ability to build muscle and slow down muscle loss associated with aging.




Boosts Immunity


Avoiding illnesses and diseases largely depends on strong immunity.

Aging, busy lifestyle and exercise are all factors that compromise our immune function.

Consuming healthy, nutrient-rich foods may boost our immune system but researchers suggests that more is needed than a healthy, balanced diet to optimize our immune function for preventing disease and maintaining good health.

Compared to other protein sources, whey protein is unique due to its ability to strengthen certain key aspects of our immune system.

While the exact mechanisms are still not yet fully understood, whey protein tends to optimize immune function by increasing production of glutathione (GSH).

Glutathione is the master antioxidant of the body’s defense system.

GSH is the key component in the regulation of different immune functions.

For instance, muscle glutamine is a vital fuel for the immune system.

Hence, incorporating whey protein in the diet may help boost strong immunity and protect the health of people of all ages.




Promotes Bone Health


Emerging researches has indicated that increasing intake of protein may lower loss of bone mineral and the risk of fracture among senior women.

Compared to plant protein, animal protein has been shown to be absorbed easily.

Now, the biggest challenge is to provide enough animal protein that is easy to digest by the body.

Among the commercially available animal protein, whey protein offers the widest range of food application, from protein shakes, bars, cereals and many more.

The suggested calcium intake for adults aged 51 and above is 1,200 mg per day.

Whey protein offers up to 800 mg of calcium per 100 grams depending on the type of whey.

Whey protein is an excellent source of dietary calcium.

Increasing calcium intake through consumption of whey protein may benefit senior adults in two ways:

1. Calcium is usually recommended as a way of maintaining bone mass.

2. Calcium is important for suppressing fat cell growth, which leads to weight gain




Supports Healthy Cardiovascular System


Research by Tânia Tavares and Xavier Malcata reveal that whey contains numerous bioactive substance that may have beneficial effect on cardiovascular health.

Such studies show that certain peptides may have positive effect on hypertensive individuals.

These whey peptides may help lower cholesterol levels and prevent build-up of plaque on blood vessels.

Furthermore, it shows that whey peptides have some anti-hypertensive properties, specifically in inhibiting angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), a type of enzyme that causes blood vessel to constrict, hence increasing blood pressure.

In addition, whey also contains magnesium, calcium, B-vitamins and zinc – all of these essential nutrients help possess health properties beneficial to cardiovascular system.

Whey protein can be found in drink mixes, yogurt, powders, energy bars and other foods.

To determine if a product contains whey, see the ingredients list.

Make sure there’s whey protein near the beginning of the list.

Add whey protein into your low carb pancakes, afternoon smoothie or yogurt.

It is better to snack on protein rather than carbs, fats or sugary treats.

Don’t forget to stay within your daily limit of protein as too much of it get converted to fats.

Sometimes, it causes digestive problems such as gas, nausea and diarrhea.

Drinking whey protein during workout offers better performance while consuming a shake post-workout helps reduce muscle soreness and help build muscles.

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