For those trying to get in shape and burn fat, whey protein can be an invaluable addition to your healthy diet, but before adding this supplement to your daily routine, it is important to understand where it comes from, how much should be consumed, and its potential health effects.
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein, like many other forms of protein, contains valuable amino acids and can act as a material for muscle growth. However, many people assume that all proteins are the same, but this is simply not true. Whey protein is widely considered one of the best forms of protein because it is a complete protein. It is considered so as it contains all of the amino acids needed by the body.
Whey protein has also been extensively studied in recent decades. Whey protein is a protein that is derived from milk, which contains two types of protein – casein and whey. Whey is the liquid element of milk that can be separated during the production of cheese. When key enzymes are added, it causes the fatty portions of the milk to separate into the solid portions that can be made into cheese. The liquid that is left behind is called whey. This liquid is then pasteurized, dehydrated and turned into a powder, which is commonly sold as a supplement.
This highly processed and dehydrated powder can then be consumed in various forms, typically in nutritional shakes or workout beverages. Due to the unpleasant flavor of whey protein, artificial flavors are usually added. Whey protein is particularly high in Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), such as cysteine and leucine. These key amino acids can have a significant impact on various parts of the body and elements of overall health. Furthermore, the bioavailability of the amino acids in whey protein is very high, with a Biological Value score of approximately 100. This means that the proteins are easily digestible – and readily available for use within the body.
How to Take Whey Protein?
It is important to remember that protein should be consumed every single day, and experts recommend between 1-2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Most people, therefore, require between 60 and 120 grams of protein every day, depending on their body weight.
Whey protein serving sizes tend to be measured in “scoops”, but that isn’t standardized across the industry, and different brands or products may provide a different amount of proteins, ranging from 12 grams of protein per scoop to as much as 22 grams or more. Depending on how much of a protein boost you require, pay close attention to the packaging details of your powder to know what is the right amount for you.
There are also three major types of whey protein: isolate, concentrate, and hydrolysate. Isolate protein contains 90% protein or higher, and tends to lack excess carbohydrates or fat. Concentrate protein has between 70-80% protein but offers some natural sugars and fats. Hydrolysate is a protein that has already been pre-digested (hydrolyzed), so the body can absorb it much faster, but this will typically cause a major spike in insulin levels.
In terms of consuming whey protein powder, the most popular methods include blending it with either milk or water. Certain whey protein powders tend to be clumpier when mixed with milk, which can make it unpleasant to drink, so many people prefer to mix the powder with water, which seems to blend better. Water also has no calories, fat or carbohydrates, all of which can be provided by milk. If you are being careful with your calorie intake, water may be a better choice. That being said, milk also delivers small amounts of calcium, vitamin D, potassium and phosphorus, which have many benefits for the body.
Health Benefits of Whey Protein
There are many reasons for using whey protein powder for your health, including its ability to aid in weight loss, gain muscle mass, increase the antioxidant levels, protect your heart health, decrease recovery and repair time and strengthen the immune system, among others.
Not only does whey protein give you an energetic boost that can ease your workout, but it has also been shown to suppress the production of ghrelin, the “hunger” hormone in your body that pressures you to reach for another snack between meals. This combination of whey protein’s effects can definitely help you slim down and stay within your calorie restrictions.
Increases Muscle Mass
Perhaps the most important purpose or benefit of whey protein is the effect that it has on your muscle mass. As a complete protein, whey protein provides all of the amino acids that the body requires, including those that it cannot normally synthesize. Amino acids are the building blocks of the body, particularly of muscle tissues. Consuming this type of protein supplement can help increase fat-free muscle mass and it boosts overall strength.
Prevents Chronic Disease
One of the most important antioxidants in your body may be something you’ve never heard of – glutathione. This water-based antioxidant is extremely important in seeking out free radicals and preventing oxidative stress. However, its production is dependent on cysteine, an amino acid that many people are deficient in. Whey protein, however, is rich in cysteine and can help the body increase glutathione production, which can lower your risk of chronic disease.
Improves Heart Health
Research has shown that regular use of whey protein can cause a decrease in LDL (bad) cholesterol and an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol. Additionally, triglyceride levels drop when you have an adequate amount of protein in your system, which will reduce inflammation and protect you from atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, and coronary heart disease.
Speeds up Recovery & Repair
The branched-chain amino acids found in whey protein are particularly sought after, as they are very good for improving repair processes in the body, such as those that are required following an intense workout. The tissues that are damaged or torn during a workout need to be “filled in” and repaired, resulting in muscle growth, but BCAAs, as well as leucine, can be directly broken down as a raw material for these repair processes.
Studies have shown that having a proper amount of whey protein is beneficial for immune system function. This is because of the antioxidant effects of glutathione and the reduction in strain on the body when repair and growth processes are handled efficiently.
Best Whey Protein Powders
There are countless whey protein powders on the market. Some of the best options are listed below, with a brief summary of their unique benefits.
A mixture of casein and whey powders, this protein powder is excellent for suppressing the appetite and boosting the energy during a workout.
BiPro Whey Isolate
This is a pure form of whey protein, with almost all of the lactose removed, making it ideal for people who are lactose intolerant.
Prosource Nytrowhey Ultra Elite
This high-ranking powder combines whey isolate and hydrolysate, as well as other key amino acids to stimulate rapid muscle growth.
Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey
This is a 100% whey protein product, rather than a blend of casein, soy, and other powders, providing a boost of energy and muscle mass.
MyProtein Impact Whey
A popular and a pure product, this has the least carbohydrates and fats and is composed solely of whey protein for an incredible muscle growth.
Whey Protein Side Effects
Although the potential health benefits of whey protein are clear, there are some health concerns which you should be aware of. They are a reduction in blood sugar, lactose intolerance issues, bleeding disorders, drowsiness, low blood pressure and gastrointestinal distress, among others.
Blood Sugar: Some people report a drop in blood sugar, which is a good way to regulate glucose and insulin levels if you are at risk of diabetes, but hypoglycemia can also be very dangerous for those suffering from diabetes.
Lactose Intolerance: Many people are lactose intolerant, or sensitive to that natural sugar, and it is found in many whey protein products. Look for those that have lactose removed to avoid the unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects.
Bleeding: There have been reports that regularly using whey protein can result in problems for people with bleeding disorders. By thinning the blood, whey protein can help cardiovascular health, but not for those who already have a problem of blood clotting.
Drowsiness: Despite the energetic boost that most people associate with protein powders, there is also a regular occurrence of fatigue or drowsiness after extended use. Pay attention to your body and do not attempt to lift heavy objects (e.g., during a workout) or drive if you are feeling tired.
Blood Pressure: A drop in the blood pressure is common for people using a whey protein supplement. While this can be perfectly normal, it is dangerous for people who are also on blood pressure medication.
Stomach Problems: Some people are allergic to high concentrations of whey protein, and in some cases, those with a sensitive stomach may experience flatulence, bloating, cramping and stomach upset after regularly consuming these supplements.