If you’re thinking of adding protein supplements to your diet - for whatever reason - you’ve probably considered whey protein.
The supplement is used by gym-goers and people undergoing treatments for a range of health conditions, for varying reasons. The protein - often mixed into a flavoured shake - is used commonly before, during or after a gym session, but it is sometimes recommended for people who don’t live as active lifestyles.
Skip to find out more about:
What is whey protein?
Whey protein is a by-product of the cheese-making process. Whey makes up about 20% of milk, and has to go through a number of processing steps to become the powder most of us are familiar with.
There are three types of whey protein: whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate and hydrolysed whey. These have varying protein, lactose and fat contents and provide different health benefits.
- Whey protein concentrate is approximately 70-80% protein, with moderate fat and lactose levels.
- Whey protein isolate has higher protein content, at about 90%, with lower levels of lactose and fat (but also much lower levels of nutrients, too).
- Hydrolysed whey is absorbed faster than the other types, causing a sharp rise in insulin levels.
Which type should you go for? Whey protein concentrate usually works out the best, being the most nutritious overall and the most flavoursome, thanks to the lactose and fat it contains. Low-carb and low-fat diets, however, are better suited to the other two types.
What are the health benefits of whey protein?
Whey protein is a popular supplement used by people looking to gain muscle, increase their strength and lose body fat.
But there’s much more to it than that! With all nine essential amino acids and a host of other nutrients, so upping your whey protein intake can be a fantastic addition to many diets. Let’s explore some of the health benefits:
1. Whey protein helps build muscle strength and mass
Wanting to gain lean muscle mass is one of the most popular reasons people decide to incorporated whey protein into their diet and workout plans.
Whey protein is an effective supplement if this is your goal - being high in all nine essential amino acids (and particularly leucine) helps here. Protein and amino acids acts as the building blocks for muscle protein synthesis and growth. It’s the high quality of whey protein that makes a difference here, compared to other protein sources.
However, effects will only be seen when combined with a strength training programme.
2. Whey protein helps you lose weight
Protein is the most satisfying nutrient of all - helping us to feel fuller after eating it as part of our meal. In fact, one study found that a diet consisting of 30% protein helped participants consume approximately 441 calories fewer a day.
Another study found that replacing other calories with whey protein, on average, reduced body weight by 4.20kg and the amount of body fat lost by 3.74kg.
3. Whey protein boosts our immune system
Looking for a way to boost your immune system, helping you to be at your peak? Whey protein has been found to enhance the body’s glutathione - an antioxidant vital for healthy immune systems.
This, in turn, prevents harmful bacteria and germs from infecting us and causing illness.
4. Whey protein can help with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Whilst we already know that whey protein has been found to lower levels of the key marker of inflammation (C-reactive protein) in the blood, the relationship between the supplement and Inflammatory Bowel Disease is starting to be explored.
And despite being in its early stages of research, initial studies suggest that there are some beneficial effects between whey supplementation and reduced symptoms of IBD.
5. Whey protein might help regulate your blood pressure
Whilst there isn’t a lot of human-based evidence to support this, initial studies have proved positive.
Dairy products in general have ‘ACE’ inhibitors - in whey protein, these are thought to contribute to the effects of one study’s findings; overweight individuals who consumed high levels of whey protein showed a 4% drop in their blood pressure.
6. Whey protein may help manage type 2 diabetes
Whey protein has been found to be effective in helping to moderate the high blood sugar levels diabetics experience, as well as improving insulin sensitivity.
Does whey protein have side effects?
Whey protein supplements aren’t harmful when consumed in moderate amounts. However, if large amounts of the protein is consumed, side effect may include:
- Increased bowel movements
To avoid this, stick to the recommended doses for whey protein supplementation. For improved athletic performance, this is suggested to be 1.2-1.5 grams per kilograms of body weight, for 6-10 weeks (with strength and resistance training).
Should you use whey protein?
There are two main groups of people who should avoid whey protein - pregnant women, and people who are lactose intolerant.
Whey protein - and particularly whey protein concentrate - is a safe a reliable supplement to incorporate into your diet, especially if you’re looking to improve your body composition and strength.