9 Whey Protein Benefits (More Muscle, Less Fat!), Plus Choosing the Right Product
If you are looking to burn fat, build lean muscle, boost your immune system and prevent disease, then look no further than whey protein. Whey is so effective because it provides a more absorbable source of protein than any other type of food or supplement, and it’s easy to digest.
No wonder it has become one of the most popular protein supplements on the market today.
If you’re still confused about the benefits of supplementing with protein powders like whey, remember that protein is absolutely essential to rebuilding your cells and tissues, keeping bodily fluids in balance, protecting enzyme functions, supporting your nerves and muscle contraction, and boosting the health of your skin, hair and nails. Clearly, getting enough protein in your diet is very important, and using high-quality protein powders is a great way to consume more protein without adding a lot more calories or carbohydrates to your diet.
Whey protein is one of the most popular proteins for athletes and bodybuilders because of its muscle-enhancing effects. Not only does it work to build muscle and enhance your body’s composition, but it also speeds up the recovery of broken down and stressed muscles after exercise.
According to research published in the Journal of Food Science, whey protein is one of the highest-quality proteins because of its amino acid content and rapid digestibility. It works quickly to aid your muscles so they can heal, rebuild and grow.
What Is Whey Protein?
There are two types of protein found in milk: whey and casein. Whey is the translucent liquid part of milk that remains after the cheese manufacturing process, after coagulation and curd removal.
The term “whey” refers to a complex substance that is separated from the liquid and made up of a combination of protein, lactose, minerals, immunoglobulins and trace amounts of fat. The protein and some highly bioactive peptides found in whey are what make it a superfood for fat loss and building lean muscle.
Types of Whey Protein
You’ll be able to find three main types of whey protein, which are distinguished by the processing method.
- Whey protein concentrate: This is the best and least processed form of whey protein because it contains low levels of fat and cholesterol and higher levels of bioactive compounds in the form of lactose. Because it’s minimally processed, it retains the health-promoting nutrients that are found naturally in whey. You may even find that whey protein concentrate has a more satisfying flavor than other types of whey protein, which is due to its lactose and fat content.
- Whey protein isolate: Whey protein isolate undergoes further processing in order to remove most of the carbohydrates and fats that are found in whey protein concentrate. Isolates contain about 90 percent or more protein. Whey protein isolate has a lower lactose content than concentrates.
- Whey protein hydrolysate: When whey protein isolate is hydrolyzed, larger proteins are broken down into smaller, digestible pieces. The proteins in hydrolysates can be broken down with heat, enzymes or acids. Hydrolysates are meant to be absorbed more rapidly, and they increase blood insulin levels, which is helpful for athletes who want to grow lean muscle.
Here are some common questions regarding whey protein and how it can be used to benefit your body:
How do you use whey protein?
Whey protein is dried and sold in powder form, and it’s easily reconstituted by adding liquid. To use whey protein, simply add one scoop (or about 28 grams) of a high-quality powder to any shake or smoothie.
For example, have a whey protein shake for breakfast and another one after your workout. There are a ton of protein shake recipes that can be prepared with whey protein powder.
Prepping protein shakes is an easy and portable way to increase your daily protein consumption, lose weight, build muscle mass and boost your immune system.
What is whey protein isolate?
Whey protein isolate is when the fat has been removed from the supplement, and it’s lower in bioactivated compounds. Although whey protein isolate is known to be the purest protein source available, containing protein concentrations of 90 percent or higher, the problem with isolates is that the proteins can often be denatured due to manufacturing, making it harder on your digestive tract.
The denaturation process involves breaking down protein structures and losing their peptide bonds, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the protein.
As mentioned above, there’s also a type of whey called whey hydrolysate, which is known to be less allergenic than whey protein concentrate or whey isolates, but it’s by far the most processed type of whey protein and the proteins in it have also been denatured.
Are protein shakes good for you?
A common question is whether or not whey protein powder is good for you. Nearly everyone can benefit from consuming protein shakes.
High-quality protein powders contain a number of beneficial nutrients, including antioxidants and amino acids. Research shows that athletes in particular need to increase their protein consumption in order to achieve muscle recovery after hard workouts. Plus, supplementing with natural protein powders can boost your energy levels and reduce hunger.
The efficacy of any protein shake depends on the quality of your protein powder, so opt for organic, grass-fed whey concentrate, and avoid whey isolates and powders made with artificial ingredients.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one scoop (28 grams) of whey protein powder contains roughly the following:
- 100 calories
- 5 grams carbohydrates
- 20 grams protein
- 1.5 grams fat
- 1 gram fiber
- 94.7 milligrams calcium (9 percent DV)
The constituents of whey protein provide high levels of essential amino acids, incuding branched-chain amino acids. It is the bioactivity of these proteins that gives whey protein its many beneficial properties.
Cysteine is an amino acid that is amply present in whey protein. It is extremely beneficial because it enhances glutathione levels, an important antioxidant that can help reduce the risk of cancer and diseases caused by oxidative stress.
Research shows that the branched-chain amino acids in whey also play an important role in whey’s health benefits because they promote the maintenance of tissue and prevent muscle breakdown during exercise.
In order to reap the benefits of whey protein’s constituents, you have to choose the best source that’s available.
When purchasing whey protein, opt for whey concentrate that comes from grass-fed cows. Look for a whey protein powder that is natural or organic and is completely free of hormones, pesticides, artificial ingredients, gluten and genetically modified organisms.
Avoid any whey protein that is processed, like whey protein isolate. Remember that certain isolates contain denatured proteins that make the supplement ineffective.
Plus, cheaper whey protein isolates often contain added artificial sweeteners that can be hard on the digestive system and neurotoxic. Organic whey concentrate from grass-fed cows gives you the largest amount of compounds, like immunoglobulins and minerals, that support many body functions.
1. Increases Strength and Builds Muscle
Whey protein is the most efficient way to add protein to your diet without extra calories from carbohydrates or fats. It typically contains 80 percent to 90 percent protein, which provides the body with what it needs to build muscle and strength, while recovering quickly after a workout.
According to research published in the Journal of Food Science mentioned above, whey protein stimulates muscle synthesis to a greater degree than both casein and soy protein products. Researchers noted that adding supplemental protein to your diet can help promote gains in muscle mass — especially when paired with resistance or burst training — maintain muscle mass even during caloric restriction and slow down the natural loss of muscle that occurs as you age.
A 2007 study conducted at Baylor University analyzed the use of supplemental protein and amino acids on 19 males who exercised four times per week. Researchers found that supplementing with 20 grams of protein, which was made up of 14 grams of whey and casein protein, and six grams of free amino acids led to greater increases in total body mass, fat-free mass, thigh mass and muscle strength compared to those taking the carbohydrate placebo.
2. Burns Fat
A 2014 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition examined the effect of whey protein, with and without resistance exercise, on body weight and body composition. Researchers found that adults supplementing with whey experienced significant decreases in body fat and body weight. The results were even more significant among adults who combined whey protein supplementation with resistance exercise.
A study published in Nutrition and Metabolism evaluated the effect of a specialized whey supplement when taken by participants who reduced their caloric intake by 500 calories per day. Compared to the control group participants who also reduced their caloric intake by 500 calories, both groups lost a significant amount of weight, but the group supplementing with whey lost significantly more body fat (6.1 percent of their body fat mass) and showed a greater preservation of lean muscle.
3. Reduces Cravings
Whey protein seems to affect both ghrelin and leptin, two hormones that help regulate your appetite. Leptin primarily affects energy balance, which helps suppress food intake, while gherlin regulates hunger and plays a role in meal initiation.
These hormones work together to tell your body when it needs to eat. Studies show that in obese patients the circulating levels of leptin are typically increased, whereas ghrelin levels are decreased. Whey helps balance out leptin and gherlin secretion, thereby decreasing hunger cravings and helping you stop overeating.
A 2013 study published in the Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that whey protein can help reduce caloric intake as a result of various physiological mechanisms. The amino acid content in whey protein is the main factor that influences satiety, according to researchers.
Plus, whey’s effect on satiety and food intake is mediated by the release of ghrelin and other satiety-inducing hormones. These hormones are released in the gastrointestinal system after protein consumption, which may account for food intake suppression when supplementing with whey protein.
4. Stabilizes Blood Sugar Levels
Whey is able to stabilize blood sugar levels when it’s consumed right before meals with a high glycemic index. It stimulates the production of insulin and prevents dramatic spikes in blood sugar levels.
According to research published in the World Journal of Diabetes, whey protein can be used for the management of diabetes symptoms. It slows gastric emptying, stimulates insulin and gut hormones like incretin, which is released after you eat, and works to decrease blood glucose levels.
Whey protein can naturally reduce blood sugar levels after meals, especially when it’s consumed a few minutes before a meal.
5. Improves Energy
Whey protein increases glycogen, which is a source of energy during exercise or heavy activity, and it enhances the effect of leptin, a hormone that affects energy balance. Plus, because whey is easily digested and accessed by the body, it is converted into energy quickly and can help naturally boost energy levels.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that females experienced an increase in performance markers when they consumed whey protein after resistance training. Some of the performance markers tested in the female basketball players included agility running, vertical jumping and muscle endurance.
The improved energy levels and performance are due to the amino acids that are present in whey protein. When the body lacks sufficient levels of amino acids, that’s when you experience muscle wasting and delayed exercise recovery after a workout.
In a 2014 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, scientists evaluated the efficacy of whey protein on 40 mice during exercise training. They found that whey supplementation improved exercise performance, strength and body composition.