When you think of nutritional supplements, whey protein is the first compound to come to mind. It’s the most popular supplement among athletes, bodybuilders and nutritionists. Whey protein is a mixture of proteins extracted from whey, the liquid part of milk. On its own, it doesn’t taste good hence the extract is usually flavoured. What we get on the shelf is a highly nutritious and delicious supplement that has an array of health benefits. Whey protein remains one of the best-studied supplements in the world and here is why.
Whey has high quality protein.
The body can manufacture amino acids. Nonetheless, there are nine essential amino acids the body cannot produce by itself. Whey protein contains all these amino acids. Moreover, it’s very digestible and has a quick absorption rate in the gut. These qualities make whey top the list of dietary sources of proteins. However, not all protein is created equal. There are three main types of whey protein powder
- Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
WPC is the most common supplement stocked on the shelves of health and nutrition stores. Its protein content varies between 25%-89%. The rest of the product contains lactose, fat minerals and moisture. The supplement owes its popularity to its pocket-friendly price.
- Whey Protein Isolates (WPI)
This is the purest form of whey protein on the market. It contains between 90%-95% protein and minimal fat. For those who are lactose intolerant they can benefit from WPI due to it’s little to no lactose composition.
- Hydrolysed Whey Protein
Long protein chains in hydrolysed whey protein have been broken down into shorter chains called peptides. As a result, the protein is easily absorbed and has lower risks of allergic reactions. Hydrolysed whey is often used in infant formulas, sports and medical nutrition.
Whey promotes muscle growth
This is perhaps the most popular effect of whey protein. When combined with strength training and adequate diet, whey protein is effective in preventing muscle loss and promoting lean muscle gain. In comparison to casein and soy, whey protein is a better anabolic stimulant. Researchers are still looking into the effect of whey protein on age-related muscle loss, however, chronically ill patients like HIV/AIDS patients have been shown to benefit greatly from the anabolic properties of whey protein.
Although all types of food will eventually make you full, the most satiating macronutrient is dietary protein. Proteins induce satiety by various mechanisms including thermic effect, physiologic processes related to metabolism, gastrointestinal function and gut hormones. Studies show that whey protein induces satiety and reduces post-prandial cravings more than other forms of proteins like soy and casein. Therefore, a simple shake alongside your breakfast is enough to reduce your cravings and keep your food intake in check.
Eating more to lose weight sounds illogical until you try out whey protein. An effective way to approach weight management includes increasing dietary protein or modifying the carbohydrate to protein ratio in food. A low carbohydrate to protein ratio increases fat loss and retains lean muscle. Intake of whey causes acute hormonal responses causing hyperinsulinemia, low cortisol and increased ghrelin release. Metabolism is consequently altered leading to minimal lipogenesis, lean muscle preservation and satiety enhancement. Ultimately there is decrease in body fat.
Regulation of blood sugars
Type II diabetes is a chronic metabolic disease characterized by high blood sugar and impaired function of insulin. Studies show that whey protein lowers after-meal blood sugar levels more effectively than other protein sources like tuna and soy. Whey protein is insulinogenic, therefore, it raises insulin levels and enhances the sensitivity to its effects. Both healthy individuals and diabetics can benefit from whey protein supplementation.
Studies show that whey protein enhances the body’s antioxidant defenses. Glutathione is one of the most important endogenous antioxidants. Its production is dependent on the supply of several amino acids like cysteine. Consequently, high-cysteine foods like whey protein boost the natural antioxidant defenses in the body. Whey protein has also been linked to the reduction of chronic inflammation. Patients suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease have benefited from whey protein supplementation.
Despite its numerous benefits, whey protein is a supplement and not a replacement for dietary food. Moreover, if your protein intake is already high, adding whey protein has little effect. The recommended dose of whey protein is usually 25-50 grams per day (1-2 scoops). The packaging always comes with serving instructions which must be followed carefully. Concerns have been raised about the effects of whey protein on the kidneys and its role in osteoporosis. These concerns are unfounded considering whey protein has been proved to protect against osteoporosis. Nonetheless, if you have a medical condition it’s important to check with your physician before taking whey.
Bottom line, whey is an unparalleled healthy source of dietary protein that is beneficial to the human body.