Struggling with excess weight and poor diet is a modern problem. The hectic life and a growing number of obligations dictate the way we are taking care of ourselves.
Still, having a healthy diet isn’t an unachievable goal. Scientists have been able to identify many super nutritious foods that help our bodies greatly. We only need to make a small effort to add them to our everyday diet. Furthermore, this type of food also helps us deal with the accompanying problem – the excess weight. One example of such a high-quality ingredient is whey protein.
Everyone knows whey protein has numerous benefits for our health and fitness. This article will help you learn everything you need to know about whey protein and how it can improve your life and health.
What can you use whey protein for
In short, whey protein derives from whey. Whey is a substance looking like watery milk that separates from curds during the production of cheese. Whey protein is the protein present in this liquid. Processed meat and other food products occasionally use dried whey protein as a binding ingredient but the majority of wheat protein comes in the form of powder. The powder is sold in tubs that come with scoops for measuring the portions for a shake or smoothie. Some powder formulas contain artificial flavor, meaning you can simply add them to water and immediately drink.
The most frequent reason why people use whey protein is for athletic purposes. Whey protein improves your athletic performance if you take it after a workout because its amino acids help the muscles recover faster and increase their mass. People with protein deficiency should also use whey protein.
It’s also interesting to note athletes use whey protein that is transformed into the powder supplement. The process includes several steps. First, cow’s milk is transporting to a facility where it will be separated through special processes. During the separation process, enzymes speed it up and it produces cheese. At the same time, the curds and the liquid whey separate, liquid whey extracts and process goes further on.
Why is whey protein so special?
There are several reasons why whey protein is different than others and why it would be great to add it to your diet.
First of all, whey protein contains the highest protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS). This represents the measure of how well the protein digests and to what extent it provides you with amino acids. In other words, whey protein digests very easily and its amino acids take up quickly and to a great extent.
Secondly, whey protein is a complete protein. It means it contains all essential amino acids. Your body can’t produce these amino acids on its own, which means you need to take them through food supplements.
Additionally, whey contains the highest number of BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) than any other protein, more precisely, leucine.
Three types of whey protein
The following three types of whey protein are highly popular but different in the way they process:
- Concentrate – there is 70-80% of protein. The concentrate also contains lactose (milk sugar) and fat but it also has the best taste.
- Isolate – contains 90% protein but also less lactose and fat. It also lacks in many other important nutrients present in the concentrate.
- Hydrolysate – also known as hydrolyzed whey. It has been pre-digested, which means it is easier and faster to absorb it. However, it leads to a 28-43% higher spike in insulin levels compared to isolate effects.
After comparing all three, it turns out whey protein concentrate is the best option. Different concentrates can contain between 29 and 89% of protein, depending on the product, and it also includes fat and lactose. The concentrate also has more bioactive compounds than the other two types. In other words, it is more nutritious.
However, people who are sensitive to dairy products can find it harder to digest the concentrate. And since it’s richer with fats and carbs than the other two, it is somewhat higher in calories.
Still, it is the most affordable option and many people prefer its taste duet to a higher amount of fat and lactose. In case you have big problems tolerating the concentrate or you want to keep fat and carbs as low as possible, the other two options are the better choice for you.
The connection between whey protein and increased muscle mass and strength
This may be the most known benefit of whey protein, especially for athletes. They are always looking for ways to improve their muscle mass and strength to achieve better results.
When protein helps the muscles in the following ways:
- leucine – this amino acid stimulates muscle protein synthesis, both at the molecular and genetic level.
- hormones – whey protein increases the production of anabolic hormones (one of which is insulin), which stimulate muscle growth
- protein and amino acids – they serve as building blocks in your muscles
- fast absorption – whey protein absorbs much quicker and easier compared to other proteins.
More precisely, certain research has shown that whey protein is much more effective if you consume it right before the workout, during it or just after the workout. On the other hand, some recent review has shown that total protein intake throughout the day is more important than when you take it in terms of muscle growth.
Still, whey protein shows better results than other proteins in case you are aiming at increased muscle mass.
When we compare body fat to muscle tissue, the fact is that muscle tissue needs more calories to sustain itself. Bodybuilders and athletes are a clear example of this. It’s no secret they eat thousands of calories every day but they still look very lean. On the other hand, many people who are trying to lose weight are doing it in the wrong way. They are skipping meals and starving themselves but, in the end, they don’t lose almost any weight at all. In other words, muscle mass is the only thing that counts, and not the overall intake of calories.
Overall fat loss
If you take one scoop of whey protein, you will give your body 20 grams of protein, 1 gram of fiber, 5 grams of carbs, no fat at all and only 100 calories. Maybe now you think that whey protein makes you lose weight because it’s low in calories but that is only one part of a great story.
As whey protein increases the level of satiety hormones and inhibits hunger hormones (more on that later), it makes you feel full longer. It also reduces blood sugar levels, which also contributes to feeling full. It’s when our blood sugar level drops that we crave for fatty or sugary foods.
As whey protein supports your metabolic health, it also reduces fat mass in your body. Alfa- and beta-lactoglobulin in whey protein are responsible for preventing more weight gain and also improving glycemic control. In case you are overweight or obese, whey protein, especially in the form of shakes, can help you get rid of the excess fat and also lower the risk of many cardiovascular problems.
Belly fat issues
You will probably read somewhere now and then that bodybuilders and fitness models get the best whey protein to make shakes and lose belly fat. It is a fact that whey protein can reduce abdominal adiposity and visceral fat if you also exercise regularly. As whey protein also improves insulin resistance, it can help reduce visceral fat.
“Belly fat” is actually a made of two types of fat – visceral and subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat surrounds your internal organs and can lead to the development of heart diseases, fatty liver disease, cancer, and many other illnesses. Visceral fat also triggers chemicals that lead to inflammation.
There are two milk proteins in whey, lactoferrin and immunoglobulin, which protect you from inflammations and obesity. They balance the healthy bacteria in your stomach and help the loss of visceral fat. If you add strength training to your exercise, you can maximize the benefits of whey protein and lose belly fat faster.
It goes without saying that if you feel your appetite decreases and you feel full for a longer period of time, you will probably lose some weight as you will eat less.
Whey protein affects your hunger and appetite in two ways.
First of all, it increases levels of hormones like GLP-1, PYY and CKK, which reduce your appetite. Simultaneously, it reduces the levels of ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone.
Secondly, proteins in general make you feel full longer. There has been a study in which participants ate a high-protein breakfast. Later on, it has been noted that they ate up to 135 fewer calories that day. Another study showed that overweight men who increased their protein intake by 25% also had 60% less frequent cravings and late-night snacks. In case you opt for whey protein shakes, 20 grams of whey protein per shake will be enough to reduce the feeling of hunger.
In general, among all of the nutrients (protein, carbs, and fat), protein is the best choice. Especially if you want to feel full for a long time. So, if you want to cut down on calories, proteins would be your most natural choice. It will make it less stressful for you because you won’t experience a lot of cravings and you won’t have to eat very often.
Milk proteins such as whey make you satiated better than some other proteins. Still, it’s also important to eat plenty of proteins, so focus on eggs, meat, and fish, and add food supplements.
If you combine protein with fiber, you will feel even more satiated and the feeling will last longer. Combine whey protein powder with fruit and leafy greens for a healthy, yet a low-calorie meal.
You maybe know that a slower metabolism usually means that you are prone to having more fat than necessary. Your stomach doesn’t digest food quickly enough, so it is more than necessary to store fat. On the other hand, a quick metabolism will help you burn more calories every day, leading to weight loss. If you combine high-protein diet with strength training, it will definitely speed up your metabolism, as well as the weight loss, because muscle burns more calories than fat.
In one study, overweight participants were given 200g or 0 grams of protein per week. Participants who were given protein gained 2.8 lbs of muscle mass more after 13 weeks compared to those who got zero proteins.
However, it’s important to know that your personal ability to gain muscle during your efforts to lose weight will partially depend on the amount of muscle you have right now.
Another reason why protein increases your metabolism is that a higher number of calories need to burn in order to digest and metabolize protein – the effect we know as TEF (the thermic effect of food).
Prevention of muscle loss and metabolic slowdown
Whey protein, when combined with strength training, will prevent your metabolism from slowing down, which sometimes happens when you start weight diet loss because the diet can cause muscle loss. The muscle loss can also lead to a weight gain after you are done with your diet.
So, whey protein intake will prevent both slower metabolism and muscle loss. Several types of research have proved this theory. Moreover, as it has already been stated, your metabolism will even speed up a bit. Maintaining your muscle mass can be 3.5 times more effective if you consume a protein shake every day, as long as you add strength training to your routine.
Other health benefits
Whey is so much more than a great source of protein. There are many other nutrients beneficial to your health, including lactoferrin, beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, and immunoglobulins.
Thanks to these and some other nutrients, whey protein lowers your blood pressure, your blood sugar and reduces symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression.
It can also provide protection against cancer, reduce some of the symptoms of hepatitis, improve the function of the immune system in HIV patients and increase bone mineral density, according to numerous types of research.
As whey protein is very high in essential amino acids, specifically cysteine, it could very well be the reason why whey protein brings so many health benefits. Cysteine raises the level of glutathione, which is the most important antioxidant in your body.
Whey protein vs casein
Similar to whey protein, casein is a type of milk protein that helps protein synthesis and feeling of satiety in the body. However, they don’t have the same effect, so they can’t be interchangeable. Whey protein is excellent if used before or after resistance training because it provides you with a large number of amino acids.
On the other hand, casein is digested much slower than when protein powder, for example. It also won’t give you as many amino acids as quickly as whey protein around the training time. It will give you a steady supply of amino acids, which will last for a couple of hours. You can take casein before you go to bed or as a possible meal but whey protein is the best thing for your muscles while you’re exercising.
The protein shakes and their use
Protein shakes are drinks made of protein powder and water but other ingredients can be added to the mix. They are very convenient when you are trying to lose weight. Especially in cases when you have very limited access to high-protein food. You don’t need protein shakes to meet the daily protein requirements but they are highly useful if you need additional amounts of protein for some reason.
Protein powder can be bought in many stores and many brands produce it. You can mix it yourself or you can even buy pre-made liquid shakes. Whey protein powder is one of the most popular ones because it’s quickly absorbed and contains lactose and all the essential amino acids.
Dosage and possible side effects
The usual recommended dosage of whey protein powder is 1or 2 scoops (around 25-50 grams) and it’s important to follow the serving instruction given on the packaging. If your protein intake is already really high, taking whey protein in spite of that could be unnecessary. There are some opinions it could lead to kidney damage and even osteoporosis, but these fears are unjustified.
Actually, proteins protect us from developing osteoporosis, while they have no impact on kidneys at all. However, if you have any liver or kidney issues, you may want to consult your doctor first.
If you’re eating too much whey protein, you could have some digestive issues, for example, nausea, diarrhea, flatulence, cramping, and pain. Alternatively, you may be allergic to whey.
In case you have chosen the concentrate and you can’t tolerate it, maybe you should try hydrolysate or isolate.
Still, generally speaking, most people consume whey protein without any problems, experiencing only the benefits.
How to add whey protein powder to your diet
Whey protein powder comes in many flavors, from apple pie and mocha cappuccino to even chocolate. Besides adding it to your protein shakes, you can add it to baked goods or to your homemade snacks. There are many delicious options in which you can add it to your meals.
For example, if you like brownies, you can mix chocolate whey protein powder with coconut or almond flour, vanilla extract, eggs, and honey. A piece of dark chocolate can be added to increase the flavor. Coconut oil is a better option than butter because it will speed up your metabolism and make you feel full longer.
Another option is to make protein bars that you can eat before going to the gym. You could also add whey protein powder to your homemade bread, chia pudding, pancakes, cheesecake, and muffins. Stevia is a better alternative to sugar but you can use flavored whey protein powder instead. If you go for the unflavored type, it is great for salty snacks, egg dishes, and numerous spreads.
It’s probably much clearer now what whey protein really is, what are its positive effects on our overall health and weight loss and how it can be used in your diet.
If you have decided to take up regular exercise and to lose some weight and get some muscle instead, whey protein is one of the best tools you can ask for. Choose the type of whey protein that suits you best and then finds several ways to incorporate it into your diet.
Give yourself some time. Maybe you’ll figure out one type of whey protein doesn’t work for you as well as the other one. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Finding the right combination will lead to optimum results in the shortest amount of time. If you’re patient enough, you will start noticing the positive results very soon. And once you notice them, it will only encourage you to continue with a healthy diet and regular exercise. In time, whey protein will become a usual ingredient to many of your meals, as it should.