If you walk into a health food store or your local vitamin shop, you can’t help but notice all the shelves packed with glossy whey protein bottles. I was shocked to learn that the market value of the whey protein industry is expected to reach approximately $11.7 billion in 2017.
That’s a lot of protein powder.
Though bodybuilders and gym rats have popularized and praised whey protein, the truth is, we can all benefit from adding whey protein to our diets.
Protein is so essential for our bodies; so we need to make sure we get enough. Without protein we wouldn’t be able to build muscles or repair our tissues.
Protein also gives us energy, transports nutrients so our bodies can use them, and produces enzymes and hormones we need.
And I wondered if whey protein any other amazing things too…
What Is Whey Protein?
Well, back before we were able to separate casein protein and whey protein from milk, we used to only get whey as a byproduct of cheesemaking. Once the curds, or firm cheese parts, were separated from the milk, the liquid that remained became known as whey.
Whey is actually considered a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids.
According to Medical News Today, there are three different kinds of whey:
Whey Protein Concentrate
Whey concentrate has low levels of fat and carbohydrates (lactose) depending on the concentration amount. Lower end concentrates tend to have 30% protein; higher concentrations can be up to 90% protein.
These are typically the cheapest to start out with, but they’re also the hardest to digest.
Whey Protein Isolates
Whey protein isolates (WPI) are further processed to remove all the fat and lactose. WPI is usually at least 90% protein.
These tubs are going to be a little more expensive than whey concentrate, but they’re perfect for those watching their carbs since they’re mostly straight protein. Whey isolates are also quicker to digest than whey concentrate.
Whey Protein Hydrolysate
Hydrolysate protein is considered to be the ‘predigested’ form of whey protein as it has already undergone partial hydrolysis – a process necessary for the body to absorb protein. It’s highly absorbed and easy to digest, so your body can readily use it.
This is the most expensive type of whey protein. It’s commonly used in medical protein supplements and infant formulas because of it’s improved digestibility and reduced allergen potential.
Now that you know the differences, here are my top 9 health benefits of using whey protein.
1.Lose Fat, Not Muscle
When you finally start building up some muscle, the last thing you want to do during a workout is lose muscle instead of fat. Anyone who’s worked hard to gain muscle mass knows that keeping it is just as important as building it.
A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition set out to test whether whey protein supplements increased muscle protein synthesis better than soy protein or carb based supplements. Researchers put participants on a “whole-body periodized resistance training program” for about nine months. The subjects body composition was recorded at the beginning and then every three months until completion.
“Despite consuming similar calories and protein during resistance training, daily supplementation with whey was more effective…in promoting gains in lean body mass”. Fat mass also decreased slightly among all participants.
Gains in lean body mass mean you’ll be burning more calories even when you’re resting.
2. Increase Endurance
What if I told you that whey protein actually made you stronger at the gym?
Well, research published in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise aimed to figure out if whey protein enhanced exercise performance.
Researchers split up 40 male rats into four groups. Two groups of rats were sedentary, but one sect received whey protein while the other ate normal feed. The other two groups of rats were forced to swim every day; one sect ate normal feed and the other had whey protein.
Researchers “increased the amount of exertion gradually so that at the end of six weeks the mice swam for 60 minutes with a weight attached to their tail”. Then they measured forelimb grip strength and how long it took the rats to swim to exhaustion.
You can probably guess that the swimming rats decreased their body weight, and they did.
But the swimming rats that also consumed whey protein increased their grip strength and their time to exhaustion doubled.
This study proved that whey supplementation not only improved body composition, but also strengthened the rats muscles and became an effective aid to allow them to work out longer.
3. Stop Cravings
When you work out and speed up your metabolism, constantly feeding your body healthy food can become a pain if you’re as busy as I am. I try to combat this with my quick healthy eating hacks and make sure to carry some almonds with me wherever I am.
But if you always feel like you’re hungry or fighting hunger pains, consider adding whey protein to your diet too.
Researchers gave the men four different drinks ranging in levels of fructose and whey. Four hours after drinking the beverages with 50 grams of whey, the men had significantly reduced levels of ghrelin, a hormone responsible for aiding appetite regulation by both stimulating your appetite and telling your brain that you’re full after meals.
Decreased levels of this hormone means less desire for snacking and fewer ways to get yourself in trouble with unnecessary calories.
4. Control Blood Sugar
We know that eating protein alongside foods that have sugar helps control the rate at which sugar enters the bloodstream. That’s why it’s healthy to mix protein and fruit, like snacking on a piece of cheese with an apple.
Since whey is protein, it’s no wonder researchers believe that combining whey with sugary foods helps diabetics lower their blood sugar. LiveScience brings up a published study affirming that when 14 type 2 diabetics combined whey protein with high sugar meals, their insulin production increased and their blood sugar did not spike.
5. Prevent Cancer
Researchers used whey protein on human prostate cells and then measured the amount of glutathione that was present in the cells afterward. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, glutathione is known as the “mother of all antioxidants”. This antioxidant is known to absorb free radicals and prevent cancer, just like other sulphur containing foods like wheatgrass and kale.
So how did the whey protein work on the prostate cells?
Amazingly, there was a 64% increase in glutathione as a result of the whey protein treatment.
“Whey is a great source of the amino acid cysteine, and cysteine can become glutathione in the body”, explains Rosemary L. Walzem, R.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Nutrition, Health, and Food Genomics at Texas A & M University.
Researchers believe that increased levels of glutathione may prevent free radicals from becoming cancerous cells, which is pretty impressive in my book.
6. Immune System Booster
Since glutathione is one of the best antioxidants, you can probably already guess what else it’s good for.
If you answered that glutathione supports a healthy immune system, you are indeed correct.
All antioxidants eliminate and keep free radicals from destroying our healthy cells.
When the body’s immune system is impaired by issues like cancer, HIV, diabetes, etc., it cannot perform the job it’s supposed to do, which is protecting you from harmful agents that may critically attack the health of your body.
But you don’t have to be seriously ill to have a weakened immune system; elderly people and out-of-shape people with poor diets may also suffer from glutathione deficiencies.
Dr. Mercola stresses that glutathione is unlike other antioxidants because it has the ability to maximize the activity of every other antioxidant, including “vitamins C and E, CoQ10, alpha lipoic acid, and the fresh veggies and fruits you (hopefully) eat every day” while it eliminates toxins and “protects you from the damaging effects of radiation, chemicals, and environmental pollutants”.
Additionally, Byron J. Richards, a Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist, writes that whey protein fights off antigens, but it lets our “immune system recover and return to normal balance faster (homeostasis). The ability to “reset” faster is vital to being prepared for the next invader”.
7. Stress Reducer
Remember when I mentioned that whey is a complete protein because it contains all of our essential amino acids?
Well, one of those amino acids happens to be tryptophan.
Tryptophan is that sneaky little guy who makes you feel calm and sleepy after a big turkey dinner. But it’s also linked to your brain’s production of serotonin.
When you have low levels of serotonin, you may start to show signs of having anxiety and depression. However, by increasing your serotonin levels through a diet rich in protein like whey, you’ll be able to produce more serotonin and keep those feelings of stress at bay.
8. Support A Healthy Heart
A study done by the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University concluded that adding a whey protein drink to the diets of young subjects with high blood pressure lowered both their systolic and diastolic blood pressure. However, participants with normal blood pressure levels didn’t see the same lowering results.
The Journal of Dairy Science also brings good news; the study reports that giving both rats and healthy men a milk containing whey protein, not only lowered their triglycerides and systolic blood pressure, but raised their HDL levels, or good cholesterol levels.
Which leads me to my final healthy benefit of whey protein…
9. Lower Cholesterol
Having high LDL levels, or bad cholesterol levels, can lead to a slew of scary conditions. LDL is what builds up in the walls of your blood vessels. Too much of this starts to cause blockages in your arteries and increases your risk for heart attacks.
I found a study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition about how whey protein affected cholesterol levels of 11 obese, non-diabetic women. The participants received a whey protein supplement for four weeks. Researchers learned that subjects consuming the whey protein decreased their total cholesterol and decreased the amount of triglycerides in their livers.
Another study also examined this effect and was published in the British Journal of Nutrition. This time, overweight subjects were given either whey or casein supplements. As you can expect, the subjects taking the whey had lower cholesterol levels when the study was completed than the ones supplementing with casein.
Whey Protein Pro Tips
Check your recommended daily amount of protein and then follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on the bottle to figure out how much whey protein you should incorporate in your diet.
Remember, stay within your daily recommended protein allowance; too much protein actually gets converted to fat or may cause digestive issues like nausea, gas, and diarrhea.
When whey protein made my list of delicious protein-packed foods, I shared this handy guide from Muscle For Life to help men decide which type of protein to to buy. And there’s also one to explain which proteins are best for women.
BodyBuilding notes that you can use all of the whey protein options I’ve listed pre/ post workout. When you consume whey protein before a workout, you’ll make sure to give your body all the amino acids it needs. Drinking a whey protein shake post workout helps grow muscles and helps reduce muscle soreness during recovery.
Adding whey protein to your morning low carb pancakes, yogurt, or afternoon smoothie is a great way to snack on protein instead of fats, carbs, or sugary sweets.
Keep in mind that plain whey protein doesn’t taste the best, which is why it’s typically mixed in fruit or kale smoothies that mask its flavor. However, some manufacturers add sugar and artificial flavors to their whey protein to make it taste better. Stay away from this; adding extra sugar to your whey will definitely derail your weight loss efforts.
As always, it’s important to have a chat with your healthcare professional if you’re interested in adding a whey supplement to your diet. Your doctor will make sure there’s no medicinal interactions to worry about.
Personally, I love incorporating whey protein into my diet; it’s a quick way to sneak in some protein when I’m running out the door. And with these nine amazing health benefits, I’m actually doing a lot more for my body than just packing in some protein. I hope you’ll start seeing the benefits, too.
What benefit makes you most excited about trying whey protein?