Whey is often associated with muscle building and fitness supplements, but is not a very understood product due to deceptive advertising and conflicting information. While whey is used in the fitness industry to build muscle and can be purchased as a fitness supplement, there’s a lot more to weighing in on whey than most people realize.
According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, 50 percent of consumers want to include more protein in their diet. A different study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior showed that 43 percent of women are consuming more protein to avoid weight gain.
What is whey?
Casein and whey are the two proteins found in milk. Casein makes up 80 percent of milk’s protein, while whey makes up the remaining 20 percent. During processing, the liquid whey is separated from the casein, sent through filters and further processed to remove the water and eventually end up at the final product – whey powder.
Once separated, casein are the curds consumers enjoy as cottage cheese, while whey is sourced throughout the food industry. Whey is a very common protein used in products such as baby formula, bread and ice cream, where it’s applied as a fat-replacer in low-fat dairy products. In addition, whey is a staple in milk replacement products. Whey protein contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Whey also has a low lactose content, creating a highly digestible source of protein and an ideal protein replacement product.
The three types of whey protein
There are three main types of whey protein consumers can purchase. These are:
Whey protein concentrate (WPC) – This type of whey protein has low levels of lactose, carbohydrates and fat.
Whey protein isolate (WPI) – This type of whey protein has been processed to remove all lactose and fat. The result varies by the quality of the product. Low-end whey protein products will offer 30 percent protein, while a high-end product will offer 90 percent protein.
Whey protein hydrolysate (WPH) – This type of whey protein has been specially processed by undergoing a partial hydrolysis, leaving consumers with a predigested form of the powder. WPH requires the least amount of digestion and is the easiest form of whey protein to absorb by the body. It is for these reasons WPH is used in products such as baby formula and medical protein supplements.
Some common uses for whey protein
Aside from the food industry, whey protein is a popular dietary supplement for general health ailments including diabetes, heart disease and age-related bone loss.
- High cholesterol: In a 12-week study published in The British Journal of Nutrition, participants using whey experienced a significant decrease in LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol.
- Cardiovascular disease: Research found that beverages supplemented with whey protein significantly reduced the blood pressure in hypertension patients, which in turn, decreased their risk of developing stroke or heart disease.
- Appetite suppressant: Whey protein has shown effective as an appetite suppressant, making it widely used in the weight loss industry.
- Weight gain: A pilot study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine confirmed the effectiveness of whey protein in helping to prevent weight loss in HIV-positive people. Over the course of 3 months, patients were given biologically active, undenatured, dietary whey protein; a dosage that was gradually increased from 8.4 grams per day to 39.2 grams per day. The results were an increase in glutathione levels — an amino acid composition essential to the immune system — and weight gain of between 2 and 7 kilos, helping study patients reach their ideal body weight.
- Muscle building: According to a study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, implementing whey protein with muscle building resistance exercises can promote the growth of lean tissue mass. A corresponding study concluded that males using whey isolate showed significantly greater gains in lean body mass and strength, as well as a decrease in fat mass, over a ten-week program.
- Weight loss: The results of a research study published in Nutrition & Metabolism concluded that participants who took a specialized whey fraction Prolibra — a product that was high in bioactive peptides, leucine and milk calcium — “lost significantly more body fat and showed a greater preservation of lean muscle compared to subjects consuming the control beverage.”
Too much of a good thing!
Consuming severely high doses of whey protein can be cause for side affects that may include cramps and stomach pain, nausea, reduced appetite, fatigue and headaches. Consumers wanting to include whey protein in their diet should note there are dosing guidelines to avoid the side affects. The Institute of Medicine recommends 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day or 15 percent of your daily calories.