Whey Protein Benefits, Uses and Side Effects
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are that you have been hearing the term ‘whey protein’ more often than not. But what is whey protein? Is it good for you? Find out here.
Initially, whey protein powder and shakes were thought to be beneficial for bodybuilders and men who wanted significant muscle mass.
However, times have changed and so has the demand for whey protein.
Today, gym enthusiasts, supermoms, yoga experts, and everyone else seems to be including whey protein in their diets.
If you are planning on joining the wagon, it is important for you to know everything there is to whey protein first.
In this article, we tell you what whey protein is, its health benefits, as well as the side effects associated with it.
- Whey Protein Meaning?
- What is Whey Protein?
- Types of Whey Protein
- Whey Protein Benefits
- Whey Protein Side Effects
- In Conclusion
Whey Protein Meaning?
Before we deep-dive into what whey protein is, let’s first try to understand the meaning of ‘Whey’.
Whey is essentially the watery or liquid part of milk that you find when the milk has been curdled or when it separates to form curds. Usually, when milk curdles, it separates into two parts – a watery part, and then the more fatty part. The watery part is what contains whey.
In most cases, whey is used as a supplement or a source of protein, as it has several health benefits.
Generally, milk proteins are of two major types, namely, casein and whey. (1)
Raw Whey Protein
There are two types of whey that are commonly available.
- The first is sweet whey, and the second is sour whey or acid whey. Sweet whey is basically a byproduct that is produced in the manufacture of certain types of cheese like cheddar or swiss cheese.
- Sour whey or acid whey is a byproduct that is produced in the manufacture of certain dairy products that are more acidic in nature, like strained yoghurt and cottage cheese. (2)
What is Whey Protein?
Now that we know what whey is, we can go into the details regarding whey protein.
Whey protein is essentially a mixture of proteins that have been isolated or removed from whey.
In most cases, these proteins consist of serum albumin, α-lactalbumin, β-lactoglobulin, and immunoglobulins.
More often than not, whey protein is used for dietary supplementation.
Whey protein quite commonly considered to be a complete protein.
This is because it contains a substantial amount of all the nine essential amino acids that your body requires. Additionally, the lactose content it whey is low. (3)
Commercially, whey protein is sold in the form of whey protein powder. Whey protein by itself does not boast of a very great taste, which is why it is often flavoured.
Some of the common whey protein powder flavours are chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and banana.
Whey protein is also added to meal replacement, shakes, smoothies, and protein bars.
Consuming whey protein powder and supplements is a great way of adding protein to your diet.
Often, whey protein powder is consumed by gym enthusiasts and bodybuilders.
It is also consumed by people who are looking to lose weight and drop the extra pounds.
Whey protein is often recommended to people who lack the adequate amount of protein their body needs. (4)
Types of Whey Protein
There are three main types of whey protein. Now, these have been classified based on the way they have been processed.
The primary types of whey protein are whey protein isolates, whey protein concentrates, and whey protein hydrolysates.
Let’s look at the three types of whey protein –
Whey Protein Isolate
Whey Protein Isolate happens to be one of the purest forms of whey protein available.
Close to 90 per cent to 95 per cent of its composition is protein. Additionally, the fat content in Whey Protein Isolates is very low.
It is also the preferred choice for those who are suffering from lactose intolerance, as it contains no lactose and if it does, it is in extremely small amounts.
Whey Protein Isolates are known for its high protein content as well as its purity.
Now Whey Protein Isolates are commonly used in protein bars, protein supplements, and nutritional food products. (5)
Whey Protein Concentrate
The protein content in Whey Protein Concentrates is lower than that of Whey Protein Isolates. Usually, the protein content ranges from between 25 per cent to 89 per cent.
In addition to proteins, Whey Protein Concentrates also contain around 4 to 8 per cent of lactose, moisture, fat, carbohydrates, and certain minerals.
Whey Protein Concentrates are usually used in the making of infant formula, protein beverages, protein shakes, protein bars, and bakery products. (6)
Hydrolyzed Whey Protein
This type of whey protein is quite different. It happens to be called a predigested form of whey protein because it has undergone partial hydrolysis.
Through this process, it becomes easier for your body to absorb protein. Additionally, Whey Protein Hydrolysate contains close to 80 to 90 per cent protein.
The process of hydrolysis does in any way influence or reduce the quality of nutrition in the whey protein.
It is usually processed to remove any lactose and fat content as well.
In fact, since this type of whey protein is the most easily absorbed by your body, your risk of getting an allergic reaction is largely reduced as well.
In most cases, Whey Protein Hydrolysates are used in nutrition and sports products, as well as infant formulas. (7)
Whey Protein Benefits
From bodybuilders to beauty bloggers, everyone is all rage about whey protein benefits.
People these days seem to be swearing by the benefits of whey protein powder, and now more than ever, there is a rise in the consumption of whey protein. But what exactly makes this protein supplement so popular?
What are the many benefits associated with it? Well, let’s see…
Rich source of protein
This, as we know, goes without saying.
In fact, whey is considered to be a complete protein.
A complete protein is the kind of protein that contains a substantial amount of all the nine amino acids.
Whey protein powder is not difficult to digest, making it easy for your body to absorb the protein it needs.
The fact that it has a high nutrition value, as well as the fact that it is such a great source of protein makes it the ideal choice for those who need protein in their diet. (8)
Can aid in weight loss
In case you weren’t aware of this before, an increase in the consumption of protein can actually help you lose weight.
How does this happen? Well, firstly, proteins can help suppress your appetite.
When your appetite is reduced, your intake of food is reduced, which in turn leads to a reduction in the number of calories you have consumed. Secondly, proteins can help boost your metabolism.
This can actually help you burn more calories. Lastly, a good amount of protein can help you maintain muscle mass. All of these factors contribute positively to losing weight. (9)
Can help with Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a medical condition that is characterized by chronic inflammation along the lining of your digestive tract.
People who are suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease have difficulty with digestion.
Additionally, the ability of the body to absorb nutrients is often compromised in those who are suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Studies on both rats and humans have concluded that whey protein does, in fact, have a beneficial impact on those who suffer from Inflammatory Bowel Disease. (10)
Can help treat Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a medical condition that is characterized by high blood sugar levels as well as an impaired functioning of insulin in the body.
Studies have shown that whey protein can be effective in managing and regulating blood sugar levels in your body.
It can also increase the levels of insulin in your body, as well as your body’s resistance to its effects.
I’m fact, when it comes to type 2 diabetes, whey protein is a better option, as opposed to fish and egg white.
In one study it was observed that a whey protein supplement before or along with a meal that is rich in carbs, could actually moderate levels of blood sugar in those suffering from type 2 diabetes as well as in those who are healthy. (11)
Can promote muscle growth
With age, your muscle mass tends to decline.
When this happens, you’ll find an increase in the fat content in your body. And an increase in fat can put you at risk for various health complications and diseases.
However, did you know that you can prevent, reverse, or increase muscle mass in your body?
You can do this by indulging in strength training workouts and incorporating protein supplements or high protein foods in your diet.
Among the nine essential amino acids present in whey protein, leucine happens to facilitate growth.
Whey protein powder is a preferred source of protein, more so even than soy and casein.
Additionally, protein sources like whey protein powder can also help maintain and keep your muscles in good shape. (12)
Can help with blood pressure
Studies have proven that certain dairy products can actually lower high blood pressure levels.
As dairy products have a group of bioactive peptides that are known as angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors of ACE inhibitors.
The ACE inhibitors and bioactive peptides present in whey protein are known as lactokinins. This particular inhibitor has proven to be beneficial in treating blood pressure.
In one particular study, a group of overweight individuals were given around 54 grams of whey protein supplements for around 12 weeks each day.
It was observed by the end of the study that the systolic blood pressure in these individuals came down by around 4 per cent.
However, more studies will be required to strongly relate the effects of whey protein supplements and powder on hypertension or high blood pressure. (13)
Can reduce inflammation
Chronic inflammation is a medical condition in which your body has a prolonged inflammatory response.
A short term inflammatory response is beneficial for your body but a prolonged inflammatory response can bring about a lot of health risks and complications.
One study observed that the consumption of high doses of whey protein supplements could actually lower the inflammation in your body. However, the evidence for this is limited and more research is required. (14)
Can have a positive effect on blood fat
Cholesterol in your body is good, as long as it does not exceed the required limit.
High levels of cholesterol, particularly bad cholesterol known as LDL, can pave the way to numerous heart disease and other health complications.
A study was conducted on a group of overweight candidates.
They were administered 54 grams of whey protein for twelve weeks on a daily basis. A significant reduction in LDL and total cholesterol levels was observed by the end of this study. (15)
Whey Protein Side Effects
We’ve spoken in great detail about the health benefits of whey protein. However, it is imperative that you are aware of whey protein powder side effects if consumed in excess. Let’s look into this…
Whey protein and digestive problems
In some cases, it has been observed that whey protein can, in fact, cause a few digestive problems. These digestive problems include stomach pain, bloating, cramps, and discomfort.
More often than not, this is caused due to the lactose content in whey protein. Some people who are lactose intolerant may experience the above side effects when they consume whey protein.
Among those who are lactose intolerant, the body’s ability to produce lactase is compromised.
Due to this, they find it hard to digest lactose or dairy products, after which their body has a negative or adverse reaction.
However, this is only the case if you are consuming whey protein concentrates.
If you are lactose intolerant and you want to still have whey protein, you can safely do so by consuming whey protein isolates. In most cases, the lactose content in this is close to nil.
Additionally, the fat content in whey protein isolate is much lower as well. (16)
Whey protein and osteoporosis
The relationship between protein and bones has been a topic of controversy for a while.
Some people believe that excess protein can weaken bones and thereby cause a medical condition known as osteoporosis.
In people suffering from osteoporosis, the calcium content in the bone is so less, that their bones become porous, bent, or brittle, leading to osteoporosis.
Past studies claim that by consuming too much protein, there is a spike in the acidic content in the urine.
When there is an increase in the amount of acid, the calcium present in the bones is released, to neutralise the effects of acid in the body.
However, there have been more recent studies that contradict this.
One study shows that the body naturally increases the ability to absorb calcium from the gut if there is a decrease in calcium in the body.
Other studies have proven that consuming protein like whey protein powder can, in fact, improve bone health.
Due to such contradictory reports, more evidence and human studies will have to be conducted to prove the fact that protein can be of any significance to bone health. (17)
Whey protein and liver damage
There is a common misconception that consuming whey protein can damage your liver. However, there is no sufficient evidence to prove this.
On the contrary, the liver, like the other organs, requires an adequate amount of protein to repair itself, generate new cells, and convert the fat present in the liver into lipoproteins.
Lipoproteins are molecules that are responsible for removing fat from your liver.
A study was conducted on 11 obese women. They were given 60 grams of whey protein on a daily basis.
By the end of the study, the lover fat content in their body composition reduced by close to 21 per cent. (18)
Whey protein and allergies
In most cases, whey protein is derived from cow’s milk.
If you are someone who is allergic to cow’s milk, chances are that you might have an allergic reaction to whey protein that has been made from cow’s milk as well.
Cow’s milk allergy is not that common.
On average, close to 90 per cent of those who suffer from cow’s milk allergy usually outgrow this disorder by the time they reach three years of age.
In case you experience symptoms like hives, rashes, a runny nose, swelling of the tongue, swelling of the face, and difficulty breathing after consuming cow’s milk or whey protein, chances are that you could be allergic to cow’s milk.
However, it is worth noting that allergic reactions to cow’s milk are not very common in adults.
Another allergic reaction that you might have to be wary of is lactose intolerance.
Sometimes, you might have an allergic reaction if you consume whey protein concentrates and if you are lactose intolerant. To avoid this, you can switch to whey protein isolates or whey protein hydrolysates. (19)
Whey protein and constipation
Firstly, no, whey protein does not cause constipation.
However, if you are replacing your daily consumption of vegetables and fruits with whey protein, chances are that you will end up getting constipated.
This is because you are depriving your body of essential nutrients and fiber that it needs.
Whey protein is not and will never be a substitute for vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains give your body the nutritional value it requires.
It also aids digestion and keeps your digestive tract healthy. (20)
Whey protein and gut bacteria
Studies have shown that whey protein can alter the naturally functioning environment of the gut bacteria in your intestines. Most whey protein powders contain something known as lactoferrin.
Lactoferrin is an antibacterial compound.
This particular compound can cause a few gastrointestinal problems and disturb the activity of healthy gut bacteria in the upper regions of your gastrointestinal tract and the colon. (21)
Whey protein and weight gain
Remember how we told you that whey protein can facilitate weight loss?
Well, one of the side effects of whey protein can be weight gain as well. Before you get confused, here’s the catch.
Whey protein is beneficial for weight loss. However, some brands of whey protein can have added carbs, sugars, and even fat in them. You need to be extremely careful while choosing the type of whey protein you need.
Firstly, do a thorough check of the label and look for any added sugars or carbs.
Secondly, don’t hesitate to ask what type of whey protein is good for you.
There are some which are made specifically to increase muscle mass. Some are for lean muscles. Figure out what you need before you invest in a brand. (22)
Whey protein and kidney damage
The job of your kidneys is primarily to filter your blood. When there is a rise in the intake of protein, the kidneys filter more blood than usual. This is a relatively common reaction and a normal bodily response.
However, too much protein intake can cause damage to your kidneys in the long run. This is especially the case if you are already suffering from kidney disease.
Studies have been conducted to prove that excess consumption of protein in those who already have a kidney ailment, only increases the severity of their condition. (23)
Whey Protein and appetite
As mentioned previously, whey protein can suppress your appetite.
Whey protein produces certain hormones like GLP-1, CCK, and PYY, all of which are responsible for reducing your appetite.
Additionally, it also lowers the level of ghrelin, which is a hunger-inducing hormone.
Proteins, in general, can make you feel full for a longer period of time, as opposed to carbs.
This way, whey protein can lower your appetite.
While this is great for weight loss, it can have adverse effects if you are not meeting the required calories every day.
It can affect your metabolism, and your health in general, as well as compromise the intake of nutrition that your body needs. (24)
Whey protein powder most definitely has a lot of health benefits going for it.
If you have recently hit the gym, you could include whey protein powder into your diet.
It can help build muscle mass, and keep you in good shape.
Make sure you read the labels before you purchase whey protein powder.
Some of the brands have a lot of added carbs, fat, and sugar, which can cause weight gain instead of weight loss.
Look for brands that have little to no added sugars, carbs, or fat.
Whey protein comes in several flavours, like strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, and banana.
In most cases, you can make a really delicious smoothie or shake with whey protein.
You can also add small chunks of fruits to your shake! In case you are suffering from kidney ailments, consult your doctor before you take whey protein.
Additionally, if you are someone who is lactose intolerant, opt for whey protein isolates as opposed to whey protein concentrates.