The benefits of whey protein are most commonly associated with muscle recovery and strength gain following a strenuous weight training session, however, research suggests it offers a great number of both fitness and biological benefits.
Whether you’re already an experienced supplement user, or you’re new to fitness and wondering what the highly lauded product is best utilised for, OriGym have the answers here for you.
Within this article, we will take you through the benefits of whey protein powder and supplementation, what it does for the body, along with the most frequently asked questions on the internet surrounding this fitness favourite.
- What is Whey Protein?
- What are the Benefits of Whey Protein?
- Whey Protein Dosage
- When to Take When Protein?
- What are the Side Effects of Whey Protein?
Before we get into the article, if you’re here, we assume you have a passion for fitness, or at least an interest. Have you considered building on that passion and developing it into a successful career that you love? OriGym allows you to do just that.
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What is Whey Protein?
The source of whey protein is often surprising to many people; whey protein is a combination of the proteins that have been separated from whey (whey is the liquid portion of milk that is removed during cheese production).
Within milk, there are two primary types of protein: casein, which makes up for 80% and whey, which makes up for the remaining 20%.
During the production of cheese, the fatty parts of the milk coagulate and the whey is separated from as a byproduct.
You may recognise whey from its presence in other dairy products, for instance, the liquid often floating on top of yoghurt - that is whey.
Once it is separated from the milk during cheese production, whey then goes through a number of processing steps before it becomes what people most commonly recognised as whey protein - the bagged or tubbed product that is advertised to be added to shakes, oats, bars, etc.
Amongst other things which we will look into further throughout the article, whey protein benefits those who have the fitness goals of building muscle and/or reducing body fat. It is simply protein, which is key for building muscle strength and mass; the more protein you consume, the more muscle your body will be able to build.
The Benefits of Whey Protein
By now you should be feeling like you know a little more about whey protein and able to confidently answer where it comes from, but what are the health benefits of whey protein ?
Whey protein offers a varied rage of advantages; people with a number of different goals and needs, as well as lifestyles and dietary requirements can benefit from taking whey protein. It isn’t simply a supplement reserved for active gym-goers wanting to build muscle - though it is great for this also.
Whey protein benefits are greatly varied, and thus a diverse range of people who want to use it.
#1 Promotes Muscle Gains
Potentially amongst the most commonly recognised benefits of whey protein shakes and supplements is its aid in promoting muscle and strength gain.
Whey protein achieves this through a number of its functions, including:
- Increasing hormones: Whey protein increases the release of anabolic hormones, such as insulin, which can stimulate muscle growth
- Aid the body’s building blocks: Whey protein provides the body with protein and amino acids, both of which serve as building blocks for increased muscle growth.
- Provides body with Leucine: Whey protein is high in the amino acid leucine, which is popular for stimulating muscle protein synthesis at the molecular and genetic level.
Protein is the key ingredient for muscle growth, which we know by now that whey is loaded with.
While this, of course, acts as a huge advantage to bodybuilders/competitors, athletes, and those wanting to improve thor fitness performance, the benefits of whey protein for muscle gain exceeds this specific target group.
As we age, the body’s muscle mass naturally decreases which can lead to a multitude of problems in older age. However, this adverse change in body composition can be partly slowed, prevented, or reversed with a combination of protein consumption, more specifically high-quality protein sources such as whey, paired with a regular routine of strength training.
As we mentioned, whey particularly is rich in the branched-chain amino acid leucine. Leucine is the most growth-promoting (anabolic) of the amino acids, meaning that whey protein offers one of the most effective supplements for the prevention of age-related muscle loss.
The findings of a 2009 study support this whey protein benefit, with their conclusion that a regular consumption of high quality protein may enhance the muscle protein synthetic response in elders and ingesting approximately 25-30g of protein per meal stimulates muscle protein synthesis in both young and older individuals to maximum results.
When considering the most effective time to consume whey protein for muscle and strength gain, it is suggested by fitness enthusiasts that taking protein between 15–60 minutes after exercise leads to the best results - this is known as the anabolic window. However, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, it is suggested that consuming protein up to two hours post workout is ideal for building muscle mass.
Alternatively to whey, soy proteins are a great substitute for those looking to cut back on their dairy intake. You can find a list of the best soy protein powder products on the UK market here.
#2 Boosts Immunity
Its role in boosting the immune system is perhaps one of the most underrated yet impressive health benefits of whey protein shakes and supplements.
In order to sustain a healthy immune system, the body needs fuel that arrives in the form of energy and nutrients, and more specifically, protein. Many of the structures that make up the immune system are made of protein, and so ensuring you are consuming enough of it is more important than you may have thought.
Whey protein in particular offers a great source of protein for the immune system, as it supplies all of the necessary amino acids required for healthy body functions. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and they play a vital role in assisting the body to recover during infections and illnesses.
When the body does not have enough amino acids, it begins to source them from the body’s tissues (such as muscle) in order to provide them to the immune system. In doing so, this will create muscle fatigue and weakness, leading to the common “run-down” sensation which we often feel when we are unwell, which in itself can further deplete the immune system, making you more prone to developing certain illnesses.
The idea that whey protein benefits the human body’s immune system has been highlighted within a number Canadian and American studies, which amongst its role in providing an adequate level of protein to assist the immune system’s bodily functions, found that whey protein can also promote a certain type pf white blood cell which plays a role is protecting the body from viruses and bacteria.
So, to clarify: immune system powerhouses, such as antibodies and immune system cells, rely heavily on protein in order to keep the body functioning to its mass capacity in fighting off illnesses, bacteria and diseases. Too little protein in the diet may lead to a number of unwanted symptoms, such as: fatigue, weakness and poor immunity.
Therefore, supplementing with whey protein benefits these powerhouses, which in turn enables the body to function properly. If you would prefer to increase your whey protein intake through more edible sources, check out the best high protein yoghurts of 2021.
#3 Aids Recovery
While its role in assisting recovery might be one of the more recognised health benefits of whey protein, it is still vastly underrated, in our opinion.
When engaging in any form of resistance training, you’re causing the body to create small micro-tears in the muscles, which promote both muscle growth and strength during their recovery process. Whey protein can help with this as protein as a nutrient works to help repair damaged muscle tissue at a much faster rate, as well as build the new lean tissue which builds on strength and growth. This is one of the most hailed and important whey protein benefits for athletes.
While you can receive protein from a number of sources, the available research suggests that to reap the benefits of enhanced recovery, milk based proteins, i.e whey, is what holds the key. This comes back to the presence of Leucine in whey protein, which is a key player in the recovery process.
Additionally, whey protein is popular for it aid in enhancing performace; it even features in our report on the best running supplements to fuel your run.
Furthermore, as the body digests whey protein at a much faster rate than other forms of protein, it means the body, and more importantly, the muscles, are able to receive the essential nutrients needed to repair quicker, resulting in a faster overall recovery.
This is a whey protein benefit that offers a substantial amount of support in science, with a 2017 study published in Nutrients being amongst many to conclude that “whey protein supplementation enhances whole body anabolism, and may improve acute recovery of exercise performance after a strenuous bout of resistance exercise.”
#4 Could Reduce Blood Pressure
It is no secret that high blood pressure (hypertension) can be bad news for your body. It is suggested to be one of the leading risk factors for a number of heart diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, and can be present for years without the sufferer ever knowing.
Luckily enough, this is not often something that cannot be controlled or reversed, with vast research linking the consumption of dairy products with effectively lowering blood pressure. This is said to be the result of a family of bioactive peptides that are present in dairy, known as angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors (ACE-inhibitors), or when referring to their presence in whey products, are known as lactokinins.
A 2002 study is amongst many animal studies that have identified the beneficial effect that those lactokinins in whey protein supplements have on reducing blood pressure, though human studies are needed to confirm this.
Additionally, according to a more recent study published in 2010, the findings confirmed that whey protein drinks reduced the blood pressure of young men and women with hypertension during a six week controlled trial - therefore providing confirmed evidence that whey protein benefits blood pressure.
Similarly to whey protein, cardio and aerobic exercise benefits blood pressure and what's more, you can even combine your whey protein shake with a cardio workout for optimal results.
It is worth noting that all results with positive results use subjects with existing hypertension or elevated blood pressure, meaning whey could be useful for the dietary treatment of prehypertension and/or stage 1 hypertension, but is not suggested to affect blood pressure in those with average levels.
#5 Helps Treat Type 2 Diabetes
Linking closely with the previous benefit of whey protein, type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease characterised by an impaired function of insulin and high blood sugar. Insulin is a necessary hormone needed to regulate blood sugar in cells and keep it within a healthy and reasonable limit.
In recent studies, whey protein has been found to be effective at moderating blood sugar and increasing both the levels of insulin and the sensitivity to its effects.
One of the studies, which was published The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005, highlighted through their experiment that:
“The insulin responses were higher after both breakfast (31%) and lunch (57%) when whey was included in the meal than when whey was not included.”
When compared with other sources of protein, whey protein was found to be more effective than alternatives, such as fish or egg white. These properties of whey protein may even be comparable to those of diabetic drugs, such as sulfonylurea.
As a result, the available research suggests whey protein could be effectively used as a supplementary treatment for type 2 diabetes.
These studies are fairly small scale however, and by no means conclusive, but have really promising results for people who have type-2 diabetes.
Whey protein also provides a useful snacking alternative for diabetics, as a protein bar or shake provides a filling option that won’t lead to as much of a spike in blood sugar in comparison to other snacks. Additionally, having whey protein either before or in conjunction with a high carbohydrate meal has been suggested to moderate blood sugar levels, not only in those with type 2 diabetes, but in healthy people also.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by high blood sugar and impaired function of insulin.
#6 Manages Inflammatory Bowel Disease
While inflammation is a completely necessary response of the body against harm, and carries benefits in the short-term, when extended beyond this, inflammation can in fact become chronic in certain circumstances.
Chronic inflammation acts as a primary risk factor of a number of health conditions, therefore controlling this, or preventing it all together is important to your health.
There are debatable theories in science as to how whey protein benefits this; whey contains a significant amount of the amino acid L-Glutamine, a nutrient which is important for maintaining a healthy stomach and digestive system.
Whey protein can also increase the body’s production of probiotics - helpful bacteria that keeps the stomach healthy and functional.
It is thought that nutrition is key to controlling inflammatory disorders, and whey protein can contribute to a balanced, nutritious diet. Undenatured whey protein benefits the stomach in particular; this form of whey protein hasn’t had any of its protein structures changed or “denatured” during the manufacturing process, meaning the protein has more “bioavailability”,and can be easily and effectively absorbed into the gut.
Furthermore, studies using rat subjects with chemically-induced colitis discovered that the protein Glycomacropeptide, which is present in whey, was found to reduce intestinal inflammation comparable to that of the anti-inflammatory drug sulfasalazine. Since this is present in whey protein supplements, it implies that whey could reduce intestinal inflammation this way.
Ongoing research into a minor protein called lactoferrin, which is again found in whey protein, has also demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties, as well as anti-cancer and anti-microbial effects in several animal studies. Lactoferrin has been found to boost immunity to prevent cancer, whilst simultaneously suppressing immune responses to block inflammatory disease - offering another way in which whey protein aids in reducing inflammation.
A 2015 review published in Nutrients discovered that high doses of whey protein supplementation can lower C-reactive protein, which is a key inflammation marker in the body.
Inflammatory bowel disease is one of the many health conditions that can occur as a result of chronic inflammation. There is vast science available that has looked into the benefits of whey protein shakes and supplements for inflammatory bowel disease, with findings carried out on both animal and human subjects confirming that whey protein significantly reduces its effects.
All of this combined would suggest that whey protein contains a number of promising properties that would in turn reduce intestinal inflammation.
#7 Aids Weight Loss
One of the most lauded benefits of whey protein isolate in particular is its advantages for weight loss.
Whey protein, when combined with an effective diet and exercise routine, has significant evidence to support its weight loss aid theory. The way in which it does this boils down primarily to three main functions:
- Whey protein boosts metabolism, assisting the body to burn more calories which effectively results in weight loss.
- Protein is proven to suppress appetite, therefore resulting in fewer calories consumed and an effective way to sustain a calorie deficit (which is the number one factor needed for weight loss).
- Allows the body to maintain muscle mass whilst losing weight, resulting in a leaner physical appearance.
Additionally, satiety is the scientific term used to describe the feeling of fullness we feel after consuming a meal. The opposite of hunger, satiety should help suppress food cravings or the desire to eat for longer periods of time and it is well known within the nutrition world that protein is the most satiating macronutrient of them all.
While this is true, not all proteins supply the same level of satiety. Whey protein, however, has been proven to be amongst those that offer heightened levels, meaning those who consume whey protein are more likely to consume fewer calories, experience feelings of fullness for longer, have fewer food cravings and therefore be successful in weight loss.
In a 2011 study published in Obesity, the research found that those who consumed 25% of their daily calories in the form of protein experienced a decrease in cravings by 60%, as well as reducing their desire for late-night snacking by half. - confirming that whey protein supplementation can impact a natural caloric deficit.
We would still recommend pairing your whey protein supplements with an effective training programme; for some inspiration, check out the OriGym tricep pushdown guide!
Whey protein isolate particularly is ideal for achieving weight loss as it is simply “isolated” protein, meaning it is absent of the fats and carbs that are often present in other whey products.
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#8 Versatile Supplement
While this may be a less impressive point towards the health benefits of whey protein powder and supplements, it is one that should certainly not be overlooked.
By presenting a vast number of ways in which it can be consumed, along with a multitude of flavours, it allows this to be a product that can appeal to all and is implemented into a number of different lifestyles.
In its most commonly purchased form, whey protein is typically consumed as a shake/beverage; a transportable option available in an incredible number of flavours. Whether you’re a sweet tooth or hover towards the other end of the spectrum, by having such a powerful supplement available in a format which is so easy to consume, it gives everyone access to it.
Additionally, there is a growing number of whey protein bars on the market, which too come in a number of appealing flavours, from chocolate, salted caramel, and strawberry, to peanut butter, birthday cake and cookies and cream.
The internet is a great resource for creative ways to increase your whey intake, also, with a growing number of fitness enthusiasts broadcasting ways you can utilise whey protein powder into your food and consuming it in the form of a meal. The most popular options to date are: protein pancakes, brownies, cookies, and the ever faithful protein oats which make for a filling and extraordinarily balanced breakfast dish.
So while it may not have the same ring to it as the whey protein benefits for weight loss or anti-inflammatory properties, its versatility means that most people can have access to these whey protein benefits by finding a format which best suits their needs.
Additionally, it is an extremely practical product that you can take along to work, the gym or any other commitments you have in the day. Simply add milk or water to your powder and it's ready. For a list of the best protein shakers to buy in 2021 to make the job even easier, make sure you ceck out our buyer's guide.
#9 Offers a Number of Beauty Advantages
Whey protein powder may hold a stereotype, or at least a general attachment to what people use it for: weight loss, lean body, muscle gain, and while it does do all of those things, the other benefits of whey protein supplements often get overlooked, or completely ignored.
When it comes to the whey protein benefits for our skin, hair and nails, the advantages are vast and it all comes down to the function whey protein has in boosting the body's natural production of the protein collagen and elastin.
Collagen is the most abundant protein that the body provides and it makes up 70% of our skin’s composition. It is present in the connective tissues we rely on to maintain joint mobility.
As we age, the collagen levels in our bodies naturally decline, and they do so in abundance which starts as early as in our 20’s. By 40, our body’s no longer produce collagen and after 50, collagen in the skin declines by 40%.
This is where the physical signs of ageing come in; the wrinkles, puffy under eyes, lines in our faces. However, don’t threaten, as whey protein can combat anti-ageing due to its collagen and amino acids presence which help maintain the skin’s elasticity and firmness. Whey protein helps create the necessary hormones and vital enzymes to keep the required proteins running efficiently.
Understandably, increasing your whey protein intake as a vegetarian and vegan can be difficult, however, we have you covered with an entire guide on the best vegan & vegetarian protein sources to ensure you're not at a loss!
One of the most common misperceptions is that human nails are made up of calcium, when in actual fact they’re made of protein. Therefore, to maintain a strong and healthy set of nails, it is important that your body is receiving adequate amounts of protein; split, weak and damaged nails could be a sign that you have a protein deficiency.
Furthermore, our hair is also made up of the protein keratin, which promotes strong, shiny and healthy looking hair. Of course, if we have nutritional deficiencies, particular in protein which promotes the health of our hair, it can lead to damage and commonly hair loss. Whey protein helps prevent this by keeping keratin present in the body.
#10 Offers a Great Source of Protein
As established earlier, whey is the protein fraction of whey, the liquid that separates from milk during cheese production.
Whey offers a complete, high-quality protein, containing all of the essential amino acids that the body needs for a variety of everyday functions.
A review published in the International Society of Sports Nutrition Symposium defined whey protein as the best possible source of protein, stating: ”Proteins from animal sources (i.e. eggs, milk, meat, fish and poultry) provide the highest quality rating of food sources. This is primarily due to the 'completeness' of proteins from these sources.”
The review analysed every available source of protein on the market and found they whey proved to be of more value to a wider variety of people when compared to all others.
Another great source of protein is pea protein powder. You can read more about this alternative protein supplement in our full guide exploring the benefits of pea protein.
In addition to its clean and complete source of protein, it is extremely digestible, absorbed from the gut at a much quicker pace when compared to other types of protein - in fact, whey is absorbed faster than any other protein, making it ideal for fuelling muscle growth before and after training, along with its vast range of other benefits.
#11 Reduces Oxidative Stress
Concluding our list of the benefits of whey protein supplements is its potential role in reducing oxidative stress.
Antioxidants are compounds in the body that help defend the cells from damage caused by potentially harmful molecules (known as free radicals). They act against oxidation in the body, reducing oxidative stress and preventing the risk of various chronic diseases.
One of the most vital antioxidants is glutathione, which is produced naturally within the body as opposed to other antioxidants which we get from our diets. The production of glutathione depends on the supply of amino acids, including cysteine, which can sometimes be limited in the body. To combat this, it is needed to be gathered from high-cysteine foods, such as whey protein.
While more research is needed to be done, particularly in human trials, available studies have indicated that consumption of whey protein benefits oxidative stress by modulating redox biomarkers and increasing levels of glutathione, which both directly help to reduce it.
If you are enjoying this report of the 9 benefits of whey protein powder and supplements, we have carefully selected three more articles which we think you would find particularly interesting:
- The Best 15 Cheap Whey Protein Powders
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- Amino Acids: Benefits, Structure & Foods
Whey Protein Dosage
So, now you know the health benefits of whey protein supplements and how they can improve your health, but you’re left wondering how much do you take? How often? Don’t worry! It’s very simple.
It’s best to stick to one or two scoops of protein powder, which translates to about 25-50 grams of protein powder, though always factor in what the serving instructions on the packaging say.
It’s also important to take into consideration how much protein you are consuming throughout the day aside from your whey protein powder supplements. If you have a particularly high protein lunch or dinner, you may want to adjust when you take your protein shake in order to maximise the benefits, or you may even deem it unnecessary to further your protein intake in this case.
When to Take Whey Protein?
The best time to take whey protein is an ongoing, highly debated topic. For those using whey protein for its muscle and strength growth benefits, it is said to be most effective when consumed either right before, after or during a workout, with muscle protein synthesis is maximised in the time period after training.
Your body tends to be the most receptive and absorbent of protein about an hour after your workout, and this will also aid your body’s recovery
However, for those using whey protein for weight loss, they may opt to have a protein shake as a meal replacement, or a snack during the day in place of snacks.
Similarly, if taking whey protein for either performance enhancement or weight gain, there have been multiple findings to suggest that simply using whey protein as a top up at any point of the day carries beneficial effects.
As we mentioned previously, whey protein is not simply restricted to shakes; you can add it to a number of food options too. However, if you can't find the time for baking yourself, you can find a number of products on the market that have already done the job of incorporating protein into them. Take a look at OriGym's shortlist of the best protein popcorn for muscle gain to see for yourself!
What Are the Side Effects of Whey Protein?
So, good news first: whey protein is generally a very safe supplement and tends to only feature any side effects when taken in exceedingly large dosages.
On the occasion that it is consumed in excess, however, there can be some side effects. Consuming high doses of protein can cause the following reactions:
- Increased bowel movements
- Stomach cramps and pains
- Reduced appetite
- Enhanced feelings of tiredness (fatigue)
Also, if you’re lactose intolerant, we recommend opting for whey protein isolate as opposed to a whey protein concentrate product, as the isolate form does not contain lactose.
Although these side-effects are unpleasant, they are fairly short term and should ease without treatment.
There are no reported common long-term side effects, despite the thorough testing conducted, which makes this an all-round great supplement.
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That concludes our guide of the health benefits of whey protein powder and supplements. When it comes to muscle gain and fat loss, protein truly is the king of nutrients, with whey protein particularly offering a standout option.
This extremely practical and versatile supplement offers a great way to increase your protein intake that is quickly absorbed and used by the body.
We hope this has helped to bust the myth that supplementing with whey protein only benefits those who fall under the fitness industry umbrella, and instead showcases how it can improve the health and life quality of all.
Now, before you head off, if learning about whey protein and how important nutrition is to your fitness performance, then why not study with us and achieve your Level 4 Advanced Sports Nutrition Qualification!
Head over to the course page or alternatively, download our free course prospectus to find out more about the available diplomas and courses we have to offer here at OriGym.
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- West DWD, Abou Sawan S, Mazzulla M, Williamson E, Moore DR. Whey Protein Supplementation Enhances Whole Body Protein Metabolism and Performance Recovery after Resistance Exercise: A Double-Blind Crossover Study. Nutrients. 2017;9(7):735. Published 2017 Jul 11. doi:10.3390/nu9070735