Have you ever opened up a tub of protein powder to see what’s inside?
Gone are the days when only big bodybuilders used protein powder. Because the truth is, protein powder is real food! And it’s a tasty, convenient, healthy way for YOU to get more protein.
If you’re still a little suspicious about protein powder, let us put your mind at rest. Protein powder is actually real food, just presented in a powder form for convenience. The most popular type of protein powder is whey, so let’s focus on that. Whey is a dairy food which is a by-product of cheese production. Remember Little Miss Muffet? She sat on her tuffet (whatever that was) eating her curds and… whey.
This answers the question of “how safe is whey protein powder?” It’s natural, safe, and simply a convenient form of a high protein food. And, no, it doesn’t taste cheesy!
Before we look at 10 benefits YOU would get from with using whey protein, we need to understand why we all need enough to begin with.
Protein is one of the macronutrients in food (the others are carbohydrates and fats). Protein is the building block of our muscle tissue, cells, connective tissue and other soft tissue. Protein helps us grow, and it helps us stay stronger and leaner as we age. Did you know that we lose up to 5% of our lean muscle mass every decade after 30? Sarcopenia (the fancy name for this muscle loss) is a serious problem which can lead to weakness, aches and pains, poor posture, and even loss of mobility.
Eating enough protein protects your muscle mass, helping to slow down the amount you will lose as you get older. And it can even keep you leaner, too (because more muscle means less body fat). (1)
The problem is that most of us do not eat anything like enough protein. But it’s difficult to meet your optimal protein intake through whole food choices like meat, fish, beans, pulses, and dairy.
Whey protein to the rescue!
It’s a scientific fact that protein helps you feel fuller and more satisfied for longer, so you can avoid snacking and ignore cravings more easily.(8) This is to do with the thermic effect of food (TEF). Protein has a high thermic effect, meaning your body actually needs more time and energy to break it down, digest it, and put it to use. And, yes, whey protein is more filling than other kinds of protein powder like soy (9). You won’t get the same effect from the equivalent calories from a carbohydrate or fat source. If you always feel peckish, or you’re trying to diet, add whey protein to your day. You’ll see what we mean!
We all get hit by food cravings from time to time, and for some people they can be a constant battle. What if we told you there was a healthy, natural, low-fat, low-carb health food which could crush your cravings? Wouldn’t you wonder why you’d never tried it before? Well, that food supplement is whey protein! Choose a flavour you’ll love, and you can enjoy a milkshake-type drink that is sweet, satisfying, and genuinely fills you up.
Your busy schedule and hectic lifestyle makes it even more difficult to eat healthily. Whey protein comes to the rescue again. Not only is it super convenient to carry with you, but it’s quick and easy to drink between meetings, on your break, or whilst you wait for the kids. When to take whey protein? You can either make up the shake beforehand, or put the powder in a shaker and fill it when you’re ready for your snack. Oh, and it gets around the problem of smelly snacks. No colleague or fellow commuter will ever complain about the smell of a protein shake (because there isn’t one!)
If you’ve never paid attention to your protein intake, chances are you’ve been under-eating on this crucial macronutrient for years. Very few of us actually eat enough, yet protein is the one macronutrient which is essential to the human body. Whey protein is cost-effective, convenient, tasty, versatile, and has a long shelf life. Just one serving a day will boost your protein intake by 25g-30g. This can help you hang on to muscle tissue as you age, which can even help you lose weight and stay slim (10).
Amino acids are the individual components which combine to make protein, but not all sources of protein have a good balance of amino acids. Whey protein is one of the most complete amino acid sources around. And it is particular rich in an amino acid called cysteine, which they body can convert to glutathione, a powerful antioxidant. Like all antioxidants, it can prevent free radicals from damaging our healthy cells. This is great news if you are in bad health, have been eating a poor diet, or have a weakened immune system for any reason. Glutathione is a kind of super-antioxidant because it can boost the activity of every other antioxidant you get from your food or vitamin and mineral supplements. Whey protein helps your immune system recover and get back to full strength, reducing your risk of everyday illnesses and serious issues later in life. (6)
One of the other key amino acids in whey protein is tryptophan. This amino acid is linked to your brain’s production of serotonin, a happy hormone which helps you feel calm and sleep better. People who experience anxiety or depression usually have low serotonin levels. By increasing serotonin by using a whey protein supplement naturally rich in tryptophan, you’ll actually be able to produce more serotonin yourself. You’ll sleep better, be able to control stress, and stay on top of anxiety.
We all know by now that high levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) can lead to health issues, including the risk of heart attacks. LDL builds up on the walls of your blood vessels and can eventually cause blockages. Nutritional studies have shown that whey protein can have a positive effect on the cholesterol levels of men and women, decreasing total cholesterol and triglycerides.(7) Whey protein is a low-fat, low-carbohydrate protein supplement which gives you a very healthy way of adding more protein to your diet without excess calories.
Thickening waistlines don’t have to be part and parcel of getting older. One of the reasons we tend to get fatter and look out of shape as we age is that we swap lean mass (muscle) for body fat. The more muscle you can hang on to, the better you’ll fare. Muscle loss happens naturally as we get past the age of 30 (don’t shoot the messenger!) but it will obviously be heightened if you become less active, play less sport, and get more sedentary as you age. As they say, use it or lose it. Staying leaner is about more than looking good. Less muscle and more body fat can be a risk factor for chronic diseases. More protein, plus more activity and some strength training, can slow down or even reverse the march of time. (2)
High blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease, and we don’t need to tell you how serious that can be. Dairy products have been linked to reduced blood pressure in people with hypertension (3), and this is thanks to bioactive peptides called ACE-inhibitors in milk protein (4). In whey protein, these are called lactokinins (5). It should be noted that whey protein is likely to only help if you already have elevated blood pressure. But it’s a promising bonus for such a cost-effective, convenient food supplement!
If you suffer with bloating, pain, or even IBS, IBD, Crohn’s Disease, or ulcerative colitis, putting your faith in a good quality whey protein could pay off. Research has found that whey protein supplements have a significant effect on CRP (c-reactive protein) which is a key marker of inflammation (11). And most digestive issues, including IBS and IBD, involve inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. Studies have shown that whey protein powder could actually help manage inflammatory bowel disease (12).
So who benefits from whey protein? The answer is: you do! If you want to stay slimmer, healthier, and more active as you get older, use whey protein. If you want to reduce your risk of heart disease, bad cholesterol, high blood pressure, and chronic disease, drink whey protein. If you want to make sure you’re eating as much of this essential nutrient as your body truly needs… use whey protein!
- Worried about bloating? This only happens with low quality whey (which can be packed with unnecessary fillers, thickeners, and sweeteners). A good quality whey protein isolate would be the best choice for you - it is almost zero-lactose.
- Ignore fancy packaging and marketing blurb. The whey protein market is huge, which means there are plenty of brands out there to choose from. Ignore fancy labels, crazy marketing claims, and flash colours. Read the small print and examine the ingredients. Look for a short ingredient list, no fillers, no oils or thickeners, and no added extras. A good whey protein doesn’t need them.
- Buy from a specialist. Yes, you can get whey protein from the supermarket or from high-street health food shops. But we wouldn’t recommend it. Not only will the mark-up be shocking, but the product might not be chosen on quality. Buy whey protein from a food supplement company. They’re the expert.
- Think about taste, texture, and mixablity factor as well as price. By paying slightly more (we’re talking a pound or two), you’ll often get a much higher quality whey protein which will mix without clumps and taste amazing.
Remember there are two common types of whey protein supplement:
WPC is low fat, low carb, and low in lactose. Check the protein content and aim for 85%-90% protein per 100g.
WPI is purer and has been filtered to remove almost all fat and lactose. Look for at least 90% protein.
Whey protein is great simply mixer with cold water (it tastes like a milk shake). But if you fancy getting more creative, there are tons of ways to use this versatile protein supplement. Here are just a few ideas:
Little Miss Muffet Image courtesy of clipartfest.com