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When I first got interested in fitness and nutrition, I remember asking my mom if she could pick up a fitness magazine for me at the store for me to learn some ins and out about weights. In addition to exercise recommendations, there was also a lot of talk about protein. How much do you need? What’s the best type? Should I supplement? And the list goes on. Fast forward 30 years and the same questions still surface about protein with a strong emphasis on the best type of protein, and if and why people should supplement. Let’s uncover this a bit more and talk about the benefits of one of the many types of protein: whey. 


First, let’s get back to basics.

Where does whey protein come from?

Long before whey turns into a protein-packed powder, it’s a small but very important piece of what makes up cow milk. Cow milk is generally about 3% protein, with casein making up most of that 3% (2.7%) and whey making up just about 0.6%.  While that doesn’t sound like much, the liquid whey can be separated, dried and ultimately used in powders, bars, infant formulas and the like.  

Of course that’s overly simplified, but let’s focus on the function and uses of whey after that process is over.

1. Protein helps fill you up.  

Typically, when someone loses weight, that weight comes from both muscle and fat. In an ideal world, during periods of weight loss, most of that weight would just come from fat vs. muscle; well it turns out that upping the quality and quantity of protein can just do that and whey protein offers the quality that may be needed. Since whey protein has shown benefits for increasing muscle synthesis, the thought is whey protein supplementation during dieting would help maintain this muscle protein synthesis response, and may be a potential strategy for maintaining muscle during longer-term weight loss periods.

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition was conducted to examine this question. In this study men and women decreased caloric intake by about 750 calories per day for two weeks and supplemented with either 50 grams per day of whey protein, soy, or a carbohydrate control condition. Whey protein intake showed to preserve the synthesis of muscle fibers in a greater level (-9%) than the intake of soy protein (-28%) or carbohydrate (-31%) during the weight loss intervention. These findings suggest that increasing whey protein intake could have the potential to not only help lose body fat but also to maintain muscle mass in longer-term weight loss interventions.

Another study by protein research Heather Leidy, PhD, found that eating a higher protein breakfast in the morning (0 grams vs. 13 grams vs 35 grams) improved appetite control.  The researchers found the higher protein diet group ate about 400 calories less than the breakfast skippers and/or lower protein breakfast group, which prevented fat gain over 12 weeks.  There are lots of food options that provide this protein, but whey is certainly an easy one that can be added to breakfast pretty easily.


2. Protein helps repair your muscles. 

“Protein synthesis” is the “fancy” way of saying “repairing and growing muscle.”

Protein is made up of amino acids, which act like building blocks for the body. When you eat protein around exercise, it gives your muscles the amino acids necessary to repair and rebuild. This is important because any type of exercise or any repetitive play, really – which include muscle contractions (running, lifting, stand up paddle boarding – any of it) break down muscle cells and cause damage to the muscles in your arms, legs, and the rest of your body.  Taking in adequate protein around exercise helps reverse damage, build muscle (overtime), and get you ready for the next tough workout. Whey protein in particular is quickly absorbed and particularly high in one of the key amino acids that helps with this entire process, called leucine.


3. High(er) protein diets improve weight loss.

Don’t read that as high protein that’s exclusive of other nutrients, but research shows higher protein diets can improve weight loss.  In a recent study, researchers provided either the RDA of protein (0.8 g/kg/ er day), 2x the RDA of protein or 3x the RDA of protein and matched calories outside of the protein itself.  There were a few interesting outcomes from this study; the higher protein groups did effectively lose more weight (and specifically fat mass vs. lean mass), but one important point was that there was no added benefit to the highest protein group vs. just the one where the subjects at two times the RDA (1.6 g/kg/day).  In other words, higher is good – but that doesn’t mean just endless amounts of protein is best.  An easy way to boost protein in the diet is by adding whey protein – in smoothies, in oatmeal and even in coffee if you’re looking for options.  

Here’s the bottom line.  

  •  Eat protein with every meal and/or snack

  •  Opt for high-quality lean protein, like that found in whey (and other protein sources)

  •  Include whey protein as a quick, easy convenient option

As an aside, my go-to brand is NOW Sports Whey. It is top of the heap and is a brand that can be trusted for quality standards.

Want whey but don’t want a smoothie?  Give this protein pudding a try.

  • 1 scoop whey isolate protein powder

  • 1/2 cup frozen mango (or blueberries)

  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (full fat)

  • About ½ cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk 

Add the first 3 ingredients to a blender, blend until smooth and slowly drizzle in the last bit of almond milk until it has a pudding thick consistency.  

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