Examining The Pros and Cons Of Whey Protein
If your main fitness goal is to build more muscle, you will need to consume enough protein. In this case, most people would immediately think of their diet and how to incorporate more high-protein foodstuffs like chicken breast slices or quinoa veggie bowls.
Although these are excellent sources of protein, they are considered whole proteins found mainly in animal and plant products that also come with other nutrients like vitamins and fibre.
The other, more potent form is whey protein, popular among fitness lovers, athletes, and nutrient-deficient individuals. It comes in three types—concentrates, isolates, and hydrolysates—which deliver distinct benefits and choosing the best one for you largely depends on your personal needs and goals.
Let us get an overview of whey protein and take a closer look at its pros and cons.
What is protein?
Protein is the primary building block of the body. It is a molecule composed of smaller components known as amino acids, which perform many vital functions in the body, from building essential structures like muscles, enzymes, organs, and so on to creating new immune cells. Understanding whey protein requires first understanding protein at the molecular level.
Some amino acids are produced within the body, while we can only obtain the others from the foods we eat. These latter types are termed essential amino acids. We already get these essential amino acids through our diet.
However, whey protein is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids. Hence, it is a better way to get enough protein to support your fitness routine further.
Explaining whey protein
Whey protein is one of the two types of protein that make up milk, with the other being casein. Regular milk typically contains 20% whey and 80% casein.
Whey protein's popularity as a supplement is mainly due to it being more easily digestible and quickly utilised than food and its high count of essential amino acids that are necessary for supporting muscle recovery and synthesis after training.
There are three popular types of whey protein, the main difference being how they are processed.
Whey protein concentrate has around 70%-80% protein content and retains some fat and lactose (milk sugar), making this protein the best when it comes to taste.
Whey protein isolate contains 90% or higher protein content and has less fat and lactose, meaning it lacks many beneficial nutrients concentrated whey protein has.
Whey protein hydrolysate or hydrolysed whey is a type of whey protein that comes pre-digested so that it can be absorbed much faster by the body. As a result, it can cause 28%-43% increase of insulin levels than isolate.
Examining the pros and cons of whey protein
1. Enhances muscle/strength gain
Whey protein promotes muscle gain in several ways, providing the building blocks of protein and amino acids necessary for increased muscle mass. Its fast absorption is also a key contributing factor to this.
Next, it promotes the production of anabolic hormones, such as insulin, that stimulate muscle growth. Whey protein also has a high leucine count, the amino acid known to trigger muscle protein synthesis at the genetic and molecular levels. 2. Improves satiety and consequently promotes weight loss
It is well-known that protein can help lose weight, and it is the most satiating macronutrient. Protein helps boost the body's energy expenditure by up to 80 to 100 calories daily and prompts individuals to consume approximately 441 calories per day automatically.
One study shows that an intake of 25% of the daily recommended calories reduces cravings by 60% and halves cravings for late-time snacks.
Other studies also revealed combining weightlifting and substituting other sources of calories for whey protein can lead to a weight loss of around 3.5 kg (8 pounds) while increasing muscle mass.
3. Provides various other health benefits
Besides muscle gain, studies have pointed out that whey protein may also provide other health benefits, including lowering blood sugar and blood pressure and reducing symptoms of depression and stress.
Furthermore, it could also help increase bone mineral density, protect against cancer, reduce symptoms of hepatitis, and improve immune function among HIV patients.
Whey protein's high content of the amino acid cysteine seems to be the cause of these benefits due to its effect of raising glutathione levels. Glutathione is the body cells' primary antioxidant substance.
1. Potential contaminants
Protein supplements like whey protein do not have strict regulations, unlike foods and prescribed drugs. As such, the purity in some supplement products may not be accurately proven and contain fillers or contaminants not listed on the label.
To ensure your whey protein is safe, choose the products certified by Informed Choice, or NSF Certified for Sport, as they have undergone independent testing for purity.
2. Extra sugar or processed ingredients
Ideally, it is more recommended to earn your protein from whole foods and a balanced diet instead of supplements in the form of bars or shakes.
Many whey protein shakes and powders contain processed ingredients like added sugar, sweeteners, and artificial flavours. However, if you need them, choose the products that list whey protein as their only ingredient.
3. Potential side effects in some people
Whey protein is often reported to bring about gastrointestinal problems that can be as mild as bloating and wind (typically associated with refined whey protein isolate powders) or more serious ones like diarrhoea, constipation, or nausea, especially when taken in large amounts.
While it was mentioned that whey protein could help in weight loss, it is also possible to have the opposite effect and contribute to unwanted weight gain. For those with underlying health conditions, excessive protein intake should be tracked and balanced to ensure health and safety.
Whey protein certainly has its place for people keen on making the most of their monthly gym membership in Singapore or those looking to fill their nutritional gaps.
Nevertheless, most people generally get enough protein from their daily diet and thus do not need whey protein. As with any other supplement, keep the pros and cons of whey protein in mind and always consult your doctor before taking them to ensure they are safe for your use.