Whey Protein: Is it Really Good for Me?

It is difficult to speak on athletic training and bodybuilding without venturing into the Pandora’s box that is supplementation. Every perceived nutritional need in the human body, ranging from vitamins to proteins, can nowadays be supplemented with some selection of pills or some other powder. Subjective views as to whether supplementation actually helps the user or if it is actually detrimental to their health, vary vastly amongst health experts and workout enthusiasts. Some strongly support the use of supplements, while others barely tolerate it. However, the fact of the matter is that supplements came and are here to stay.

Therefore, basing your decision on whether or not to use supplements on research-based facts is, now more than ever, of paramount importance, especially in this day and age of self-proclaimed professionals and keyboard experts.

Whey protein went from being just another throwaway formed during cheese production to a staple at the gym table, in a matter of years. In fact, it has become one of the most widely circulated forms of supplementation available, and definitely the one you are most likely to come across first, as a newcomer into the gym life. But what exactly is whey protein and why is it such a popular choice amongst health and fitness enthusiasts?

Whey protein is one of the major proteins found in milk, alongside casein. When the fatty part of milk is coagulated, for example, during cheese production, a watery mixture of beta-lactoglobulin, alpha lactalbumin, bovine serum albumin, and immunoglobins is obtained as a by-product. The proteins that constitute this by-product contain all of the 9 essential amino acids needed in human diet, making it qualify as a complete protein. It is then processed and flavoured to produce the ubiquitous powder which we know as whey.

Types of Whey Protein

Primarily, there are three types of whey protein on the market right now:

  1. Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
  2. Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
  3. Whey Protein Hydrosylate (WPH)

All of these have their own distinctive market value. You may be more familiar with WPI, which is the main ingredient of products such as Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard Whey. The hydrosylate form, on the other hand, may be found in infant formulas or in medical protein supplements, as it is easier to digest and thus better for babies and the infirm whose diets need protein supplementation.

What are the potential benefits of whey?

Well, first and foremost, it may help in weight loss while augmenting lean mass, especially when coupled with resistance exercise. In a study posted in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, men that made use of whey supplements alongside resistance training showed greater relative gain in muscle mass as compared to the control group. This is because the amino acids obtained from whey are used in synthesis of muscle tissue and thus resulting in increased lean mass.

This increase in lean mass has also been shown in HIV-positive patients who, according to a study published in the Clinical and Investigative Medicine journal, experienced reduced weight loss and cachexia when their diets were supplemented with whey. This may help reducing the morbidity as well as slowing down mortality associated with the virus.

Whey protein has also been shown to have the potential to reduce blood cholesterol levels in a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition. After a period of 12 weeks, 70 overweight men and women who added whey to their diets were found to have significantly lower blood lipid levels than their control counterparts.

Whey also contains a lot of cysteine which is used in by the body in the making of glutathione, a natural antioxidant. This, alongside other benefits such as lowering blood pressure, reducing symptoms of depression and stress and protection against cancer, part of the pool of benefits that come with supplementation of your diet with whey.

Dangers of using whey

Whey has been found to be very safe at the recommended normal doses. However, some people may be allergic to the protein constituents. Also, some caution must be exercised if you are lactose intolerant, especially with Whey Protein Concentrate, which contains a significant amount of milk products. High doses may result in abdominal pain, diarrhoea, flatulence and vomiting.

At the end of the day, dietary supplementation with whey is worth considering, whether it for fitness or for health. It is readily available and quite affordable from legitimate walk-in and online stores. With a bit of advice from your doctor with regards to allergies, and from your personal trainer with regards to regimens, whey could be your path to easier gains on both the health and fitness fronts.

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