Protein powders are great in a pinch when you need fuel. They’re fantastic as a supplement, providing a boost to your daily protein intake, but research has proven that whey protein in particular is much more than these things.
Whey is derived from the cheese-making process, separating out from the curds in a liquid that is then further separated into the protein and then powdered. This protein powder is bioavailable, nutrient-dense, and mixes easily in most liquids.
We’re going to look at some of the lesser-known benefits of whey powders, from its effects on your blood sugar to its role in immune health. Our goal is to deepen your appreciation for this simple protein supplement by showing you why it’s really not all that simple.
Whey protein powder promotes muscle growth
While a combination of exercise – particularly strength training – and adequate protein intake will lead to muscle growth, whey protein isolate is particularly good at it. This is because whey protein is rich in the amino acid leucine.
Leucine promotes muscle growth better than any of the other amino acids, providing better recovery from exercise and increased muscle volume and fibre density.
So while pea, soy or other non-whey supplements can provide the basic protein you need for your muscles, whey adds an extra benefit in strength development through its leucine content.
Whey promotes a health immune system
Whey powders provide excellent nutrition to your entire body, but they have added benefits for your gut health. Since the majority of our immune response comes from the gut, when your bacterial biome is healthy, your entire body is healthy.
Cysteine is an amino acid that is highly present in whey protein isolate (WPI), and your body needs it to make certain antioxidants. In particular, the antioxidant glutathione requires adequate cysteine intake or it cannot be produced by your body. Since antioxidants prevent rampant inflammation by combating free radicals, eating and producing enough cysteine is critical.
When your body is in a state of constant inflammation, like when you eat too much processed food, it’s more susceptible to both chronic and acute illnesses. In addition, chronic inflammation is linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke and so should not be taken lightly.
Supplementing with whey promotes healthy blood sugar levels
Type 2 diabetes is a disease caused by constant high levels of blood sugar through a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. When our bodies get too much carbohydrate and we don’t move enough to utilise those carbs, they get stored as fat by insulin. When our blood sugar is constantly high, our cells become immune to the efforts of insulin to push fat into them, and this insulin resistance causes inflammation as more insulin is released. Eventually, this condition leads to high amounts of circulating blood sugar in addition to the insulin, damaging nerves, blood vessels, and increasing blood pressure.
Diabetes is a very serious illness but it can be managed through proper diet and exercise, keeping your carb intake low and eating foods that help reduce blood sugar. One such food of course is whey, which appears to both increase insulin levels and our body’s sensitivity to insulin.
Because the boost to insulin whey produces doesn’t also create an increase in blood sugar, the insulin is better able to do its job cleaning up excess glucose. Increased insulin sensitivity along with decreased sugar intake will help reduce inflammation levels and lower A1C.
Additionally, taking whey protein isolate before a high-carb meal slows the absorption of those carbs into the blood, which in turn produces a slower rising blood sugar. This makes it easier for the insulin to do its job.
WPI can lower blood pressure
There have been numerous studies that indicate a moderate intake of low sugar dairy on a regular basis can help dramatically lower blood pressure. Since blood pressure is a big indicator of heart disease, it’s critical to keep it within healthy limits.
Whey is full of an ACE-inhibitor called lactokinin, which naturally lowers blood pressure. Since whey is also low in sugar, this makes it ideal to combat high blood pressure, especially in those who also have type 2 diabetes.
Lifestyle changes that include increased exercise, decreased sugar in their diet and increased whey can dramatically change metabolic profiles for the better.
Whey powder can help you lose weight
Because of the satiating power of protein, any diet that is high in protein-rich foods will help you eat less. This is why a breakfast of eggs and bacon will keep you full far longer than cereal or a bagel. In addition, protein boosts your metabolism in two ways: first, it promotes muscle growth and more muscle needs more calories to be maintained. Secondly, protein takes about 25% of the total calories it provides to be digested, which further boosts your metabolism.
Between increased satiety, improved muscle growth and a general boost to you calorie expenditure, protein should be the foundation of any dieter seeking to lose fat. Intake of adequate protein also helps you maintain muscle you’ve gained while you lose weight, as any calorie deficit might seek to burn your muscle along with fat. By keeping your protein high, you have a better chance of burning mostly fat when you eat at a deficit.
Whey seems to have an increased effect on fat-burning when compared to other proteins as well. This makes supplementing with whey ideal for someone who is trying to get their metabolism in top shape.
Ways to get whey
Because whey is so easy to make – it’s essentially a byproduct of the process of making something else – you can find it just about everywhere. Whey powder is one of the easiest ways to get it into your diet, and since it mixes easily with most liquids, it’s incredibly convenient.
Try mixing it into your morning coffee or with some milk. This is especially beneficial as a pre-workout to give you energy and focus during exercise in the morning.
You can also mix a flavoured whey powder in with plain Greek yogurt, chia pudding or other high-protein, low-sugar foods to create a quick, healthy treat.
More than just protein
You can certainly use whey powder as a supplement to get more protein in your diet and you’d be perfectly justified. Whey is abundant, easily mixable, often delicious and highly nutritious. The benefits go well beyond the protein it provides, though, so don’t get caught up there.
Getting a daily dose of whey powder can dramatically improve your blood pressure, blood sugar, weight loss efforts and overall health. It might be time to buy a jug and see for yourself how this simple little powder can provide complex benefits.