5 Ways Whey Protein Boosts Your Overall Health
I can’t tell you how many times someone has asked me a question like, “Is whey protein good for me?” Or, “Whey protein is for bodybuilders. I shouldn’t use it if I don’t want to bulk up, right?”
On one hand, it excites me; after all, it’s a good sign they are interested in looking, feeling, and performing their best. On the other hand, I can’t help but want to drop my head into a double facepalm because such a misguided perspective is still so pervasive. So let’s set the record straight!
5 Ways Whey Protein Boosts Your Health
1. Muscle Growth & Strength
When it comes to protein quality—which is based on amino acid content and digestibility—whey is king. You see, whey is easily digested and rapidly absorbed, and it is the most concentrated source of essential amino acids, including leucine, which is known as the linchpin for muscle recovery and growth.
As a result, whey protein is extremely effective at maximizing muscle protein synthesis (the rate at which the body builds muscle), and at the same time, halting the rate of muscle protein breakdown. Not surprisingly, research shows that whey protein helps promote muscle repair and recovery after exercise. And along those lines, regular supplementation with whey protein (particularly when it’s combined with regular resistance training) can:
- Build lean muscle
- Enhance exercise recovery
- Improve strength
- Support muscle function
2. Boost & Preserve Metabolic Rate
When it comes to supporting a healthy metabolism, whey protein is a double-edged sword. While all foods that we eat require a certain percentage of their usable calories to be burned for metabolism and/or storage (called the thermic effect of food, or TEF for short), the TEF for protein is over FIVE TIMES higher than that for carbs or fats. In other words, you burn more calories when you consume whey protein and other high-protein foods. It also means that protein-rich foods like whey provide less metabolizable energy (than carbs or fats)—meaning your body is less likely to store calories from protein as fat.
On the other side of the coin, as mentioned above, diets including plenty of high-quality protein like whey are essential for building and maintaining muscle mass. And as most people know, muscle is metabolically active and burns calories. In fact, a pound of skeletal muscle burns about 3 times more calories than a pound of fat. Along those lines, lean muscle accounts for up to 50% of the total calories burned each day, and the more active you are, the greater the contribution.
The bad news: Most people lose calorie-burning muscle as they get older, and even worse, they tend to be less active. The good news: Besides lifting weights, what’s the next most important factor for preserving muscle (and metabolic rate)? You guessed it. Higher-protein diets are essential for maintaining muscle and preserving metabolic rate.
3. Appetite Management
Another major metabolic advantage of higher-protein diets is increased satiety and improved appetite control. That is, they can help reduce caloric intake, decrease cravings, and improve diet quality. In other words, protein-rich foods are much more likely to make you feel full and satisfied.
While it’s commonly accepted that protein in general increases satiety, whey may have specific advantages. For instance, whey protein has been shown to decrease hunger to a greater extent than other sources of protein. Consuming whey leads to an increase in hormones like GLP-1, GIP, and CCK, which suppress appetite and promote satiety, and a decrease levels of the notorious “hunger hormone” ghrelin.
4. Weight Management
Okay, you know that that whey protein can: 1. Help boost metabolism; and 2. Reduce food intake. Considering that you’ve got to burn more calories than you consume to lose fat, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that supplementing with whey protein can help with weight management.
Taking it even a step further, let’s make a key distinction between weight loss and quality weight loss, which focuses on reducing excess body fat (especially abdominal fat) while maintaining (or better yet, increasing) calorie-burning lean muscle, which has functional and metabolic importance. This is crucial because losing muscle mass—which is a common, expected side effect of normal-protein reduced-calorie diets—leads to:
1. Reduced metabolic rate; 2. Increased appetite (“collateral fattening”); 3. Greater likelihood of weight regain; and 4. A host of potential negative health consequences.
Along those lines, supplementing with whey protein can help accelerate fat loss and build/maintain calorie-burning lean muscle, and those effects may be even better when combined with regular strength training. In other words, whey can be quite useful to enhance quality weight loss and support long-term weight maintenance.
5. Healthy Aging & Wellness
As you can tell, whey protein is not just for athletes and fitness buffs (although there’s no question that it should be in their locker). The health benefits of whey are far-reaching, and it is considered a key component for healthy aging. After all, many believe that the reductions in metabolic rate and muscle mass are age-related and inevitable. But as you now know, higher-protein diets including whey can help preserve calorie-burning lean muscle and metabolic rate, especially when combined with regular strength training.
But the benefits of maintaining our lean muscle as we age go well beyond burning calories. Combatting age-related muscle loss has tremendous consequences as it can limit mobility and physical function, lead to a greater incidence of falls, contribute to several age-related health conditions, decrease independence, and reduce quality of life.