This may seem a little obvious but bear with us here, there may be some stuff that you haven’t thought about. I mean, obviously, whey protein powder gives you protein, with a complete amino acid profile and turns you into a big shredded genetic freak, right? Or, is it that whey protein is a poorly absorbed and processed product that has been miss-sold to us by the evil dairy industry?
Let’s tackle that absorption issue fist. There is considerable research on different types of protein powders, the common ones are whey protein, casein and soy. It is well known that casein is a very slow digesting source of protein and that whey is rapidly absorbed, in fact (1) it is the fastest acting protein supplement on the market. Despite some people claiming that you don’t absorb dairy based proteins the evidence is pretty conclusive. Whey protein is the fastest acting and most compete protein supplement on the market.
Sure, some people may choose not to use an animal based protein for ethical reasons and they are free to make that choice. Soy is a pretty good alternative (1).
Obviously, because whey is derived from cows’ dairy it contains the same proteins and lactose as cows’ milk and other dairy products so if you know that you have an intolerance to cows’ dairy then choose an alternative. It could be that this is the reason some people experience bloating from taking a whey shake, but more on that in a bit.
As for whether whey protein actually helps your muscles to grow and makes you shredded, it kind of does but that doesn’t mean you can consume it freely. This article explains what level of protein you should be aiming for: Protein for athletes
Are whey protein shakes bad for you?
Another often cited problem regarding consumption of whey protein is that protein is acidic and damages your kidneys. This comes from research done on rats in the last century and has since been debunked (2). In this study trained males were observed consuming up to 3 times the recommended levels of protein and their health markers were not affected. They did, however, see an increase in fat free mass which is a pretty good side effect. More evidence that protein has a positive effect on body composition and, if you aren’t getting enough from your meals then supplementing with a whey protein shake will almost certainly help you to build more muscle.
Some of the highly-researched benefits of whey protein include prevention of allergies, appetite suppression, for reaching recommended protein levels and alleviate deficiencies experienced in ageing and diabetes (3). Furthermore, it has been observed that conditions like sarcopenia which is a depletion of skeletal muscle and even osteopenia often seen in the elderly may be halted by consumption of a whey protein shake. Douglas Paddon-Jones and Blake B. Rasmussen found that although muscle protein synthesis is dampened in the elderly consuming 25-30g of high quality protein per meal was beneficial (4).
There is one thing that is worth taking notice of however, and that is amino acid spiking (5). This is a tactic used by some manufacturers to save cost. Basically, they bulk out the total protein with a bunch of non-essential amino acids that play no role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis. This isn’t harmful, it’s just immoral so learn how to identify this.
Looking at the above evidence we can see that not only is whey protein safe, it is highly beneficial for more than just building ripped muscles. If your gran or grandad struggle to eat a decent portion of protein dense food at each meal or can’t afford a monthly meat order from Muscle Food, then encouraging them to consume a whey protein shake once or twice per day (or to mix it into their porridge) might be a very simple and effective answer.
Some people do experience bloating and other gastrointestinal symptoms from consuming whey protein. But, this is likely due to an intolerance to dairy. There’s usually a cut-off point for lactose intolerance which, once breeched, brings on the symptoms. It might just be that adding a whey shake per day simply pushed that limit for those people, It’s not the whey per se that’s the problem but the dairy itself. If this is the case with you a plant based alternative would be a good option. Soy, pea or rice protein are all good alternatives, or a vegan blend. Unfortunately, they tend to be dearer than whey and don’t taste as good as whey protein either.
But, if you are fine with dairy, have good digestion and a healthy diet whey protein won’t cause you any issues at all and can in fact help you to achieve your body composition goals.
Real world benefits of whey protein
That’s a brief look at some of the research and it’s patently clear that whey protein is safe and effective but is it necessary? Of-course it isn’t necessary but it is very convenient and, as we already stated, consuming more protein can help reduce fat free mass and improve your body composition. Aside from the above let’s look at some other practical uses for whey protein that you might not have thought about.
- Whey protein is great for baking. Use it as an ingredient in cakes, cookies and flapjacks or make your own protein bars. Our banana whey goes great in banana bread and cheesecake is even better with whey protein.
- Add whey protein to smoothies for a quick and convenient breakfast or fast recovery drink post workout.
- Add whey protein to porridge to not only warm you up in the morning but to keep you feeling full right up until lunch.
- Protein pancakes, what more do I need to say?
- Use whey protein to stimulate muscle protein synthesis post workout. This isn’t necessary because the post exercise anabolic window is longer than most think but a whey shake will stimulate MPS and if your next meal isn’t for a couple of hours a whey shake is ideal.
- If you are a large athlete with a high protein demand adding a couple of whey shakes per day will make it a lot easier to hit your targets.
- If you are a cyclist or triathlete athlete you can add whey protein to your intra ride carb solutions on those longer rides or use whey protein to make up your 3:1 or 4:1 (carb:pro) post-race recovery drink.
That’s a bunch of really good reasons to always have some whey protein in your cupboard. You don’t have to dive for the shaker cup the instant you put the bar down and you don’t have to be that gym bro walking around sipping whey between sets. Consumption of whey protein isn’t essential to losing body fat or building muscle but it can be helpful. To burn fat you have to be in an energy deficit, you do that by controlling what goes in your mouth (NOT THAT). Conversely, you build muscle by being in a slight energy surplus and training hard. Whey protein isn’t magic but it is useful and can really help to make things a lot easier, as well as helping with variety in your diet.
- Gregoryl L. Paul. The Rationale for Consuming Protein Blends in Sports Nutrition. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 28, No. 4, 464S–472S (2009) Published by the American College of Nutrition. Paper link
- Antonio et al. A High Protein Diet Has No Harmful Effects: A One-Year. Crossover Study in Resistance-Trained Males. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. Volume 2016, Article ID 9104792, 5 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2016/9104792
- Whey protein - Examine.com
- Douglas Paddon-Jones and Blake B. Rasmussen. Dietary protein recommendations and the prevention of sarcopenia: Protein, amino acid metabolism and therapy Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2009 January ; 12(1): 86–90. doi:10.1097/MCO.0b013e32831cef8b.
- Amino acid spiking - Awesome Supplements blog