Whey protein supplements are often marketed at bodybuilders and athletes, and while one of the whey protein benefits is to support muscle growth, this milk protein has a range of additional health benefits. Containing all eight essential amino acids, whey is a high quality protein that is particularly good for anyone who avoids or eats little meat. It is also free from lactose, so suitable for anyone with an intolerance to lactose who would otherwise avoid milk and other dairy produce, with inclusion of whey protein concentrate helping to maintain the balance of the diet. Additionally, whey protein is low in fat, making it ideal for anyone who is conscious of their weight or aiming for a low-fat diet for other reasons. So what are the health benefits of this protein?
Bioavailability (sometimes referred to as the biological value) is the measure of the proportion of ingested protein that can be incorporated into tissues within the body. While this can be reported of a percentage, often it compared relative to the bioavailability of an egg and when using this method, whey protein concentrate has a value of 1.04, showing that it has a higher bioavailability. While people often believe meat and fish to be the best sources of protein, their proteins have a lower bioavailability than an egg, so are not as easily incorporated into our body; proteins from plant sources have a lower biological value still. As all our body tissues, which are largely comprised of protein, are subject to wear and tear, these need to be repaired which requires a reliable source of amino acids. Whey protein therefore provides the perfect source of amino acids for this job. Particularly when the whey is present in the form of supplements, it is easier to absorb and therefore utilize than when consumed from milk itself.
Boosts Immune Function
Not only does the body's immune system help us to fight off infections, but a healthy immune function also allows the body to detect and destroy cancerous cells before they take hold. While vitamin C and zinc are often claimed to be the best nutrients for a strong immune system, did you know that boosting immune function is one of the whey protein benefits? It may be particularly beneficial for people who take part in intense exercise, which is linked to reduced immune function, leaving those who train hard vulnerable to respiratory infections. Consumption of whey protein is linked to increased levels of glutathione in the body in both sedentary people and athletes; glutathione is known to protect the body against both attack from microbes by enhancing white blood cell activity and its antioxidant function protects against the damaging effects of free radicals that can induce cell changes. Exercise is known to deplete levels of glutathione, but this study showed that whey protein supplements were able to minimize this decrease in glutathione. There is also evidence that whey protein concentrate may suppress white blood cell activity in the intestines, which could be utilized to help people suffering from inflammatory diseases of the digestive system such as celiac disease and allergies. Not only can whey protein have a positive influence on the immune response, but these proteins have also been shown to have their own antimicrobial activity. This may stem from their immunoglobulin content, with some milk containing antibodies to E. coli, Salmonella and Shigella.
Increases Lean Body Mass
Whether you are a keen participant in sport or someone who is aware of the benefits of reducing the amount of excess fat you carry, you may be interested in whey protein concentrate and its ability to favorably change your body composition.
Protein is well-known for its ability to enhance muscle mass when dietary intake of this macronutrient is increased alongside resistance training. However, the question isn't so much how much extra protein is required, but the form this protein should take. Keen athletes frequently choose to supplement their usual diet with either whey protein or soya, but scientific studies demonstrate that whey protein concentrate is a superior source of protein for promoting an increase in both total lean body mass and muscle mass by increasing protein synthesis. Anyone who has suffered muscle wasting as a consequence of disease related malnutrition may also be interested in supplementing their intake with whey protein, as may seniors where the natural aging process causes them to lose muscle mass, which can impact on their ability to complete everyday tasks. A high protein high calorie diet is certainly advocated to promote gains in lean body mass among people who have experienced unintentional weight loss, whether that be through ill-health, reduced appetite or simply through getting older. Whey-based drinks are certainly an easy way to add calories and high quality protein to the diet and can replace less nourishing drinks such as tea and black coffee; equally whey powders can be added to instant cereals, desserts and sauces.
If fat loss is your aim, research shows that when taken as part of a calorie controlled diet and alongside resistance training, a whey protein supplement can help someone achieve a greater loss of fat mass than simply a high protein diet or a casein protein supplement. However, it isn't just the positive impact that this milk protein has on reducing fat mass for someone wishing to lose weight; there is also evidence that whey protein helps to reduce appetite, through its ability to suppress those hormones that induce feelings of hunger, while promoting those that encourage feelings of satiety. After a drink of milk or another beverage containing whey, you certainly do feel fuller than if you have another drink of equal volume. As hunger is one of the barriers that stand in the way of successful weight loss, inclusion of this protein in a calorie restricted diet may be helpful to anyone who struggles with their appetite when trying to lose weight. One of the additional whey protein benefits with regards to weight loss and reducing disease risk is the positive impact this milk protein has on waist circumference. Carrying extra weight around the waist is detrimental to someone's risk of developing heart disease and diabetes even if they have a body mass index within the healthy range; this is because fat stored in this area of the body is metabolically active, producing hormones that negatively affect factors such as cholesterol level, blood pressure and blood sugar control. The ability to lose extra inches from around the waist during weight loss can therefore bring significant health benefits. If you thought that milk was fattening, think again. It's no wonder that milk drinkers tend to be thinner than those who include little of this dairy product in their diet when you consider the benefits of whey protein.
Increases Muscle Strength
It isn't just the amount of muscle mass that is important, the strength of someone's muscles are important. This is not just an issue for sportsmen and women either; all of us require strong muscles to complete day-to-day tasks. Building muscle strength is especially important for the elderly or anyone recovering from an illness, as the loss of muscle mass in either case is associated with a loss of strength. A high protein diet and exercise to stimulate muscle fiber growth is commonly recommended for those with muscle wasting and incorporating whey protein concentrate into this may be of benefit. Indeed, untrained participants who receive whey protein alongside exercise designed to promote muscle growth, do show an increase in muscle-building, mass and strength. This study is relevant to those in recovery, as just 20g of protein before and after exercise was needed and the activity level of three sets of six to eight repetitions four times weekly is achievable.
Whey Protein and Bone Health
The whey protein benefits extend beyond that of promoting muscle gain and strength; this protein is also advantageous for bone health. While calcium is the nutrient most people associate with strengthening bones, there is evidence that whey proteins also play an important role in this. Milk basic protein, which is a component of whey protein, has been shown to increase levels of osteocalcin, one of the proteins essential for bone building. As the levels of osteocalcin rise, so does bone mineral density, a measure of the strength of the bones. Markers of bone breakdown were also shown to be reduced following intake of milk basic protein. Increasing consumption of whey protein concentrate and therefore milk basic protein helps to promote new bone formation, which may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. With 18 million Americans at risk of this disease, which increases the risk of fractures of the wrist, hip and spine and is associated with reduced quality of life and increased mortality, taking steps to reduce your risk of this condition is advisable.
Whey Protein and Heart Health
Dairy produce may have received bad press owing to the saturated fat contained in full fat versions, but low-fat dairy produce is now advocated as part of a heart healthy diet. It was thought that some of the benefits from reduced fat dairy produce in relation to heart health came from the favorable action of calcium, magnesium and potassium on blood pressure. While studies do indeed show these minerals to be beneficial in relation to blood pressure, there is evidence that the whey protein benefits extend to lowering blood pressure. When whey rich milk was consumed for a ten week period, both systolic and diastolic blood pressure fell significantly. The same study demonstrated that whey protein is also capable of lowering both total and the harmful LDL cholesterol, while not adversely affecting levels of favorable HDL cholesterol. As both raised blood pressure and cholesterol are important risk factors for cardiovascular disease, reducing them through simply including more whey protein concentrate in the diet is a simple step to take, as it can be used to replace standard milk. However, that isn't where the cardiovascular benefits of whey protein end. Systemic inflammation is a known cause of heart disease; this may be the result of an inflammatory disease or the consequence of damage by free radicals that are the byproduct of reactions within the body and are also introduced via pollutants including cigarette smoke. Inclusion of whey protein has been shown to reduce indicators of both inflammation and free radical activity, so this is another good reason for regular consumption of this milk protein. As other common medical problems are thought to arise as a result of exposure to inflammation, such as diabetes, dementia and even some forms of cancer, you are likely to gain further whey protein benefits through its inclusion.
Whey Protein and Mental Health
Besides benefits to physical health and disease prevention, whey protein concentrate may also be advantageous to our mental well-being. When individuals prone to stress consume whey protein containing lactalbumin, they are less likely to suffer the effects of stress. Whey protein is believed to boost levels of tryptophan, one of the amino acids responsible for the production of serotonin, which helps to induce feelings of well-being. This finding may explain why a glass of milk or another drink rich in whey protein can promote feelings of calmness. If you suffer from chronic stress, you may wish to consider whey protein as an addition to your daily intake to be used as an adjunct to any other measures you use to control your stress levels.
Choosing Whey Protein Concentrate
As you can see, there are many