With all the perks of protein powder and recipes for healthy smoothies floating around, it’s hard not to pay attention. You’ve probably seen the gamut of options, from plant-based powders to egg protein. But there’s one that seems to pop up more than the others. Whey protein is the most popular choice overall and is also the most researched. In other words, there’s good reason to take a closer look at whey.
What is whey, anyway?
When you open a container of yogurt, you’ve probably noticed the opaque liquid at the top. That’s whey separating from the curds and settling on top. Whey is also the source of lactose and sugar naturally found in milk.
Compared to many other proteins, whey is easily digested and absorbed by the body. It’s also rich in essential amino acids used to rebuild muscle and promote muscle formation, among many other physical processes. This alone makes it a popular protein powder among bodybuilders, whose intense strength-training workouts regularly break down muscle, so it’s in constant need of repair.
Everyday benefits of whey protein
Whey can help anyone at any age. For the average person, whey protein can deliver a load of health benefits, from weight-loss support and hunger control to retention and development of lean muscle mass.
If you’re trying to lose weight, increasing your daily intake of high-quality protein can help stave off hunger and cravings by making you feel full longer. Protein triggers receptors that communicate messages indicating fullness to the brain, helping you to reduce the calories you consume. A meta-analysis in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that whey protein may aid weight loss and improve body composition when used as a replacement for other calories and combined with resistance training.
If strength training is part of your regular health routine, whey protein’s powerful peptides (tiny protein molecules that are easily absorbed) help increase lean muscle mass and promote recovery. The best time for whey protein to work its magic is within 30 minutes of a weight-training workout.
As we age, muscle synthesis decreases and we lose lean muscle mass at a rate of 3-5% per decade after age 30. And by age 70, muscle mass decreases from 30% to 20%.3 Health experts recommend that older adults eat 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight every day.
What to look for
Whey protein powders vary in protein concentration, the way they’re processed and the source. So your selection will depend on your health goals and dietary preferences. For instance, if you’re lactose intolerant or have a sensitivity to dairy, whey protein isolate is a good choice due to its 90-95% pure protein content.
If you seek a clean source of dairy, look for whey protein powders that are grass-fed and free of rBST and rBH growth hormones. Also, scan the supplements facts and ingredients for added sweeteners or sugar, and artificial flavors and colors.