Whey Protein – 7 Amazing Health Benefits and Side Effects

Whey Protein Health Benefits and Side Effects

Protein powder is very common among people who pay the utmost attention to their health. There are different types that are produced from different sources and as a result of this, it will be difficult to determine which one will provide the best result.

It’s a very crucial macronutrient that is necessary for building up muscle tissue, repairing worn out tissue, producing enzymes and hormones. It also helps prevent excess weight gain and helps to increase muscle tone.

What is protein powder?

Protein powder is mostly made from proteins that are derived from animals or plants, such as meat, whey, egg, rice, beans, or peas.

Whey protein is made up from the left over liquid in the cheese making process, separated from most of the milk fats.

Protein powder is available in three common forms, namely: protein concentrate, protein isolate and protein hydrolysate.

Protein concentrate: This is produced by adding heat and acid or enzymes to whole foods, such as fish, eggs, milk. There could be vegetarian or vegan options that would substitute the former ingredients with hemp, pea, brown rice, and other plants. This process generates a protein content of around 50-80%.

Protein hydrolysate: This is derived by heating the protein source with acids or enzymes. The additional heating process helps breaks the bond that holds the amino acids together even further, making it easier to digest. A huge advantage of hydrolysate protein powders is that they are absorbed by the body and muscle at a much fast rate.

Protein Isolate: This is derived from an additional extra filtering process to remove even more fat and carbohydrates, leading to an increase in the concentration of protein. The protein isolate powder is made up of about 90-95% protein, depending on the brand.

Protein Isolate is also the easiest protein variation to digest since the BCAAs are almost completely broken down. On top of that, it also has the lowest amount of lactose out of all of its other forms, making it the best choice for people who are lactose intolerant.

What are the different types of Essential Amino Acids?

When you consume proteins, the enzymes in your stomach called pepsin break it down into its basic building block components which are the amino acids.

These are essential amino acids help in the development of new muscle and fat degeneration, in short, these groups of proteins are called branched-chain amino acids (or BCAAs for short).

In BCAA supplements, there are only 3 of the 9 essential amino acids. Although these 3 branched chain amino acids account for about 33% of your total muscle tissue, this depends on the muscle’s function.

These 3 branched chain amino acids are:

  1. Leucine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Valine

There are hundreds of amino acids found in nature, but the human genetic code can only interpret 20 of them. 9 of them are considered “essential” because they can’t be synthesized (produced) by the body. The only way to get the essential amino acids is through protein sources found in your diet.

On the other hand, in whey and other protein supplements, you easily get the 9 essential amino acids. Make sure the check the nutrition label.

Here’s a breakdown of the 9 essential amino acids:

Leucine: Leucine’s important in hemoglobin formation, and the regulation of blood sugar and energy levels.

Isoleucine: Isoleucine is an amino acid also helps in the regulation of blood sugar in the body, enhances the metabolizing process of sugar by the muscle cells which increases your energy levels.

Valine: Valine helps maintain and repair the nervous system and improves cognitive functioning. It also helps with muscle growth and tissue repair. It’s even used in the production of penicillin.

Phenylalanine: It’s a crucial amino acid that beneficially affects your physical and cognitive endurance. Phenylalanine’s used by the body to create and regenerate essential hormones such as Tyrosine, Epinephrine and Norepinephrine, and Dopamine. Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid that codes for the production of new proteins throughout the body.

Dopamine is used for signalling the feeling of pleasure in your brain, usually secreted when eating food, sex, success, and everything else that gives you a sense of pleasure. Epinephrine and Norepinephrine are released into your bloodstream when you go through strong emotions such as fear and anger. Triggering your body’s fight or flight response releases these hormones as well.

This leads to an increase in heart rate, muscle strength and power output, blood pressure, and sugar metabolism.

Tryptophan: Our body uses Tryptophan to create Niacin, Melatonin, and Serotonin. Serotonin is used to promote high quality sleep, improves memory, appetite and digestion, sexual health, and helps regulate your mood.

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles. The longer you’re awake, and the darker the sky gets, increases your body’s Melatonin levels in your system. This makes your body lower your body temperature, heart rate, and respiration rate. Signalling you that it’s time to go to sleep. Keeping this crucial system working properly is necessary for good health.

chocolate vanilla protein powder scoop

How is protein powder made?

The process of processing a protein powder is dependent on the type of protein powder being made or produced and the company that is producing the protein powder.

Most of the commercial protein powders are produced by performing acid flushes, using high heat, ion exchanges, and more to separate the proteins from their sources. It is very cheap, producing protein powder with acid and that’s why many companies adopt the style.

Niacin works by helping metabolize carbohydrates into glucose (energy), fats, proteins. It also keeps the nervous system functioning properly. Niacin also helps the body make sex- and stress-related hormones and improves circulation and cholesterol levels.

Histidine: Histidine is used for maintaining a balanced pH of 7 in the body. It manipulates protons and bonds to maintain a preferred Acid to Base ratio in your cells, outer tissues, and blood. Histidine is also crucial for the production and maintenance of hemoglobin (red blood cells) in your cardiovascular system, more specifically, the molecule that helps supply oxygen throughout your body.

Lysine: Lysine helps with increasing your body’s rate of calcium absorption, in the biosynthesis and building of muscle proteins, and can help reduce levels of stress and anxiety.

Threonine: Threonine is used to maintain many vital organ and central nervous system functions, for example, cardiovascular, liver, and immune system functions. It also helps in the synthesis of other proteins (Serine and Glycine) that helps with the repair and regeneration of muscle tissue and energy.

Methionine: Methionine plays a big role in cell health, such as the maintenance of proper cell health and functioning, helps in the reproduction of DNA during cell duplication. It’s also used for improving immune system strength and for building new lean muscle proteins.

dark chocolate protein smoothie

The process of making a finalized protein powder product is dependant on 2 main factors. First, is the type of protein powder being made. Concentrate, Isolate, Hydrolysate. Secondly, the company that’s producing the protein powder may add or change steps in the manufacturing process.

Most of the commercial protein powders are produced by performing acid flushes, high heat, ion exchanges, and a few other steps to separate the proteins from their sources and create a powder.

It’s a very cheap process to create a protein powder with acid/enzymes and that’s why many companies adopt that style of production.

In plant based protein sources, most of the healthy plant proteins found in protein powder supplements are processed and produced using hexane, a petroleum-based alkane that’s very effective in separating macronutrients apart. It’s affordable and cheap, which makes this process very profitable for manufacturers that use this method to separate proteins and oil from the plants.

Who should take protein supplements?

Protein is very a common product used among professional and non professional athletes, people who live moderately active to very active lifestyles. It can also be a massive benefit if you’re deficient and/or not getting an adequate intake of protein.

Adults whos diets are low in protein may cause water weight gain and can eventually lead to an increase in body fat weight. Therefore, adequate protein intake can elevate levels of glucagon, a vital hormone used by the liver to convert glycogen into glucose.

This hormone also helps control your levels of body fat. On top of that, it helps in the development and the strengthening of bones as you grow older and even helps prevent osteoporosis.

How much protein can you consume?

This depends on a few factors.

  1. Total Muscle Mass: The amount of protein that you should consume is dependant on how muscular you are. The amount of muscle you carry is a direct determinant on the amount of protein you’ll have to consume on a daily basis, a good point of reference is 1g of Protein for 1 Kg of total body weight, it can be more depending on activity level.
  2. Activity Level: The more activity or strenuous exercise you engage in, the higher the amount of protein you should be taking in. This serves as a compensatory mechanism for the muscle.
  3. Insulin Hormone Level: If you don’t have any disease like diabetes, then the insulin growth factor in your body will help maximize protein function efficiency. Your this hormone’s level diminishes with age. This is one of the main reasons why the elderly require more protein than younger individuals.

Different types of protein sources

There are 3 different types of protein powder products, these include either Whey, Vegetarian, or Vegan sources of protein. Under these 3 categories, you’ll find many sources.

Whey Protein: As you would expect, this is the most popular form of protein since it comes from milk, more specifically it’s the left over liquid in the cheese making process. It has a moderately high concentration of protein, and is also very rich in lactose.

Lactose is a sugar found in milk. There are countless research papers and studies that prove that whey protein helps to build and maintain muscle mass. It also helps athletes have a faster rate of recovery after a workout or performance and also leads to an increase in muscular strength.

Casein Protein: Casein is a milk protein that forms a gel which interacts with the acid content of the stomach (HCL). It slows down gastric motility and delays the absorption of amino acids by the bloodstreams. Which is why it’s recommended to take casein before bed, because of the slow absorption rate you get a consistent amount of protein through the night.

Research shows that casein is very effective at increasing myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS) especially during times of rest.

Egg Protein: A very common and reliable source of high quality protein. Eggs have the highest protein absorption rate and also has the best corrected amino acid score. Eggs help to decrease appetite and keep your stomach full for a longer period of time.

Research also shows that eggs have a reduced potential to reduce hunger compared to casein or pea protein. Also, egg protein is a great alternative for people who are allergic to dairy, who are lactose intolerant, and for those who prefer plant based protein sources.

Pea Protein: This is very common among vegetarians and people are highly sensitive to dairy or eggs. It’s produced from a yellow split pea which is a high fibre legume that contains all 9 essential amino acids.

A study conducted shows that pea protein is absorbed by the bloodstream and muscle at a slower rate compared to whey protein. Although, it has the capability to trigger the release of numerous hormonal responses, which makes it similar to dairy protein.

Hemp Protein: This is another plant source supplement that’s now become very common. Hemp protein contains a small amount of THC, rich in omega fatty acids, and also contain all 9 essential amino acids.

It’s not considered a complete source of protein because of its low level of lysine and leucine. Hemp protein is also a very easy protein to digest and has lots of fibre.

Brown Rice Protein: Brown rice protein was available in vegetarian and vegan friendly protein powders for a long time, but isn’t very common in regular whey concentrates. It contains all of the essential amino acids but has a low concentration of lysine.

vanilla protein smoothie

Plant Protein Blends: This is usually a mix of about two or more plant based protein sources used to get a big dose of all of the essential amino acids.

The mixture can contain a mix of the following ingredients:

  • Brown rice

  • Pea

  • Hemp

  • Chia seed

  • Flax seed

Is it better to take a protein shake before or after a workout?

It depends on your goal. If you want to have more energy and have a more explosive workout, then you should try to get a protein shake 1 hour before your workout. If you want to maximize muscle hypertrophy (growth), then you should have a shake after your workout.

A good middle ground is to have BCAA’s in between your sets for keeping your energy levels up and a protein shake after you’re done.

How much protein powder do you need a day?

Research shows that excessive intake of protein can cause damage to the kidney, liver, bone and calcium level in the body of people who suffer from related diseases. Eating a lot of protein has a negligible amount of strain on your liver.

Reports as high as 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight had no negative impact on overall health. For muscle growth, the best time to take protein supplements is after a workout and right before bed.

Studies show that taking 40 grams of protein after a workout increases the amount of protein synthesis in your muscle. For protein to get to your blood stream as fast as possible, its best to mix it with something light, like low fat cow milk, nut milks, or water. Some people prefer to blend their protein powder into a heavier mix like a shake or smoothie.

pea protein powder cup

Health Benefits of Protein Powder

Protein is one of the fundamental macronutrients found in almost all foods, and is the main building block for muscle tissue, skin, bones, red blood cells, tissues, and organs. They also help with the production of hormones, enzymes, and other neurological chemicals.

The health benefits that are associated with protein powder include: weight management, weight loss, elevated mood, increase in muscle mass, recovery and repair, lowers blood pressure, and improves sleep.

Eating foods that are high in protein and having a regular intake of protein shakes can help you stay satiated for a longer period of time. Feeling full helps limit your food intake, and that helps reduce the incidence of obesity.

Studies show that whey proteins help reduce your body weight and a drastic amount of body fat in people that are overweight or obese. And for people with high blood pressure, protein helps bring it down. The amount of cholesterol you carry is a predisposing factor with the development of a cardiovascular disease, high protein intake minimizes your levels of cholesterol.

Above all that, whey protein is one of the cheapest source of protein per pound, all while keeping its high quality amino acid profile. Averaging around 0.06 cents per gram of protein, only being rivaled by whole eggs which are around 0.04 cents per gram of protein.

Builds Lean Muscle

As we all know, protein is the most important macronutrient for building and repairing lean muscle mass.

Many active men and women consume a lot of protein powder on a regular basis because it helps fill you up, increase your basal metabolic rate, preserves muscle mass after training, and most importantly helps with recovery.

Research has shown that protein supplements help increase and improve the size and strength of muscle fibres in people who compete in a sport or exercise at the gym regularly.

tub of vanilla whey protein

Improved Recovery

On top of being able to increase muscle mass, it’s also used to speed up recovery after a strenuous workout and even reduce muscle soreness.

A research study done with 40 people aged between 18 and 50 shows that regular intake of supplements after strenuous exercise help in recovery by reducing the overall damage to the muscle and increasing muscle performance in future workouts. It also helped in muscle protein synthesis (actin and myosin).

Better Sleep Quality

A regular, high intake of protein helps improve the quality of your sleep. Research has shown that food rich in Protein, Vitamin D, and Iron helps people from all ages and weight ranges to sleep better.

Especially since protein powder helps increase your overall protein intake, it’s best to take some at night to get a better night’s sleep.

Improved Recovery After Surgery

Taking in high amounts of protein, even more so when it’s from protein powders is really beneficial to patients and people who had surgery and are now recovering.

Protein is really important for people who had bariatric surgery, dental surgery, and those have GIT (gastrointestinal disorder) and struggle eating solid foods. People in this condition needs a lot of protein and have difficulty even just meeting their body’s daily requirements, you can surpass that by using protein supplements like protein powder.

vegan plant chocolate protein powder scoop

Consistent Energy Levels

Protein powders that are mixed with into smoothies help boost and maintain your energy levels. By stabilizing your blood sugar and hormones like Leptin and Ghrelin, which regulates your hunger.

The reason why is because most protein is a hard macronutrient to digest and metabolize, it actually uses 33% of its caloric density just for digestion. If your protein powder has a mix of Casein protein too, it’ll make you feel even fuller for much longer because Casein is much slower than regular whey.

Supports Hormone Production

It stimulates the production of building up hormones also called anabolic hormones such as insulin. Which helps in the stimulation of muscle development. Protein is also the main ingredient used by your body for building, nails, bones, and skin.

Fast Absorption Rates

Whey Protein Isolate and Hydrolysate are great after a workout because they have very fast absorption rates. The protein bonds are broken down to the extent that you can start to get macro nutrients into your blood stream as fast as 10 minutes on an empty stomach.

Contains Essential Amino Acids

Protein’s rich in the essential amino acid called leucine, it’s usually around 30% of the total amino acids found in protein powders. Leucine helps in the stimulation of protein synthesis by the muscle at both the molecular and genetic level, decreases protein degradation, and increases mental and physical performance.

vanilla whey protein powder scoop

Side Effects of Protein Powder

In addition to the wide range of health benefits from protein powder, they do have their side effects. They can heavily differ from brand to brand and sources.

Many companies avoid going through the FDA as well. So it’s hard to tell if the nutrition label is accurate or not. This also lets them bypass dangerous metal checks, such as Lead, Mercury, and Arsenic.

These are just some of the risks associated with protein powders, the severity of each side effect can change depending on the manufacturer and contract packer. Here is the full list of side effects:

  • Gastrointestinal Distress: This is really common for people who are allergic or intolerant to dairy, and have issues digesting Lactose. This can develop into gastrointestinal (GIT) distress and discomfort if you consume whey protein powder.

    This stems from a lack of Lactase in your digestive system (lactose intolerance) and this creates the inability to properly digest all forms of dairy. Lactose intolerance is very common and affects a very large percentage of the planet, affecting around 77% of the global population.

    Avoid whey protein concentrate if you suffer from lactose intolerance. The more refined and broken down the proteins are, such as protein hydrolysate, means it’ll have the least amount of lactase.

  • Constipation: Another side effect, provoked by having a large amount of protein powder, is constipation. For people unable to tolerate lactose, constipation can be a result of the inflammation and slow bowel movements in the gut.

    However, constipation can also occur in people who consume less fibrous and starchy carbohydrates such as fruits, whole grain cereals, and vegetables at the expense of protein powder.
  • Nutrient Deficiency: Excessive intake of protein without properly balancing your fruits, vegetables, and starchy carbohydrates which have a lot of different minerals that are necessary for proper health. Replacing all those vitamins and minerals can lead to nutrient deficiency.

    It’s important to eat a balanced diet when looking to lose weight or burn fat. Protein powder only contains protein, a small amount of fat, and little to no vitamins and minerals. Remember that fibre, healthy carbs and fats are important for fat loss and muscle growth.
peas pea protein powder wooden spoon
  • Kidney Damage: Excessive intake of protein can increase pressure on the kidney and its filters, which can lead to proteinuria. Proteinuria is a high presence of protein in your urine and it’s a severe clinical condition that’s an early indicator for kidney failure. It’s mostly associated with diseases or abnormalities but can sometimes be rarely seen in healthy people.

    However, this does not mean a diet that’s rich in protein will cause damage to your kidneys. If you have any pre-existing kidney injury or other complication, high protein diets increase stress on your kidneys. You need to consult your physician to make sure if you can and should increase the protein in your diet or not.
  • Liver Damage: The liver needs a lot of protein to convert fats into lipoproteins to repair itself. This also helps in reducing the blood level of triglycerides and cholesterol which are a predisposing factor for hypertension and heart disease.

    In people who have liver cirrhosis (excess liver damage through excess Alcohol consumption, Hepatitis B and C) excessive protein intake can cause more damage to your liver because in this condition, the livers’ function isn’t optimal.

    High consumption of protein can increase the level of ammonia in your body and this can cause more harm to the liver and to your entire digestive system.

  • Hidden Calories: There are many protein powder supplements out there that are very low in calories. They usually contain a small amount of fat and carbohydrates, which helps increase the rate of absorption and digestion of the protein.

    Which is a similar composition to the macronutrients found in fish, beef, and chicken. On the other hand, there are many protein powders out there that are packed full of bad fats and sugar, both of which deters the benefits from the protein you’re getting.

    What’s even worse is that it can cause weight gain in the form of fat and water retention. If your protein powder contains more than 7 grams of sugar per serving, it will do you more harm than good.

  • Heavy Metals: Excessive intake of low quality protein powders can lead to an increased exposure to heavy metals. Some of these heavy metals include arsenic, cadmium, and lead.

    The sports Dieticians of Australia claim that if you opt into taking multiple protein shakes a day, you should limit your intake to about one or two times a day instead. Try to replace the extra shakes with grass fed meat, free range chicken, and farmed fish to balance your diet.
whey water cheese making
  • May Cause Acne: Lower quality protein powders contain some harmful hormones and some active biochemical peptides. This can lead to an increase in the production of sebum oil which is the leading cause of acne and hair loss, that’s because excess oil build up blocks your pores.

  • Destabilizes Gut Mycobacteria: Protein powder contains antibacterial compounds like lactoferrin which can harm gram-negative healthy gut bacteria.

  • Increased Insulin Levels: Protein powder can cause elevated levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factors.

    High protein diets for people who are insulin deficient are the only people who’d be affected by increased blood glucose levels, and that destabilizes your insulin. A heavy workout or activity can also cause elevated levels of insulin in the blood, which can result in hypoglycemia.
  • Negative Drug Interactions: Protein powder can interact with different drugs. If you are on any medication, it is advisable not to take protein powder. IF you have a medical condition like osteoporosis, it is advisable not to consume protein because it decreases the absorption of this drug.

    Also, if you are taking any drug like NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug), antiplatelet drugs, there is a high risk of bleeding if you are consuming protein powder with this drug.
  • Increased Risk of Cancer: Studies have shown that an increase in protein helps to reduce the size of tumors and their mass. This helps with the prevention of rapid duplication of tumor cells.

    However, some brands of protein powders contain heavy metals, these heavy metals put you at risk of developing certain cancers.

    Lead, Arsenic, Mercury, and Cadium can all cause various types of cancers. Such as Lung, Stomach, Kidney, Breast, Prostate, and other cancers.

    It’s important to check all the ingredients and do some more research on the brand of protein powder you plan to buy before buying any.
  • Causes of Dehydration: Studies have shown that diets high in protein require above average, and consistent intake of water. Avoiding drinking extra water throughout your day can lead to dehydration.

vanilla and chocolate whey protein powder

Storage and Expiration Date:

It’s very important that all your protein supplements are properly stored to prevent contamination which can be very harmful to your health, it starts to accumulate moisture and grow bacteria. The fats and carbs can go rancid over time too.

Also (if possible) before getting your protein powder, make sure that you check the expiry date first thing.

Protein supplements can last up to a year in good storage conditions, but any longer will cause the quality to go down drastically, some shady companies try to cut costs by making their product in bulk, which can date back to some time.

This can cause a huge drop in performance, recovery, and muscle hypertrophy. If your protein starts to taste expired, throw it out.

Unsafe and Potentially Dangerous Ingredients:

Almost every protein supplement has a section that shows the extra ingredients. Make sure to read the ingredients on the list, because some unwanted ingredients and chemicals can be found in your supplement.

If you don’t know what to look for, a good rule of thumb is, if most of the list of ingredients are words you don’t understand, you should avoid it. In an ideal world, the perfect supplement won’t contain any artificial colours and flavours, chemicals, and sweeteners.

Third-party Certifications:

This means that a company may have a third party monitor the product ingredients and delivery chain of the company. They usually only help regulate and monitor the quality and quantity of the protein supplements’ ingredients, if the protein passes the tests, a certification label is usually found on the bottom of the label.

The Company’s History and Best Practices:

Another important metric to consider when picking a protein supplement is to check for the transparency of the company when it comes to how they label, produce and test their products. If they have a good track record, it gives you the certainty that you are getting a good quality product.

whey protein powder scoop closeup

Whey protein powder is highly recommended, but not for everyone. If you’re severely lactose intolerant you should avoid all forms of whey protein. If you really feel the need to go against your intolerance your best bet is to opt-in for whey protein hydrolysate.

Whey protein powder helps you get an edge in your nutrition, by rounding out your diet and helping you stay on track. Trying to reach 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight can be tough to get from a normal diet, that’s where supplementation comes in.

The following daily recommendation is from the American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

A moderately active adult requires about 0.8 grams of protein per kg of the total body weight in a day.

Athletes, are those that are performing casually or recreationally, requires around 1.0 to 1.4 grams of protein per Kg of your total body weight.

Lastly, athletes who are performing in competitions need around 1.3 to 1.4 grams of protein per Kg of body weight.

vanilla vs chocolate whey protein powder

In conclusion, the benefits you get from a regular and consistent intake of protein are life-changing. From improving your sleep to helping you lose body fat, and help you build more lean muscle, it’s a no brainer.

Someone can spend a whole month researching for the perfect whey protein supplement. Price, quality, ingredient safety, and source are all factors you need to balance.

On the other hand, no getting enough protein through your diet can lead to many different diseases. This is commonly found in our society because of the overconsumption of carbs and fats, and not enough fiber or protein.

This is missing from our diets because almost every food product out there has either a ton of sugar, loads of hydrogenated fats, and full of low-quality carbs. Diseases, such as kwashiorkor (malnutrition) and other clinical conditions like edema, and many other diseases occur as a result of a poor diet.

Regular whey protein consumption can help minimize the wide spread of these diseases and can help fight our overweight epidemic.

Regular and consistent intake of protein should be encouraged in all institutions like schools, the workplace, and supermarkets. It’s mandatory that everyone increases their protein intake, and that almost everyone should opt-in for whey protein supplements.

Articles and Sources

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