Whey protein supplements are popularly associated with bodybuilders and professional strength athletes. However, there is also some evidence that whey can provide physical benefits for people who exercise not at all or only recreationally. Every whey supplement has a different set of ingredients and nutritional information, however, and there is no guarantee that any will produce a certain effect. Before you add whey to your diet, talk with your doctor.
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Several scientific studies have linked whey supplementation with lean muscle gain in participants who regularly participate in resistance training. In a research review published in 2008 in the journal “Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care,” scientists noted that whey protein isolate provides optimal amounts of the amino acids needed to preserve existing muscle mass and stimulate new muscle growth. A study published in 2001 in “International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” demonstrated that subjects who strength trained and supplemented with whey protein experienced greater muscle and strength gains than subjects who trained but did not supplement.
Another research review, published in 2012 in “Lipids in Health and Disease,” purports that whey supplements can lessen metabolic disease risk factors in subjects who are healthy as well as subjects who are obese or insulin-resistant. According to the researchers, daily whey supplementation is associated with better blood sugar control, weight and muscle mass maintenance, lower blood pressure levels and reduced inflammation.
Whey may also offer distinct advantages over other types of protein supplements. In a study published in 2011 in the “Journal of Nutrition,” researchers measured the effects of whey and soy supplements on obese adults who did not otherwise alter their typical diets. After a 23-week trial period, subjects who had taken the whey supplements had lost more body fat and retained more lean muscle than subjects who had taken soy. The whey subjects’ also experienced greater reductions in waist circumference measurements.
Whey protein is a common ingredient in meal replacements and protein shakes that are designed to encourage weight loss. Because protein is more satiating than either carbohydrates or fats, people who cut calories and supplement with whey may not feel as hungry throughout the day and can find it easier to get by on fewer calories. In a study published in 2008 in the journal “Nutrition & Metabolism,” obese participants who reduced calories and used whey-based supplements lost significantly more body fat over a 12-week period than subjects who drank lower-protein beverages.