When most people think of whey protein, the first thing that comes to mind is a muscular athlete or bodybuilder sipping on shakes to gain mass and strength. While it's true that whey protein stimulates hypertrophy, its benefits don't end there. This supplement also promotes fat loss, suppresses appetite and improves glycemic control. If you have trouble losing those last few pounds, look no further.
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Whey protein isn't a magic bullet for weight loss, but it can help you shed belly fat when used along with a balanced diet and strength training.
Is Whey Protein Really Healthy?
The global whey protein market was worth $10.1 billion in 2018. Millions of people use this supplement to perform better at the gym, recover faster from training and build lean muscle mass. Whey protein isn't a magic bullet for weight loss or muscle growth, but it can make a world of difference. It's one of the most researched supplements available today and appeals to a wide range of customers, from dieters and fitness enthusiasts to elite athletes.
According to a 2017 review in the journal Nutrients, this supplement enhances whole-body protein metabolism and accelerates post-workout recovery. Consuming 20 to 25 grams of fast-digesting protein after exercise can speed up muscle growth. When consumed before bedtime, whey protein helps reduce muscle loss and maximizes hypertrophy.
Whey protein is a common ingredient in weight loss shakes — and for good reason. It not only suppresses appetite and prevents blood sugar spikes but also improves body composition when combined with weight training. Furthermore, this supplement may reduce the levels of circulating C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker associated with heart disease and type II diabetes.
Whey Protein and Fat Loss
One scoop of whey protein has 20 grams of protein, 5 grams of carbs, 1 gram of fiber, zero fat and just 100 calories. Perhaps you're thinking that whey protein makes weight loss easier due to its low-calorie content. That's true, but it's only a part of the story. This supplement can help you slim down in several ways.
According to a 2015 research paper published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, whey protein increases satiety hormone levels and inhibits hunger hormones. As a result, it curbs hunger and keeps you full longer. On top of that, it reduces insulin and blood sugar levels, which further contributes to its satiating effect. When your blood sugar levels drop, you're more likely to feel hungry and crave sugary or fatty foods.
Replace one of your daily snacks with whey protein shakes to stay full longer and boost your metabolism.
Another study, featured in Scientific Reports in 2017, states clearly that whey protein facilitates weight loss, supports metabolic health and reduces fat mass. Rich in alfa- and beta-lactoglobulin, the supplement may prevent weight gain and improve glycemic control while causing positive changes in the gut flora. If you have overweight or obesity, whey protein shakes can help you shed fat and lower your risk of cardiovascular problems.
What About Belly Fat?
It's not uncommon to read about fitness models and bodybuilders who drink protein shakes to lose belly fat. In fact, consuming whey protein has been shown to reduce visceral fat and abdominal adiposity when combined with regular exercise. It also improves insulin resistance, which is a contributing factor to visceral fat gain.
What we call belly fat is actually a combination of subcutaneous and visceral fat. The latter surrounds your internal organs and contributes to diabetes, heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, cancer and other ailments. This tissue also releases chemicals that trigger inflammation and disrupt endocrine function.
Lactoferrin and immunoglobulin, two milk proteins in whey, protect against obesity and inflammation. These compounds help balance the friendly bacteria living in your gut, reduce intestinal permeability and promote visceral fat loss. Strength training can maximize the benefits of whey protein and make it easier to lose belly fat.
Whey Protein Improves Body Composition
This supplement not only reduces fat mass, it also helps you build lean muscle. In 2018, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published a study comparing the effects of whey, beef and chicken consumption after exercise on body composition. Researchers found that all three protein sources improve muscle-to-fat ratio when combined with strength training. Subjects lost fat and gained strength in as little as eight weeks.
Read more: Whey Protein vs. Chicken Protein
If you're on a diet, whey protein can help you preserve muscle, get leaner and even gain strength. Another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2017 assessed the effects of whey versus carbohydrate supplementation while on a low-calorie diet. Subjects who consumed whey protein and engaged in strength training experienced a greater increase in muscle strength and lost more weight compared to the carb group. Participants who consumed carbs lost weight too, but that loss was largely due to a decrease in muscle mass.
Compared to body fat, muscle tissue requires more calories to sustain itself. The more lean mass you have, the higher your metabolism and the more calories you'll burn throughout the day. Think about athletes and bodybuilders — they eat thousands of calories a day and still look lean. Also, there are plenty of people who skip meals and starve themselves but can't lose weight. It's muscle mass that counts.
How to Use Whey Protein
Whey protein powder makes clean eating a breeze. It comes in dozens of flavors, from mocha cappuccino and double rich chocolate to apple pie. Mix it in protein shakes; add it to baked goods; use it in your favorite homemade snacks. Weight loss shakes are not your only option; there are plenty of other delicious ways to incorporate whey protein into your diet.
Craving brownies? Mix chocolate whey protein powder with vanilla extract, almond or coconut flour, eggs and stevia or raw honey. Add a few pieces of dark chocolate for extra flavor. Use coconut oil instead of butter to kick-start your metabolism and stay full longer.
Add whey protein powder to homemade desserts and snacks. This trick will power up your diet and eliminate the need to use sugar.
Need a quick boost of energy before hitting the gym? Make your own protein bars. You can even add whey protein to homemade bread, pancakes, muffins, chia pudding, yogurt and cheesecake. Replace sugar with stevia or simply use flavored whey protein powder. Unflavored versions are ideal for salty snacks, spreads and egg dishes.
- Statista: Value of the Whey Protein Market Worldwide From 2017 to 2023
- MDPI: Nutrients: Whey Protein Supplementation Enhances Whole Body Protein Metabolism and Performance Recovery After Resistance Exercise: A Double-Blind Crossover Study
- Clinical Nutrition Espen: Effect of Whey Protein Supplementation on Long and Short Term Appetite: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials
- NCBI: Journal of the American College of Nutrition: Effects of Whey Protein and Resistance Exercise on Body Composition: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials
- MDPI: Nutrients: Effect of Whey Supplementation on Circulating C-Reactive Protein: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials
- SELFNutritionData: Whey Protein Powder
- NCBI: Journal of Food Science and Technology: Emerging Trends in Nutraceutical Applications of Whey Protein and Its Derivatives
- Nature.com: Scientific Reports: Whey Protein Components - Lactalbumin and Lactoferrin - Improve Energy Balance and Metabolism
- Taylor & Francis Online: Journal of the American College of Nutrition: Whey Protein Supplementation Improves Body Composition and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- Physiology.org: Journal of Applied Physiology: Timed-Daily Ingestion of Whey Protein and Exercise Training Reduces Visceral Adipose Tissue Mass and Improves Insulin Resistance: The Prise Study
- Diabetes.co.uk: Visceral Fat (Active Fat)
- Taylor & Francis Online: Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: A Role for Whey-Derived Lactoferrin and Immunoglobulins in the Attenuation of Obesity-Related Inflammation and Disease
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: The Effects of Beef, Chicken, or Whey Protein After Workout on Body Composition and Muscle Performance
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Effect of Whey Protein in Conjunction With a Caloric-Restricted Diet and Resistance Training