Does Whey Protein Cut Belly Fat?

Excess belly fat doesn't just poke over your waistband: It poses a serious health risk. People who carry weight in their midsection have visceral fat, the type of fat that surrounds your internal organs, pushing your abdominal wall out and creating a "beer belly"-type appearance. This metabolically active fat releases chemicals called cytokines, which trigger inflammation that's linked to heart disease. No single food, including whey protein, will make abdominal fat disappear, but whey protein as part of a calorie-controlled diet might help you lose weight, including belly fat.

Chocolate flavored whey protein powder in a scoop, next to a shake in a glass. (Image: marilyna/iStock/Getty Images)

Losing Belly Fat: The Basics

Losing fat requires a negative energy balance, which means eating and drinking fewer calories than you burn. By creating a 500- to 1,000-calorie deficit, you'll lose 1 to 2 pounds of fat each week -- a rate of weight loss that's safe, sustainable and reduces your risk of weight regain. Consulting a nutrition professional or using an online calorie needs estimator can help you figure out roughly how many calories you'd need to maintain your current weight; then you can subtract 500 to 1,000 calories to set your target calorie intake for weight loss.

Unfortunately, you can't choose fat just from your belly; instead, you'll lose it from all over your body. That harmful deep abdominal visceral fat, though, is relatively easy to lose when you start dropping weight. However, if your excess belly fat is the subcutaneous kind -- the fat right under your skin that you can pinch -- it will likely take longer to burn off.

Whey and Weight Loss

You'll need to stick to your calorie deficit to lose weight, but including whey protein in your diet might help. One study, published in Nutrition & Metabolism in 2008, linked whey protein to better weight control in overweight and obese adults. The study subjects each followed a low-calorie diet, but were separated into two groups. One group drank two whey protein shakes daily, while the other group drank a beverage that was equal in calories, but didn't contain whey protein. Over a 12-week period, the people who drank whey protein shakes lost significantly more body fat and retained more muscle mass than those who consumed no whey. These results hint that whey might be helpful for sustainable weight loss, since retaining muscle mass keeps your metabolism high.

Whey might offer weight loss advantages over certain other types of protein, reports a study published in The Journal of Nutrition in 2011. The researchers fed study subjects either whey protein beverage, a soy protein beverage or a carbohydrate-rich drink. They found that the people who drank whey ended up with smaller waists than the soy or carbohydrate beverage group, which hints that whey might help reduce body fat. However, it's too early to say how well whey will help you cut belly fat.

Benefits from Protein

Simply adding protein to your diet might help you lose weight. Any protein -- including whey -- has a high thermic effect, which means you'll torch calories just to digest it. The protein in your diet also boosts satisfaction, so you're less likely to snack or binge between meals. Whey is also a complete protein, so it provides all the amino acids your body needs from your diet. Those amino acids help maintain and build metabolically-active muscle tissue, which helps keep your calorie burn high as you lose weight.

Aim to get a minimum of 15 percent of your calories from protein per day. Each gram of protein has 4 calories, which works out to a minimum of 45 grams of protein on a 1,200-calorie diet; 56 grams on a 1,500-calorie diet; and 68 calories on an 1,800-calorie diet. A two-scoop serving of a certain brand of commercial whey protein powder supplies 26 grams of protein and 150 calories. However, the protein and calorie content of your whey powder might vary, depending on the brand you choose; always check the label to confirm how much protein you're getting.

Serving Tips and Considerations

While you can boost your whey intake with whey protein powders, you can also get whey from eating dairy. In fact, getting your whey from certain types of dairy might be beneficial. One study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2015, found that the combination of whey and probiotics in dairy products helped boost the weight-loss benefits of dairy products in mice. While animal studies don't always translate to humans, you can get the potential benefit of the whey-probiotic combination by drinking kefir or eating probiotic yogurt -- or Greek yogurt, for extra protein. Add a container of yogurt to your smoothie, blend kefir with frozen fruit and freeze for healthy "proteinsicles" or blend kefir, frozen acai and whey protein for a slimming acai drink.

While whey is one of the most commonly-available types of protein, it's not the only beneficial one. In fact, casein -- the other type of protein in dairy -- might have some additional benefits, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2015. The researchers studied the effects of whey, casein, or a mix of whey and casein on appetite in rats. They found that all three groups of rats reduced their calorie intake, suggesting that the protein helped reduce their appetite, but the rats fed casein ate slightly less than the rats fed whey only or both whey and casein. Eating dairy will provide beneficial casein, or you can also get it from casein protein powder.

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