Whey protein is a nutritional supplement women can take to either help build muscle or to supply high-quality protein when losing body fat. The amount of whey protein you need to consume depends on your weight, your activity level and your fitness goals. Whey protein use can also cause side effects that are worth considering. As with any dietary supplement, you should consult a dietitian or your health care provider before including whey protein in your nutrition plan.
Whey is derived from cow's milk as a leftover product from the cheese-making process and consists of high-quality protein that contains all essential amino acids. Whey protein is the most easily absorbed of any food protein, according to the book Secrets to Lowering Cholesterol with Nutrition and Natural Supplements, Safely by Art T. Dash. In addition, whey has a high proportion of branched-chain amino acids, a special class of protein building blocks that readily incorporates into muscle tissue to help you preserve lean muscle mass when losing weight or pack on new muscle during strength building.
As a woman looking to increase muscle mass, you should include enough whey protein in your diet to match your activity level based on your weight. Specifically, if you engage in strength and power exercise, such as weightlifting, an adequate daily intake includes between 1.6 and 2 grams of whey protein per kilogram of body weight, states Bill Campbell of the Exercise and Performance Nutrition Laboratory at the University of South Florida. If your fitness goal is to lose body fat while maintaining your muscle and your primary exercise is endurance or intermittent sports, taking in between 1 and 1.7 grams of whey protein for each kilogram of body weight is sufficient.
Although whey is a convenient source of protein with a beneficial amino acid profile, it carries health risks as a nutritional supplement . For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration holds dietary supplements to a different standard than foods, prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs. While they require supplements be safe for consumption, they do not test for safety before the product hits the market. Rather, they investigate safety issues only after problems arise once the product is commercially available. Therefore, whey protein supplements might contain undisclosed impurities or other potentially damaging ingredients. As a woman, untested supplements can be especially dangerous if you are pregnant or considering pregnancy. A report in the 2010 issue of "Consumer Reports" explains that many protein powders contain unsafe levels of toxic metals, and that repeated exposure to them may cause serious health consequences. Speak to your doctor about how much whey protein you should use, and how often.
Depending on your body type, you might pack on muscle or lose body fat more or less easily than other women. Therefore, you may need to adjust your whey protein intake to accommodate these differences and find the nutrition regimen that works best for you. In addition, whey protein can add extra calories to your diet, leading to unintentional weight gain if you consume it in excess. Relying on whey protein as your primary source of amino acids can also deny you other essential nutrients you need as a woman, such as iron or folate. Therefore, you should only consume whey protein as a part of a healthy diet that takes your needs into consideration.