Is Whey Protein Good or Bad?

Whey protein scoop. Sports nutrition.
Scoop of whey protein. (Image: JANIFEST/iStock/Getty Images)

Whey protein supplements are convenient and possibly beneficial for some people, but only when taken correctly. Whey makes up about 20 percent of the protein found in milk, according to the University of Illinois McKinley Health Center. It’s one of the highest-quality proteins on the planet. If you’re physically active on a regular basis, whey supplements can help you achieve your body’s increased need for protein. The same isn’t necessarily true if you’re sedentary, so check with your doctor to weigh the pros and cons of whey protein supplementation.

Amino Acids

The building blocks of proteins are amino acids. Of the 20 amino acids you consume each day by eating various sources of protein, it’s the essential amino acids, EEAs, that are particularly important. These are amino acids your body can’t produce itself. Whey protein contains all of the EEAs, making it a complete protein source. It’s particularly high in a class of EEAs referred to as branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs. According to McKinley Health Center, BCAAs help to build and maintain lean muscle mass while promoting fat loss.

Benefits

Whey protein can help improve your body composition, but it can also benefit you in other ways. According to a 2004 report published in the "Journal of Sports Science and Medicine,” whey protein contains antioxidant properties that help to boost your immune system. It contains a high level of the amino acid cysteine, which helps to boost levels of glutathione. Glutathione supports your immune system by combating bacteria and viruses. Whey also contains more leucine, a BCAA, compared with soy, milk and egg protein. Leucine promotes fat loss, according to McKinley Health Center.

Amount

Whey protein may benefit you, but only in moderation. It’s important to know that consuming too much whey protein can lead to increases in body fat, and it puts an extra strain on your kidneys. For general improvements in body composition, immune system function and fat loss, McKinley Health Center suggests you consume 20 grams to 25 grams of whey protein per day. You may need less than these amounts, so check with your doctor before supplementing whey protein.

Considerations

Most Americans consume plenty of protein in their diets. So, adding whey protein supplements to the mix may take you beyond your daily needs for the nutrient. This situation is unsafe for anyone with pre-existing kidney problems, such as renal disease or diabetes. In order to benefit from whey protein, you must be sure to consume it within your daily protein needs. If you don’t exercise regularly, your daily need for protein is about 0.36 grams per pound of bodyweight per day. If you’re physically active on a consistent basis, your need for protein is slightly higher. Talk to your doctor to determine your protein needs, and to discuss whether whey protein is right for you.

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