Whey Protein Powder Nutrition and Health Benefits

Whey protein powder

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When you’d like to amp up the protein in your diet with a protein powder, you have your choice of numerous options, both animal- and plant-based. One of the most popular animal-based products is whey protein powder.

This particular powder offers some distinct advantages for health. Derived from the liquid by-product of strained milk, whey is a source of high-quality protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. Not surprisingly—since it’s a dairy product—it also contains a small amount of calcium. And, fortunately for people with lactose intolerance, whey is naturally very low in lactose.

Here’s what you need to know about the nutrition, benefits, and uses of whey protein powder.

Whey Protein Powder Nutrition Facts

Whey protein powder’s nutrition may vary, depending on the brand you purchase. The following nutrition information, for one scoop (19.5 grams) of whey protein powder, has been provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 75
  • Fat:  1g
  • Sodium: 75mg
  • Carbohydrates: 3.5g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 1g
  • Protein: 13g

Carbs

Although you might expect whey protein powder to be made up almost entirely of protein, it does usually contain carbohydrates. Each food manufacturer uses its own recipe, and some may include extra sweeteners or fillers that add carbs.

Fats

In cheese production, milk coagulates into solid curds, separating from liquid whey. Since whey protein powder is derived from this liquid—which has left solid fats behind—it usually contains very little fat. A single scoop provides 1 gram.

Protein

Protein is, of course, the star of the macronutrient show in whey protein powder. In one scoop (about one tablespoon), you can expect to take in around 13 grams of high-quality animal protein.

Vitamins and Minerals

Unless it’s fortified with extra vitamins and minerals, whey protein powder isn’t usually a micronutrient powerhouse. However, it does contain a notable amount of calcium. One scoop supplies 50 milligrams of calcium, about 5% of the Recommended Daily Allowance.

Health Benefits

Promotes Muscle Growth

Any type of protein helps build muscle, but some studies have suggested that whey protein could boost muscle growth even more effectively than other products, such as those derived from casein or soy. Whey contains the branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) leucine, which is the primary BCAA responsible for muscle synthesis.

Contains All Essential Amino Acids

Of the 20 amino acids that make up all proteins, nine are considered "essential." This means that the body can't produce them on its own and must get them through food. As a dairy product, whey protein powder bears the protein badge of honor: It contains all nine essential acids. Getting enough of these on a regular basis helps build and repair tissue, create hormones, and maintain neurotransmitters.

May Promote Satiety and Weight Loss

A high-protein, low-carb diet is usually a solid plan for losing weight, but adding protein from whey could spell even better weight loss results. A large meta-analysis of 14 studies found that, as a supplement combined with resistance exercise or as part of a weight-loss diet, whey protein powder significantly improved parameters like body weight, BMI, and body fat.

May Enhance Athletic Performance Recovery

For recovery, does it really matter what type of protein you eat post-workout? It might. One small 2017 study compared men who consumed whey protein versus a carbohydrate-based alternative after resistance exercise. Those who had the whey supplement had small-to-moderate improvements in muscle and energy recovery.

May Lower Blood Pressure

The effects of whey protein on blood pressure aren't well established, but one study explored what happened when people with obesity supplemented their diet with whey protein. After 12 weeks, those who included whey protein had lower blood pressure and better vascular function.

Allergies 

Dairy is one of the top eight food allergens. Some people with a dairy allergy are allergic only to casein (milk solids), while others are specifically allergic only to whey. If you know you’re allergic to whey, you’ll need to avoid whey protein powder. Or, if you’re unsure about the specifics of your dairy allergy, don’t consume whey protein powder unless given the all-clear from your doctor or allergist.

Eating whey protein if you have lactose intolerance is a slightly different story. Because whey is naturally low in lactose, some people with lactose intolerance find they’re able to digest it without a problem. Of the three types of whey protein (whey concentrate, whey isolate, and whey hydrolysate), isolate and hydrolysate have the lowest amount of lactose, so you may prefer to start with these.

Adverse Effects

Although whey protein powder can be a convenient way to reach your daily protein target, it’s not without its drawbacks. First, there is such a thing as too much protein. Despite this macronutrient’s glowing reputation, consuming it in excess can damage your kidneys, especially if you’re already at risk of kidney disease. Stick to established serving sizes so you don’t overdo it.

It’s important to remember, too, that whey protein powder is a dietary supplement—and supplements are not rigorously regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. It’s up to each manufacturer to vouch for their powder’s quality, purity, and safety. For this reason, it’s hard to be completely certain whether a powder contains exactly what it says it does.

Meanwhile, some powders might pack questionable ingredients or additives, so you might unintentionally end up consuming more calories and/or sugars than you’d like. Be sure to read labels diligently to get accurate nutrition information.

Varieties

Whey protein powder recipes will vary—some with flavorings like vanilla or chocolate, others made with organic or grass-fed dairy. You can choose the type that suits your budget, lifestyle, and flavor preferences.

When it comes to the actual protein in a powder, you also have some options. Again, whey protein comes in three forms: whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, and whey protein hydrolysate. Concentrate contains the highest amount of lactose, and many people find its flavor the most pleasing. Isolate contains more protein and less lactose than concentrate. Hydrolysate is a protein that has already undergone hydrolysis, which is part of the digestion process. This is why you may hear it referred to as "predigested." Some people find this form easiest to digest.

Storage and Food Safety 

Whey protein powder should be stored sealed in a cool, dry place. You can use printed expiration dates as a reference for its quality. (According to a 2016 study, samples of whey protein stored properly retained their quality for up to 18 months.)

And don’t forget to use your senses when assessing a powder’s edibility. Unappealing changes in color, smell, or texture are all indicators that a powder should be discarded.

How to Prepare

Using whey protein powder in recipes couldn’t be simpler! Prepare according to the container instructions, which can be as simple as mixing a scoop with water. Of course, there’s also the ever-popular option of tossing a scoop into a blender with liquid and a few other ingredients to make a smoothie, but the possibilities don’t stop there.

You can add whey protein powder to pancake batter, oatmeal, muffins, bars, balls, puddings, and more. For best results, follow a recipe that includes whey protein as an ingredient—or feel free to experiment on your own.

Recipes

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Article Sources
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