ALVIN HO is COO of VitaCare Medical Group and co-founder of FITivate Pte Ltd. He is a certified fitness professional and was named Singapore’s 10 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness aged 40 and under, by SBR. Alvin strongly believes in the adage, “Prevention is better than cure”, and strives to help individuals attain optimal fitness through living an active and healthy lifestyle.
Whey protein is the most popular sports supplement of choice. However, over the years, there have been a myriad of controversies over its apparent benefits and potential harmful effects. So the question is, can whey protein actually enhance our physical prowess without deteriorating our health in the long run? We’ll provide you with information to help you better decide if whey should be supplemented into your daily diet plans.
What is whey protein?
In the cheese making process, milk is solidified into curd while leaving a clear liquid by-product known as whey. Initially discarded as waste, it was later found that this substance actually contained rich amounts of beneficial complete proteins (both essential and nonessential amino acids), thus, giving rise to the formulation of whey protein supplements that we are familiar with today.
The benefits of whey protein
Effective as a fat burner: A 12-week study involving two groups of participants had 500 calories shaved off their daily diet. To replace those calories, one group had whey protein included in their diet while the other consumed isocaloric beverages. At the end of the study, the whey protein group saw significant reduction in body fat and preservation of lean muscles as compared to the other.
Helps muscle growth and strength: Whey protein contains protein and amino acids which are fundamental building blocks necessary for muscle growth. On top of that, whey can be easily absorbed by the body. It also helps increase anabolic hormones such as insulin, which acts as stimulants to muscle hypertrophy.
Reduces hunger pangs: Protein takes a longer time to break down and digest as compared to carbohydrates and fats. This extended period of digestion will mean that the body will tend to feel full for a longer stretch. When you feel that hunger creeping in, protein bars can serve as great guilt-free snacks to keep you going until your next meal.
Other benefits: Whey provides an array of other nutrients that are said to keep symptoms of stress/depression in check and lower blood pressure and sugar levels.
Side effects of whey
Whey is generally safe for most adults, but as the saying goes, always consume everything in moderation. Some of the side effects of too much protein include diarrhea (due to lactose intolerance), nausea, thirst (dehydration), stomach bloats and fatigue. It is important that you seek medical advice before beginning your supplement regime.
Increase protein intake will hurt your kidneys: People with existing kidney problems will have to be careful when increasing their protein intake and this has to be done under strict medical supervision. Other than that, a fit and active person should have no issues in maintaining a protein-rich diet. The key thing to take note is to drink lots of water as increased protein intake can result in dehydration.
Bone health risks due to high protein diet: To date, there is still no proof that bone health deterioration is linked with high protein diets. There are, however, studies associating high protein diets to minor benefits towards the lumbar spine.
In conclusion, consuming whey protein seem to offer more of a beneficial edge than a negative one (provided you do not fall into the group that are susceptible to its side effects). Here’s a suggested list of daily protein intake recommendations for individuals with varying lifestyles:
- The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein intake of an average adult hovers at around 0.8g/kg of body weight daily.
- For weightlifters or bodybuilders seeking to build and maintain muscle mass should have a protein intake of 1.5 to 2.2 g/kg of body weight per day.
- Endurance athletes (runners, swimmers etc.) should consume about 1.2 to 1.4 g/kg per body weight of protein daily.
In my opinion, if the daily diet is already rich in protein (poultry, lean red meat, low fat dairy products), then there might be little need to supplement whey protein into the dietary mix. The key is to consume everything in moderation.