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What is whey protein? The benefits and dangers, according to a nutritionist

Do you know what's in whey protein?
/ Source: TODAY

Whey protein has been a favorite supplement among gym goers for a long time and is still a go-to source of smoothie protein in the wellness world. But even if you’re a fan, do you know what it actually is and how it may affect your body differently than other types of protein?

There are a few things everyone should know about whey.

What is whey protein?

Whey protein is one of two categories of proteins found in dairy (along with casein) and is a byproduct of cheese and yogurt production. Basically, you start with liquid milk and strain out the curds for cheese or yogurt, leaving whey behind.

Once it’s processed, whey protein is usually sold as a powder on its own, or mixed into smoothie powders and drink mixes that also contain other nutrients. It’s used as a supplement to address malnutrition and protein deficiencies or most often in an effort to increase athletic performance and improve body composition.

Before being absorbed in the body, the large fractions of protein are broken down by the body’s digestive enzymes into amino acids. Amino acids are then pieced back together in different combinations to make new proteins the body will use to build muscle, enzymes, hormones and other substances needed for structure and function.

Whey protein supplies all nine essential amino acids and is particularly high in leucine and cysteine. Protein sources that provide leucine are thought to be the strongest determinant of muscle protein synthesis and growth, which is why it is the preferred choice for most gym goers.

You’ll find whey protein sold as whey protein or as whey protein isolate. The isolate type means that it has gone through further concentration to isolate the protein even more. This makes it slightly higher in protein, but also lower in certain nutrients, including fat.

Benefits of whey

Whey protein is known to have a relatively high biological value, meaning that the amino acids found within it are more efficiently used by the body than other proteins. This is huge, because if you eat healthy foods your body can’t use, it’s a total waste of time.

Research has suggested that consuming whey following resistance training could result in enhanced muscle function and decreased muscle recovery time.

Another small study done on college-aged males suggested that ingestion of 48 grams of whey protein isolate three days a week for eight weeks resulted in increased lean body mass, muscle mass, strength and power, as well as a decrease in overall fat mass.

Other studies however, have shown no specific benefits. Of course, protein after a super intense workout, in general, is a good idea.

Side effects of whey

If muscle growth is your goal, a study done on rats showed that exercise, when supplemented with whey protein, resulted in higher weight and muscle gain when compared to exercise without whey protein supplementation. This can be seen as negative or positive depending upon your goals.

Whey protein has also been linked to stomach discomfort including bloating. You can pair whey protein with a digestive enzyme, which will assist in breaking it down further so that your body is better able to digest and absorb the necessary nutrients and naturally occurring amino acids, which may help reduce bloating.

It’s important to remember, regardless of supplementing with whey or another form of protein, that unless you are lacking in protein in your diet or are recovering from a workout and need a quick source of protein, the supplement may not have benefits.

When choosing a whey protein, look for products made with organic, grass-fed whey. Think about it: Whey comes from milk, so just like you’d choose milk from happy, healthy cows, you want your whey to come from a quality source.

For more tips on how to live a nutritious life, follow Keri on Instagram @nutritiouslifeofficial.