by Greg Miller and Matt Pikosky
Research Confirms Health Benefits of Whey Protein
health-focused consumer wants to add lean muscle, improve overall body
composition, feel full longer after eating or battle high blood pressure,
science points to whey protein as a source of health benefits.
As a natural component of milk and yogurt or as a
healthy ingredient added to nutrition bars and beverages, whey protein is
one of the most concentrated sources of essential amino acids available. It
also has the highest biological value of any ingredient protein (104 for
whey protein versus 100 for eggs, 74 for soy protein and 54 for wheat
gluten), making it easily absorbed by the body.
A growing body of research affirms whey’s health
benefits in several promising areas.
Synthesizing Lean Muscle
Workouts develop muscle by breaking it down and
rebuilding it from protein stores in the body. This process is enhanced by
consuming certain foods shortly before or after exercise.
Leucine, in particular, is linked to enhanced muscle
protein synthesis. Whey protein delivers more muscle-building branched
chain amino acids (BCAAs) than most other proteins (26 grams of BCAAs
leucine, isoleucine and valine per 100 grams of whey protein). More leucine
is found in whey protein isolate (14 percent) than in other protein sources
such as casein (10 percent), egg protein (9), soy protein isolate (8) or
Several studies have documented whey protein’s
positive influence on muscle protein synthesis following a single
resistance training session. Additional research with young men has shown
that combining whey protein supplementation with regular resistance
training leads to lean muscle tissue increases greater than those seen when
resistance training is combined with consumption of a carbohydrate
New research shows proximity of consumption to
exercise session may be key. Participants who consumed 20 grams of whey
protein in combination with resistance exercise saw comparable improvement
in muscle protein balance whether consumption took place immediately before
or after training.
Maintaining muscle mass is a vital factor in
preventing diabetes, obesity, sarcopenia and osteoporosis.
Proteins are typically better than carbohydrates at
inducing satiety, or a feeling of fullness. Research is beginning to
examine whether different types of protein are better than others in
providing this effect. Science suggests that whey proteins further support
satiety due to bioactive components that increase serum amino acid levels
and slow digestion. By controlling satiety, whey protein can help people
regulate their food intake and manage weight.
Researchers have looked at the impact of whey protein
on satiety. Young men who were given a 200-calorie beverage containing 45
to 50 grams of sweet whey protein one hour before a pizza meal ate less
than those who consumed drinks containing carbohydrates or egg protein.
Further research will clarify whey protein’s effect on satiety and
Managing Blood Pressure
Whey proteins also may play a role in reducing high
blood pressure. Bioactive peptides from whey can inhibit angiotensin
converting enzymes (ACE), a key enzyme affecting blood pressure. ACE
inhibitors are a leading high blood pressure treatment. In a six-week
study, mildly hypertensive individuals who took 20 grams of a certain
hydrolyzed whey protein daily saw significant drops in systolic and
diastolic blood pressure. Such findings suggest whey proteins could manage
hypertension with fewer side effects than medication.
Greg Miller, Ph.D., M.A.C.N., is executive vice
president of science and research for Dairy Management Inc. and the
National Dairy Council. Matt Pikosky, Ph.D., R.D., is director of research
transfer for DMI.