I’m often asked what a long-term diet looks like for someone who wants to lose fat and be healthy in general. Honestly, that differs for everyone based on your hormones, health issues, and lifestyle, but I do often recommend a higher protein diet.
I would love if we could all get our protein from natural sources like egg whites, poultry, wild game, lean red meat, and fish, but for most of us busy lifestyles, finances, and time can really put a hamper on a diet that needs ample cooking time.
That’s when I suggest the occasional use of whey protein.
Whey protein is for more than body builders
Whey protein is often thought of as nothing more than a body builder’s muscle shake – but there are several benefits for the average health-and-fitness-seeker that shouldn’t be dismissed under the fear of gym sweat.
Before we get there though, let me quickly explain what whey protein is.
What is whey protein?
There are two types of milk proteins: casein and whey. Casein makes up about 80% of protein and whey makes up the other 20%.
Whey is a byproduct of cheese-making. If you’ve ever bought yogurt or cottage cheese, it’s the liquid that sometimes rises to the top after they’ve sat for a period of time in the refrigerator. You can also make your own whey when dripping yogurt, however, it’s not as concentrated as the powdered form.
What are the benefits of whey?
In regards to fat loss and fitness, whey protein has been shown helpful in:
1.) building muscle and preserving lean body mass
2.) suppressing appetite, promoting weight loss, and preventing and treating obesity
3.) improving metabolism and thermogenesis
4.) supplying BCAA’s (branched-chain amino acids)
Let’s break each of these down. . .
Building muscle and preserving lean body mass
Whey primarily stimulates muscle protein synthesis (MPS) which creates and repairs muscle. This is why so many athletes and bodybuilders use it. (Don’t worry ladies, this doesn’t mean you’ll bulk up if you use it). MPS is uniquely important for the elderly too.
One study found that whey with high-quality leucine may be particularly important to maximize MPS for the elderly.  A separate study found that whey protein may also help prevent muscle wasting that can come with aging. 
Suppressing appetite, promoting weight loss, and preventing & treating obesity
The British Journal of Nutrition published a study in which 35 young adults were given one of three breakfasts:
1. a normal protein breakfast
2. a high-protein breakfast from added whey
3. a high-protein breakfast from alpha-lactalbumin-enriched whey.
Compared to the normal protein breakfast, the two high protein breakfasts with whey resulted in increased energy expenditure, and suppressed hunger and the desire to eat. 
In a separate 12-week clinical trial, participants were split into two groups. Both groups ate the same number of calories, but one group was given whey protein and the other group wasn’t. At the end of the twelve weeks, both groups lost weight, but the group given whey protein lost significantly more body fat and less lean muscle mass compared to the group that didn’t use whey. 
A third study comparing whey protein, soy protein, and an isoenergetic amount of carbohydrates found that after 23 weeks, the group that ate whey protein had lower body weight and fat mass, waist circumference was smaller, and fasting ghrelin (“the hunger hormone”) was lower. 
Improving metabolism and thermogenesis
In another trial study, overweight and obese participants with pre-existing metabolic risks took 54 grams of whey protein per day for 3 months. By the end of the study, they had notably improved their metabolic health through decreased fasting blood lipids and insulin levels. 
Another study determined that whey protein had a significantly greater thermic effect (the increase in metabolic rate after ingestion) than casein or soy protein. 
Supplying BCAA’s (branched-chain amino acids)
When your body breaks down protein, it leaves behind amino acids. However, there are nine essential amino acids your body can’t create on its own so you need to get them from your diet. Of these nine essential amino acids, three of them (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are called branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s) because of their branched molecular structure.
Whey is considered a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids. In comparison to other protein sources, whey protein also has a high proportion of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). 
“BCAAs are the foundation in my arsenal of supplements. BCAA’s support my body’s ability to preserve and build muscle; they support my immune system, increase my resistance to fatigue, improve my endurance capacity and allow me to stay lean – why wouldn’t I be in love with BCAAs!?” – Amanda Allen (two time winner of “The Fittest Woman Over 40 on Earth” title)
Whey protein provides many benefits
I also recommend whey protein for other health benefits. It [8, 9, 10]:
- can lead to reduced blood pressure, inflammation, and oxidative stress
- has been used as a strategy for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes
- converts the amino acid cysteine to glutathione – often called the body’s master antioxidant
- may enhance immunity
In conclusion, all of these reasons are beneficial ways whey protein may encourage good health and could improve your fitness levels. And you don’t have to be a bodybuilder to benefit!
Look for the next articles in this series where we’ll break down variations in whey proteins (processing, denatured vs. undenatured, etc.) and I’ll share my favorite whey protein sources, as well as answering the question: How much protein do I need?
Do you use whey protein? What health benefits have you seen?
 Churchward-Venne, T., Burd, N., Philips, S. (2012). Nutritional regulation of muscle protein synthesis with resistance exercise: strategies to enhance anabolism. Nutrition & Metabolism. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-9-40
 Katsanos, C. S., Chinkes, D. L., Paddon-Jones, D., Zhang, X., Aarsland, A., & Wolfe, R. R. (2008). Whey protein ingestion in elderly results in greater muscle protein accrual than ingestion of its constituent essential amino acid content. Nutrition Research (New York, N.Y.), 28(10), 651–658. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2008.06.007
 Hursel, R., Van der Zee, L., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2010). Effects of a breakfast yoghurt, with additional total whey protein or caseinomacropeptide-depleted α-lactalbumin-enriched whey protein, on diet-induced thermogenesis and appetite suppression. British Journal of Nutrition, 103(5), 775-780. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0007114509992352
 Frestedt, J. L., Zenk, J. L., Kuskowski, M. A., Ward, L. S., & Bastian, E. D. (2008). A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study. Nutrition & Metabolism, 5, 8. http://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-5-8
 Baer, D. J., Stote, K. S., Paul, D. R., Harris, G. K., Rumpler, W. V., & Clevidence, B. A. (2011). Whey Protein but Not Soy Protein Supplementation Alters Body Weight and Composition in Free-Living Overweight and Obese Adults. The Journal of Nutrition, 141(8), 1489–1494. http://doi.org/10.3945/jn.111.139840
 McGregor, R. A., & Poppitt, S. D. (2013). Milk protein for improved metabolic health: a review of the evidence. Nutrition & Metabolism, 10, 46. http://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-10-46
 Acheson, K., Blondel-Lubrano, A., Oguey-Araymon, S., Beaumont M., Emady-Azar, S., Ammon-Zufferey, C., Monnard, I., Pinaud, S.,Nielsen-Moennoz, C., Bovetto, L. (2011). Protein choices targeting thermogenesis and metabolism. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 93(2). 525-534. http://dx.doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.110.005850
 Sousa G., Lira F., Rosa J., deOliveira E., Oyama L., Santos R., Pimentel G. (2012). “Dietary whey protein lessens several risk factors for metabolic diseases: a review.” Lipids in Health and Disease. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1476-511X-11-67
 Fekete, Á. A., Giromini, C., Chatzidiakou, Y., Givens, D. I., & Lovegrove, J. A. (2016). Whey protein lowers blood pressure and improves endothelial function and lipid biomarkers in adults with prehypertension and mild hypertension: results from the chronic Whey2Go randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 104(6), 1534–1544. http://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.116.137919
 Marshall K. (2004). Therapeutic Applications of Whey Protein. Alternative Medicine Review, 9(2), 136-156.