The Best Whey Protein For Weight Loss And Diets
Most people experience some frustration when they try to lose weight. It can be tough to consume the right balance of nutrients, especially when you have a busy lifestyle. Whey protein powder contains the macronutrients that you need to sustain optimal functioning, and it can even help you lose weight. The best whey protein for weight loss is nutritious, affordable and tastes great.
Whey and whey protein powder
Before recent times, most people were familiar with the term “curds and whey” from the “Miss Muffet” nursery rhyme. However, you may not have stopped to think about what that means.
When you add certain chemicals to milk, it separates into two types of protein. The fatty curd proteins clump together into soft, white solids, and the whey is the protein-rich liquid that remains.
Whey protein contains a wide range of essential amino acids, which are necessary for every metabolic function in the body. They help your body synthesize protein and build muscle. The compounds in whey protein can also change the way the body stores fat, enhance immune function and deliver anti-oxidants. (1)
Whey represents about 20 percent of the protein in milk. Fresh, liquid whey also contains lactose. It also has calcium and carbohydrates.
- Pantothenic acid
- Vitamin B-12
- Vitamin B-6
Manufacturers may add other components hoping to create the best whey protein powder for weight loss. Some ingredients, such as lecithin, xanthan gum and sweeteners, are added to improve the texture and flavor.
Whey in the production of milk products
Although whey’s benefits for health have been studied extensively, producers of milk-based products, such as cheese and yogurt, used to consider it to be a waste product. Now, it’s a valuable food industry ingredient. (2)
Over the years, the technology for producing whey has improved, leading to more efficient processing methods. It’s not only a nutritional powerhouse but also a functional ingredient that can improve emulsification in ice cream and mayonnaise, enhance flavor and mouth feel and act as a binder to replace fats in baked goods, creamers, soups and sauces.
However, whey has been used for nutrition since ancient times. Hippocrates claimed that it enhanced the immune system. In the 1700s, whey was used as a tonic to treat different ailments. (3)
As time has gone on, researchers have found many more health benefits associated with consuming whey protein, including increasing muscle mass promoting weight loss, protecting against cancer, lowering blood pressure and glucose levels and managing symptoms of stress. We’ll break those down later in this article.
What is whey protein powder and how is it obtained?
There are several steps involved in making whey protein powder. A more detailed description can be found in this Dairy Processing Handbook, but the basic steps are as follows:
- Milk is collected from cows and transported to a manufacturing facility.
- After the milk is tested for safety, enzymes are added to separate the whey from the curds.
- The liquid whey is pasteurized and processed into a powder using microfiltration or ion exchange.
- Flavorings and other ingredients may be added to improve the taste of the powder.
What types of whey protein powders are on the market?
These days, a wide variety of protein powders is available on the market. However, just because it says ‘whey’ on the label, it doesn’t mean it’s the same – which is what we’re about to explore next.
Some products are sold as 100% whey protein. This usually means that the powder is only made with whey as the main protein component and doesn’t contain other types of proteins. However, some items may still contain other ingredients, such as soy protein. To get the purest form of whey protein, look for the word “Pure” on the label, and read the ingredients just to be sure.
Other types of commercial whey protein powders are meant to be used as meal replacement shakes. These may have a higher calorie count than simpler protein shakes, and they may have additional ingredients to round out their nutrient profile.
Nutritional recommendations for using whey
Although people have consumed whey for various reasons throughout the centuries, health companies have begun marketing the protein to athletes in the past few decades. Even more recently, whey has been recommended for use by ordinary people. Protein is one of the most popular nutrients that U.S. shoppers seek out, according to Food Business News. (4)
This goes along with the trends toward a healthier lifestyle. As people become more interested in their wellbeing, they’re looking for products that can help them with these demands. Whey protein fits the bill for a snack alternative that’s high in protein and low in fat, sugar and carbohydrates.
The consensus for how much protein you should consume varies depending on who you ask. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Based on this reference, a 150-pound person would need to consume about 54 grams of protein per day. (5)
Although this amount may prevent you from becoming protein deficient, it’s not necessarily ideal for everyone. Your age, health, muscle mass and fitness goals come into play when deciding how much protein to consume.
Some researchers say that you should aim for 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight if you’re trying to gain muscle. Others have found that 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is ideal. If you follow these guidelines, you should base your consumption on the amount of lean mass or your goal weight, especially if you have a high body mass index. (6, 7)
Studies show that taking in 30 percent of your calories in protein each day can help you lose weight. If you typically consume 2,000 calories per day, that’s the equivalent of 150 grams of protein, which is far higher than the DRI. (8)
If you live a sedentary lifestyle and are at a healthy weight, you probably need less protein than someone who is recovering from an injury or actively exercises.
Whey protein and weight loss
Although some people eschew protein supplements because they don’t want to build large muscles or get ripped, they don’t need to worry. Your body is genetically predisposed to build muscles in a certain way. The average person can benefit from whey protein supplementation to help them reach their fitness goals.
Can you use whey to lose weight?
Whey protein doesn’t just help you gain muscle; it can also improve satiety, increase your metabolism and reduce fat.
One way to use whey to lose weight is to replace one meal a day with a protein shake. Considering that a meal composed of real food can have a calorie count of 500 to 700 calories, you’ll simply be restricting the number of calories that you eat by using this method. This can help you lose weight even if you don’t exercise.
However, you need to make sure that you’re still taking in enough calories throughout the day to consume enough nutrients and maintain your metabolism. On the other hand, adding a protein shake to your regular diet without balancing out your total calorie count elsewhere might not help you lose weight if you’re not working out.
One study found that participants who consumed additional calories per day all experienced weight gain. The ones who ate a low-protein diet gained less weight than their counterparts, who consumed adequate or high-protein diets. However, the reduced weight gain is probably attributed to the failure to increase lean body mass. The group that ate 30 percent of their total calories in protein gained weight, but they also gained muscle, which is important for metabolism and weight loss. (9)
The best whey protein for weight loss offers a valuable tool for reaching your goals, but it’s not a magic formula. You can use protein powders to replace a different type of snack, curb cravings for sweets or give yourself a convenient pick-me-up before or after a workout. Keep calories in check by avoiding adding calorie-rich foods to your smoothies and choosing powders with low carbohydrate levels.
The role of whey protein in weight loss
When it comes to macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates and proteins), protein is the one that will make you feel full for the longest time. In one study, participants automatically ate almost 500 fewer calories per day on average when they increased their protein intake just because they weren’t hungry. (10, 11)
In another study, subjects were less likely to eat late in the evening after increasing their protein intake to 25 percent of their total daily calories. (12)
This is probably due to the way that whey protein affects certain hormones. Research shows that when you eat a high-protein diet, your body secretes more GIP and GLP-1, which are chemicals that help you feel full. It also reduces the secretion of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel hungry. (13)
Consuming whey protein can also increase the number of calories that you burn. Your metabolism, or energy expenditure, works on three levels:
- Basal metabolic rate:
The amount of calories that you need to consume (and subsequently burn) just to allow your body to function
- Diet-induced thermogenesis:
The process of burning calories to digest and metabolize the foods that you eat
- Energy cost of physical activity:
How many calories you burn when exercising
Evidence suggests that people who eat high-protein diets (30 percent of total calories from protein) have higher basal metabolic rates while sleeping and greater diet-induced thermogenesis than those who eat adequate protein, which consists of 10 percent of total calories coming from protein (14).
Why you need whey protein powders in weight loss
Whey protein can help you hold onto or build muscle even when you’re cutting calories or trying to lose weight. Long-term calorie restriction can lead to a reduction in muscle mass. Researchers have found, however, that whether you’re trying to eat less or cut calories through exercise, adding protein to your diet can preserve muscle mass (15, 16).
In addition to maintaining your muscles, consuming whey protein can boost fat loss. In one study, participants that consumed 2.4 grams of whey protein per kilogram of body weight (almost 3 times the DRI) lost more fat than those that ate 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (17).
Whey protein regulates your metabolic rate in a way that makes your body lose unnecessary fat almost instantly. However, one of its main benefits is that it also prevents weight gain, which helps you reach and maintain your physical goals on the long run.
If you want to get an even better insight on how protein powder can change your lifestyle, this article is a great place to start.
What makes whey powder better than other sources?
With so many different types of protein products out there, including egg, pea, soy and even whole-food sources of animal protein, you might wonder: Why choose whey?
In one study conducted on rodents, researchers found that using casein as the protein source instead of soy, cod, beef, pork or chicken resulted in less weight gain and fat accumulation when it was incorporated into a high-fat, high-protein diet (18).
Still, casein is only one type of milk protein, and it’s not found in all of the best whey protein for weight loss. In one French study, researchers found that consuming whey improves protein synthesis by 70 percent, compared to 30 percent for casein. Muscle protein synthesis is what makes you gain strength and muscle mass. (19)
Whenever you lift weights, you damage some of the proteins in your muscles. This is necessary for the rebuilding process because your body replaces those damaged proteins with new ones that are stronger and denser than the ones that existed previously. Muscle protein synthesis begins as soon as you exercise, and without it, your muscles wouldn’t grow.
Consuming whey protein before, during or after working out can help with muscle recovery and lead to better gains. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn even at rest.
The amino acids in whey protein are absorbed more quickly than those from many other protein sources. Although eating a juicy steak will provide you with some protein benefits, research shows that whey protein produces an even greater anabolic response (20). That means that you synthesize more muscle than you break down, leading to larger, stronger muscles.
Recommended doses of whey protein powder
Everyone has different nutritional needs, which makes it difficult to pinpoint the ideal dose of whey protein powder. Age may also make a difference.
One study found that men who averaged 71 years of age should consume 40 grams of whey protein to maintain ideal muscle protein synthesis, compared with 20 grams for younger adults (21).
The pattern of dosing might matter too. In 2013, researchers conducted a study during which they gave participants 80-gram doses of whey protein in various patterns throughout the day (22). The groups consumed the whey protein as follows:
- Eight 10-gram doses every 90 minutes
- Four 20-gram doses every three hours
- Two 40-gram doses every six hours
When they looked at muscle building and recovery, the researchers found that ingesting 20-gram doses every three hours was ideal. Healthline reports that the dosage that’s recommended most often is about 25 to 50 grams per day.
The health benefits of whey protein
Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, consuming the best whey protein can benefit you in other ways.
Naturally lowering blood pressure
Whey protein may be able to lower blood pressure. In one study, researchers gave overweight individuals 27 grams of whey protein twice a day for 12 weeks (24). They compared the results with participants who consumed 27 grams of casein and 27 grams of a glucose control. Both of the protein groups experienced a reduction in blood pressure after 12 weeks.
The whey protein seemed to work faster than casein for achieving this result.
Other researchers have found similar therapeutic effects of whey protein on blood pressure. However, most of the studies used doses of at least 22 grams per day. Taking less than that may not make a difference.
Chronic inflammatory diseases are the biggest threat to human health and the leading cause of death throughout the globe. Circulating C-reactive proteins are markers of inflammation. One meta-analysis of nine studies found that whey protein might lower C-reactive protein levels slightly, but no significant effects were discovered (25).
According to the Arthritis Foundation, casein may cause joint pain in people who are sensitive to it. Also, whey protein and casein may trigger an inflammatory cascade in people with autoimmune diseases.
Reducing high cholesterol
The evidence for using whey protein to reduce high cholesterol is extremely limited, but some findings suggest that overweight individuals may benefit from taking 54 grams of whey protein per day for 12 weeks. In this study, researchers noted that LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels were reduced, and vascular function improved. (26)
Improving women’s bone health
Although calcium gets much of the attention for improving bone health, protein plays a role as well. Our bones are constantly changing. As the bone structure is remodeled, proteins are destroyed and synthesized, much like they are during muscle growth.
Plus, to maintain a healthy musculoskeletal system, your muscles and bones must function well. As you age, both systems tend to deteriorate.
Milk is one of the best food sources for maintaining strong bones. The basic protein fraction of whey is capable of promoting bone growth and preventing bone resorption. One study found that supplementation with 40 mg per day of whey protein for six months significantly increased the bone mineral density of healthy women. The study also refers to a number of other research efforts that have showed that whey protein can prevent bone loss associated with the hormonal effects of aging. (27)
Improving digestive system functions
There are contradictory findings when it comes to whey protein and digestive system health. On one hand, some people say that they have trouble digesting whey protein. Gas, abdominal pain and bloating may occur in people who are sensitive to milk. However, Medical News Today says that moderate doses are usually consumed without side effects.
Some research even indicates that whey protein can resolve issues associated with inflammation in colitis cases. The supplement may also reduce intestinal permeability, a condition in which the barrier function of the gut lining is compromised, which often occurs in people with inflammatory bowel disease.
Treating type 2 diabetes
Whey protein may modulate blood sugar better than egg white or fish protein. It seems that it produces a greater insulin response after a meal.
Insulin is the chemical that helps your cells use the glucose in your blood for fuel. However, people with diabetes are also predisposed to postprandial lipemia, a syndrome that’s associated with carbohydrate intolerance and occurs when triglyceride levels in the blood increase after eating.
Whey protein has been found to outperform other proteins in improving postprandial lipemia. In fact, taking whey protein before a meal has similar effects on gut hormones and blood sugar levels as taking some diabetes medications.
Increasing antioxidant defense
When an apple oxidizes, it deteriorates as it experiences a chemical reaction with the air. Oxidation is what makes an apple turn brown. Oxidation also happens as your cells take energy from the air you breathe and undergo millions of different processes. When oxygen molecules split, they become single atoms with unbonded electrons.
They look for other particles to bond to, damaging them as they do. This is called oxidative stress, and it can be detrimental to your body in a number of ways. Antioxidants lend an electron to free radicals, neutralizing them so that they can’t do further damage.
Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that contains the amino acids glycine, glutamate and cysteine. Taking whey protein may increase the levels of glutathione in your blood. Researchers are looking into this benefit for people with diseases like cancer and HIV, but antioxidants can also protect against symptoms of aging, improve energy levels, enhance immunity and contribute to better cognitive performance. (28)
Is whey protein anti-cancer?
There is limited evidence for whey protein’s effects on cancer patients. In one regard, many people who suffer from cancer experience nutritional deviations, which can negatively affect their survival rates and quality of life. Adding whey protein can result in a more balanced diet, especially when they don’t have the time or energy to make a full meal.
Experts say that whey protein may have further benefits for people with cancer, though. The proteins in whey can stimulate the creation of glutathione, which can inhibit the development of certain types of tumors. Whey protein may be twice as effective as soy protein in reducing the size and proliferation of mammary tumors (29).
Side effects of whey protein supplementation
Most experts say that whey protein is a safe way to incorporate the macronutrient into your diet. However, you might not need to use the best whey protein powder for weight loss if you already consume a balanced diet with high levels of protein.
Still, researchers have looked into how much is too much. One study involved giving five times the DRI to people who regularly performed resistance training exercises and found that most people tolerated it well. There were only a few side effects, including gastrointestinal distress and chronically elevated temperature. (30)
Other side effects have been linked to whey protein, including the following.
Kidney stone formation and kidney damage
A high-protein diet is often cited as a cause of kidney stones. This myth may be propagated by the fact that people experiencing kidney failure tend to respond well to a protein-restricted diet. If you already have kidney problems, you might want to check with a health professional before using whey protein.
This doesn’t mean that healthy people will have kidney problems when they consume whey protein, though. In fact, the World Health Organization states that there appears to be no solid evidence for this side effect.
There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence online that suggests that some people experience gas, bloating, cramping or other abdominal distress when they use certain types of whey protein. Many of the studies that we’ve referenced in this article discuss digestive discomfort as a possible side effect.
Your body is designed to be able to process a certain amount of food at once. If you consume too much protein in one sitting, your digestive enzymes might not be able to keep up. You may experience digestive discomfort until your body metabolizes the protein back-up. Try cutting back on your dosage to find the ideal level.
Because even the best whey protein powder is made from milk, it can trigger people who are sensitive to dairy. Whey protein concentrates contain lactose and may cause uncomfortable digestive side effects in people who are lactose intolerant. Whey isolates and hydrolysates have been processed to remove most of the lactose and may be better tolerated.
If you’re replacing a majority of your meals with protein powder, you may not be taking in enough balanced nutrients, like fiber. This can lead to constipation. Make sure that you maintain a well-rounded diet even when you use the best option.
Some researchers have found that whey protein contributes to acne. This may be due to the fact that whey protein increases postprandial insulin and basal insulin-like growth factor. Whey protein concentrate has more of the milk hormones that lead to acne. (31)
If this is a problem for you, you can try using whey protein isolate or hydrolysate instead. Also, try to keep sugar and artificial ingredients to a minimum.
Gout could worsen
Although whey protein is not directly linked to gout, people who have the condition should be careful when adding protein to their diet with whey. Gout is related to kidney disease, and people who have kidney problems usually do better when they limit their protein intake.
- People with kidney disease
- People who have gout
- People who take albendazole, quinolone
or tetracycline antibiotics
- People with a milk allergy
Choosing the right protein powder is a tough decision. Our post provides honest reviews of our top 5 whey protein powders you can find available right now.
Using whey protein for weight loss: tips and tricks
Even the best whey protein won’t help you lose weight if you don’t follow certain practices. For example, adding the calories and nutrients from a protein shake without altering your calorie count or intensifying your exercise plan might make you gain weight. Using whey protein as a meal replacement, snack replacement or way to fill up so that you don’t overconsume unhealthy foods, say, at a party, can help you lose weight.
Experiment with your dosage
Pay attention to the way that your body responds to your protein intake.
Some signs that you’re taking in too much protein include:
- Kidney issues
- Weight gain
Some signs that you’re not taking in enough protein include:
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Low blood pressure and heart rate
- Nutrient malabsorption
- Liver issues
- Lowered immunity
- Food cravings
- Weak hair and nails
Signs of lactose or casein intolerance
Some people are simply sensitive to the lactose or casein in whey. Others may be sensitive to other ingredients in certain whey protein powders, like soy.
Some signs that you may be allergic or intolerant to lactose or casein include:
- Major abdominal issues after taking it
- Chronic congestion
- Mucus buildup
If you’re experiencing issues, you can dial down your dosage or switch to a vegan protein source.
Does Protein Intake Timing Matter For Weight Loss?
It seems that just about everyone has advice about when to consume whey protein. We’ve already discussed how researchers have found positive effects both from taking one large dose of protein and spreading out your intake throughout the day.
Researchers have found that people experienced an increase in strength, muscle mass and muscle fiber size when taking whey protein before bedtime (32). Consuming whey protein at night can also help you burn more calories at rest. Other experts say that eating protein just before or after a workout is ideal.
You can find a study to support almost any pattern of whey protein intake. Do what feels right for you, and modify it if you’re consuming it without losing weight.
Specific situations that increase the recommended dosage
Naturally, everyone is different – and some categories of people may need a higher dose of protein than usual.
Teenage boys and girls, for example, need up to 52 grams of protein daily due to their fast growing pace. Meanwhile, pregnant and breastfeeding women require 71 grams of protein every day to support not only their own needs, but their babies’ also. (33)
Professional athletes may need anywhere between 96 and 170 grams of protein on a daily basis depending on their weight and training level. Those who recently suffered an injury can also increase their daily protein allowance to speed up muscle and bone recovery.
How to use protein powder for specific conditions
As mentioned earlier, whey protein is a great way of reducing inflammation. If you recently suffered and injury or simply want to improve your physical ability of healing, then whey concentrate is what you need. One serving per day offers plenty of glutathione, which is a powerful antioxidant that reduces inflammation quickly.
Studies found that consuming up to 30 grams of whey protein daily helps regression in patients with cancerogenic tumors. In this case, you may either pick a powder with high protien concentration per serving or get a powder with 15 grams of protein and enjoy two servings daily.
Furthermore, research proved that delivering 20 grams of protein before working out can help patients with diabetes regulate their blood sugar levels. Not only does this quantity regulate insulin production, but it also promotes satiety, thus preventing unhealthy post-workout meals that might trigger a bad insulin response.
If you’re planning to reduce cholesterol levels, one serving of whey protein powder daily can reduce high glucose and help you maintain a healthy blood sugar balance. The secret is to consume the protein first thing in the morning to give your metabolism a healthy boost throughout the day. Also, make sure that your powder of choice is free from trans fats because they can seriously damage your cholesterol in time.
The key to any type of protein powder is knowing how to adapt its dosage and timing to your goals and physical state. I highly recommend our article on protein powders for a better look at each protein type and its benefits.
Real-World Examples From Real People
The internet is loaded with examples of real people talking about protein powders.
Thomas DeLauer explains how protein powders spike your insulin to allow the protein to reach your cells more efficiently.
This video explains that when people cut calories, they also tend to cut protein out of their diets because foods with plenty of protein, like red meat and eggs, are often limited because they also contain higher fat levels. That’s a practical example of why it may be important for some people to use protein powder when they’re trying to lose weight—protein powder is lower in fat and calories than a serving of steak.
If you’re wondering how long it will take for you to see results from using whey protein for weight loss, watch Coach Rob from 3STRONG’s video. It explains that everyone’s body changes at a different rate. It also depends on the frequency and intensity of your workouts as well as the quality of your diet, stress levels and sleep patterns.
The bottom line is that you have to put in some work to see weight loss from the best whey protein powder. Round out your supplementation routine with consistent exercise and a healthy diet, and record the results so that you can measure your success and tweak what’s not working.