Research Proven Weight Loss: Whey Protein

Scoop of chocolate whey isolate protein in a black plastic container on white

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Whey Supplementation Helps with Weight Loss.  

whey protein powder scoop

WP Powder with Scoop

What is whey protein (WP)?  Proteins are the building blocks of our bodies and are made of chains of amino acids. Simply put, whey is one of the two proteinaceous compounds found in milk, with the other being casein.  When a coagulant called renin is added to milk, it causes the fat and water soluble portions to separate into two parts.  The fat-soluble portion is curds made of casein and the water-soluble portion is whey.  It is an excellent source to increase your protein intake because it has a high degree of bioavailability[1] so it is absorbed faster than other sources.  

Protein is vilified as a cause of kidney failure.  This concept is just not the truth.  It does not harm the liver or kidneys, but it can exacerbate kidney damage if damage already exists.  People with kidney damage or failure should exercise caution when increasing protein intake without the guidance of a doctor because it may need to be restricted in people with renal failure to reduce toxin buildup.  If your kidneys are healthy, you do not need to worry about nitrogen waste build up because kidneys should get rid of the toxins as fast as you make them, but when you have kidney failure, your ability to get rid of these toxins is reduced.  Diabetes, high blood pressure, and drugs toxic to our kidney are the cause of most kidney disease, and as long as you do not have kidney failure, you probably do not need to reduce your consumption.  

Whey protein powder in scoop and plastic shaker isolated on white

Chocolate WP, Scoop, and Shaker Cup

Does WP have any benefits to a dieter?  This question is much more complex than one would imagine.  I have been reading on the topic for about 30 years.  I read many research articles in college looking for evidence that backed the outlandish claims contained within the muscle and fitness magazine that I read.  The multitude of articles presented it as being a miracle for weight and fat loss; increasing muscle mass and strength;  decreasing appetite; reducing insulin resistance, cholesterol, and lipid reduction; increasing bone density; and reducing inflammation.  I am sure there are more, but we are only going to focus on four areas in this article that are key in weight loss and maintenance.  I am going to focus on weight loss, body fat, appetite, and muscle mass.  

For years, weight builders have told me that using WP was perfect for weight loss.  Is there any evidence to support this?  I have read articles in muscle magazines that quoted many unbelievable results after starting on this supplement.  The problem is that many of them were funded by supplement companies and the subject often took other supplements or steroids.  They often made claims that WP would help you build massive lean muscles.  The companies that sponsored the studies are no better than modern-day snake oil salesmen, but there is some merit to using WP supplementation.   

Research on WP:

  1. Whey may increase weight loss.  One study looked at 31 postmenopausal females who were placed on a diet higher in WP or carbohydrates.  The research showed that replacing part of your calories with WP caused weight loss of about 8 pounds while increasing lean muscle mass[2].  This is significant because more lean body mass means more calories burned.  
  2. Whey may decrease body fat.  One 23-week study looked at increasing protein from 12% to 23% of the subjects diets through consumption of soy or WP.  Subjects were able to reduce body fat by an average of 2.8 kilograms[3].  In other words, WP was superior to soy in reducing or controlling body fat composition.  Another study of 17 obese males also found that whey was superior to casein at inducing fat loss and burning[4].  
  3. Milk proteins may decrease appetite.  A study from 2003 looked at energy intake after a 48-gram meal of casein or whey.  Both groups were allowed to eat at a buffet style meal.  The study revealed a higher level of satiety in the whey group than the casein group[5].  Other research has shown that both equally suppressed appetite[6].  
  4. Whey may reduce lean muscle mass loss.  Most studies show that WP will reduce lean muscle loss during a calorie restricted diet.  One such study followed 31 obese women on a calorie restricted diet.  The women given the addition of 50 grams WP relative to 50 grams carbohydrate to overweight or obese older women’s diets were able to enhance the amount of weight and fat loss during the trial period and had less of an overall percentage of weight loss come from lean mass[7].  The significance of this reduced muscle mass loss is that muscle mass enhances physical function in older women and will reduce weight gain as long as it is maintained.  

The bottom line is that WP promotes muscle retention and satiety even though it may not be superior to casein.  WP is a good addition to your nutrition as you try to loose weight because of its superior bioavailability.  I recommend that you eat food, but if you have to delay or skip a meal, a protein shake is a good way to bridge the gap until you get to your next meal or snack.  

Footnotes
[1]Hoffman and Falvo, “Protein – Which Is Best?”
[2]Mojtahedi et al., “The Effects of a Higher Protein Intake During Energy Restriction on Changes in Body Composition and Physical Function in Older Women.”
[3]Baer et al., “Whey Protein but Not Soy Protein Supplementation Alters Body Weight and Composition in Free-Living Overweight and Obese Adults.”
[4]Lorenzen et al., “The Effect of Milk Proteins on Appetite Regulation and Diet-Induced Thermogenesis.”
[5]Hall et al., “Casein and Whey Exert Different Effects on Plasma Amino Acid Profiles, Gastrointestinal Hormone Secretion and Appetite.”
[6]Lorenzen et al., “The Effect of Milk Proteins on Appetite Regulation and Diet-Induced Thermogenesis.”
[7]Mojtahedi et al., “The Effects of a Higher Protein Intake During Energy Restriction on Changes in Body Composition and Physical Function in Older Women.”
Baer, D. J., K. S. Stote, D. R. Paul, G. K. Harris, W. V. Rumpler, and B. A. Clevidence. “Whey Protein but Not Soy Protein Supplementation Alters Body Weight and Composition in Free-Living Overweight and Obese Adults.” Journal of Nutrition. American Society for Nutrition, June 15, 2011. doi: 10.3945/jn.111.139840
Hall, WL, DJ Millward, SJ Long, and LM Morgan. “Casein and Whey Exert Different Effects on Plasma Amino Acid Profiles, Gastrointestinal Hormone Secretion and Appetite.” The British Journal of Nutrition 89, no. 2 (February 1, 2003): 239–48. [PubMed]
Hoffman, JR, and MJ Falvo. “Protein – Which Is Best?” Journal of Sports Science & Medicine 3, no. 3 (September 1, 2004): 118–30. [PMC]
Lorenzen, J, R Frederiksen, C Hoppe, R Hvid, and A Astrup. “The Effect of Milk Proteins on Appetite Regulation and Diet-Induced Thermogenesis.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Springer Nature, January 25, 2012. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2011.221
Mojtahedi, M. C., M. P. Thorpe, D. C. Karampinos, C. L. Johnson, D. K. Layman, J. G. Georgiadis, and E. M. Evans. “The Effects of a Higher Protein Intake During Energy Restriction on Changes in Body Composition and Physical Function in Older Women.” The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. Oxford University Press (OUP), July 27, 2011. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glr120
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About the Author

ChuckH

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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