What Is Whey Protein and Do You Need It?

woman making a whey protein shake

What is whey protein? And do you need it to discover a healthier, more athletic figure? SpotMeGirl takes a look.

When it comes to building sleek, curvy muscle or ditching excess body fat, it all comes down to your diet. You can work out for hours and hours in the gym, but if your eating plan isn’t up to scratch, you’ll never achieve that sexy, athletic look you’re pushing so hard to achieve.

In this detailed guide we lift the lid on the most popular supplement you probably don’t even need – what is whey protein? Do you need it in your life?

We find out.

Summary:

  • Whey protein is a product made from the watery part of dairy.
  • It’s common for whey protein shakes to be artificially flavored due to their awful, bitter taste.
  • Whey protein is technically a food source, not a supplement.
  • Whey is safe for most people; however, it can also be dangerous for those with kidney issues or lactose intolerance.
  • You don’t need to take a protein shake after your workout to maximize results – what’s important is that you spread protein doses out across the day.

What is whey protein?

Protein isn’t about building huge muscles; it’s about health, vitality and wellness that supports optimal physique development.

Protein is an essential nutrient used by the body to preserve muscle tissue and repair day-to-day damage.

It’s key for any muscle building or fat loss diet because it supports healthy lean mass.

Along with carbs and fat, protein provides your body with energy. Providing important building blocks of tissue called amino acids, protein supports numerous roles:

  • Growth and maintenance: Not only does protein support lean mass, it also ensures you have healthy hair, strong nails and beautifully-luscious skin.
  • Hormones: protein cells make peptide hormones that support both health and wellness. Insulin and growth hormone are the most well-known of these.
  • Antibodies: Protein manufacturers immunoglobins that protect your body from bacteria and illness.
  • Enzymes: Many of the chemical enzymes in your body are manufactured from protein. They ensure your body works optimally and remains healthy.

If you were to take some protein and look at it under a microscope, you’d see that it was made up of individual cells called amino acids.

These acids are strung together into chains by bonds called peptides. They kind of look like a necklace you’d wear for an important date or night out on the town.

Some of these amino acids are essential as your body can’t make them. It’s important that you get these from your diet, or you’ll struggle to optimize muscle gains, recovery and overall health.

These are called complete proteins.

Foods that contain all the essential amino acids include:

  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt and whey
  • Fish
  • Soy

two high-protein chocolate smoothies with a banana in the background

Whey protein is more of a food than a supplement

As a complete protein source, whey protein is made from the liquid part of dairy food. It’s essentially a by-product of cheese making.

If you’ve ever noticed that murky-looking liquid that forms on top of your favorite yogurt, you’ll have seen whey in all its glory.

Milk for example contains 80% casein protein and 20% whey.

Whey is more of a food than a supplement because it derives directly from dairy.

On its own, whey protein tastes awful. The idea of ‘cheese juice’ doesn’t exactly leave you licking your lips, girl, right?

That’s why you find it flavored with artificial sweeteners. The most popular flavors are vanilla, strawberry and chocolate, but you can pretty much get any flavor you’d imagine these days… even orange, cinnamon and mint!

There are many different types of whey protein product:

  • Hydrolyzed: Absorbs fast due to tiny protein fragments that can be broken down at an accelerated rate. It’s expensive though.
  • Isolate: Has an extremely high protein content and minimal carbs/fillers. It can also be expensive dependant on where you get it.
  • Concentrate: Contains only 70% protein but much more lactose than other types, therefore is more likely to cause stomach upset and bloating.

Whey protein is made from the liquid of dairy foods. It provides complete proteins and a full profile of amino acids, but can be high in lactose.

Is whey protein good for you?

Many women use whey protein to support their muscle building or fat loss goals.

When combined with exercise, this animal-based supplemental food improves lean mass and promotes recovery.

Using a whey protein supplement to support your goals isn’t mandatory – ultimately, it’s just another way to obtain your daily protein needs.

Most people can use whey protein and suffer no ill effects. After all, it’s a food and comes from all-natural products.

Numerous studies have found whey protein to be safe.

Whey has also been found to be effective for muscle building, bone health, weight loss, sarcopenia and a whole range of other performance and health-related conditions.

Experts no longer consider high-protein diets to have a negative effect on healthy kidneys.

So, if you’re a healthy adult looking to train hard, look good and feel great, a whey protein supplement can help to support your journey.

pro female soccer player diet protein smoothie

Whey protein isn’t safe for everyone

It’s worth noting that whey protein might not be safe or effective for everyone.

In large amounts it can cause nausea, bloating, stomach cramping and pain – especially if you’re lactose intolerant and can’t process dairy protein properly.

And with 65% of the population suffering from lactose malabsorption, chances are whey might not be for you.

Some people are even allergic to whey protein.

It’s important that you speak to your health advisor if you think you might suffer from severe digestive issues, kidney disease or cystic acne.

Toxicity risks…

Some cheaper whey protein products are very likely to contain cheap filler ingredients, artificial chemicals and even toxic components.

Recently, the Clean Label Project found serious toxicity issues with some whey protein supplements on the market.

In their research, the CLP screened nearly 140 products. Worryingly, some were found to contain:

  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Arsenic
  • Cadmium
  • BPA (used to make plastic)

Not all of the products tested contained contaminants. But these toxins were thought to be part of the manufacturing process, therefore you’d never know if they were in your shake or not.

It’s a risky business.

Whey protein is safe for most people but won’t suit everyone – especially those with dairy intolerances or bloating issues.

 Do you really need a whey protein supplement?

Protein from foods provide several benefits to your physique. But whey protein is just another source of the nutrient.

You could eat meat, eggs, fish or soy and still get the same effect. It’s just that some women find it easier to grab a shake every now and then.

The bottom line is that whey protein is a tool, just not the only tool in your war on the perfect figure.

If your diet is high in protein and contains all the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients needed to boost health and performance, you really don’t need them.

But if you’re a busy woman on the go and need something fast and easy, a shake could be a reliable alternative to some of your high-protein recipes.

How much protein do you need to support your goals?

When it comes to optimal body composition, protein is the number one nutrient you need to focus on. Yes, carbs give you energy to train hard in the gym and fats help to support hormone balance… but it’s protein that boosts metabolism and shreds excess body fat.

Most research suggest that as an active woman that lifts weights and trains hard, you should get around 1.3-1.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight each day.

If you’re a 155 lb female that’s only 93-126 g of protein.

Less if you’re not as active.

It’d be quite easy to get that from food alone, without relying on whey shakes.

Again, it’s important to realize that this is a generic recommendation. You might find that you need more than this to kick your results up a notch. Or lower amounts so you don’t feel sluggish and bloated.

It’s important that you use the science and combine it with your own fierce individuality.

You can reach your daily protein goals without whey protein; it’s just another tool to help you get there.

protein shake

When to take whey protein

Back in the day, bodybuilders used to rave about the ‘anabolic window of opportunity’.

They’d claim that by chugging a protein shake within 20 minutes of your workout, you’d somehow trick your muscles into responding better.

That’s been found to be completely wrong.

Every minute of every day your body fights a war over protein turnover. In order to maintain muscle mass, your tissue has two components:

  • Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) – the building of new muscle cells
  • Muscle protein degradation (MPD) – the removal of muscle cells

If you can push your body into a state of MPS you’ll not only boost lean muscle levels but raise your metabolic rate too.

So, how do you optimize MPS?

The first rule is that you reach your overall daily goals and split the amount evenly throughout the day. Experts call this ‘intermittent dosing’.

Studies have found that ingesting around ~20g of protein every 2-4 hours helps men and women maintain a higher rate of MPS.

We’ve already mentioned that you can achieve this with food alone, and that you don’t need to rely on shakes to trigger your protein response.

So, there’s no real best time to take your protein – it’s all about what suits you. If you prefer to chug a shake after a workout, that’s fine. If you’d rather have one for breakfast or last thing at night, you go girl.

It makes no real difference.

There’s no rule about when to take your whey protein shake. Some take it after a workout, others when they want a quick boost or snack.

Snack on protein to help with weight loss

Although timing of protein intake isn’t important for muscle building, using a shake to reduce cravings might help you lose weight

Research shows that when women eat a high-protein snack between meals, they’re calorie intake decreases at dinner – and they were less likely to binge on sweet treats and high-fat foods too.

Protein supports healthy weight loss in two ways:

  1. Boosts metabolism
  2. Reduces hunger

As a macronutrient, protein curbs your appetite by reducing levels of a hormone called ghrelin. It’s this chemical messenger that tells your brain you’re feeling hungry. It also regulates other hormones involved in the hunger response such as GLP-1, CCK, PYY and leptin as well.

Keep these in check and you’ll sail to your weight goals in no time at all.

Check out our fantastically-flavorful high-protein snack recipes and keep your body happy on the go.

The bottom line

Protein is an essential nutrient that supports healthy weight loss, muscle building and overall health.

You don’t need a whey protein shake in your diet. You just need to get enough protein from wholesome food sources.

But it does provide an alternative, safe option if you prefer.

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