Is whey protein powder good for weight loss?

The short answer: Yes! Whey protein can be a great aid to weight loss. Combined with other weight loss foods and a good exercise regime, whey protein can definitely help you shed off that excess fat.

What is whey protein?

Whey protein is obtained from milk. Enzymes are added to milk during the production of cheese and this separates it into two parts – the cheese curds and liquid whey. If you have ever left milk out to ferment and let it sit for a while, you will have noticed the liquid part settle – this is whey.

The liquid contains proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. There are 3 main different kinds of whey protein; concentrate, isolate and hydrolysate.

Manufacturers process the liquid whey obtained from milk and intervene at various stages to produce each of these 3 types:

  • Concentrate – impurities are removed from the whey and the remaining content is turned into powder form. This usually contains up to 80% protein by weight. Due to less purification, whey concentrate tends to contain much more lactose than what whey isolate and hydrolysate do. It is also absorbed at a slower rate by the body.
  • Isolate – when the whey concentrate is taken and further purified, the isolate form of whey is obtained. This contains around 90% protein by weight and much less lactose.
  • Hydrolysate – this is obtained at the final stage of production, contains the most amount of protein per weight and is also the most easily absorbed. It is obtained by exposing the concentrate or isolate to heat, enzymes or acid, which breaks down the bonds between amino acids. Since this form is so pure, it does not contain many of the subfractions that the other two form have. These subfractions are important for e.g. boosting the immune system. It also does not taste as good as the other two forms.

Protein is the building block of muscle and tissue in our body, which is why it makes sense to increase its intake when trying to do so.

When it comes to muscle building proteins, whey is at the top of the list and is the reason it is usually associated with body builders.

Whey protein has a high bioavailability, meaning it is absorbed very well by the body, and so is preferred over many other sources of protein.

Additionally it is a complete protein meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are those that the body cannot produce itself and so need to be obtained via the diet.

Whey protein and weight loss

A sedentary lifestyle combined with an unhealthy diet is a surefire way to gain weight. This is true for any age group. Older people generally tend to gain weight as they age because:

  • They lose lean muscle mass and so their bodies end up burning fewer calories. The less muscle you have, the fewer calories you burn.
  • Their metabolism slows down, again resulting in fewer calories being used up.
  • They are less able to process carbohydrates, without gaining weight.

The main way to lose weight is to be in a caloric deficit. This is when you consume fewer calories than your body expends. Doing so allows your body to use some of its fat stores as a source of energy.

The usual way most people go about a calorie deficit is by reducing the amount of food they eat. However, if you have an unhealthy diet to begin with which mainly consists of high GI foods, this can lead to hunger pangs, causing you to end up eating more than you should.

Protein is a macronutrient (the other two being fat and carbohydrate) and has the highest satiety. This means it makes you feel full longer than fat or carbohydrate. Therefore, consuming more protein and less fat & carbohydrate banishes hunger for a lengthier period of time and also gets rid of unhealthy cravings (e.g. due to low blood sugar).

Protein can be obtained from a wide variety of different sources such as chicken, eggs, fish, tofu and beans. These foods contain a large amount of quality protein and also provide a wide range of other nutrients that your body needs to function optimally.

When people try to lose weight however, they may cut out some of these foods, due to their high fat content. This is where whey protein comes in – it is obtained from the liquid part of milk (not the fatty part) and so is very low in fat.

Additionally, it is easier to consume. Having a protein shake requires minimal preparation time as it does not need to be cooked. It is also digested much faster than solid food.

Whey protein may be especially effective at curbing hunger during periods of calorie restriction. It does this because:

  • One of the sub fractions found in whey, Glycomacropeptide (GMP), stimulates the release of Cholecystokinin (CCK) which is a hormone responsible for controlling hunger.
  • Whey protein suppresses the release of Ghrelin, which is a a hormone that stimulates appetite.

When you are on a calorie deficit diet, it is highly likely for you to be moody and irritable. This is how your body tells you it needs more energy from your diet. Whey protein contains Triptophan, an amino acid which aids in the production of seratonin. Seratonin is a neuro transmitter that is involved in mood regulation and gets depleted when calories are restricted. So consuming whey protein helps bring up seratonin levels, which keeps your mind happy and in turn means you are less likely to give up on a weight loss diet, due to frustration.

Whey protein also contains Leucine, an amino acid that a study shows has been found to stimulate fat oxidation in active men. This study’s results compared with another study also concluded that the effect of Leucine on fat oxidation in obese people may be much higher than those who are already fit.

There are a wide range of protein supplements on the market apart from whey such as casein, soy and vegetable proteins. Whey has been shown to the the best for boosting metabolism.

How to use whey protein for weight loss

Whey protein comes in flavored (chocolate, vanilla, banana, strawberry & many more!) and un-flavored forms. There are a wide range of companies which manufacture it and each have their own flavor combinations and prices.

Un-flavoured types are usually very bland tasting and not very palatable. These are usually best consumed by mixing them into juices or smoothies as it will help cover up the taste.

Flavored types can either be consumed with water / milk or combined with various other ingredients such as fruits, peanut butter, bananas and oatmeal.

Before you go out and buy a massive tub of a particular flavor, it may be best to try out two or three different varieties and see which you like best. Some excellent brands to choose from include Gold Standard and My Protein.

Since you are going to be using whey protein for weight loss, you should watch the caloric content carefully. Opt for a whey protein that contains 90% of pure protein by weight. Check to see that it is not high in carbohydrate or fat, since these will usually contain more calories per serving. I would recommend you go for a whey isolate.

The general recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. However there are conflicting studies on whether this amount is enough to  maintain optimum health. The amount of protein you need varies from person to person, depending on body compostion, fitness level and overall goals.

Many fitness experts recommend increasing your protein intake to around 2 grams per kg of body weight, to boost the body’s metabolism during initial stages of weight loss. After this you can reduce the amount depending on your activity levels.

Everyone is different so your safest bet would be to speak to a qualified nutritionist, they can best advise you.

Remember, whey protein is not a miracle supplement. If your general diet is unhealthy and you do not exercise, you are very unlikely to lose weight.

Exercise is extremely important for weight loss. Combining it with a healthy diet will provide you with the best weight loss results, compared to either on its own. If possible, you should include both weight training and cardiovascular exercise into your weekly schedule. The best form of cardio for weight loss is high intensity interval training (HIIT) as it helps burn calories throughout the day.

Whey protein generally comes in servings of 25 gram scoops (containing only around 90 calories!) and the best time to consume it is within half an hour of completing your workout. This is when your muscles are the most hungry for nutrition, and whey protein will help begin their repair process. This in turn makes them grow, allowing for more calorie expenditure.

A maximum of two 25 gram servings is OK, the second serving can be taken with any one of your regular meals or as a snack on its own. DO NOT take more whey protein than this as it can overburden organs such as the liver, and lead to serious health issues.

Something I would like to point out is to not depend on weighing scales as a way to monitor your weight loss progress. As you begin to workout and consume more protein, your body will begin to change internally and ‘turn fat into muscle’. Of course it doesn’t actually do this (fat and muscle are completely different), but it will seem that way.

So yes, you will start losing weight, but do not be discouraged when you look at a weighing scale and see you have only dropped in weight by a few kilograms. 1 kilogram of muscle is much more compact than 1 kilogram of fat  – so a better way to monitor success would be to take before and after pictures and measure the width of various parts of your body such as your arms, thighs and waist.

Whey protein can also be used in a wide range of recipes, have a look at some of the videos below. (But again when trying to lose weight, watch your calories!)

Some things to be aware of

People who already have kidney or liver problems should consult a professional before incorporating whey protein into their diet.

Whey has much of its lactose removed, so even if you are intolerant of dairy, you should be OK with it. However be careful and test it out before taking huge amounts. People who are allergic to it can suffer from bloating, flatulence and stomach irritability.

If your daily protein consumption is already high, then you may not need the additional protein from whey. Excessive protein consumption may result in health issues.

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