There are a number of different sources of protein: animal based, plant based and protein supplements. All supplements are derived from either source, and many of the brands contain both animal and plant protein ingredients. If you are vegetarian or a vegan, it is important to keep these facts in mind when choosing a protein supplement to round out your diet. Even if you are not either of these, it is important to read labels so that you know exactly what you are getting. Some protein supplements are nothing more than glorified candy bars and do not contain enough protein to justify their high price.
Of the many supplement types, soy and whey are two of the most popular ingredients in supplements. There are a number of benefits of both types, for instance, both are complete proteins (soy is the only one of the plant based proteins that is.) However, this kind of protein, which is a byproduct of the production of milk and cheese, is also a source of the branched chain amino acid (BCAA), and it has the highest level among natural food sources in fact. BCAAs are the only amino acid chain that the body can metabolize directly to the muscle tissue and is used first during exercise and resistance training. (Source: Whey Protein Institute) It may slow the loss of muscle tissue and bone in the aging, allowing seniors to remain more active for longer periods.
Whey is an excellent source of the essential amino acid leucine, which is vital for muscle growth. The whey isolate (an isolate is a cultured biological material prepared for use as a nutritional supplement) has 50% more leucine than the soy protein isolate does. For the average person, the avid exerciser and the body builder, this means the same thing: more lean muscle tissue and lower body fat.
Glutathione, a powerful antioxidant needed to boost a healthy immune system, is increased by whey. It also contains the protective anti-microbial, lactoferrin. (Source: Whey Protein Institute) Whey, like other proteins, is beneficial to wound healing because of this. It is also a potentially beneficial supplement for those who are fighting cancer, because the increased glutathione can help to reduce the risk of infection in those who are using chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Initial research is also showing that it may slow or inhibit the growth of certain types of tumors. Research done by Dr. Thomas Badger, at the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center, has shown that rats who were feed diets high in whey had 50% fewer tumors than those fed with casein as well as with soy.
Whey may improve blood vessel function possibly by working as an angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor. ACE inhibitors work to improve blood flow and blood pressure by preventing the conversion of angiotensin I to angiotensin II when it becomes a vasoconstrictor. It also helps to keep a normal blood pressure within normal limits. One of the peptides that is whey-derived also works toward improving vascular function. (Mercola 2009)
The body uses up more energy to digest protein, more so than any other nutrient. This process, called the thermic effect, produces heat which causes the body to burn even more fuel to restore its normal temperature. Protein also takes longer to digest as well, leaving you feeling fuller for longer. If you eat a candy bar, chances are you will feel satisfied for an hour or so, but then you will be hungry again. A good quality protein bar will fill you up for several hours and keep you from returning for a second snack until it is meal time. Whey benefits the body by helping to stabilize the blood glucose and slowing the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. In turn, this leads to lower hunger, lowered insulin levels and increased fat burn.
When the body gets food, it starts digesting and breaking it down to its lowest form immediately. Foods that get digested too quickly cause the body to be flooded with insulin in response. The insulin will then direct the body to start storing all of the food as fat without using it for energy. Not long after the meal is over, the body needs energy again and the message that you are hungry will go to the brain and the whole process will begin once more. The more unstable the blood sugar levels, the more sugar spikes there will be, increasing the flood of insulin and leading to more weight gain.
Whey also affects weight management by the action of two hunger suppressing hormones: cholecystokinin (CCK) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). In the absence of these two hormones, some people may continue to eat and never feel really satisfied. In this instance, whey has the edge over casein (another byproduct in milk) with more of an impact on satiety. (Source: Mercola 2009) It is also beneficial for weight loss because it helps to optimize the body’s intake of all of the macro- and micro-nutrients that it needs for good health.
Whey is a byproduct of cheese that is made from cow’s milk. It contains a mixture of lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin and serum albumin. (Source: Be Well @ Stanford) For those who are lactose intolerant, whey isolate is good supplement choice because it has less lactose content than other byproduct-derived protein sources.
Whey isolates are typically found in a number of different types of protein supplements, including powders, shakes and bars.
Whey is also found in a number of snack foods and other places where it might be a little shocking. Some food companies use whey powder to boost their protein count higher without having to use more expensive ingredients.
Just like with anything else, there can be too much of a good thing with whey. While it has a number of benefits, too much whey can cause liver damage. Just like with other types of proteins, there are pros and cons and it should only be consumed in safe and reasonable amounts. All proteins can be dangerous if they are consumed in huge amounts and can cause problems that include weight gain, kidney stones, gall stones and an increased risk of osteoporosis. Anyone who is being treated for any medical condition should have their doctor’s advice on how much protein you actually need for you own best health.