Whey protein (WP) is a widely consumed nutritional supplement known to enhance strength and muscle mass during resistance training (RT) regimes. Muscle protein anabolism is acutely elevated following RT, which is further enhanced by whey protein. As a result, there is reason to suggest that WP supplementation may be an effective nutritional strategy for restoring the acute loss of contractile function that occurs following strenuous RT.
WP is the most consumed supplement among people that do resistance training and it is used to help improve muscle protein synthesis and promote the growth of lean muscle mass. Today we are going to discuss the benefits of using it based on clinical studies.
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is one of the primary proteins found in dairy products. A byproduct of the cheese-making process, whey protein provides substantial amounts of the essential amino acids that are needed to carry out the functions that proteins perform in the body.
Is typically used in the form of a powder and can be added to liquids or soft foods. People commonly take WP to improve their athletic performance and address nutritional deficiencies.
Why Is More Used for Resistance Training?
Resistance training is used to increase lean mass, strength, and physical function. The ability to sustain high-quality exercise performance during periods of intense training is a key component for optimal and efficient progression.
This type of exercise can evoke damage or deformation to the working muscle, limiting its capacity to produce force, which may persist for hours or days before full recovery, reducing the general muscle function.
Subsequent training/performance will have a reduction in muscle function and will impair the quality and intensity of the training, while also increasing the risk of injury.
Types of Whey Proteins
There are three primary types of WP:
- Whey protein concentrate. It contains low levels of fat and low levels of carbohydrates. The percentage of protein in WPC depends on how concentrated it is.
- Whey protein isolate. This type is further processed to remove all the fat and lactose, which is usually at least 90% protein.
- Whey protein hydrolysate. Is considered to be a predigested form of whey protein as it has already undergone partial hydrolysis, which makes it easier for the body to digest.
What Do Studies Say?
A systematic review published in the journal Nutrients involving 8 individual studies consisting of 13 randomized controlled trials observed that WP can accelerate the recovery of muscle function following resistance training.
The effects were medium for the temporal restoration of contractile function compared to the control treatment groups.
In a study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, researchers concluded that whey protein supplementation during resistance training offers some benefit compared to resistance training alone, and that also males who supplemented with WP had a greater relative gain in lean tissue mass.
Other studies have also concluded that it can aid in increasing strength gain and lean body mass, with the added benefit of decreasing fat mass.
Aiding Weight Loss
In a study published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism involving 150 individuals, researchers divided the individuals into 2 groups. Those who were given the whey protein lost significantly more body fat and showed a greater preservation of lean muscle compared to subjects consuming the control beverage. Overall the subjects had a reduction of 6.1% of their body fat mass, which is an added benefit.
In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers evaluated the use of whey supplements in 70 overweight men and women for a period of 12 weeks, during which fasting glucose, lipid levels, and insulin levels were measured.
The researchers found that there was a significant decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol at week 12 in the group taking whey supplements compared to the control group.
Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Disease
In a study published in the International Dairy Journal, researchers found that beverages that were supplemented with whey protein significantly reduced blood pressure in patients with hypertension, while also decreasing the risk of developing heart disease and stroke.
This research also saw a significantly decreased total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations.
Is There Any Risk of Using Whey Protein Supplements?
Like with any medication or supplement, there are always some risks associated, which fortunately are minor if you are a healthy individual. Some people for example are allergic to milk and may also be specifically allergic to whey. In moderate doses, WP does not typically cause any adverse events, but some of them can include:
- Stomach pain.
- Reduced appetite.
When consumed in excess it can cause kidney and liver problems. A study by Vasconcelos and colleagues reported that the chronic and abusive use of WP can affect these 2 organs mainly.
Davies RW, Carson BP, Jakeman PM. The Effect of Whey Protein Supplementation on the Temporal Recovery of Muscle Function Following Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2018;10(2):221. Published 2018 Feb 16. doi:10.3390/nu10020221
Natalie Olsen. (2017, Nov 27). What are the benefits and risks of whey protein? Medical News Today. Retrieved from:
Frestedt JL, Zenk JL, Kuskowski MA, Ward LS, Bastian ED. A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2008;5:8. Published 2008 Mar 27. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-5-8
Susan M. Fluegel, et al. Whey beverages decrease blood pressure in prehypertensive and hypertensive young men and women. International Dairy Journal. Volume 20, Issue 11. 2010. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.idairyj.2010.06.005.
Vasconcelos, Q., Bachur, T., & Aragao, G. F. (2020). Whey protein supplementation and its potentially adverse effects on health: a systematic review. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. doi:10.1139/apnm-2020-0370