Protein shakes can make you think of large, unwieldy tubs of protein powder, used by body builders with huge muscles. But the truth is that protein is good for everybody.
Protein is a nutrient made up of amino acids, the ‘building blocks’ for muscle growth. You can find it in animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy, or plant sources like nuts and beans.
Handpicked content: Which protein supplement should I be using?
What is whey protein?
Whey protein is a mixture of milk proteins, produced as a by-product of cheese making. It contains a complete set of amino acids and is especially rich in leucine, isoleucine and valine that are important for muscle growth and maintenance. It is also a good source of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.
Why do I need whey protein?
Anyone who likes to keep fit, whether that’s walking, yoga or swimming, needs protein to increase muscle mass and strength. It also helps fill you up, which is great for weight loss and helps maintain healthy bones, muscle, hair and skin.
Your body needs protein the most after a fitness session, to help grow and maintain muscle fibres that tear during exercise. Whey protein is ideal, as it’s quickly absorbed by the body.
But whey protein is much more useful than simply helping you get the most out of your workout. Discover five surprising ways whey could benefit you – in and out of the gym.
It can help you lose weight
US scientists found that increasing protein in the diet while keeping your carbohydrate intake the same and reducing fat levels, led to ‘significantly greater weight loss’ than following other diets.
Whey protein may also be better at stopping the hunger pangs than other protein supplements. In one Dutch study, those given whey-protein enriched breakfasts felt fuller for much longer than those given soy or casein proteins.
It boosts your immunity
Canadian studies have found whey protein can boost the immune system, while US research has shown it can boost a certain type of white blood cell that protects the body from viruses and bacteria.
It can improve heart health
Strewth! Evidence from Australia reveals whey protein can improve insulin sensitivity, helping to protect blood vessels from the damage associated with insulin resistance, in turn reducing the risk of heart disease.
It aids exercise recovery
The antioxidant glutathione – essential for fighting free radicals and protecting cells from damage – is lost during exercise. But when cyclists were given whey powder supplements during Canadian trials, it prevented depletion of their glutathione levels, enabling them to recover more quickly than those given a placebo.
It improves your smile
Whey protein can even boost your pearly whites – it contains a compound called glycomacropeptide (GMP), which helps inhibit the growth of plaque bacteria that cause dental decay, as well as binding to calcium in the mouth, boosting tooth remineralisation. It’s time to say cheese, literally!
This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies