Whey is a left over by-product of cheese production manufactured from cow’s milk. Whey is rich in protein, specifically branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) and immunoglobulins and has many health benefits. Whey protein is viewed as a food that can increase longevity and prevent frailty associated with aging.
In the world of sports nutrition research whey protein is considered the best source of high quality protein. Whey protein contains all the essential amino acids (amino acids the body cannot make on its own), and has a high biological value – meaning the body readily uses this source of protein.
Why Do We Need Protein?
For a thorough discussion on the role and importance of protein follow this link. Amino acids comprise protein. And, our DNA is composed of amino acids. That fact alone should highlight how important protein is to human life. About half the human body is protein. Best known for its muscle-building properties, protein is key structural component of all our organs. Proteins are involved in nearly every biochemical process of the body. Despite its prime importance many of us do not obtain adequate amounts of protein from our diets. This is particularly true in the elderly.
Neurotransmitters and hormones – those chemical messengers that enable the body to function optimally and effectively are made from proteins, as are the key players in our immune systems.
Whey protein in supplement form is a great way of ensuring that your body is getting the protein it needs to function at its best.
Preventing Muscle Loss with Whey Protein
Whey protein has been shown to prevent muscle wasting or atrophy which occurs in 84% of individuals in residential care facilities. Beginning at age 40 we lose 8% of our muscle mass per decade. After age 70, though, we lose up to 15% of our muscle mass per decade.
Whey protein can help reduce this. The more muscle we maintain the longer we remain functional. Up to 13% of people aged 60 and over experience age-related muscle loss so severe that it increases their risk of falls and disability.
The branched-chain amino acids in whey are the essential nutrients that decrease muscle loss.
In one study participants were divided into three groups. One group exercised twice a week, the second group took whey protein but did not exercise, and the third group took whey protein and exercised.
The third group showed significantly higher muscle mass than the first two groups. This speaks also the importance of exercise in preventing muscle wasting.
Not only does whey prevent muscle loss it also prevents age-related weight gain. Many will lose muscle with aging while they gain a even amount of fat. Whey provokes satiety so there is less chance of overeating, improves glucose metabolism, and improves muscle mass. The more muscle we have the more calories we burn. All of this helps to maintain body weight with aging.
Whey protein also has positive cardiovascular effects. It helps to lower blood pressure decreasing systolic blood pressure (the upper number) up to 15.2 mmHG. By assisting in the maintenance of body weight whey protein reduces other risk factors for hearts disease like blood sugar and lipid or cholesterol control.
Key Amino Acids in Whey Protein
The key amino acids in whey protein include the branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), arginine, glutamine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, and proline.
- Branched-chain amino acids: improve endurance and mental performance, prevent fatigue, and increases energy levels.
- Arginine: increases growth hormone levels, improves circulation (lowers blood pressure), increases production of creatine – source of energy production.
- Glutamine: enhances immune function, prevents muscle breakdown, improves recovery following exercise, promotes healing, and increases growth hormone levels.
- Tryptophan: improves depression (increases serotonin levels), enhances sleep, facilitates weight loss, and decreases pain.
- Phenylalanine: improves depression and supports nervous system health, improves mood, decreases pain, boosts memory, and suppresses appetite.
- Proline: improves tissue healing, and protects cartilage,bones tendons, and ligaments.
How to Get Whey Protein
Whey protein is readily available at nutrition/vitamin stores, grocery stores, and drugstores. It is available in different flavors. It comes as powder that can be mixed in water, milk, or juice. Some are easier than others to mix in liquid. You can add fruit to the shake, too. Generally, we recommend 25 grams to 35 grams of protein be consumed with each meal and another 10 to 20 grams with each between meal snack.
Most whey protein supplements provide 15 grams to 25 grams of protein per serving. A shake using whey protein can be consumed as part of one of those meals or between meal snacks – making it a very convenient way to ensure your body is getting this vital macronutrient we call protein.
Source: Fitness: The Complete Guide (Official Text for ISSA’s Certified Fitness Trainer Course)
This article update 5/26/19.
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