We often refer to whey protein as the ‘king of protein’. Anyone looking to build muscle, increase strength or improve post-workout recovery needs a sufficient amount of protein in their diet. And from all the sources of protein available – including chicken, beef, egg, fish and soy – it doesn’t get much better than whey protein. That’s great, but this article isn’t about building muscle – it’s about losing weight. And for this objective, whey protein is an extremely effective food supplement for both men and women. Surprised? Read on.
Whey protein and weight loss
There are several mechanisms by which whey protein can support weight loss, including:
- Reducing the feeling of hunger
- Controlling glucose levels
- Preserving muscle
Whey protein and the feeling of hunger. Whey protein contains a bioactive compound called glycomacropeptide (GMP), which is a hunger-quenching nutrient. GMP increases the secretion of the gut hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) that sends satiety signals to our brain. In other words, it sends signals to the brain saying, ‘the gut is full’. This encourages smaller portions – and smaller portions mean fewer calories. Whey protein also reduces the hunger hormone ghrelin, making us feel fuller for longer. On a per-gram and per-calorie basis, protein is far more effective than carbohydrate and fat at satiety. And whey protein does this better than other protein sources.
Whey protein and glucose levels. Our blood sugar levels rise after we eat food and fall shortly after. This is more extreme when we consume carbohydrates and more so for high-glycemic carbs: sugar levels rise higher and fall faster. It is the drop in blood sugars that causes us to feel hungry again. Whey protein helps stabilise blood sugar levels thereby curbing our food cravings. It does this by stimulating the release of incretins (metabolic hormones), which improves our insulin response. Better control of blood sugars leads to fewer cravings, which in turn leads to fewer calories.
Whey protein and muscle preservation. Muscle tissue burns far more calories than fat tissue. When we lose weight, we tend to lose both fat and muscle. The loss of muscle mass reduces our metabolism, which reduces the rate at which we burn calories. This makes it increasingly harder to lose more weight. Whey protein helps prevent muscle loss, thereby making it easier to continue to lose fat. In fact, whey protein is rich in a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) called leucine that helps prevent muscle atrophy (i.e. wasting away of muscle).
How and when to take whey protein
Whey protein is one of the most popular food supplements around. It is sold in powder form, available in many flavours, and is easily mixed in a glass of water to create a ‘protein shake’.
Whey protein shakes are an ideal snack replacement. Most snacks are high in carbs, which, as previously mentioned, lead to cravings after our blood sugar levels fall. Substitute your mid-meal snack for a protein shake, which will make you feel fuller for longer – with fewer calories, too. A typical protein shake made from a 25-gram serving provides 20 grams of whey protein, 1.5 grams of fat, 1.2 grams of carbs, and fewer than 100 calories. In comparison, two slices of white bread contain 26 grams of carbs and 160 calories.
One of the best times to take whey protein for weight loss is in the morning. High-protein breakfasts help reduce our appetite and stabilise blood sugar levels throughout the day. And maintaining steady sugar levels is key to reducing food cravings. Unfortunately, most breakfasts today are rich in carbohydrates. If you regularly feel hungry before lunch, this could be a reason.