Protein contains amino acids, the building blocks of our bodies. They form and fortify the tissues that make up our bodies, aid in synthesis of enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters, and supply metabolic energy.
Whey protein has the highest biological value of any natural protein – it is higher than eggs, fish or meat. Many whey protein powders go through processes that filter off the fat and lactose, leaving the protein, and hydrolysation, which makes the whey easier to digest.
Blood sugar control. Blood sugar levels can be controlled by ensuring that simple carbohydrates are always consumed in the presence of protein or fibre. This slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, protecting the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas from stress that could lead to type 2 diabetes or its predecessor, syndrome X, in which the insulin mechanism is compromised, leading to permanently raised levels of insulin and increased weight.
Convalescence. Sufficient protein is necessary to help recovery from illness.
Weight control. Reduced food intake can compromise protein intake, which can lead to a reduction in muscle protein and loss of strength. Since muscle is also more metabolically active than fat, a diet with insufficient protein may actually become less effective.
Immune system. Whey is a good source of lactalbumin and immunoglobulins, both of which play an important role in immune function. It also contains lactoferrin, an iron-carrying protein that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi, while promoting the action of some probiotics.
Requirement. Protein requirement varies, depending on age and activity levels. The requirement for females over 25 is considered to be between 40 and 50 g per day, depending on level of exercise, and for males over 25 between 50 and 60 g. Athletes may need as much as 2 g per kilo of body weight.
Children need sufficient protein in order to grow, probably between 20 and 30 g per day, depending on age. People over 65, who tend to eat fewer calories, must ensure that they keep up their levels of good-quality protein.
Sport. Whey is one of the richest natural sources of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). These three amino acids supply alternative fuel to help preserve muscle tissue during exercise, decreasing the breakdown of muscle. Taking whey protein after a work-out helps to repair muscle and maximise lean body mass and strength.
Tissue repair. Protein is necessary for the repair of any damage to the tissues, including osteo-arthritis. It is particularly important for burn injuries and is of great benefit after surgery.
An important contraindication to whey protein is kidney disease – check safe levels of protein intake with a doctor.
Do not use protein powder as a meal replacement.