Many people believe that whey protein powder is a special supplement, when in fact it is just food in powdered form. We give kids processed meats in the form of hot dogs in processed macaroni and cheese. I consider that less of a food than whey protein, not to mention whey has many health benefits especially if kids aren’t getting enough protein from other sources. We let kids drink milk. Why wouldn’t we allow whey?
Dr Spencer Alan – Board certified family and obesity physician.
You are about to read and get a very good understanding of what Whey protein is, how it should be consumed and that is it completely and utterly harmless. I will argue the case “why on earth would we not let children consume it?” and I believe the below facts to be concrete enough for parents to remove the doubt, concern and worry about this amazing food group/supplement.
In my personal opinion, we need to remove Whey protein from the category of “supplementation”. It is a food group in its own right these days and can be consumed in hundreds of different ways – just like any other food source.
First off, lets get some facts about what Whey!
The Science Behind Whey Proteins
If you had to name a diet supplement that was the most popular with infants through the aged, what would it be? The answer is whey protein, which can be found in items such as baby formula as well as liquid supplements for the older population. And what of the people in between? Women hoping to lose weight will find whey powder in their appetite suppressants, and young men will find whey protein in their muscle building supplements.
Whey is easy to produce. It is simply the liquid that is left when cheese is made from milk. Milk is made up of two proteins: whey and casein. If you want to see the difference between the two, you can do a simple science experiment. Add vinegar or another acidic liquid to milk and the proteins will divide apart. Casein will stick together creating curds and the liquid that remains will be the whey. If you’ve ever heard the popular children’s rhyme “Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey,” you now know what she was eating.
The reason whey protein is so popular is due to its texture, which allows it to be used in a wide variety of products. These products use whey instead of fat because it mimics the consistency of real fat in baked goods and other sweets without the real fat content.
As with any protein, whey is made up of amino acids used by the body to grow muscles and repair tissues. As we digest food, our bodies break down proteins to become amino acids. The body takes these amino acid building blocks to create new proteins.
Whey protein is a great source for three amino acids: valine, isoleucine, and leucine. which make up what is known as the BCAAs, or 3-branched chain amino acids. Body builders love these amino acids because they are the ones most needed for muscle building. However, whey protein also contains the other six amino acids needed by humans. In other words, if you consume whey protein, all the amino acids your body needs are present to be healthy and happy.
Studies bear this out. Those that take whey protein supplements are shown to not only have stronger immune systems but also be stronger and have more endurance. Some studies suggest that whey protein helps the body fight cancer, lower cholesterol, control allergies and asthma, and regulate blood sugar. But what about the happy part? It appears that whey protein also increases energy, fights stress, and improves your ability to concentrate.
Supplements or Natural Food: Which is Best?
Whey protein supplements are able to give you the daily protein you need. However, getting your protein naturally is the best way to have this happen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that getting your proteins and all nine essential amino acids is best if gotten through meat, fish, poultry, tofu, dried beans, eggs, seeds and nuts, and milk products.
However, studies do show that whey protein supplements have their place. For instance, some studies suggest that consuming these supplements right before or right after exercise is beneficial. Doing so will increase the growth of muscle and increase muscle strength, as well as increase immunity. In 2003, a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed some amazing results when given to US Marines participating in basic training. When the 54-day training was completed, Marines that had been given the protein supplement had more powerful immune systems measured by 33% fewer visits for infections than their counterparts receiving a fat and carbohydrate supplement or a placebo. In addition, the protein supplement Marines also experienced fewer joint problems and less muscle soreness.
Another study by the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Connecticut showed that whey protein is superior to others proteins when it comes to increasing muscle mass. Participants were split between those receiving soy, whey, or carbohydrate supplements. Over a nine-month period, those taking the whey supplement gained significantly more muscle mass, as reported in the 2013 articles in the Journal of American College of Nutrition.
It appears that the health benefits of whey protein are due to the antioxidant glutathione. People who are sick with diseases such as cancer, liver disease, HIV, or diabetes have low glutathione levels. The body makes glutathione when enough cysteine is available in the body, and whey protein is high in this amino acid. Studies have shown that ingesting whey protein increases glutathione levels but has yet to show that it creates better health for those with diseases associated with low levels of glutathione.
A 2012 study published in Lipids in Health and Disease show that rats who consume whey protein supplements have less inflammation, diabetes, and obesity. The same study also showed that whey protein lowers blood pressure as well as increases the full feeling people experience after eating.
Looking again at diabetes, one study published in 2005 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that those with type 2 diabetes were able to eat a meal high in sugar if paired with a whey protein supplement. When they did this pairing, their blood sugar did not spike after eating.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is when you take the supplements. A 2009 statement by the American Dietetic Association (ADA), Dietitians of Canada (DC) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggested that consuming protein while exercising was not necessary. Those that did were not performing better than those that did not. Instead, eating a moderate amount of protein that is low in fat and high in carbs before exercising will fuel the muscles.
On the other hand, eating protein after exercise does the body good by giving the needed proteins to the muscles for repairing and building. More importantly, eating whey protein with its high content of leucine may be the best. This particular amino acid is easily absorbed and perfect for muscle building.
Whey Protein Supplement Safety
As with everything, the answer is, “It depends.” Too much protein of any variety can be bad for your health. The National Institute of Health (NIH) suggests that most Americans eat up to twice as much protein as they need per day. The NIH says that excessive protein can lead to fat storage, dehydration, osteoporosis, and calcium loss.
When it comes to the idea of bone loss, however, the studies are inconclusive. It is true that acids are released into the bloodstream to digest proteins. It is also true that calcium is released to neutralize the acids. This has led some scientists to suggest that the calcium needed to neutralize the extra acid when too much protein is present must come from the bones. This is borne out by more fractures with those on a high-protein diet. Yet, some studies by the Harvard School of Public Health have shown that those on a high-protein diet have increased bone densities.
The more active you are, the more protein you can eat. Those that are very active, like athletes, will actually have muscle damage if they don’t eat enough protein in their diets. So, what is normal? A non-athlete needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (2.2 pounds). So, a woman weighing 150 pounds (68 kg) would need 54 grams of protein a day while a man weighing 200 pounds (90.7 kg) would need 72.5 grams of protein. This amount of protein can be obtained from just 4 ounces of poultry, fish, or beef and a cup of Greek yogurt. Athletes need between 1.2 and 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The same woman weighing 150 pounds as an athlete would increase her protein from 54 grams to 81 or more grams.
Another health concern to consider is allergies. If you are allergic to milk, you will be allergic to whey since it is a dairy product. If you are only lactose intolerant, you should be cautious to see how your body responds to whey products.
You will also want to pay attention to different whey supplements. For instance, whey protein isolate is almost entirely protein (90%), has little lactose, cholesterol or fat, and is very low in calories. Whey protein concentrate, on the other hand, can have as little as 29% protein. The lower the protein level, the higher the lactose and fat, and thus the higher the calorie content.
As with any supplement, proteins have the potential to interact with prescription medications. For instance, whey protein supplements decrease the effectiveness of levodopa, a drug for Parkinson’s, quinolone, and tetracyclic antibiotics and reduce the absorption of alendronate for osteoporosis. Additionally, those with diabetes will need to monitor their blood sugar levels since protein supplements change blood sugar levels.
In general, supplements do not cause problems. You do need to be aware, however, that supplements sold in the United States or the United Kingdom are not regulated like prescription drugs. Some protein supplements were found to contain anabolic steroids. Others were found to contain too much cadmium, arsenic, and mercury for those consuming more than three daily servings. As scary as this sounds, these were all underground manufactured Whey protein supplements and the top supplement companies today are perfectly safe, clean and audited regularly.
To conclude, should kids eat/consume Whey Protein?
YES! Categorically YES! Whey is simply another protein source – just like Chicken, Beef, Fish and Eggs. It contains an amazing Amino Acid profile which is ideal for children when they are in their growth spurt years. Typically children these days eat far too high amounts of carbohydrates and fats and not enough protein. The health benefits of protein, as stated above in mass, cant be argued with.
This may sound blunt and a little harsh – but having an “opinion” on whey protein and ignoring the facts is ignorant. Every day I hear that “only body builders should drink Whey”, “Women will get bulky if they drink Whey” or “I don’t train so drinking whey will make me fat”.
- Body builders also eat broccoli – does that mean we shouldn’t feed children green veg?
- Ladies – genetically and evolutionary speaking, it is so hard for you to build muscle… if drinking whey was a magic substance to gain muscle then everyone who trains and drinks whey would be walking around like Arnold.
- If you don’t train and think Whey will make you fat, then so would eating a chicken breast…. They are essentially the same thing! PROTEIN! That’s it! It’s just another way to consume protein.
Dr Spencer Alan sums it up perfectly. As a society we are more than happy to let our children eat a happy meal from McDonald’s, or munch on a bag of Haribo, or even fill their faces with cheese strings that are LITERALLY made from plastic… however the notion that another form of protein is dangerous is just absurd. If you put milk in your child’s cereal, they are already drinking whey protein. The powdered format is simply a concentrated version – just like your concentrated Ribena you let them drink.
Oh and if you didn’t already know, women’s breast milk is made up of 70% whey protein. So if you breast fed your child, they are already drinking that ‘body building steroid supplement that will make them fat’… 😉
I truly hope this is enough scientific data, backed with studies and quotes from medical professionals to convince parents and whoever reads this that Whey Protein is not only completely safe to consume, it is indeed HEALTHY for children and adults to do so and encouraged!