What is whey protein?

Whey protein is a dietary supplement that may have benefits for people who engage in strenuous exercise and others.

Whey protein

Protein is one of three key nutrients that your body needs daily. Protein is considered a macronutrient, along with carbohydrates and fats. Whey protein, one of the primary proteins found in dairy products, accounts for many of the health benefits that dairy products offer.

A byproduct of the cheese-making process, whey protein provides substantial amounts of the essential amino acids that are needed to carry out the functions that proteins perform in the body. Whey protein typically is provided as a powder. It can be added to liquids or soft foods (such as oatmeal or applesauce) or blended with ingredients such as ice and fresh fruit to make a smoothie or shake.

What are the dietary sources of protein?

Protein is found in both animal sources and plant sources. The quality of a protein is based on the amounts and types of amino acids it provides. Typically, animal proteins from meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs have more of the amino acids the body needs than do plant proteins, such as amino acids from soybeans, peas, rice and vegetables.

Should I consider taking a whey protein dietary supplement?

Whey protein dietary supplements are often used when individuals want to consume protein over and above what they are getting in their diets. Additional protein can be helpful for:

  • Individuals who engage in strenuous exercise
  • Individuals recovering from surgery
  • Individuals healing from an injury or burns
  • Growing children and adolescents
  • Individuals on a weight management program or a calorie-restricted diet
  • Older adults, whose need for protein increases at the same time they might be eating less due to reduced appetite, difficulty chewing or swallowing, or poor digestion

How can whey protein affect my health?

Sufficient protein can help you in several ways:

  • Promotes overall nutritional health*
  • Helps maintain muscle mass*
  • Supports healthy immune function*
  • Promotes muscle recovery after strenuous exercise*

How much of a whey protein dietary supplement should I take?

For general use, consuming 20 to 30 grams of whey protein a day appears to be safe. You should not consume more than 0.6 grams per pound of your body weight; for example, an individual weighing 160 pounds should not consume more than 96 grams of supplemental whey protein daily. If you want to take whey protein for a specific health reason, talk with your health care professional to make sure you're taking the appropriate amount.

Are there any side effects from taking a whey protein dietary supplement?

Side effects are rare when taking whey protein, although some clinical trials have shown some potential adverse effects, such as nausea, bloating, cramps, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue and headache. These effects are more likely with high doses of whey protein. Do not use a whey protein dietary supplement product if you have an allergy or sensitivity to dairy products.

Is it safe to take a whey protein supplement with a prescription medication or an over-the-counter medication?

Use caution when you are taking the parasite-killing drug albendazole (Albenza), if you are taking alendronate (Fosamax) to prevent or treat osteoporosis, or if you are taking quinolone or tetracycline antibiotics. These medications should be taken apart from whey protein because whey protein can alter the rate of their absorption.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Dec. 09, 2016 See more In-depth

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