Whey protein has become popular as an ally of those who train hard to gain muscle: muscle hypertrophy. The supplement contains all essential amino acids, including those not produced by our body, compounds that promote recovery and muscle building and participate in various functions of our body. And, thanks to this high biological value, the product goes far beyond gyms.
Proteins are essential nutrients for the functioning of our body. These macronutrients, together with carbohydrates and fats, play a role in various physiological activities, whether in the synthesis of enzymes, hormones, cells of the immune system or in the construction of tissues, such as cartilage and muscles.
Unlike carbohydrates and fats that our bodies are able to store, proteins have no stores in our bodies. That is, an all-you-can-eat lunch in a steakhouse isn’t worth a week: you need to consume protein sources daily and in adequate quantities.
On average, sedentary adults need to eat 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. That is, something equivalent to one or two beef steaks for a 60 kg man in the day, a portion that can present a challenge in the routine, especially for those with dietary restrictions.
From vegans to the elderly, from hospitals to the homes of those who want everyday convenience, we explain who can benefit from whey protein.
Vegetarians and vegans
- For vegetarians, who do not consume meat and fish, the use of whey protein may be recommended when the daily protein target is not met through sources other than meat, such as eggs, milk and cereals.
- Already the vegan diet, which limits food only to vegetables, the challenge can be even greater. Plant proteins are said to be incomplete, of low biological value, as they do not contain all the essential amino acids and have a high absorption rate – which does not mean that it is impossible to meet protein demand with plants, but it does make the diet more complex. Instead of a variety of grains, leaves and greens in generous portions, vegan protein supplement can help balance nutrients.
Selective allergy and taste
- Pea or rice protein isolate supplement, for example, can help with protein intake demand. This product can also be recommended for those who are allergic to milk proteins and lactose intolerant who have a low protein intake.
- In case of other food allergies that make even the consumption of protein sources impossible, such as an allergy to eggs, the use of whey protein can be a good alternative. The same goes for those who, by preference for flavors and textures, have a more rigorous palate, to the point of limiting the menu.
- With advancing age, having up-to-date proteins requires greater control of nutrition, since, due to the aging of the organism, the ability to digest and absorb amino acids is reduced.
- The average protein intake recommendation for the elderly is higher than for adults: about 1.2 to 1.5 grams per body kilogram.
- One concern, here, is with sarcopenia, a condition known for the loss of muscle mass, resulting in increased frailty and decreased physical strength, and as a result, decreased mobility and quality of life. Low protein intake aggravates this condition, due to the vital role of protein in building muscle mass.
- In this case the protein supplement intervenes as a form of prevention: in addition to offering the ideal supply of easily absorbable alpha-globulin and beta-globulin proteins, it works to maintain muscle mass and muscle strength.
Menopause, cancer and other diseases
- Even before old age, physiological changes in the body can trigger the loss of muscle mass; among them is menopause. The decline of sex hormones in women leads to loss of muscle mass, which can also be prevented with protein supplementation.
- There is also the case of a decrease in lean body mass as cancer advances, a condition known as cachexia, which is also related to AIDS, heart failure, or advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD.
- All these pathologies are characterized by hypermetabolism, ie they lead to a high energy expenditure with the possibility of using the muscles as an energy source, as well as a lack of appetite (lack of desire to eat) which would worsen the prognosis of the disease.
- As a means of preventing weight loss, loss of bone muscle tissue and a decrease in physical strength, the use of whey protein is indicated.
- The supplement is also used in the diet of patients undergoing treatment in intensive care and in the postoperative period. An example is in the diet of people who have had bariatric surgery. By acting directly on the organs responsible for capturing amino acids, it is recommended to increase their availability in the diet. In these cases, hydrolysed protein supplements stand out, which offer already digested amino acids, which facilitate digestion.
- There are still hospital situations where the patient is unable to eat normally and begins to ingest nutritional supplements through a nasogastric tube.
Diabetes, hypertension and immunity
- Diabetics reduce their intake of carbohydrate foods and hypertensive people opt for smaller portions of sodium. Whey could be helpful in both cases. The first studies link whey protein to lowering blood pressure, as its consumption could stimulate the production of hormones with hypotensive function.
- The enrichment of the diet with amino acids has also been used to accelerate the healing of wounds and injuries, as the proteins act in the formation of new blood vessels and in the synthesis of collagen and fibroblasts, structures that make up connective tissue.
It’s practical, but don’t overdo it.
Another advantage of whey protein is the convenience of consumption and the facilitation of portion splitting. Considering that our bodies are not so efficient at absorbing large portions of protein at once, the way to optimize digestion and ensure supplies is to ingest protein sources throughout the day. And it might be easier to take the powder in a bottle to work, for example, than a packed lunch of eggs and peas.
However, the experts consulted underline that integration should be indicated and accompanied by a nutrition professional through an evaluation which, in fact, indicates the need to use this alternative and to balance the other nutrients.
Still controversial in the literature, excess protein can lead to kidney and liver overload. The recommendation is, when possible, to meet nutritional needs with fresh or lightly processed foods that are cheaper and richer from a nutritional point of view.
Sources: Gabriel Silveira FrancoPhD in medical sciences at USP (University of São Paulo) and professor of nutrition at Centro Universitário Barão de Mauá; Neusa Lygia Vilarim PereiraPhD in food science at UFPB (Federal University of Paraíba) and professor of nutrition at the Faculdade de Integração do Sertão, in Pernambuco; Oyatagan Levydoctor of nutrition at UniRio (Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro) and professor of nutrition at FOCA (Federal University of Acre).
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