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January 07, 2022 10 min read

Often when we think of workout supplements, we think of things that help us get bulging muscles and cut physiques. Whey protein is a perfect example of this—if you’re not seeing the gains you’d expect, chances are that you need to up your protein intake.

However, whey protein isn’t just useful for packing on muscle.

In fact, it has some amazing properties that not only help us maintain lean muscle mass, but also cut extra body fat.

Not only can this help people lose weight down to a healthy level, but it can also showcase our muscle gains more prominently when some extra fat is stripped away. However, diving into whey supplementation headfirst isn’t going to get you the results you want. In order to maximize whey’s fat loss benefits, it’s important to know how to supplement first.

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What is a Whey Protein Supplement?

Whey is a protein that comes from dairy, being separated as a by-product in the cheesemaking process. If you’ve ever noticed the watery portion sitting on top of yogurt—that’s whey. Whey protein is an amazing source of all nine essential amino acids (EAAs) that the body needs to properly function.

These amino acids can’t be created by our bodies, and that’s why they need to be taken from outside sources.

Furthermore, whey contains plenty of branched-chain amino acids that are especially useful for muscle building along with other health benefits. All in all, whey protein offers a full amino acid make-up that’s unparalleled in the protein supplement world.

Whey for Muscle Gain

Taken either before or after a workout, whey powder is one of the most common and important supplements anyone can take for muscle growth and strength improvement. As a complete protein, the benefits of whey protein are encompassing. Because it contains a ton of BCAAs that are used in the muscles themselves, whey is uniquely poised to be probably the single best protein supplement out there.

It helps you repair the muscles you break down during your workouts and also maintain the muscles you’ve already built.

It’s obvious why it’s such a common supplement, found in probably every gym in the world. However, whey protein isn’t all about weight gain for bodybuilders. In fact, when used correctly, it’s a fantastic way to trim some fat either for wellness reasons or to let your muscles stand out more.

Whey for Weight Loss

A high protein diet can work in two different ways to reduce body fat. For one, a high protein diet (either with or without using whey protein) will boost your metabolism.

This will cause you to burn more calories, even at rest.

The second way is by improving satiety. When you consume protein, it not only affects hormones related to satiation, but also keeps you feeling fuller for longer, reducing cravings. Let’s take a closer look at both of these factors down below.

Boosting Your Metabolism

To build muscle, you need to consume enough protein—that much most people already know. However, a high-protein diet can help you in more than just building more muscle.

The more muscles you build—especially if you replace body fat with more muscles—the more calories your body will begin to burn.

This is because muscle burns more calories than fat, simply because you use your muscles to move throughout the day. Even if you have a rest day where you’re not doing anything particularly active, those with more muscle will burn more calories.

And adding onto this, we also have to consider the thermic effect of food.

Some foods take more energy to break down for energy than other foods. Protein happens to be a nutrient that takes a lot of energy to break down, which increases your calorie expenditure even when you’re just breaking down food.

In fact, one study found that while the thermic effect of protein was 20-30%, it was only 5-10% for fats and 0-3% for carbs. Both of these factors come together to make protein a great nutrient for burning some extra fat—but that’s not all protein can do for your weight loss goals.

Reducing Appetite

An arguably larger factor involved in weight loss with high protein diets is the effect they have on one’s hunger and appetite. Hormones that help to reduce appetite such as CCK, GLP-1, and PYY are all increased when eating protein. And on the other hand, protein reduces the amount of the hormone ghrelin, which is tied to the feeling of hunger. Paired, these hormonal effects work together to make you feel less hungry and less likely to eat too many calories.

Additionally, protein also allows you to feel fuller for a longer period of time.

And, as with the hormonal effects, this means that you’re going to be eating fewer calories, allowing you to lose weight more easily. These factors work to make protein an amazing nutrient for aiding in weight loss—at least when incorporated and used correctly.

How to Supplement with Whey for Weight Loss

Whey can either be used as a workout supplement, meal replacement, or as a snack between meals. Depending on your lifestyle and your goals, one of these will work better than the rest. Although whey can be used as a meal replacement, you do want to ensure that you’re still getting a balanced nutrient profile.

For example, a whey protein shake with some fruits and vegetables is a good way to go—especially if you want something quick and easy for breakfast.

You are trying to supplement after all—not completely replace. Since whey is satiating and easy to consume in smoothie or shake form, it also works well as a snack between meals.

Not only can this easily carry you over between meals instead of chowing down on less healthy options, but it can also make you less hungry for your meals. This helps when it comes to portion control, further limiting the number of calories you eat.

Some people also find that consuming some whey before going out to eat is a good option.

Although it may slightly ruin your appetite, it will once again be easier to control portions and prevent one from over-eating. There are many different ways that whey can be used to increase your protein intake while curbing your hunger. However, it’s even more important to know how much whey you should be taking.

How Much Whey?

Bulking is a different matter entirely, but when it comes to weight loss you want to be limiting the number of calories you ingest. Even though all calories aren’t built the same, whey protein does contain a fair number of them. As useful as whey can be for losing weight, you’re not going to get anywhere if you’re consuming too much of it, or are completely ignoring other important nutrients.

For optimizing your weight loss goals, it’s recommended to take 20 to 25 grams of daily protein.

This will be different if you’re also trying to build muscle. This range has been found to be the best amount for limiting your appetite while also not going overboard with extra calorie intake. This is the sweet spot you should strive for in your protein shakes and smoothies.

Don’t forget to Exercise

One important aspect to factor in is that these positive effects won’t be as pronounced if you don’t also incorporate a workout routine and a healthy diet overall. Simply eating protein isn’t going to noticeably impact your muscle mass or strength, and so it’s not going to increase your metabolism in that way either. Resistance training is going to help you get the most out of this macronutrient.

You also shouldn’t rely solely on this nutritional supplement as your source of daily protein content.

Everyone needs whole foods to meet their dietary and nutritional requirements.

What to Look for in Your Whey

Once you have things like diet and exercise figured out, it’s time to properly implement whey into your lifestyle.

However, not all whey is equal.

Even something like flavor can have a large impact on the success of your healthier lifestyle. If you absolutely hate the taste or texture of a particular whey protein, that’ll just put up a roadblock for you and potentially throw you off your game. And at worst, it will put you off whey protein completely.

But other than this more superficial problem, there’s a lot of other considerations to make.

For example, you’re going to want to know that you’re getting enough of the protein itself when your supplement with whey. As we’ll see further below, there are generally three different types of whey protein powder and they all contain different ratios of protein to fats and carbs.

Although the protein variety that contains the most fats and carbs isn’t necessarily bad, you do want to make sure that your powder doesn’t contain too many other fillers that take away from the amount of protein it contains.

Some manufacturers will blend different protein varieties together, making things even more complicated.

That’s why it’s always so important to read the ingredients and nutrient information on any new supplement that you’re trying—not just whey protein powder. Here are the three different types of whey protein:

Whey Protein Concentrate

This is the cheapest form of whey powder because it goes through the least amount of processing and filtration. Being put through a process of either microfiltration or ultrafiltration, whey concentrate will give you a powder that contains 70 to 80 percent protein. The remaining portion of the powder consists of fats and carbs.

While these fats and carbs can be extremely useful when trying to bulk up and build muscle, they’re not so useful when the end goal is weight loss.

However, you’re also not trying to completely remove fats and carbs from your diet. Concentrate can be a great option if you incorporate the complete nutritional value of the protein powder into your diet planning. You’re still going to get the results you’re looking for, with some added necessary mindfulness.

Whey Isolate

The next whey variety is whey protein isolate. Slightly more expensive than concentrate, this option goes through a process of cross-flow microfiltration and ion-exchange chromatography. But we’re not interested in the nitty-gritty here—what’s important is that it contains around 95% or more protein. That’s a pretty significant increase in protein when looking at whey concentrate, and it, therefore, removes a lot of the carbs, fats, and other fillers in the powder.

This makes a better option for those looking to lose weight or maintain lean muscle mass.

For your average person trying to lose weight, this is likely the best option to go for. You’re not going to have to worry about too many additional fats and carbs in your protein shakes, and instead, you’ll get a fairly pure form of protein to supplement with. And since it’s more processed than regular concentrate, this also makes isolate a good option for supplementing either right before or after your workouts. However, whey processing doesn’t end there.

Whey Hydrolysate

The most highly processed of the three types, whey hydrolysate goes through a process of hydrolysis where the protein chains are broken down by enzymes. This breaks apart the amino acids and creates peptides that are extremely easily absorbed into your body. This type of whey is essentially “pre-digested.” And because this whey comes pre-digested, it’s by far the best option if you’re looking to supplement around your workouts.

It’s going to hit your body the fastest and lead to the best results.

With a protein percentage that’s either around or higher than whey isolate’s protein percentage, it’s a fantastic source of protein that’s also much easier on the stomachs of those who are sensitive to lactose.

However, this extra processing also comes at a price increase that might deter some people. The fact that the whey is further broken down also gives it a more bitter taste.

Whey hydrolysate is recommended more for athletes who are training towards the top of their ability.

The benefits of hydrolysate are there, but these benefits are more easily seen when even minor tweaks in diet and training can cause big changes at higher levels. But if you’re wallet’s been getting too heavy, it’s definitely a solid option to try out.

Other Protein Options

With all of these different forms of whey, it becomes pretty obvious that the key factor in this isn’t the whey itself, but the protein. And while whey is an amazing source of high-quality protein, it’s not the only option if you’re looking to supplement your protein intake.

Casein is another compound that comes from the cheesemaking process, along with whey.

Although casein is also a popular option, it doesn’t hit your body as fast as whey does. Because of this lag in absorption and digestion, casein is often used as either a meal replacement or a supplement to take before bed.

This makes casein uniquely useful for weight loss needs since using it as a meal replacement is going to inject some extra protein into your diet.

And since it takes longer to digest, you’re going to feel more satiated for a longer time and it will better fill the niche of a “meal” rather than a pre or post-workout supplement, such as whey. This is especially true when considering something like whey isolate or whey hydrolysate, which absorb into the body very quickly.

Bowl and scoop with hemp protein powder on table.

Plant Based Proteins

But protein also doesn’t have to solely come from animal products. Peas, seeds, rice, and hemp can all be sources of useful protein. The one drawback is that no plant-based protein (other than soy protein) offers a full protein make-up with all the essential amino acids in enough quantities. This is circumvented by mixing different plant-based proteins together.

For example, pea and rice protein is a common choice for people wanting to avoid animal products or lactose.

However, there are other reasons why you might also want to consider a plant-based protein outside of the ecological or food sensitivity factor. Mixing up your protein sources is a great way to maintain a healthy gut, and a healthy gut is necessary for holistic wellness. Especially if you’re going to be using protein powder as a meal replacement for weight loss, you don’t just want to rely primarily on a single protein source. Plant-based proteins also contain more fiber, which allows for greater satiation in its own way.

Covering Your Bases

We can see how the importance of protein for one’s overall wellness can’t go understated. And although plenty of fantastic protein options exist, whey protein powder is one of the most highly regarded for good reason. If you’re looking to ramp up your training and your weight loss at the same time, whey can be your secret weapon.

And although you have to know how to properly incorporate protein powder supplementation into your routine for weight loss, there’s more to it than just that.

For one, more protein is not necessarily better.

Especially if you’re aiming for weight loss, you need to correctly balance all of your macros so they work towards your ultimate goal. That means getting enough fats and carbohydrates to maintain your wellness while also slowly losing weight.

This also means that you shouldn’t rely on protein powder as a crutch.

What’s ultimately going to allow you to lose weight is a good diet. Add a solid sleep schedule and a good workout routine, and you’ve got a recipe for the chiseled physique of a Greek statue.