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Whey Protein: A Nutritional Staple

Written by: Tom Nikkola – Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

Protein supplementation has gone from a niche idea for body builders and competitive athletes to a standard nutrition recommendation for those seeking health, weight management, longevity and performance goals. Supplementing with additional protein has a variety of health benefits by itself, but not all protein supplements are the same. Most can provide some benefit, but whey protein has been shown to be especially beneficial, even when compared to heavily marketed soy protein. A recent, double-blind study compared the two, and once again, whey protein stood out as a clear winner. The following details the results of the study, and provides some guidance on shopping for quality products when you’re ready to add them to your diet.

What is whey protein?

Two types of protein come from dairy – casein and whey. Consider cottage cheese. The curds, or solids, are made of casein. The more liquid part of cottage cheese is the whey. After cheese is produced, it can be separated into the two different protein types.

Casein is digested slower than whey and, according to some studies, has a better effect on decreasing muscle tissue breakdown. The two ways of increasing overall lean body mass is 1) to slow the breakdown of muscle or 2) to increase the rate of protein synthesis. Whey protein has a more dramatic effect on muscle protein synthesis than casein. When comparing the two for their ability to increase overall muscle tissue development, whey has appears to be more beneficial than casein.[i] In addition, casein is a more allergenic protein source. Many people who are sensitive/allergic to dairy have digestive issues with casein, while digestive issues with whey are very rare.

Whey versus other protein supplements

As mentioned, whey has been shown to better increase muscle protein development than casein. In addition, whey has a more significant effect on diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT), or increase in metabolic energy expenditure, than casein or soy proteins.[ii] This means the body burns more calories digesting whey than casein and soy, another benefit for those with weight management goals.

A study published in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Nutrition compared the daily use of soy protein against the use of a whey protein supplement and a third group of people who used an isoenergetic (containing same number of calories) amount of carbohydrate-based supplement. The study was not designed as a weight loss study; the people who participated were told to use their supplement twice a day and could eat what they chose. The twice-daily protein supplement provided 52 grams of protein for the soy and whey groups, and 52 grams of carbohydrate for the carbohydrate group.

At the end of the study, which was about six months long, the carbohydrate group gained about two pounds of fat. The soy group stayed about the same. Those who were using the whey protein lost an inch off their waist and dropped about two pounds of body fat. The whey group also had lower levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite. Again, this study was not a weight-loss study, yet, those who ADDED whey to their diets lost weight over the span of six months. They may have experienced reduced appetite and simply ate less. Or it may have been because the whey group ended up eating fewer carbohydrates during the study (there was not instruction to do this). The researchers were not able to determine exactly what caused the changes, and for most participants, it only mattered that it worked.[iii]

Shopping for whey

Like other supplements, you get what you pay for when it comes to protein powder. A few things to watch for:

Artificial flavors: Common artificial sweeteners in whey protein include Acesulfame potassium (Acesulfame-K, Ace-K), aspartame or sucralose (Splenda). The use of artificial sweeteners makes it easier and cheaper to make a great-tasting protein powder, but delicious shakes can still be made without these chemicals. It took several months of trial and error with the Life Time products before we had outstanding-tasting protein powders with natural sweeteners — such as our FastFuel Complete, Whey Isolate and VegaMax. Look for products that use Stevia and a very small amount of a natural sugar.

Artificial colors: Artificial colors are often used to make a shake more visually appealing, but they are not necessary for making a quality, appetizing protein powder.

Artificial flavors: Artificial flavors are another work of food science. Artificial flavors allow food companies to make just about any flavor you can imagine, yet many of these chemicals do not have long-term safety support in humans. To be on the safe side, look for natural flavors. It may limit the number of available flavors you can find, but you can always switch up the flavor of your shake with some fruit or pantry ingredients.

Manufacturing companies: Many supplement brands are not made by the company on the label. In fact, there are a lot more supplement brands than there are manufacturers, and there is quite a variety of quality in the manufacturers of nutritional products.

At Life Time, we’re proud to say our products are produced by Douglas Labs and Thorne Research, two of the highest-quality nutritional product manufacturers in the country. We work with these companies to ensure we have the purest products available and will modify our formulas based on the latest research and technologies available so our members have the best quality products in their hands. If you’re shopping around, inquire about the manufacturer of any product you’re considering.

Whey Good Pancakes

If you’ve been following the advice in this site, in our E-Book, Eat Well. Live Well. and in any of our Life Time nutrition programs, you’ve probably dropped gluten and reduced your carbohydrate content. If you’re a fan of making pancakes on the weekend and have quit making them because of their high-carb content, we’ve got a great solution for you. The following recipe is borrowed, with permission, from Healthy Living How To. It is a great way to make low-carb, high-protein, gluten-free pancakes. Enjoy!


  • 1 large organic egg
  • 1/4 cup Life Time Fitness all-natural vanilla whey protein Isolate (sweetened with Stevia)
  • 2 tablespoons Bob's Red Mill Organic Coconut Flour
  • 1/4 cup, 5 tablespoons Blue Diamond unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1/4 cup Fage Greek Yogurt (full fat)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon guar gum (optional)


With electric beaters on low, mix until the protein powder is dissolved. Spray skillet with non-stick spray (e.g., Spectrum Organic Coconut Oil Non-Stick Spray); pour your mix on your skillet to desired pancake size. Adjust heat as needed to cook throughout.

Nutritional Information:

Give or take a few......415 calories, 20 grams fat, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of fiber, 40 grams of protein. Net carbohydrates: 9 grams! That's for the entire recipe plus a half pat of butter.


Whey protein has a lot to offer in terms of health, weight management and performance, including lower body fat levels, increased lean body mass, improved recovery from workouts, improved digestive health and immune support. It was even recently shown to help decrease blood pressure.[iv] A shake or two is a great addition to your nutrition plan, but whey doesn’t have to be reserved for shakes alone. Try experimenting in some baking recipes like the pancakes above. Enjoy!

Share comments and post questions below.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader. 



[i] Pennings B, Boirie Y, Senden JMG, et al. Whey protein stimulates postprandial muscle protein accretion more effectively than do casein and casein hydrolysate in older men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(5):997-1005

[ii] Acheson KJ, Blondel-Lubrano A, Oguey-Araymon S. Protein choices targeting thermogenesis and metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(3):525-534

[iii] Baer DJ, Stote KS, Paul DR. Whey Protein but Not Soy Protein Supplementation Alters Body Weight and Composition in Free-Living Overweight and Obese Adults. J Nutr. 2011;141(3):1489-1494

[iv] Washington State University. Whey supplements lower blood pressure. EurekAlert! 8 Dec 2010.

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