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Whey Protein Benefits, Uses, Side Effects and Functions

Discover the Function, Sources and Benefits of the Health Supplement Ingredient Whey Protein

Whey protein and casein are the two major types of proteins in milk. While casein is digested more slowly, whey is a quickly and easily digested source of protein. It contains essential amino acids, including branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and its amino-acid profile is similar to that of human skeletal muscle. While whey protein is naturally found in dairy products, it is also available in a more concentrated form in dietary supplements. These include health and bodybuilding supplements such as CytoSport, IsoBolic, Multi-Pro and Elite whey protein powders.

Functions of Whey Protein

Protein contributes to the growth, development and repair of human tissue, so consuming whey protein can help to support these functions. The amino acids contained in whey protein play a critical role in regulating protein metabolism, and are believed to aid the body in transitioning from a catabolic state to an anabolic state following exercise. Furthermore, studies have suggested that whey protein may decrease fat stores in the body and increase feelings of satiety (fullness), thereby helping to regulate weight and body composition.

Sources of Whey Protein

Dairy products are a natural source of whey protein, which separates from milk during the cheese-making process. Among food sources, ricotta cheese contains the highest levels of whey protein; however, it can also be found in milk, yogurt and other cheeses. When whey protein is extracted and processed for use in natural dietary supplements, it can take one of several forms, including whey powder, whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. Of these, whey protein isolate contains the highest protein content, followed by whey protein concentrate and then whey powder.

Whey Protein Benefits and Uses

Consuming whey protein elevates the body’s overall levels of protein and essential amino acids, which help to maintain human skeletal muscles. As a result, whey protein is a popular ingredient in health and bodybuilding supplements, where it is used to increase muscle mass and strength as well as improve athletic performance. Because whey protein appears to decrease fat stores and create feelings of fullness, it is also used as an appetite suppressant and may be included as an ingredient in weight-loss supplements.

Another benefit of whey protein is its ability to lower blood-sugar levels, which may be helpful for individuals with milder cases of diabetes that can be controlled with proper diet and exercise. Whey protein is also used as an ingredient in baby formulas because it is an easily digested form of protein and provides important nutrients needed for growth and development. There are many other purported uses of whey protein – ranging from acid reflux to chronic lung conditions to psoriasis – though evidence in these areas is currently inconclusive.

Side Effects of Whey Protein and Potential Interactions

Whey protein is generally considered safe for most adults; users should follow the recommended dosage and directions listed on dietary supplements. Those who are lactose intolerant or have a known sensitivity to milk may find that some whey protein formulas can cause similar symptoms, such as bloating, cramps, diarrhea or nausea. When taken in high doses, whey protein may cause headaches, fatigue or thirst in some people.

Individuals taking certain types of medication should be aware of potential interactions. Whey protein may decrease the absorption of levodopa, alendronate and some antibiotics (including quinolone, fluoroquinolone and tetracycline). Since whey protein has been shown to lower blood-glucose levels, it can cause hypoglycemia when it is taken in combination with diabetes medications. When whey protein is taken in combination with blood thinners, it may increase the risk of bleeding.

More detailed safety information on whey protein side effects and interactions can be found on the Mayo Clinic website. As with any medication or health supplement, it is best to consult your physician before taking dietary supplements containing whey protein.

Whey Protein Research and Studies

Numerous studies have examined the effects of whey protein on muscle mass, muscle recovery, athletic performance and body composition. For example, recent animal studies published in the journals Nutrition and Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that resistance exercise combined with whey protein led to significant muscle weight increases in rats and that whey protein supplementation improved exercise performance, body composition and biochemical assessments in mice.

Human trials also support the use of whey protein for post-exercise recovery and improved body composition. Research published in Amino Acids determined that whey protein may accelerate the muscle regeneration/remodeling process after high-intensity exercise, while the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism reported that whey protein supplements taken by runners facilitated their recovery from strenuous training. In the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers analyzed 14 randomized, controlled trials on generally healthy adults and found that whey protein supplements – either combined with resistance exercise or as part of a weight-loss or weight-maintenance diet – improved body composition parameters.

In addition, research findings suggest that whey protein supplements are beneficial for overweight and diabetic individuals. In the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers studied overweight/obese adults who consumed whey protein supplements either with or without exercise and found that all of them lost body weight, fat mass and abdominal fat. Among those test subjects, the group that took whey protein supplements in combination with a multimode exercise training program lost significantly more body weight and gained a greater percentage of lean body mass. An article published in Diabetologia examined the impact of whey protein on diabetics, and determined that taking whey protein before breakfast helped to increase insulin levels and decrease glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes. For additional whey protein research reports, refer to the PubMed site sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

HGH.com Supplements With Whey Protein

Athletes, bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts rely on whey protein supplements to help build muscle, aid in post-exercise recovery and maintain a healthy weight. HGH.com offers a variety of natural health and bodybuilding supplements formulated with whey protein:

Elite Whey Protein Butter Toffee and Elite Whey Protein Chocolate Mint – Whey protein isolates, concentrate and peptides are combined with a proprietary digestive enzyme blend to enhance digestion and absorption of Elite Whey Protein supplements, which provide 23 grams of protein per serving. These delicious powdered-drink mixes help grow and strengthen muscle while aiding in muscle repair and recovery.

IsoBolic Cinnamon Oatmeal and IsoBolic Vanilla – The advanced protein matrix in IsoBolic supplements blends whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate with other active ingredients, packing in 45 grams of protein per serving. These delicious powdered mixes support intense workouts, offering sustained protein release to stimulate muscle growth and recovery.

Multi-Pro Chocolate Whey Protein – Featuring whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate and whey permeate, Multi-Pro Chocolate provides 24 grams of protein in each serving. This great-tasting, low-carb drink mix delivers vitamins and minerals in a complete protein supplement that helps users gain muscle while minimizing body fat.

CytoSport Vanilla Whey Protein – Made with whey protein concentrate and whey protein hydrolysate, each serving of CytoSport Vanilla Whey contains 18 grams of protein and provides essential nutrients and amino acids. This low-fat, low-lactose powder mixes easily and is biologically complete, helping users build lean muscle mass and recover more quickly after intense workouts.

Mega Shake Strawberry – Formulated with a powerful blend of active ingredients – including whey protein concentrates, isolates and peptides – Mega Shake offers 32 grams of total protein per serving. Its high-quality proteins, vitamins and minerals help increase muscle tone, reduce body fat, provide energy and support muscle recovery.


References (Function, Sources, Benefits/Uses and Side Effects/Interactions):

Mayo Clinic and The National Standard Research Collaboration. “Drugs and Supplements: Whey Protein”; National Standard Patient Monograph information published on Mayo Clinic website; last updated November 1, 2013. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/whey-protein/background/hrb-20060532>

Deuster, Patricia; Maier, Steven; et al. “Protein and Amino Acids Products – Whey Protein”; Dietary Supplements and Military Divers: A Synopsis for Undersea Medical Officers, published by Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; January 2004. <http://hprc-online.org/dietary-supplements/files/DietarySupplementUMO.pdf>

Bennett, Andrew. “Which Foods Contain Whey Protein?”; article published on Livestrong.com website; October 21, 2013. <http://www.livestrong.com/article/254097-which-foods-contain-whey-protein/>

Research Sources:

Arciero, Paul J.; Baur, Daniel; et al. “Timed-Daily Ingestion of Whey Protein and Exercise Training Reduces Visceral Adipose Tissue Mass and Improves Insulin Resistance: The PRISE Study”; Journal of Applied Physiology; July 1, 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24833780>

Chen, Wen-Chyuan; Huang, Wen-Ching; et al. “Whey Protein Improves Exercise Performance and Biochemical Profiles in Trained Mice”; Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise; August 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24504433>

Farup, Jean; Rahbek, Stine Klejis; et al. “Whey Protein Supplementation Accelerates Satellite Cell Proliferation During Recovery From Eccentric Exercise”; Amino Acids; July 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25063205>

Hansen, Mette; Bangsbo, Jens; et al. “Effect of Whey Protein Hydrolysate on Performance and Recovery of Top-Class Orienteering Runners”; International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism; published online ahead of print July 14, 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25029703>

Haraguchi, Fabiano Kenji; de Brito Magalhães, Cintia Lopes; et al. “Whey Protein Modifies Gene Expression Related to Protein Metabolism Affecting Muscle Weight in Resistance-Exercised Rats”; Nutrition; July-August 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24985006>

Jakubowicz, Daniela; Froy, Oren; et al. “Incretin, Insulinotropic and Glucose-Lowering Effects of Whey Protein Pre-Load in Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomised Clinical Trial”; Diabetologia; September 2014; published online July 10, 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25005331>

Miller, Paige E.; Alexander, Dominik D.; and Perez, Vanessa. “Effects of Whey Protein and Resistance Exercise on Body Composition: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials”; Journal of the American College of Nutrition; published online April 14, 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24724774>




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