Whey protein powders and drinks are the hot item on the market right now, but will they help you with your goals?

What is Whey Protein?

Whey is a by-product of cheese production (you may be familiar with Little Miss Muffet's fateful meal before she had the run-in with an arachnid - curds and whey, or cottage cheese). The proteins are isolated for the body-building and weight loss supplements that are flooding the market right now.

Weight Training Benefits

Whey protein supplements are commonly used to help body builders, who take the supplements immediately before or after working out. The idea is that athletes need more protein in their diets to build and repair their muscles. Whey protein is called a "fast" protein because it's absorbed into the system more quickly and can therefore provide more immediately nourishment for the muscles. It includes amino acids that are metabolized quickly into the muscles.

Weight Loss

Most of the protein supplement gurus also talk about the weight-loss properties of whey protein, but they seem to be in disagreement about why they're helpful. Some claim that the increased energy allows the body to digest things more quickly and to burn more calories during digestion. They claim that amino acids improve body composition and slow the absorption of glucose into the blood. Others claim that drinking protein before meals make smaller meals more satisfying because they allow for more amino acid absorption and slow down the intake of calories.

The bottom line is probably along the same lines as the weight-training benefits. Whey protein can help turn more calories into muscle while burning fat.

How Should You Use It?

Body builders obviously don't have the same goals as people who are simply trying to lose weight. Highly concentrated whey protein supplements might be helpful to people who are working out enough to metabolize it, but people who are just using it to metabolize their food more effectively shouldn't take too much, and should consider using less concentrated forms than the hydrolyzed or isolated whey proteins. There are whey proteins formulated specifically for weight loss for a reason.

Don't use whey protein to excess. Though most of the risks of using it are minimal, long time use can cause some kidney and liver problems. Whey protein is also a risk for people who are lactose intolerant, since whey is, of course, a milk by-product.