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Can You Use Whey Protein As a Meal Supplement?

By Carly Schuna

Despite what supplement companies might claim, you don’t need whey protein to be healthy. There are no nutrients in it that you can’t get from whole foods, and most people get all the protein they need and more without turning to supplements. Whey does have properties that can help you accomplish certain health or fitness goals, however, and it can be a worthwhile meal supplement if you’re in pursuit of those.

Foods Over Supplements

Before you add whey to your diet, get approval from your doctor. If you replace some of the normal high-protein foods you eat at meals with whey, there is a chance you could take in fewer total nutrients and develop decreased immunity or nutrient deficiencies over an extended period of time. It’s healthiest to use whey as a meal supplement if it will provide nutrients you don’t otherwise include in your diet or if it may help you eat less of foods that aren’t very nutritious.

How to Use Whey

How often you include whey with meals and how much of it you use will depend on what you want to accomplish. If you wish to lose weight, for example, you’re likely to get the best results by drinking a low-calorie whey shake in place of one of your larger meals every day, mixed with water or nonfat milk. If you want to gain muscle or put on weight in general, you’re better off choosing a higher-calorie whey powder and mixing at least one serving of it with milk and other high-calorie, high-protein additions like nut butter. You can drink the supplement along with your meal, but if you're looking to gain weight and you struggle to take in enough calories at meals, you're better off drinking it between meals.

Extra Calories, Extra Weight

Adding whey to your diet without changing anything else adds calories that are likely to result in weight gain. If that's your goal, using whey may help you put on muscle rather than fat, since its calories are mostly protein. But it's not possible to gain lean muscle without regular resistance training sessions as well. Because your muscles attempt to recover from strenuous strength training as soon as your exercise ends, the National Strength and Conditioning Association suggests taking protein supplements like whey right after training. If you have the opportunity to eat a protein-rich meal after training instead, however, you'll get the nutrients you need without having to use a supplement.

Supplement Risks

If your day-to-day diet already meets or exceeds your protein needs, there's no reason to begin using whey or another protein supplement. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, consistently eating more protein than your body needs could raise the risk of serious health problems including cancer, kidney disease, kidney stones and osteoporosis. Additionally, using high doses of whey supplements could cause digestive discomfort or other side effects, including headaches, thirst, tiredness and reduced appetite.

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