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Not all types of protein are the same. Some forms of protein, such as whey protein, are better than others. Whey protein contains an amazingly wide range of amino acids that are quickly absorbed (1). Numerous studies have shown that whey protein can help you get stronger, build muscle, and lose significant amounts of body fat (2). Whey protein is more than just protein, however. It contains numerous other nutrients, some of which have potent biological effects. Whey protein is one of the most scientifically studied sports supplements in the world. This article will give you a detailed overview of all the features and benefits of whey protein, showing you what it is, how it works, and how it can help you achieve your fitness and health goals.
What is Wheyprotein?
Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from whey - the liquid part of milk left over from cheese making. Milk contains two primary types of protein: casein (80%) and whey protein (20%). Whey protein is found in the watery part of milk. When cheese is made, the fattier parts of the milk curdle and whey, which contains whey protein, settles out as a byproduct (3). If you have ever opened a yogurt and you saw a liquid on top of the solid yogurt, it was whey. Whey used to be discarded as a waste product in cheese production before its commercial value was recognized (4).
After separation from the milk solids in the cheese-making process, the whey goes through several processing steps before the final product is what most people know as whey protein - a powder that is added to shakes, meal replacements, and protein bars (5). Whey protein usually doesn't taste very good on its own, which is why it is usually flavored. It is important to look at the label, as some protein products may contain unhealthy additives such as refined sugar.
Using whey protein is a convenient way to get larger amounts of protein in addition to your daily diet. This can be important for bodybuilders and fitness athletes, as well as for people who want to lose weight or simply add more protein to their diet. Most flavored whey proteins are quite delicious and can add great flavor to healthy recipes like smoothies. Whey protein is generally well tolerated, though people who suffer from lactose intolerance should be cautious. In addition, there are some people who are allergic to whey protein (6). Whey protein supplements can help you increase your protein and BCAA intake. Proteins are the primary building blocks of the human body. They are required for the production of many important structures and body components including tendons, organs, skin, hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters and numerous molecules. Proteins are also the building blocks of the contractile elements of your muscles.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are smaller molecules strung together like chains on a string. Some amino acids are made by your body's cells, while others are supplied through the food you eat. The amino acids that your body cannot make itself and that are supplied through food are also known collectively as essential amino acids. Proteins that provide all nine essential amino acids are best, and whey protein is packed with essential amino acids. Whey protein is particularly rich in branched-chain amino acids such as leucine, also known as BCAAs, and also contains large amounts of cysteine (7). Studies have shown that leucine is the most anabolic of all amino acids and that cysteine may help increase levels of the cellular antioxidant glutathione (8, 9). Whey protein appears to be particularly effective with respect to stimulating (muscle) growth in humans. It is no coincidence that human breast milk contains 60% whey protein, whereas cow's milk usually contains only 20% whey protein (10).
What are the benefits of whey protein compared to other protein sources?
Whey protein has the highest biological value of all naturally occurring protein sources, with a biological value of 104 to 110. In addition, Whey Protein contains the highest amount of branched-chain amino acids(BCAAs) of all natural protein sources, which have both anabolic (muscle-building) and anticatabolic (preventing muscle breakdown) effects. Apart from these physiological benefits, Whey Protein is generally very soluble in liquid and has a pleasant taste of its own. The biological value of protein is a measure of how dietary proteins can be converted into the body's own proteins. One of the key advantages of this protein is its rapid digestibility.
In practice, this means that blood amino acid levels reach their maximum value already 30 to 45 minutes after consumption of Whey protein. In addition to this, the peak amino acid concentration in the blood after consumption of Whey Protein turns out to be higher than with most other types of protein. This is critical because it is not the total amount of amino acids released, but the magnitude of the rise in blood amino acid levels that causes a strong anabolic (muscle building) response in the body. The classic contrast to Whey Protein is Casein Protein, which is digested relatively slowly. Thus, casein protein is an ideal complement to Whey protein by providing optimal protein supply to the muscles overnight.
Different types of whey protein: concentrates vs. isolates vs. hydrolysates
There are several popular types of whey protein, the main difference of which is the way they are produced:
- Concentrates: contain about 70-80% protein. Whey protein concentrate contains some lactose (milk sugar) and fat and also has the best taste.
- Isolates: contain 90% protein and contain less lactose and fat. However, depending on the manufacturing process, isolates lack many of the healthy and beneficial nutrients found in whey protein concentrates.
- Hydrolysate: Also known as hydrolyzed whey protein, this whey protein has been enzymatically predigested so that it can be absorbed more quickly. It causes a 28 to 43% higher insulin peak than whey protein isolate (11).
Whey protein concentrate may be the best option for many. It is the cheapest and contains the most healthy nutrients that are naturally found in whey protein. Many people also prefer the taste, which is probably due to the lactose and fat content. If you don't tolerate whey protein concentrate as well, or if you want to increase your protein intake with minimal carbohydrate and fat, then whey protein isolate - or perhaps even a whey protein hydrolysate - might be a better option. In this context, it's also worth keeping in mind that even though whey protein concentrate is the most popular form of delivery, most scientific studies have used whey protein isolate.
The effects of whey protein supplementation on muscle mass and strength.
Whey protein provides the body with the necessary building blocks to produce the amino acids used to build muscle tissue. Almost every bodybuilder knows the importance of protein supplementation. Numerous studies have been conducted comparing Whey protein to other protein sources. They concluded that Wheyprotein contains the perfect combination of amino acids ... and just the right concentrations for optimal performance in the body. Both hormonal and cellular responses appear to be enhanced by Wheyprotein supplementation. Wheyprotein supplementation is most often done for the purpose of increasing muscle mass and strength. Wheyprotein enjoys great popularity among athletes, bodybuilders fitness models and people who want to increase their performance in the gym. The mechanisms by which Wheyprotein can promote gains in strength and muscle mass include the following:
- Building blocks for muscles: Whey protein provides proteins and amino acids that serve as building blocks for increased muscle growth.
- Hormones: Whey protein increases the release of anabolic hormones such as insulin, which can stimulate muscle growth (12).
- Leucine: Whey protein is rich in the amino acid leucine, which is known to stimulate protein synthesis at the molecular and genetic levels (13, 14).
- Rapid absorption: Whey protein is absorbed and utilized by the body very quickly compared to other protein sources (15).
Whey protein has been shown to be particularly effective for increasing muscle mass when consumed immediately before, during, and after exercise. Muscle protein synthesis is usually at its highest level in the post-exercise phase (16, 17, 18, 19). However, a recent study review concluded that total daily protein intake is the most relevant factor for muscle growth. Whether this protein is consumed in the time period around training or at other times seems to play a minor role (20). Compared to other types of protein, whey protein usually performs slightly better in terms of building muscle mass and strength (21, 22). However, when compared with casein, the results are mixed. Whey protein appears to be better in the short term, while casein stimulates muscle growth over a longer period of time, making the net effects of both protein sources quite similar (23, 24, 25, 26, 27).
You should also keep in mind that supplementation with Whey protein is unlikely to have a significant effect on your results if you are already consuming adequate amounts of protein. In a 12-week study conducted with older adults who had previously consumed adequate amounts of protein and were weight training, no differences in muscle growth were observed when either whey protein or carbohydrates were supplemented (28). So the study evidence on the effects of whey protein on muscle growth and strength is mixed, and results can vary widely from person to person. If you already consume plenty of protein in the form of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products, all of which are high-quality sources of protein, then the benefits of supplementing with whey protein are likely to be small.
What are the best applications for Whey Protein?
Whey protein is always the best choice when it comes to providing the body or muscles with large amounts of amino acids as quickly as possible. This is most important before and after training, as well as in the morning after the nightly fasting phase, since the body has the highest demand for amino acids at these times. Apart from this, Whey protein can of course be consumed at any other time of the day to provide the body with additional high-quality protein and meet daily protein requirements. Accordingly, Whey is an excellent source of protein for muscle building.
The potential health benefits of whey protein
Whey protein is much more than simply a high-quality source of protein - it also contains a variety of other healthy nutrients. These include lactoferrin, beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin and immunoglobulins (29). Beyond its muscle mass-building and strength-enhancing properties, whey protein can bring a host of health benefits. These include, as we will see in detail in a moment, a reduction in blood pressure and blood sugar levels, a reduction in symptoms of stress and depression, protection against cancer, a reduction in symptoms of hepatitis, increased bone mineral density, improved immune function in HIV patients, and an increase in lifespan in mice. The fact that whey protein is very rich in the amino acid cysteine appears to be partly responsible for many of these health benefits. Cysteine increases levels of glutathione, the primary antioxidant substance in the cells of the body (30, 31).
Here's an overview of the key health benefits of whey protein.
Whey protein could help prevent the effects of overtraining
Consuming whey protein supplements and other protein supplemrents can help prevent the effects of overtraining! A protein intake of about 2 grams per kilogram of body weight resulted in improved protection against overtraining. This study was conducted at Ball State University with 17 men training with weights. The subjects performed a four-week overtraining program in which they performed 3 sets of 8 exercises, each with 8 to 12 repetitions, to muscle failure during the first two weeks.
During the two following weeks, performed 5 sets of 5 exercises with 3 to 5 repetitions each until muscle failure occurred. The men received either an amino acid supplement (2 grams protein/kilogram body weight/day) or a placebo during these 4 weeks. The men taking the amino acid supplement had measurable positive changes in total testosterone levels, the ratio of testosterone to the proteins that transport it, and hemoglobin levels compared to the subjects receiving the placebo. This proves that adequate protein intake is the key to gains in muscle mass! One should therefore make sure to always consume enough protein (about 2 grams per kilogram of body weight).
Summary: Consumed in sufficient amounts, whey protein can promote recovery after exercise.
Whey protein could lower blood pressure
Abnormally high blood pressure is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease. Numerous studies have associated the consumption of dairy products with a reduction in blood pressure (32, 33, 34, 35). This effect has been attributed to a family of bioactive peptides in dairy products known as angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) (36, 37, 38). In whey proteins, these ACE inhibitors are known as lactokinins (39). Several studies conducted with animals have demonstrated the beneficial effects of these compounds on blood pressure (40, 41). A limited number of human studies have examined the effects of wheyproteins on blood pressure, and many experts consider the results inconclusive.
A study conducted with overweight people showed that whey protein supplementation of 54 grams per day for 12 weeks reduced systolic blood pressure by 4%. Other milk proteins (casein) possessed similar effects (42). This is supported by other studies that observed significant effects when study participants were given 22 grams of a whey protein concentrate for 6 weeks. However, blood pressure only decreased in those who had high or slightly elevated blood pressure to begin with (43). In a study involving much lower amounts of whey protein (less than 3.25 grams per day) mixed with a milk drink, no significant effects on blood pressure were observed (44).
Summary: Whey protein could lower blood pressure in people with elevated blood pressure. This is based on bioactive peptides called lactokinins.
Whey protein could help treat type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by high blood sugar and impaired function of the hormone insulin. Insulin is a hormone designed to stimulate the uptake of blood sugar into cells, thereby keeping blood sugar within a healthy range. Whey protein has been found to effectively regulate blood glucose by increasing both insulin levels and insulin sensitivity (42, 45, 46, 47). Whey protein appears to have the upper hand in this regard compared to other protein sources such as egg white or fish (48, 49).
These properties of whey protein may even be comparable to those of diabetes drugs such as sulfonylurea (50). As a result, whey protein can be used effectively as a supplement for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Whey protein supplements taken before or with a high-carbohydrate meal have been shown to regulate blood glucose in healthy people and in people with type 2 diabetes (45).
Summary: Wheyprotein can effectively regulate blood sugar levels, which is especially true when taken before or with high-carbohydrate meals. Wheyprotein could be especially effective for people suffering from type 2 diabetes.
Whey protein could help reduce inflammation
Inflammation is part of the body's response to damage. Short-term inflammation is useful and helpful, but under certain circumstances inflammation can become chronic. Chronic inflammation can be harmful and is a risk factor for many diseases. This could reflect underlying health problems or poor lifestyle habits. A large-scale study concluded that high doses of whey protein can significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation in the body (51).
Summary: It has been shown that high doses of whey protein, can lower blood levels of markers of inflammation, suggesting that whey protein may help reduce inflammation.
Whey protein could be helpful in inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel diseases represent a group of conditions characterized by chronic inflammation of the mucous membranes of the digestive tract. These include Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. In both rodents and humans, whey protein supplementation has been shown to have beneficial effects on inflammatory bowel disease (52, 53). However, the available data are weak and further studies are needed before firm conclusions can be drawn.
Abstract: Whey protein supplementation may possess beneficial effects on inflammatory bowel disease.
Whey protein could improve the antioxidant protection of the body
Antioxidants are substances that can counteract unwanted oxidative reactions in the body. This can reduce oxidative stress for the body and lower the risk of many chronic diseases. One of the most important antioxidants in the human body is glutathione. Unlike other antioxidants that we consume through food, glutathione is produced by the body itself.
Glutathione production in the body is related to the supply of several amino acids such as cysteine, which are sometimes not available in sufficient amounts. For this reason, cysteine-rich foods such as whey protein could enhance endogenous oxidative protection (54, 55). A number of studies conducted with both rodents and humans concluded that whey protein can reduce oxidative stress and increase glutathione levels in the body (56, 57, 58, 59).
Summary: Whey protein supplements could strengthen the body's antioxidant protection by promoting the production of glutathione, the body's most powerful antioxidant.
Whey protein may have positive effects on blood lipid levels
High cholesterol levels - and in particular high levels of LDL cholesterol - are a primary risk factor for heart disease. In a study conducted with overweight subjects who consumed 54 grams of whey protein per day over a 12-week period, a significant reduction in total cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol levels was observed (42). Other studies failed to observe similar effects on blood cholesterol levels, but the absence of these effects may be attributable to differences in study design (43, 60). Therefore, further studies are needed before meaningful conclusions can be drawn.
Summary: In the long term, high doses of whey protein could lower cholesterol levels, but data are currently very limited.
Whey protein saturates very well, which can help reduce hunger
Satiety is the opposite of hunger and suppresses cravings for unhealthy foods. Some foods are more satiating than others - an effect mediated at least in part by their macronutrient composition (protein, carbohydrate, fat). Protein is the most satiating macronutrient of all macronutrients (61). However, not all proteins have the same influence on satiety. Whey protein appears to be more satiating than other proteins such as casein protein or soy protein (62, 63). These properties make whey protein particularly useful for those who want to reduce calories and lose weight.
Summary: Whey protein is very well satiating and in this respect surpasses many other types of protein.
Whey protein can support weight loss
Increased protein intake is a well-established and widely used weight loss strategy (64, 65, 66). Consuming more protein can promote fat loss through the following mechanisms:
- A reduction in appetite, which may lead to reduced caloric intake (61).
- A stimulation of metabolism that helps you burn more calories (67, 68).
- A support for the maintenance of muscle mass during weight loss (69).
Whey protein has been shown to be particularly effective and significantly superior to other types of protein in terms of fat burning and satiety (42, 62, 63, 70,71).
Whey protein could improve immune system function
Wheyprotein strengthens the immune system by increasing the important glutathione level. Glutathione is a tripeptide consisting of the amino acids cysteine, L-glutamine and glycine. Whey protein contains the highest concentration of glutathione-increasing amino acids of all proteins. Glutathione is a naturally occurring antioxidant in the human body and provides fundamental protection of cells against oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Consumption of proteins containing cysteine, L-glutamine and glycine helps maintain high levels of glutathione.
Glutathione is important for the immune system. The function and reproduction of immune lymphocytes depends on glutathione. Research published in the journal Immunology shows that a deficiency of glutathione has detrimental effects on natural killer cell function and lymphocytes. Additionally, it has been discovered that individuals with chronic diseases suffer from glutathione deficiency. Glutathione also detoxifies many pollutants in the body. It is found in large amounts in the liver, the main detoxification organ in the body. Studies have shown that people with poor liver function, whether due to disease or alcohol abuse, are deficient in glutathione. Supplementing with whey protein helps raise glutathione levels to improve liver function and detoxification.
One of the greatest benefits of whey protein is the improvement of the immune system and the increase of cellular glutathione levels. Glutathione is one of the body's most powerful antioxidants. Furthermore, glutathione is a detoxifying agent that neutralizes free metabolite radicals, toxic metals such as aluminum and chemical carcinogens, and prevents lipid peroxidation of cell membranes, which, if uncontrolled, can break down cell walls.
Summary: Whey protein can improve the body's immune function via stimulating glutathione production.
Who can benefit from Wheyprotein?
Whey protein is very important for bodybuilders, dieters and actually practically everyone. As athletes and bodybuilders exercise frequently, their amino acid levels drop. Due to the fact that Whey protein is a direct precursor to muscle building and contains essential amino acids such as L-Glutamine (an amino acid that promotes muscle building, increases endurance and reduces muscle breakdown), high quality Whey protein will help muscles recover and grow faster by causing amino acid levels in the body to rise quickly.
For dieters and people who want to lose some extra fat, whey protein can be very helpful because a good protein intake balances blood sugar levels, while carbohydrates can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels remain balanced, you are less prone to cravings, have more energy, and lose more fat. Whey protein also allows for effective diet control. Most people who want to change their bodies for the better could benefit from whey protein supplementation - however, since protein occurs naturally in many foods, protein deficiency is usually not a problem.
A common dosage recommendation is 1 to 2 scoops (about 25 to 50 grams) of whey protein per day, usually consumed after a workout. Keep in mind that if your protein intake is already high, additional consumption of whey protein may be completely unnecessary.
Concerns about kidney damage and osteoporosis caused by high amounts of (Whey) protein are completely unjustified. In fact, protein has been shown to protect against osteoporosis while having no effect on healthy kidneys (72, 73, 74, 75). However, people with existing liver or kidney conditions should consult their physician before consuming whey protein.
Excessive consumption of whey protein can cause digestive problems such as bloating, diarrhea, stomach pain, cramps and nausea. In addition, some people are allergic to whey protein. If you can't tolerate regular whey protein concentrate, a whey protein isolate or a whey protein hydrolysate may be a better choice. Alternatively, you can of course also do without Wheyprotein and take other protein-rich foods instead. In general, however, whey protein has a very good safety profile and is well tolerated by most people.
Whey protein represents an exceptionally healthy way to add more protein to your diet. It represents a high-quality protein source that can be well absorbed and efficiently used by the human body. The latter is especially important for athletes, bodybuilders or people who want to build muscle mass and lose fat. When it comes to muscle building and fat loss, whey protein is the queen of nutrients. Whey protein seems to be superior to other forms of protein in many ways.