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Debunking Myths Around Whey Protein

Updated: May 21, 2022

When I'm writing about debunking myths around whey protein you have to take my word for it. I have been on the other side of the fence hating on the harmless supplement calling it demonic, monstrous, kidney destroyer. But then, I grew up read about nutrition and identified my own BS and I'm now better for it.

Ever since I have become a trainer, the three questions that I have to answer everyday in some form are -

  1. Are squats bad for your knee?

  2. Are deadlifts bad for your back?

  3. Is whey protein bad for your kidneys?

Well, the answer to all the questions above is a heartening NO, I have written about squats and bad knees in a previous article. In this article I'm going to rectify common public perception around whey protein. Let's dive into it.

Myth#1 : Whey protein is bad for kidneys.

This myth is as true as masturbation will cause you to be blind, and your palms to grow hair. If there comes a day when I start seeing blind men with hairy palms I will stop having whey protein. It's an old wives' tale.

The truth is, whey protein and protein in general is safe unless you have pre-existing kidney issues, or other factors that severely affects the functioning of your kidneys such as cardio-vascular disease, diabetes, etc. In that case you need to sit with your doctor, and nutritionist and figure out a nutrition plan that you can follow.

It is true that kidney has to work slightly more to get rid of excess of protein that has been unused but extra work doesn't by default mean deterioration in function. Our kidneys adapt to the increased protein intake and it is not a risk factor in healthy population.

Although, suddenly increasing protein intake may make the people in your home notice you more because of all the protein farts. This again is temporary. As your gut adapts to higher protein intake this won't be as big a problem. Similarly, gradually increasing protein intake can also alleviate the problem with flatulence.

Myth#2 : Whey protein is unnatural/artificial.

For that we may have to ask first, how is unnatural defined? Unnatural or artificial simply means not occurring in nature, or man-made. By that definition yes whey protein is unnatural. So what? So is ghee, or cooking oil, or potato chips. It certainly is more natural than the soap but then we don't think twice before using those products. Why? Because we have been using those as a society for a long time.

Whey protein is created from whey, a liquid that is a left over from milk in making cheese. This liquid whey is then passed through a series of filters to remove fat and lactose to recover a highly concentrated whey containing protein. This concentrated liquid whey is then dried up in hot and cold dryers to convert it into its more recognizable powdered form. Therefore it is not as artificial as one might want to think.

Although, I do wish to make a cautionary statement here. Some unscrupulous manufactures can taint the quality of whey by adding fillers, synthetic gums, sugars to reduce the production cost. Most reputable manufactures take their business and clients seriously and thus do not involve in such malpractices. Remember, cheap is not better when it comes to why protein.

Myth#3 : Whey protein is steroid.

Ok, this one I wouldn't blame you for having this notion of whey protein. The way it is promoted in the media, it is easy to see why. In the media it is shown that just by taking whey protein of XYZ brand one can get muscles like a pro-bodybuilder. However, it is a creative representation. Kind of like, how shampoo TV ads have you believe that shampoos give you long shiny hair.

Whey protein is not steroid. It is a supplement. What that means is that it only works if your diet and workout is also on point. Simply drinking whey protein and being lazy with your diet and workout is not going to give you muscles, irrespective of the brand.

However, some manufacturers do mix certain anabolic steroids with their whey protein (a practice called spiking) in order to boost the results that their clients get and consequently increase the sales. Such practices are not considered ethical because of obvious harm these can cause a person. But such practices are not common with reputed manufacturer. Do not buy whey protein from dungeon-like stores, or from obscure brands. In this case you'll be wise to follow the masses.

Another good way to know if your whey protein is not tempered with is reading the label. Be extremely wary of labels that read "proprietary blend", "top secret sauce" but doesn't list out what that blend or sauce contains, pick a different whey protein.

Myth#4 : Whey protein is overrated

Well this isn't so much a myth as it is a "it depends" kind of a statement. A non-vegetarian person who eats adequate calories for his age and activity level, he isn't likely to see much difference from consuming any additional protein. On the other hand, a diabetic person with poor nutrition habits who struggles to meet his basic protein requirement might see a tremendous benefit from increased intake of high quality protein.

The examples given above are two extremes, there are many intermediate scenarios with differing supplement requirement. To best identify your need, you need to consult a qualified personnel.

Myth#5 : Whey protein is placebo

Whey protein is protein. Protein is not placebo whey or otherwise. Their is adequate body of knowledge available about how protein leads to muscle growth, lowering of blood sugar, increased bone density etc. to chalk its effect to placebo.

Yes, like mentioned in the point above, if your protein intake from diet is adequate you may not see much difference from supplemental protein.

Myth#6 : Whey protein is chemical supplement

This one gets me riled up the most. Tell me what is not a chemical. We are a living breathing mass of 100s and 1000s of chemicals and their interplay with each other that animates us.

Most foods that we eat have compounds that can be synthesized in a laboratory.

Protein, whey or animal or soy or pea is made of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of almost every organism. Fruits have them, vegetables have them, cereals have them.

Just because it comes wrapped in a peel doesn't make the compounds in fruits and vegetables any less chemical than whey protein.

Myth#7 : Whey protein takes 3 years to digest

What! 3 years!! Whichever idiot started this rumor must be getting his whey protein from his supplier's guts (eating shit). This kind of fear-mongering must not be tolerated at any cost. The truth is whey protein since it does not have fats, carbs, or fibers to slow down its absorption is very gut friendly. Chances are you'll not notice having had whey protein in about 20-30 minutes after having it.

If digesting whey protein took 3 years the world would have been full of people walking around with distended bellies filled with whey protein. Quite the opposite, people who consume whey protein on general are slimmer because they tend to be more proactive about their health in general.

People with inability to digest protein from whole foods due to various gastric issues such as cancers, or damage to the intestinal walls, find whey protein easy to digest. That says something.

In conclusion, the intention behind this post is not to glorify whey protein. The intention was to dispel some myths about it. Whey protein is one of the most researched edible item for its safety and efficacy. One should not shy away from using them to meet their nutritional goals if money is not an issue.

Busy professional, vegetarians, hostel students who cannot prepare food, or modify it to meet their protein intakes, or people with specific medical conditions which bars them from consuming more protein in whole food as it typically comes with high amount of either fat or carbohydrate can safely use whey protein to supplement their diets considering every other aspect of their diet, i.e., carbs, fats, and micronutrients are adequate as well.

Do you have any more myths that you'd like me to dispel then leave a comment. Thanks for reading :)

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