Does whey help you lose fat?

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Q. I’ve heard that whey protein helps fat loss as well as muscle growth. Is this true?

A. The link between whey and fat loss that you’ve heard about is based on an enzyme called ACE. Italian researchers, who studied the effects of a gene that produces the ACE enzyme, found that men with a certain variation of the gene have more abdominal fat [3]. Scientists think that ACE has a direct and powerful effect on fat gain, as the build up of fat in fat cells is regulated (at least in part) by this enzyme [2]. At the moment, drugs that “block” ACE activity are used to treat high blood pressure. However, in future, scientists think that ACE “blockers” can also be used to treat obesity and reduce abdominal fat.

So, what does all of this have to do with whey protein? Well, it seems that whey protein also affects this enzyme. Some of the peptides, such as alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin, found in high-quality whey protein (e.g. Promax by Maximuscle) have been shown to inhibit ACE activity [1].

There was also an animal study published in the American Journal of Physiology that shows greater fat loss with whey protein [4]. Researchers took groups of rats and made them exercise two hours daily for five weeks, either on an empty stomach or one hour after they ingested a meal enriched with sugar (glucose), whole milk protein or whey protein. Compared with exercise on an empty stomach, the high-glucose meal increased the amount of glucose burned for energy and reduced fat use during and after exercise.

In other words, the rats burned sugar rather than fat for energy. In contrast, the rats fed the whole milk protein and whey burned as much fat as those who exercised on an empty stomach. Five weeks later, the group getting the glucose or the whole milk protein gained body fat. In the whey fed group, the increase in weight was from extra muscle mass. What’s more, the rats fed whey also experienced a decrease in body fat!

To lose fat, you need to burn more calories than you consume. Whey protein is not a magic bullet, and you’ll still need to exercise regularly and eat a good diet.




References

1. Pihlanto-Leppala, A., Koskinen, P., Piilola, K., Tupasela, T., & Korhonen, H. (2000). Angiotensin I-converting enzyme inhibitory properties of whey protein digests: concentration and characterization of active peptides. Journal of Dairy Research, 67, 53-64
2. Zemel, M.B. (2002). Regulation of adiposity and obesity risk by dietary calcium: mechanisms and implications. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 21, 146S-151S
3. Strazzullo P, Iacone R, Iacoviello L, Russo O, Barba G, Russo P, D’Orazio A, Barbato A, Cappuccio FP, Farinaro E, Siani A. (2003). Genetic variation in the renin-angiotensin system and abdominal adiposity in men: the Olivetti Prospective Heart Study. Annals of Internal Medicine, 138, 17-23
4. Bouthegourd JC, Roseau SM, Makarios-Lahham L, Leruyet PM, Tome DG, Even PC. (2002). A preexercise alpha-lactalbumin-enriched whey protein meal preserves lipid oxidation and decreases adiposity in rats. American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology and Metabolism, 283, E565-572

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