If you take your fitness seriously and do intense weight training, chances are you supplement your diet with whey protein after workouts. You know that the branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) — leucine, isoleucine, and valine — and glutamine found in whey provide your muscles with what they need most for recovery and growth. However, unless you have researched whey’s other benefits, you may be unaware that even as your muscles are growing stronger, your immune system is also operating at peak levels. You can thank whey for some of that!
How does whey protein enhance immune function?
Whey protein boosts immunity in several ways:
- It is rich in the three amino acids necessary to produce glutathione: glutamine, glycine, and cysteine.
- Whey protein contains significant amounts of several immunity-building substances: alpha- and beta-lactalbumins; immunoglobulins; lactoferrin.
- Whey protein increases production of antibodies.
- Whey increases levels of white blood cells, lymphocytes, and cytokines in response to infection.
- Whey promotes healthy skin, an essential component of innate immunity.
- Whey has prebiotic effects, improving the composition and vitality of intestinal flora, an essential component of immunity.
- Whey modulates neutrophil production.
- Whey supports clonal selection and amplification that lies at the root of the immune response to specific antigens better than any other protein!
I know protein is important, but do I really need whey specifically?
Whey protein has been shown to be much more effective in optimizing immunity than other proteins because of its precise nutritional profile. Whey protein is richer in BCAAs than any other protein: nearly 23% of its amino acids are BCAAs! In addition, whey is exceedingly rich in glutamine/glutamate, and coupled with its stores of BCAAs, brings to more than 40% its amino acid pool potentially available for muscle glutamine synthesis! Muscle glutamine is the reservoir from which glutathione is synthesized!
Glutathione is perhaps the central molecule in antioxidant protection and mediates several aspects of immune response. Glutathione synthesis depends critically on sufficient cysteine, and whey contains more cysteine by far than other high quality proteins, often more than four times as much!
Exercise is essential to optimal immune health. However, intense exercise, like HIIT or HIRT protocols, which are now routinely recommended for body recompositioning, may actually lower glutathione production, making whey essential for the exercise enthusiast not only for muscle growth and repair, but also for enhanced immunity. In efforts to improve body composition, many people are also dieting while exercising, and dieting has been found to increase the need for protein to spare lean tissue and preserve immunity. Once again, whey protein is your best choice because it is very low in fat and sugars, and a single serving has only about 100 calories.
I’m lactose intolerant; can I use whey protein?
Possibly! A serving of plain whey concentrate typically has about one gram of lactose, and whey protein isolate has far less. Many people will be able to tolerate such small amounts, and consequently reap all of whey’s immune-boosting benefits. You may also be able to use first-milking colostrum along with your whey for even greater benefits.
Remember, immunity depends on many nutritional factors. You should be getting plenty of beans, greens, onions, mushrooms, berries, and seeds in your daily diet, but whey (and colostrum) may offer additional benefits! Live long, live well, and never stop learning!
CATEGORIES: Fitness, Immunity, Immune Health, Whey Protein, Good Health