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Whey protein – a helping hand to get back in shape after illness

We all know the feeling after being ill, where it can take a few days longer than expected to get back in shape.

If the illness is particularly severe, or if you have been in a hospital, it can take significantly longer to recover properly. This is where a nutritious high-protein diet can make a real difference in getting your body back in shape and making a speedy and full recovery. 

Unfortunately, not getting the nutrients you need while recovering is a common problem.

In fact, in the UK, 70% of patients weigh less when they leave the hospital than when they were admitted![1] This can be the result of illness, a loss of appetite, not having access to the right food, or not feeling well enough to concentrate on food and regular healthy meals. Whatever the reason, it is linked to a number of complications including loss of strength and muscle breakdown.

Periods with functional inactivity/immobilization cause loss of muscle

English et al. 2010 Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 13(1): 34–39Galvan et al. 2016. Nutrients, 8, 404

A lack of protein often plays a key role in hospital patients losing muscle mass as they recover

This can lead to additional problems such as increased risk of illness and infection or poor wound healing[2][3][4]. And you do not need to be bedridden for months before you feel the effects of not getting enough protein. Spending just over ten days in bed has been shown to lead to a significant protein and muscle loss in adults of all ages – although older people lose muscle at speeds of three to six times faster[5]

The importance of muscle

Muscle mass is important for your overall health and quality of life. It plays an important role in energy and protein metabolism in the body. When the body does not have enough fuel or energy, it starts to break down proteins stored in muscles to give the body the energy it needs[6]. This often results in a feeling of weakness in the legs and lower back. 

Whey protein and muscle growth

There is evidence that adding protein to a protein-insufficient diet can help. The positive effects of whey protein on stimulating muscle growth and preventing muscle loss during bed rest have been proven in several studies[7]. Yet even though the role of protein has been widely recognized, it is still estimated that malnutrition – or not getting a nutritious balanced diet – affects 33 million people throughout Europe[8]

So what can be done?

At the most basic level, a combination of physical activity and a focus on diet can help to maintain and improve muscle health. In particular, a meta-analysis based on several studies has shown a range of positive effects of high-protein nutritional supplements in helping patients recover f rom ilness with fewer complications:

  • Reduced infections
  • Improved wound and fracture healing
  • Fewer leg and pressure ulcers 
  • Improved nutritional status
  • Increased total energy intake
  • Increased total protein intake
  • Improved weight

Whey protein is considered one of the highest quality dietary proteins because it contains all the essential amino acids needed by the body.In addition, it is easily absorbed and can quickly help restore body tissue and muscle[9]. Whey protein also contains the important amino acid leucine, which is well documented for its role in supporting muscle growth. This is a key component in a patient’s diet to help minimize muscle loss during a stay in hospital[10]

How much protein is enough protein?

Although protein requirements vary from person to person, the recommendations are higher for older adults, people who are battling several diseases and anyone who is critically ill. Learn more about your protein needs throughout life here.

If you are recovering from a period of illness and want to add more protein to your daily diet, you can find out more about whey protein on wheyforliving.com. Even if your appetite is also recovering, the mouth-watering recipes in this section will for sure rekindle your interest in food! See the easy-to-follow recipes with whey protein. 


[1] http://www.nutritioncare.org/uploadedFiles/Documents/Malnutrition/US-UK%20Malnutrition%20Infographic(1).pdf

[2] Cruz-Jentoft AJ, Baeyens JP, Bauer JM, et al. Sarcopenia: European consensus on definition and diagnosis: report of the European Working Group on Sarcopenia in Older People. Age Ageing. 2010;39(4):412-423.

[3] Pitchard C, Kyle UG, Morabia A, Perrier A, Vermeulen B, Unger P. Nutritional assessment: lean body mass depletion at hospital admission is associated with an increased length of stay. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79:613-618.

[4] Wolfe RR. The underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;84(3):475-482.

[5] Based on diagram on slide from Doug Paddon Jones talk at Nutrition Conference 2019 – Baltimore

[6] Deutz et al. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2019 Jan;20(1):22-27

[7] Paddon-Jones et al. 2006. Exp Gerontol. 41; 215-219, Volpi et al. 2003. Am J Clin Nutr. 78; 250-258, Ferrando et al. 2010. Clin Nutr. 29; 18-23, Antonione et al. 2008. J. Nutr. 138; 2212–2216, Pennings et al. 2011. Am J Clin Nutr. 93; 997–1005

[8] Ljungqvist O, de Man F. Under nutrition – a major health problem in Europe. Nutr Hosp 2009; 24(3): 368-70.

[9] Tang et al. J Appl Phsiol. 107: 987-992. 2009, Calbet 2004. Eur J Ntr. 43; 127-139.

[10] FAO Expert Consultation Report 2013. ISSN 0254-4725