You may have heard the term superfood and wondered what it means. Though there is no strict definition of what makes a food a superfood, most people would agree that it is a food that contains some specific nutritional elements that are highly valuable for your body.
Some foods are regarded superfoods because they contain large amounts of vitamins, minerals, fibre, healthy fats, or antioxidants. Others – like whey protein – gain the name because they are rich in high-quality proteins.
Proteins are not just proteins
Proteins are the building blocks of your body – needed to build and maintain muscle and bones. You find proteins in a wide array of foods. But what many people don’t know, is that the composition of the different types of proteins varies a lot, which influences how well they cover the needs of your body.
Proteins are made of smaller elements called amino acids. Some of them, the so-called essential amino acids, you can only get through your diet. The makeup of animal-based proteins, like whey protein, resembles that of the human body, and therefore they fulfill your needs for protein exactly. Not too much, not too little. Thanks to this unique composition, whey protein provides nutritional benefits for people at all stages of life – from infants at the start of life to older people in their twilight years.
Breast milk – the golden standard of nutrition
The first months of a baby’s life lay the foundation for his or her body and brain’s development. Therefore, providing infants with the best possible nutrition is of the highest importance.
Of course, breast milk is nature’s own nutrition for the newborn, and breastfeeding is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for at least 6 months. But sometimes it’s necessary to supplement breast milk.
If this is the case, matching the content of essential amino acids in infant formula to that of breast milk is critical. Due to its high content of essential amino acids, whey protein is a natural key ingredient. Whey protein is also rich in other highly valuable proteins such as alpha-lactalbumin and lactoferrin, which are some of the most abundant proteins found in breast milk1.
Keeping up with an active lifestyle
As an adult, your body still needs to get proteins every day to stay strong and healthy. And your needs increase when you live an active life.
Physical activities lead to slight muscle damage that your body has to repair2. Every time this damage is repaired, the muscles grow a little stronger. This process is completely natural and a part of getting in better shape. But it’s important that you make sure your body gets sufficient protein to support the recovery process so you can get the best effects from your hard work.
Maintaining a positive protein balance through the right intake of high-quality protein is critical for optimising your athletic performance and enhancing recovery. In particular, proteins like whey protein, which are rich in the essential amino acid, leucine, are known to stimulate muscle protein synthesis2.
With age, your skeletal muscle mass declines progressively. This may start a downward spiral where the loss of muscle mass can result in decreased functionality, also known as sarcopenia3. Again, getting enough high-quality protein rich in leucine, like whey protein, will help the body restore its muscle protein synthesis. This can improve muscle function in the elderly.
So, why don’t we hear more about whey protein? Of course, most athletes know the name from protein shakes. Some may also know whey protein as the base of nutritional products like infant formula and nourishing supplements for the elderly and weak. But many people are not aware that it is an everyday ingredient in numerous staple foodstuffs, providing the essential proteins we need for health.
- Wada Y, Lönnerdal B. Bioactive peptides derived from human milk proteins: an update. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. mai 2020;23(3):217‑22.
- Muscle protein synthesis in response to nutrition and exercise – Atherton – 2012 – The Journal of Physiology – Wiley Online Library [Internet]. [cité 17 déc 2021]. Disponible sur: https://physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1113/jphysiol.2011.225003
- Cruz-Jentoft AJ, Bahat G, Bauer J, Boirie Y, Bruyère O, Cederholm T, et al. Sarcopenia: revised European consensus on definition and diagnosis. Age Ageing. 1 janv 2019;48(1):16‑31.