Whey Protein for Weight Gain
Written by Nicole Pabalan, freelance writer and dietetic intern at Oregon Health Sciences University. Reviewed/edited by Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND
Whey protein is often added to foods or drinks for older adults to stop unintended weight loss, promote muscle health, and promote healthy weight gain. This article reviews what you need to know about whey protein for weight gain.
What is Whey Protein?
Whey is the liquid component that is strained off during the process of milk curdling. For example, during the production of cheese. It is primarily composed of lactose (milk sugar), whey protein, and some minerals.
This form of protein is often used as a dietary supplement. It typically comes in powder form. Some people don’t eat enough protein, therefore, it may be necessary to utilize a dietary supplement such as whey protein.
One of the inevitable consequences of aging is increased loss of muscle mass and functional capacity (Paddon-Jones and Leidy, 2014). However, just because we can’t avoid it, does not mean we can’t slow down the process.
Of note, other types of protein dietary supplements include:
- Casein Protein (another type of protein derived from milk)
- Soy Protein
- Pea Protein
- Mixed Plant Protein
Whey Protein for Gaining Weight
It’s not unusual for older adults to experience unintended weight loss. Typically, weight loss in older adults is caused by protein energy wasting. Severe weight loss in seniors may be due to cachexia, sarcopenia, dehydration, malabsorption, and hypermetabolism (Morley, 2012).
In addition, protein energy malnutrition may lead to increased risk of death, pressure injuries, hip fractures, falls, weakness, cognitive abnormalities, infections, immune dysfunction, etc (Morley, 2012).
Ultimately, it’s important that older adults take the necessary measures to prevent unwanted weight loss to increase quality of life. An approach to prevent unintended weight loss may include the use of nutritional supplements, such as whey protein.
Since whey protein comes in powder form, it’s easy to use as an ingredient for many different recipes. It can be added to drinks such as milk, smoothies, or high calorie shakes. Or it can be added to foods such as baked goods, mashed potatoes, oatmeal, etc.
Whey protein often comes in a variety of sweet flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, coffee, etc. Flavorless whey protein varieties are also available. There is no “perfect” brand of whey protein. Find the one that meets your budget and taste preference.
No Whey or Yes Whey?
Should whey protein be used for older adults?! Below are 9 benefits of whey protein for weight gain.
Individuals following a vegan diet should not use whey protein as it is animal based. Those with kidney disease should work with their medical team to ensure they are getting the appropriate amount of protein in their diets. For some people with kidney problems, too much protein can be very harmful.
Always talk to your doctor before starting a supplement, including whey protein.
9 Benefits of Whey Protein for Weight Gain:
- Helps with weight gain
- Nutritional supplements such as whey protein contributes to small, but consistent weight gain in older adults.
- Adds extra protein
- Some older adults may be unable to eat enough protein. Therefore, a nutrition supplement may be necessary to meet dietary needs.
- Helps the muscles
- Several studies have shown that whey protein improves muscle performance and can optimize seniors’ ability to provide oxygen to working muscles, which is also known as aerobic capacity.
- Minimizes risks from sarcopenia
- Whey protein can help prevent or minimize sarcopenia which increase risks of falls and muscle loss.
- Can improve overall health
- Studies have indicated that whey protein contributes to improved health, recovery from disease, prevention of cardiovascular and metabolic risks, and liver complications (i.e. hepatic steatosis).
- Easy to use
- Since whey protein comes in a powder form, it’s easy to add as an ingredient in shakes, smoothies, baked goods, oatmeal, etc.
- Easy for those with chewing difficulty
- Some older adults may have difficulty chewing animal-based protein rich foods such as beef and poultry because of its tough fibrous composition (Chichero, 2018).
- Provides more calories
- One serving of a standard whey protein (1 scoop is~30 g) supplement contains 25 g of whey protein, 2.5 g of fat, and 3 g of carbohydrates. Most brands provide between 120-130 calories per serving. Therefore, older adults may benefit from appropriate weight gain from the additional calories provided.
- Can help improve B vitamin status
- Studies have shown that whey protein can improve the status of vitamin B12 and folate in elderly individuals. These vitamins can help keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and prevent other age-related diseases (Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin B12, 2020).
Sarcopenia and Muscle Loss
Muscle mass and strength can start decreasing as early as 30 years-old. Therefore, it’s important to stop unintended weight loss to reduce involuntary progression of muscle deterioration. After the age of 30, muscle mass and function declines approximately 3-8% per decade (Watson, 2012).The chart below shows how much muscle mass and strength adults lose starting from the age of 40.
Loss of Muscle Mass & Strength with Age
|Age||Skeletal Mass & Strength Loss|
|40 years old||6-16%|
|60 years old||12-32%|
|80 years old||24-64%|
Whey protein can be used for weight gain in older adults. Whey protein powder provides extra calories for weight gain. Protein can help promote muscle health. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a whey protein supplement.
We hope the information provided about whey protein for weight gain helps you keep those muscles strong.
Below are a couple of links that may be useful:
Be sure to check out our High Protein Foods SERIES on RD2RD which includes a high protein food list, grocery list, and meal planner!
- Baum JI, Kim IY, Wolfe RR. Protein Consumption and the Elderly: What Is the Optimal Level of Intake?. Nutrients. 2016;8(6):359. Published 2016 Jun 8. doi:10.3390/nu8060359
- Cichero J. (2018). Age-Related Changes to Eating and Swallowing Impact Frailty: Aspiration, Choking Risk, Modified Food Texture and Autonomy of Choice. Geriatrics (Basel, Switzerland), 3(4), 69. https://doi.org/10.3390/geriatrics3040069
- Dhillon, V. S., Zabaras, D., Almond, T., Cavuoto, P., James‐Martin, G., Fenech, M., Mol. Nutr. Food Res. 2017, 61, 1600915.
- Morley, J.E. Undernutrition in older adults, Family Practice, Volume 29, Issue suppl_1, April 2012, Pages i89–i93, https://doi.org/10.1093/fampra/cmr054
- Milne AC, Potter J, Vivanti A, Avenell A. Protein and energy supplementation in elderly people at risk from malnutrition. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;2009(2):CD003288. Published 2009 Apr 15. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003288.pub3
- Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin B12. (2020, March 30). Retrieved August 28, 2020, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-Consumer/
- Paddon-Jones, D., & Leidy, H. (2014). Dietary protein and muscle in older persons. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 17(1), 5–11. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0000000000000011
- Walston J. D. (2012). Sarcopenia in older adults. Current opinion in rheumatology, 24(6), 623–627. https://doi.org/10.1097/BOR.0b013e328358d59b
- West, D., Abou Sawan, S., Mazzulla, M., Williamson, E., & Moore, D. R. (2017). Whey Protein Supplementation Enhances Whole Body Protein Metabolism and Performance Recovery after Resistance Exercise: A Double-Blind Crossover Study. Nutrients, 9(7), 735. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9070735