How Whey Protein Helps Weight Loss & Type 2 Diabetes

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
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Whey protein offers tremendous metabolic advantages for healthy people as well as those who are struggling to improve their metabolism. This article reviews the latest findings on how whey protein assists weight loss and type 2 diabetes, based on a recent scientific article.

Whey is far more than simply “grams of protein.” The protein itself is composed of bioactive peptides: β-lactoglobulin, α-lactalbumin, proteose peptone, immunoglobulins, bovine serum albumin, lactoferrin and lactoperoxidase. The whey protein used for food supplementation is a byproduct of the cheese making industry, thus it also contains glycomacropeptides (GMPs), which are produced by enzymatic reactions. Whey protein is an excellent source of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). As whey protein is digested it produces additional bioactive peptides, many of which help circulation or immunity. Many mechanisms are in play and contribute to the wide range of benefits from whey protein consumption.

Whey Protein Boosts Metabolic Rate

Dietary protein is well known to exert a higher level of metabolic activity compared to fats or carbohydrates. This food based thermogenic is important to overall metabolism. Whey protein has been shown to be a superior metabolic activator, much better than the other dairy protein (casein) or soy.  Because whey protein contains 50 percent - 75 percent more leucine than other proteins it has a much more dynamic ability to stimulate muscle metabolism.

In higher amounts whey protein stimulates an important gene signaling system called the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). mTOR is central to your body building up its structure via protein synthesis, including muscles, joints, and bone. Because whey protein is so easy to absorb compared to other proteins, its higher surge in the blood is able to induce these advantageous metabolic effects.

Whey Protein Boosts Insulin Production

The proper release of insulin following a meal is needed for correct metabolism of blood sugar, including blood sugar levels that stay too high due to a lack of metabolic fitness. Intake of greater than 20 grams of whey protein at one time significantly improves insulin production and glucose metabolism, including meals with additional carbohydrates.

In a 12 week study with overweight adults 54 grams per day of whey protein as part of the diet decreased fasting insulin by 11 percent and improved markers of insulin sensitivity by 10 percent. This means that the increased production of insulin actually resulted in better insulin function and improved blood sugar status.

This is important to understand since insulin tends to get a bad name due to the term insulin resistance – which simply means the hormone is not working efficiently. Healthy insulin function is needed for body tissue rejuvenation and repair, and important synergy with the mTOR signaling mentioned previously.

In addition to the direct effect of whey protein on insulin release, it is also metabolized in your digestive tract. There, it produces additional hormone signals that also assist insulin function. These are called incretin hormones, gastric inhibitory peptide (GIP) and glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). Whey protein can boost GIP production by 80 percent, in turn boosting insulin production.

The whey stimulated production of GLP-1 is especially important for type 2 diabetic patients who are known to be low in this hormone signal. In fact, the lower the GLP-1 the higher the blood sugar and glycosylated hemoglobin levels (A1C levels). GLP-1 helps your pancreas in multiple ways, especially the health of the beta cells that make insulin. It also helps depress appetite.

Both GIP and GLP-1 are degraded by an enzyme called dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) in the intestinal tract. Whey protein has been shown to slow down DPP-4 activity, helping GIP and GLP-1 last longer.

Thus, the digestion of whey protein, compared to other proteins, has a direct impact on healthy blood sugar metabolism.

Whey Protein Helps Control Appetite

In addition to the wide variety of metabolic benefits, whey protein also helps you feel full. The mTOR gene pathway is similar to leptin in that it helps promote a full signal in your subconscious brain.  This depresses various appetite signals such as neuropeptide Y, agouti-related protein, and ghrelin.

Your digestive tract also produces full signals that communicate to your subconscious brain, helping reinforce the feeling of satiety. Two such signals that whey protein is known to increase are cholecystokinin (CCK) and peptide YY (PYY). Whey protein boosts CKK within 20 minutes and keeps it elevated for three hours. PYY is a full signal released by cells throughout the gut lining in response to the size of a meal. PYY is also activated by whey, “fooling” your brain into thinking it ate more than it did. This can be especially important in overweight people, whose subconscious brains tend to not feel full on a normal amount of food.


Whey protein is a true superfood. It has many metabolic support features that go well beyond the fact that it is a great source of dietary protein. This diverse array of benefits is helpful for both healthy individuals as well as those trying to improve a metabolism that may be struggling. 

Whey is a great source of protein for body tissue rejuvenation and repair. In this context it is good for general anti-aging, recovery and accident, injury, or illness, and as a tool to help build fitness from exercise.

It is ideally suited to help individuals struggling with their metabolism get back on track. Its ability to boost metabolic rate, improve insulin and blood sugar metabolism, and help keep appetite in check is a potent array of benefits that can help many people.

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