Whey protein is the most used muscle building supplement today. But what is it exactly?
It is the highest quality of protein powder available.
It is derived from cow’s milk and is a mixture of globular proteins isolated from whey, the liquid material created as a by product of cheese production.
* Cow’s milk contains 2 types of proteins: whey protein and casein protein.
From this liquid whey, whey protein is then filtered out and then further concentrated to get its pure form.
Then, it is dried and sold as a muscle building supplement.
Whey protein also contains amino acids.
The Functions Of Whey Protein
Our bodies can use whey protein to repair and build new muscle tissues.
However, the key benefit is that whey proteins are easily digested and absorbed, hence they serve as an effective and convenient post workout drink to maximize muscle growth.
Whey protein is also a big source of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) which protect and repair muscle tissues and are used to build lean muscle mass.
Overall, you can expect lean muscle mass gains, decreased recovery times, reduced post workout muscle breakdown and increased metabolic rate.
2. Health Benefits
There is an increasing number of studies showing that whey may potentially reduce cancer rates, combat HIV, increase brain serotonin levels, improve liver function, reduce stress, reduce cortisol, reduce blood pressure and improve immunity.
What Studies of Whey Protein Have Shown
The following 3 studies are just the tip of the iceberg.
A study by Burke et al. (1) showed that consumption of whey protein did lead to higher lean mass gains and improved performance.
A study by Tipton et al. (2) demonstrated that the consumption of whey protein before or after weight lifting brought about a positive anabolic (muscle building) response.
A study by Borsheim et al. (3) also came to the same conclusion by comparing the effects of a post-workout drink of whey, carbohydrates and amino acids to just carbohydrate alone. The mixture of whey, carbohydrates and amino acids proved to stimulate more muscle protein synthesis.
Types Of Whey Protein
There are 3 types of whey protein: concentrate, isolate and hydrolysate.
1. Concentrates: Whey protein concentrates are 29-89% protein by weight, but typically about 75% pure protein. They are low in fat and has the highest biological value (how readily protein is used in protein synthesis in cells).
2. Isolates: Whey protein isolates are the purest form of whey you can find because fats and lactose are removed. To put a figure to it, it is typically 90+% pure protein.
3. Hydrolysate: Whey protein hydrolysates are more easily absorbed by our bodies because they are predigested and partially hydrolyzed. However, they tend to cost more.
How to Use Whey Protein
As whey protein is fast digesting, it’s ideal to consume when you need protein quickly.
These are some of the common situations:
Possible Side Effects of Whey Protein
1. Lactose intolerant people may suffer from an allergic reaction due to the presence of lactose, though whey isolates contain literally 0% lactose.
2. Your kidney has a harder time metabolizing the whey protein you consume.
3. Over dosage of protein can lead to kidney stones or ketosis, which will in turn cause liver damage.
Take note that there are no studies with concrete proof stating that high protein intake definitely causes kidney damage.
Nonetheless, it’s safer to just limit your daily intake of whey protein (keep to max 30% of your diet).
Other Essential Information of Whey Protein
1. You can mix whey protein with other supplements such as creatine or dextrose.
2. Vegetarians can consume whey protein (it is considered a dairy product)
3. Casein protein has a different use to whey. Casein is a slow digesting protein and so would be better used as a before bedtime supplement.
4. You can consume right after you wake up, before and/or after gym workouts, and also when you have to supplement your meals out of convenience.
How to Choose the Most Appropriate Whey Protein
The 2 yardsticks we should look at are price and quality.
Whey protein isolates contain more proteins and less fats and carbs as compared to concentrates. Hence, they cost more.
However, for someone looking to gain weight, concentrates can be a better choice because it contains more calories than isolates.
Nontheless, I personally use and highly recommend the Optimum Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein. It is a whey protein blend - a mixture of isolates and concentrates, with significantly more isolates than concentrates.
Why mix? Because this achieves a good middle ground of price and quality.
Whey protein blends are great value for money and present a great amino acid profile.
You can read my review of the Optimum Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein here.
(1) Burke DG, Chilibeck PD, Davidson KS, Candow DG, Farthing J, Smith-Palmer T. (2001). The effect of whey protein supplementation with and without creatine monohydrate combined with resistance training on lean tissue mass and muscle strength. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 11(3):349-64. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11591884
(2) Tipton KD, Elliott TA, Cree MG, Wolf SE, Sanford AP, Wolfe RR. (2004). Ingestion of casein and whey proteins result in muscle anabolism after resistance exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(12):2073-81. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15570142
(3) Borsheim E, Aarsland A, Wolfe RR. (2004). Effect of an amino acid, protein, and carbohydrate mixture on net muscle protein balance after resistance exercise. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 14(3):255-71. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15256687