Arguably the best protein supplement bar far. Introducing to you, whey protein.
In the fitness world, supplementation has become as necessary as the training itself. Allowing you to push and extend the limits of your strength, power, endurance, and recovery, the supplement industry has a plethora of ingredients for you to utilise. While there are many supplements that you will see come and go, whey protein has been around since the beginning and is still going strong.
This industry-leading supplement offers you powerhouse benefits that help to build muscle and burn fat. Best of all, its benefits extend to those who may not engage in regular physical activity, making it a certified super food.
Let’s take a look at the breakdown and benefits of whey protein to demonstrate why it is a worthwhile investment for your fitness goals.
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is made up of several sub-fractions of protein including alpha-lactalbumin and beta lactoglubic as well as essential amino acids. When you get right down to it though, whey protein is a milk-based byproduct. During cheese production, a white-yellow substance appears. This liquid run-off is whey. When combined with globular protein and placed through a drying process, you get whey protein.
All mammal milk is made up of two different types of protein: whey and casein. The difference is the ratio. As you can see from this study published by the American Pregnancy Association, in humans, the protein ratio of milk is 60% whey and 40% casein. In cow’s milk, the ratio is 20% whey and 80% casein. Casein is very slow to digest, which may be the main reason that so many people have trouble with cow-based dairy products. Whey protein, on the other hand, rapidly digests and is easier on the digestive system, making it an ideal supplement to take daily.
History of Whey Protein
As a byproduct of cheese production, whey has been consumed for hundreds of years. From a café drink to a healing remedy, the ways to use and enjoy whey are numerous. When you compare the use of whey in bodybuilding to the length of time it has been around, whey protein is a fairly recent discovery. The dietary powder supplement that you know and love today first arrived on the bodybuilding scene in the 1940s. Whey protein supplementation has come a long way since then, improving on taste and filtration methods. The growth of technology now allows us to filter the fine sub-fractions of protein for the public. As a result, companies are now able to produce high-grade concentrated whey protein powder.
Bioavailability of Whey Protein
Before delving into the different types of whey protein that are available on the market, it’s important to highlight the term bioavailability. Bioavailability is used to describe the ease at which nutrients or substances can be utilised from a food, drug, or other compounds. In the case of nutritional supplements, you may ask, “What is the bioavailability of whey protein?” Another way to ask the same question: “How much of this scoop of whey protein will actually be used by my body and how much will be discarded?”
When discussing bioavailability, the term biological value may be used. The biological value of a food or substance is placed on a scale of 1 to 100. The higher the rating is, the higher the availability of the nutrient. On this scale, whey protein scored a 104! (I know, a bit silly that it is scaled over 100, but that’s just how it is.)
Different Types of Whey Protein
Despite being readily available for your body to breakdown and use, not all whey protein is the same.
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
- WPC products contain an average of 70 to 80% protein.
- Additional 30 percent consists of other nutrients including carbohydrates (lactose) and fats.
- Contains additional compounds that are not found in isolates including various phospholipids, higher traces of immunoglobulin (proteins that form antibodies) and bioactive lipids (regulate cell growth).
Whey Protein Isolates (WPI)
- Contains the highest concentration of protein (90%+).
- Studies show that whey protein isolates are composed of almost a gram for gram of protein, with most products consisting of up to 97% concentration.
- Higher risk of essential bioactive compounds being denatured (loss of benefits) during the filtration process.
Whey Protein Hydrolysate
- Broken down for the purpose of faster absorption.
- Ideal for post-workout recovery.
- Very high risk of becoming denatured.
- Bitter taste forms when allowed to hydrolyze for too long.
Benefits of Whey Protein
Supports Protein Synthesis
One of the most famous and sought after benefits of whey protein is its ability to support protein synthesis. When the goal is muscle building, protein synthesis is what you need. In this study from the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, supplementation of whey protein led to increased levels of protein synthesis, thereby supporting goals of muscle and strength building.
Several studies have demonstrated whey protein’s ability in supporting an elevated metabolic rate, with an emphasis on the body’s insulin response. In this study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, subjects were provided with protein-based or carbohydrate-based meals. Those who ingested the protein-based meals showed a higher energy expenditure hours after the initial consumption when compared to the carbohydrate group.
Increases Muscle Mass
Aside from helping you to develop lean muscle tissue, whey protein also plays an important role in the protection, repair, and maintenance of your muscle tissue. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed the powerful muscle building and repairing benefits of whey protein for a group of obese individuals during the weight loss process.
Speaking of weight loss, whey protein can help with that too! In order to maintain muscle, our body must use a significant amount of calories. As a result of whey protein contributing towards muscle growth, weight loss is an indirect advantage of whey. Furthermore, whey protein consists of little to no fats and carbohydrates, which will ultimately benefit muscle hypertrophy with little risk of promoting fat.
Lowers Blood Pressure
Regular consumption of whey protein-based drinks can help reduce lower blood pressure too. A study published in the International Dairy Journal showed that whey protein reduced both systolic and diastolic pressure, but was only apparent in those who already had high blood pressure.
Continuing with this idea of lowering blood pressure, whey protein is also known for reducing cortisol levels. Cortisol is a fight-or-flight hormone that contributes to stress. Increased levels of stress lead to higher levels of blood pressure.
The icing on the cake comes in the form of anti-aging benefits. In a study published in the Journal of Aging, mice who were fed a diet consisting of whey protein showed a significant life extension when compared to mice that were not fed the supplement.
Side Effects of Whey Protein
The side effects associated with the consumption of whey protein are typically a result of the individual having a sensitivity to dairy products. As you can see on WebMD, the most common side effects are a result of a milk allergy or over consumption. In either case, the following side effects may be a result.
- Increased bowel movements
- Reduced appetite
Timing and Absorption
You can drink whey protein any time during the day as a meal replacement or even a beverage. As a result of its rapid absorbing traits, it is ideal to be digested after periods where your body has been starved of nutrition. This makes breakfast and post-workout shakes a perfect time to maximise the effectiveness of whey. In addition, studies have shown that digesting whey protein shake prior to working out has shown to be beneficial, as it is also able to fuel your muscles and increase protein synthesis.
Consumption of whey protein depends heavily on your fitness goals. If you are injured or older and you simply want to begin to increase your healthy lifestyle, one scoop a day (between 20 and 25 grams per serving) of a solid whey protein concentrate will be sufficient.
If your goal is muscle building and/or weight loss, there is no magic number per se. A study published in the Biochemical Journal states that the human body is able to efficiently ingest and assimilate 5 to 9 grams of protein per hour. With that said, one scoop of protein powder (between 20 and 25 grams per serving) will help increase protein synthesis for 3 to 4 hours. At that point, you would want to eat a whole meal complete with all macronutrients. An easy formula to remember is 20 to 30 grams of protein every 3 to 4 hours.
However, there has been some debate that protein supplements, particularly whey protein digests so fast that it takes just over an hour to travel through the whole body. If this is the case, then ideally you should only consume 10 grams of protein powder every hour to make the most of it. Further studies need to be conducted to prove this theory though. But if this turns out to be the case, then conventional thinking of protein powders is wrong! Which isn’t surprisingly considering how much supplement companies have manipulated their consumers over the years.
Companies are always releasing a new supplement claiming that it is the next best thing. However, in saying that, whey protein has been on top of the supplement industry for years, and most likely still will be in the indefinite future. As mentioned above, there are numerous advantages to whey, so if you are a beginner or even a regular lifter that is contemplating on which supplements to buy, I would definitely recommend whey protein to be first on your list.
References & Honourable Mentions
Photo Credit: Max Ellis
Feature Image Athlete: Ross