Over the years whey protein has become more popular than ever. This supplement was once used mainly by bodybuilders and athletes because they understood that it was a great source of protein with many other benefits.
Whey protein has now caught the attention of many other groups that are not related to fitness and exercise, as modern-day science is discovering that this supplement has more to offer than just building muscle.
As more and more people discover the benefits of whey protein, the question “what is whey protein” is becoming more popular than ever and in this article, you will discover what whey protein is and how it can benefit you.
Whey Protein in More Detail…
Whey protein is a supplement that supplies your body with high quality protein. Depending on the manufacturer, you can get anywhere from 16 g to 25 g of high-quality protein per serving. More expensive premium whey can sometimes give you more than 25 g of protein per serving.
The reason why the protein in whey is high-quality, is because it contains all the essential as well as non-essential amino acids in high doses and whey is classed as a complete protein source.
What Are Amino Acids?
They are extremely important building blocks for the body that are found in protein and whey protein contains all of the 20 types of amino acids. Any protein source that has all 20 aminos as well as being high in essential aminos, is classed as a complete protein source.
When you consume protein, your body’s protease enzymes has to break down protein into amino acids so it can use them for whatever the body decides it needs them for, whether that be building muscle or general bodily functions.
When it comes to consuming protein the mistake most people make is simply looking at the total amount of protein provided, if you consume 100 g of protein that are high in non-essential amino acids, you will not get the full benefits of protein compared to consuming 100 g of protein that is high in essential and non-essential amino acids.
Essential amino acids are extremely important for bodily functions and they must be supplied to your body through external sources such as protein rich foods and supplements as your body cannot produce these essential amino acids on its own.
If you fail to give your body enough essential amino acids, your body will look to break down and use the protein stored in your muscles. If you’re trying to build muscle, this is the last thing you want to happen.
If you don’t have enough stored amino acids in your muscles and failed to supply your body with enough essential amino acids you can run into some serious health problems.
Let’s have a look at the 9 essential amino acids and see how they affect the body:
- Leucine: If you’re looking to build muscle then this is amino acid you cannot go without. This is known as the most anabolic amino acid that is responsible for building new muscle and helping you recover after exercise. This is amino acid is very potent at stimulating muscle protein synthesis. This amino acid also regulates blood sugar and helps to supply the body with energy. This amino acid is extremely important for brain function and helping the rest of your body heal. When you buy whey protein you need to make sure it contains 2+ grams of Leucine per scoop.
- IsoLeucine: This amino acid is similar to Leucine when it comes to building muscle, but not as potent as Leucine. But where this amino acid does excel is in its ability to significantly increase glucose uptake into your muscle cells, this means your body becomes more effective at producing energy when you require it. This amino acid is also extremely important for the regulation of blood sugar levels.
- Valine: This is another amino acid that plays an important role in building muscle, but its main benefits are: enhancing your muscle performance by improving your muscular strength and stamina, this amino acid can help improve muscle recovery and reduce muscle atrophy thanks to its ability to maintain the levels of nitrogen in the body.
- Lysine: This is an important amino acid that affects serotonin levels positively. This amino acid can help improve your mood, sleep as well as your appetite.
- Lysine: This amino acid plays a key role in the growth and maintenance of muscle tissue as it can help reduce the rate of protein degeneration thanks to its ability to reduce catabolism within the body. This amino acid can also help with reducing fat as it helps convert fatty acids into energy. This amino acid can also help you have a healthy, better functioning immune system by helping to manufacturer important antibodies needed by your immune system.
- Methionine: This amino acid is known to help improve performance in workouts that are short but extremely intense, think of 1 rep max training. It does this by helping your body make creatine, which is responsible for providing fuel to your muscles when they are being put under stress from working out.
- Threonine: This amino acid is responsible for keeping your connective tissue and muscles strong and elastic, speed up wound healing, help with injury recovery and helps build healthy bones.
- Phenylalanine: This amino acid is very beneficial for a healthy nervous system, it helps to improve your focus and concentration, memory and learning, helps with depression and appetite loss.
- Histidine: This amino acid plays an important role in the development and maintenance of healthy tissue within the body
Another great thing about whey protein is that it has a high biological value, this means that your body will absorb the majority of the protein that you consume form whey protein supplements. Some foods have an low biological value, this means that your body will not utilize all of the protein you have consumed from low BV food and the rest will be wasted by the body as it does not store protein for very long.
How Should You Consume Whey?
When it comes to consuming whey protein, it can be mixed with either water or milk, the choice is yours. However, bear in mind that if you use milk it will increase the calories, fat, carbohydrate and protein content of the shake.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can use whey as a cooking ingredient and make things like protein pancakes, cookies, muffins, protein bars and more, you can find many recipes online.
Whey protein generally comes in powder form and is available in many different various flavors from your traditional chocolate, strawberry, vanilla to more exciting flavors such as white chocolate velvet and toffee fudge. The range of flavors will depend on the manufacturer of the protein powder.
How Much Whey Protein Should You Consume?
The amount of the protein you consume will vary from person to person, it will depend on your current body weight, your goals, how active you are, how intense your workouts are, how many days a week you exercise and how much quality protein you’re getting from your diet.
Ideally, it’s is a good idea to consume around 20-50 grams of whey protein per day. On the days you workout, you should consume protein after your training session to make sure your body has high-quality protein to tap into when it begins the recovery process.
On days that you don’t workout, you can consume whey protein when it is convenient for you, whether that be first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
Always read the label to see how much protein you’re getting per scoop and to see what the manufacturers guidelines are about consumption of their product.
How is Whey Protein Made?
There are a lot of misconceptions as to how whey protein is made, there are some people who think it is artificially produced in a lab and it is some sort of dangerous artificial food that you should not consume. This couldn’t be further from the truth!
Whey protein can actually be made from either milk or cheese, these days most manufacturers will manufacturer whey directly from milk. Whey is classed as a food supplement as it comes from real food and not artificially produced.
Milk contains two types of proteins, it contains casein and whey. Manufacturers use straining methods to separate the whey protein from the milk, this leaves you with whey protein in liquid form. Here is a fun fact, when you open a fresh yoghurt and see the liquid on the top that is actually whey protein in liquid form.
The next step in the production of whey is to pasteurize it using high temperature/short time (HTST) pasteurization. This process is performed to kill any pathogenic bacteria that could potentially be present in the whey.
Once the HTST is done the next step is to isolate the protein from the whey in liquid form. This can be done either through ION-exchange or mechanical filtering. Whey protein that has been through the mechanical filtering process will often produce a much better product. Whereas Is the ion-exchange process can cause damage to some of the amino acids which means you get a lower quality product.
Once the whey has been filtered, you end up with powdered whey protein, depending on how many times it has been filtered you will have either whey protein concentrate (most common type of whey protein) or if it goes through a more extensive filtering process you get whey protein isolate.
Types of Whey Protein
There are three different types of whey protein currently available and they are the following:
Whey concentrate is the most popular type of whey and it is the one that is most commonly bought. Whey protein concentrate can contain anywhere from around 30% protein, all the way up to 70 to 80% of actual protein with some fats and carbs as well. How much actual protein you find in whey concentrate will depend on the manufacturer as well as who the protein supplement is aimed for.
If the protein supplement is aimed for people who are looking to improve strength and performance, then the whey concentrate we usually contain around 70 to 80% protein. If you have protein supplement that is aimed towards the general public or even elderly people, then you usually find 30% concentrate protein.
When you’re looking to buy a whey protein supplement, always read the label to see what the concentrate is, this will make sure you buy the right whey protein concentrate for your goals.
What makes whey protein isolate different is that is manufactured in a slightly different way to whey protein concentrate. When whey protein isolate is being manufactured the water, lactose and cholesterol is removed. Isolate goes through more of the filtering process to remove these.
With these items removed you potentially have a protein supplement that can be up to 95% concentrate, with whey protein isolate you usually get a higher protein content per scoop then what you do with whey protein concentrate.
Although this all sounds good, the taste can suffer due to the fat and lactose being removed and you end up with a protein shake that does not taste very nice.
Hydrolysate whey protein is a fast digesting protein. When this protein supplement is being manufactured, it goes through a partial hydrolysis process, this process will make it a lot easier for the human body to absorb the majority of the protein supplement very fast!
You will often find whey Hydrolysate in baby formulas and protein supplements that are required for medical reasons.
Which One Should You Take?
Which one of these is the best protein powder to buy? They are all good, but whey concentrate is the best all-rounder. Whey concentrate is cheaper than the others, but it will supply the average person with more than enough high-quality protein to support their goals.
Effects of Whey on Muscle Mass and Strength
Whey protein has been shown to have a better effect on muscle growth than other types of protein such as casein or soy protein. Whey protein has been shown to increase protein synthesis by almost 70% compared to only 30% by casein protein.
Whey protein can have a positive effect on building muscle due to its amino acid profile, high biological value and fast rate of digestion.
When you consume whey protein, the body can break down this supplement rapidly and absorbed it into the bloodstream extremely fast. Once the amino acids from whey protein are in your bloodstream, they are transported to muscle tissue that is in desperate need of them, your muscles can then ignite the muscle protein synthesis process to repair and build new tissue.
Although your body utilizes all the essential amino acids to build muscle there are three main essential amino acids that are known as branched-chain amino acids that are the most potent for building muscle.
Good quality whey protein will contain sufficient amount of branched-chain amino acids and these branched-chain amino acids are known as Leucine, IsoLeucine and Valine.
Having sufficient amount of these branched-chain amino acids in your body will stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which in return will build more muscle. Branched-chain amino acids, especially Leucine are the key to turning on muscle building within your body.
Are There Any Side Effects?
There are no known serious side effects of taking whey protein, but you can experience some minor side-effects such as producing unsightly gas, bloating and people who may suffer from allergies to milk could potentially suffer an allergic reaction.
As long as you consume within the recommended amount and do not hugely exceed this amount, you should not really see any side-effects at all.
Benefits of Whey Protein
- Excellent source of high-quality protein
- Has a good ratio of essential amino acids that your body cannot produce
- Studies show that whey protein can help you gain strength, muscle as well as help you lose body fat.
- Whey protein can help lower blood pressure in people who have elevated blood pressure and this is due to the bioactive peptide called lactokinins that can be found in whey protein.
- Easy and convenient way to get 20g – 50g of protein per day.
- It can help strengthen the body’s antioxidant defenses, it does this by promoting the formation of glutathione, the more glutathione you produce (body’s main antioxidants) the stronger your antioxidant defenses.
- Whey protein helps you stay fuller for longer (satiating), longer than any other type of protein
Should You Take Whey Protein?
Not everybody needs to take a whey protein supplement as some individuals would get more than enough high-quality protein from their diet and taking whey protein on top would just be a waste as there is only so much protein your body can use for general bodily functions as well as for helping you recover and repair damaged tissue from working out.
How do you find out how much protein you’re consuming per day? If you currently don’t know how much protein you’re consuming and would like to know you can do this with the help of apps like MyFitnessPal. Simply track the food that you are eating and this app will tell you how much protein, carbohydrates, fats and calories you consume per day.
If you find you’re consuming a lot less protein than the recommended daily amount, it might be worth considering whey protein.
Remember, whey protein is not necessary if your diet is naturally high in good sources of protein as well as vitamins and minerals. However, for those who have busy lifestyles or for whatever other reason struggle to get enough protein in their diet, then taking whey protein can be a great way to make sure your body has enough high quality protein to function properly.