Whey Protein

Macronutrient

OVERVIEW

Summary

Overwhelming scientific evidence suggests the more active we are, the more high-quality protein our bodies require, which is why supplementing with protein is so popular with athletes. Reigning as “supreme” of the proteins, whey is quite possibly the highest quality protein available — a “fundamental” part of any athlete, weight trainer, or fitness buff’s supplement program.

Other names for Whey Protein

whey, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, whey protein hydroslate

Where to find Whey Protein

Whey is a natural byproduct of the cheese-making process (from milk).

PERFORMANCE BENEFITS

Why athletes use Whey Protein

It has been clearly established that athletes (of all types) under the stress of intense training have an increased need for protein — among many other functions, protein is essential for muscle growth and recovery. Whey is an excellent source of the quality protein athletes require.

Whey’s high quality and value make it a popular addition to many protein powders and meal-replacement drinks. Thus, you rarely have to go looking for it — pick up just about any supplemental protein, and it will find you.

Ways that Whey Protein can enhance Muscle Gain & Recovery:
  • As a protein, provide the most optimal source of amino acids (which are the major building blocks of muscle) needed for the repair and growth of muscle tissue
  • Increase the anabolic environment and prevent muscle breakdown, assisting the muscle-building effects of intense weight training
Ways that Whey Protein can enhance Fat Loss:
  • Support a healthy weight-loss program by helping maintain proper nutrition
Ways that Whey Protein can enhance Longevity:
  • Boost immune function by increasing levels of glutathione, the most potent antioxidant in the body

HEALTH BENEFITS

Signs of Whey Protein deficiency

Although a deficiency in the primary amino acids is unlikely, individuals who consume less dairy products and animal meats would require additional protein intake from alternative sources. And, active people, especially hard-training athletes and weight trainers, require greater amounts of protein than sedentary people.

Potential uses for Whey Protein

Research indicates that Whey Protein may be useful in the treatment of:

  • Certain cancers
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Catabolism (muscle wasting)
  • Impaired immune function

DISCUSSION

More about Whey Protein

In case you haven’t already heard the news — you can’t support, maintain, repair, or grow muscle tissue without protein (which the body breaks down into the all-important amino acids). Which means, you can’t build muscle unless you consume protein — period. Need it put another way? Regardless of the overall goal, protein should be the “foundation” of all nutrition and supplementation programs for athletes, weight trainers, and fitness enthusiasts alike because studies have shown exercising, dieting (restricting calories), or simply being physically active places additional demands on the body, thereby increasing needs for rich sources of high-quality protein.

Whey protein, one of several forms of protein derived from milk, is quite possibly the highest quality protein available. Considered by many experts as the foundation for building and maintaining muscle mass, whey has gained its solid reputation as the supreme protein supplement because of four key qualities:

  • Its high bioavailablity (BV factor), which allows for faster uptake of amino acids into muscle cells than other forms of protein;
  • Its rich amino acid content, including the two vitally important aminos glutamine and cysteine (direct precursors to the most powerful free-radical fighting amino, glutathione);
  • Its enhanced immune-function-promoting levels of glutathione;
  • Its ever-present levels of immunoglobulins and lactoferrin (big words for protein peptides that positively trigger the immune system); and
  • Its low levels of lactose (milk sugar), calories, and fat.

What these elements add up to is that whey protein is the “must-have” for all supplement programs.

Increased activity means increased protein requirements

Studies show increased exercise demands greater intake of amino acids, specifically, the branched-chained amino acids (BCAA’s). Because a large portion of muscle tissue is made up of protein — of which amino acids are the building blocks — this greater requirement must come in the form of protein to “fill the gap.” Fortunately, whey protein has especially high concentrations of these needed aminos, including a large percentage (50%) of the BCAA’s valine, leucine, and isoleucine that are so vitally important for building and maintaining muscle tissue, giving our bodies the protein-rich nutrition they need to get bigger and stronger.

Greater immune function

Intense exercise and vigorous physical activity can “tax” these aminos, rendering them less efficient for battling free radicals throughout our bodies. The good news is the aminos in whey protein, L-glutamine and L-cysteine, help produce higher levels of glutathione and ensure our immune systems are strong enough to fight infections and illness. In addition, lactoferrin, a potent protein peptide that helps support the immune system, is also produced from whey. Yet another reason to make sure you’re getting enough good quality protein for your active lifestyle. Yes, to remain healthy.

In one animal study, whey proteins were found to be protective against colon cancer, and there is even evidence to suggest whey may promote tumor regression and normalization.

Easy to stomach

Another positive that many protein supplement fans are cheering about is the fact that whey is low in the milk sugar called “lactose” that some people’s digestive systems have trouble tolerating. While many protein products are high in lactose, whey protein supplements contain much less and are therefore much easier on the digestive system for those with sensitive stomachs. And believe it or not, whey protein, even by itself, tastes fantastic.

Which form of whey is best?

Whey protein is derived as a natural byproduct of the cheese-making process (from milk). Interestingly, during this process, the protein is separated from the milk into two parts — whey and caseins. Caseins account for about 80% of the total protein, and whey, the remaining 20%. The raw forms of whey, which contain slightly higher amounts (although still minimal) of fat, lactose, and other substances, are processed further to produce whey protein concentrates (WPC) and whey protein isolates (WPI) — the primary whey proteins available in supplements.

Given the number of different types of whey protein forms that exist, it’s important to cover these two most popular wheys and their different types of preparations:
  • WPC is normally rich in whey proteins and also contains some fat and lactose and, to varying degrees of quality, contains higher amounts of immunoglobulins than others.
  • WPI is normally extremely rich in whey proteins and contains less fat and lactose than WPC yet is usually lower in immunoglobulins than WPC.

The various preparations of protein include:

  • Ion-exchange: WPI is high in protein but lacks lactoferrin and other important bioactive peptides.
  • Microfiltration/ultrafiltration: WPI has higher amounts of lactoferrin and other important bioactive peptides but is lower in albumin.
  • Cross-flow microfiltration: yields a WPI that is undenaturated (uncomprised or undamaged amino acid matrixes) in greater than 90% of the protein and retains all important sub-fractions in natural ratios with little or no fat or lactose.

When and how should you use protein?

First, you must determine your daily requirements for protein, for both whole food and protein-containing supplements. The requirements for daily protein are much higher for those who are physically active than for “normal” sedentary persons.

Once you’ve determined your total daily protein requirements (see The Vitals), then decide how much protein to supplement your diet with and at which meals. We know a hard-training athlete should consume six meals per day and that it’s likely impossible to shop for, prepare, and consume this many whole-food meals throughout the day; hence, the reason protein supplementation has become so popular… because it’s convenient, tastes great, and is less time-consuming.

Most individuals who supplement with protein tend to do so by intermittently “switching” whole-food meals with protein-containing supplements throughout the day. As an example, in a typical day for a 180-lb male who weight trains in the early morning, his meals would consist of the following: first, about an hour after training, he would consume a protein-rich, carbohydrate-rich supplement (called an MRP) containing 42 grams of protein; after about 2.5 hours, he would consume 2 chicken breasts, broccoli, and some water (45 grams of protein); after another 3 hours, he would consume another MRP or simply a high-quality protein supplement drink mix (each are about 42 grams of protein); in another 3 hours, he would consume a tuna sandwich, yogurt, and water (40 grams of protein); and about 3 hours later for dinner, he would consume a steak and a yam with some water (50 grams of protein); then, right before bedtime, he would consume a high-quality protein supplement drink mix (50 grams of protein) to ensure optimal muscle building was taking effect while he slept. Total protein in his daily meal plan, 269 grams.

As you can see, this person pretty much “hit” his daily protein intake requirement of 270. Now, the most critical factor to retain and/or grow new muscle is to remain consistent with meeting your daily protein requirements — that’s why consuming adequate amounts of protein is so very important and why supplementing makes such “perfect sense.”

In conclusion

Because it increases the much-needed amino acid levels to their optimal levels and encourages muscle tissue growth, as well as adding in some antioxidant-fighting abilities, all without substantially increasing fat and calorie intake, whey protein becomes a fundamental supplement to any regimen. It’s clear why athletes and fitness buffs use it every day.

NOTES ON USAGE

Amount

First, you must determine your daily requirements for protein, for both whole food and protein-containing supplements. Since the requirements for daily protein are much higher for those who are physically active than for “normal,” sedentary persons, protein intake is suggested as follows:

  • For muscle growth (anabolism) in healthy males, the average protein requirement is reportedly between 1 and 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, divided equally throughout the day (e.g., a 180-lb intensely training athlete would ideally take in about 180 to 270 grams of protein per day, divided between 6 equally portioned meals, resulting in 30 to 45 grams per meal.)
  • For muscle tissue maintenance and for most women, protein intake is reportedly between .75 and 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, divided equally throughout the day (e.g., a 115-lb active women would ideally take in about 90 to 115 grams of protein per day, divided between 6 equally portioned meals, resulting in 15 to 20 grams per meal.)
Note

Research shows that active people, especially hard-training athletes and weight trainers, require greater amounts of protein than sedentary people — this is scientifically documented, regardless of what some of the folks in labcoats try to suggest.

Timing

Depending on the daily protein requirements (as determined from above), supplemental protein should be consumed throughout the normal course of a day in place of a whole-food meal (in the form of an MRP or simply a protein supplement by itself with some whole food, such as an apple).

Most importantly, though, make sure adequate amounts are consumed within an hour after a workout and before bedtime. These two times are optimal because after a workout, an “open window” exists that allows for instant protein uptake/use, and consuming protein before bedtime helps keep the body in a positive nitrogen balance, allowing for a constant “muscle-building” state during rest.

Tip

The lower your calorie intake, such as on a “fat-loss” regimen, the higher quality form of protein you need to maintain muscle mass. Whey is one of the highest quality proteins, according to its BV or biological value (indicating more readily available grams of amino acids than any other protein source).

Synergists of Whey Protein

Creatine (monohydrate) has been reported to be more effective for post-workout “recovery” when combined with a source of high-quality whey protein.

Safety of Whey Protein

While whey is very safe, people with severe allergies to milk and milk products should avoid whey protein. Also, individuals who experience lactose intolerance (milk sugar digestion complications) should possibly avoid or search for a low or lactose-free form of high-quality whey protein and start with small amounts.

Toxicity of Whey Protein

No known toxicity.

Bans and restrictions

None reported.

RELATED RESEARCH

  • Agin, D., et al., “Effects of Whey Protein and Resistance Exercise on Body Composition and Muscle Strength in Women with HIV Infection,” Ann N Y Acad Sci 904 (2000) : 607-9.
  • Bounous, G., and Gold, P., “The Biological Activity of Undenatured Dietary Whey Proteins: Role of Glutathione,” Clin Invest Med 14.4 (1991) : 296-309.
  • Bounous, G., et al., “The Immunoenhancing Property of Dietary Whey Protein Concentrate,” Clin Invest Med 11.4 (1988) : 271-8.
  • Bounous, G., et al., “Whey Proteins in Cancer Prevention,” Cancer Lett 57.2 (1991) : 91-4.
  • Rankin, J.W., “Role of Protein in Exercise,” Clin Sports Med 18.3 (1999) : 499-511.