Whey Protein 101

These days getting adequate protein in your diet is a healthy way to help lose weight, maintain muscle mass or increase muscle composition in your body.

However it is not always easy to get protein through natural food sources like animal meats, dairy products or legumes so supplementation can be helpful.

You’ve probably heard about protein powders and in particular, whey protein as a viable alternative source.  And while it is often associated with bodybuilders, weightlifters and athletes, it can also by used by the general public to help with whatever their body composition goals may be.

What Is Whey Protein?

Whey proteins are high-quality proteins naturally found in cow’s milk. Milk contains two major proteins: casein and whey. Whey makes up about 20 percent of the total milk protein, which is more soluble than casein and has a higher protein quality rating. Whey is also a rich source of the branched chain amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine. And it contains all of the essential and non-essential amino acids needed by the body.  As a result, it is a referred to as a complete protein.

At the health food store, you may find two types of whey protein on the store shelves: whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate.

Whey protein concentrate consists of protein (25-80 percent), lactose (4-8 percent) and fat (1-7 percent) and is most commonly found in health and nutrition stores.  In contrast, whey protein isolate is the purest form of whey protein, containing anywhere from 90-95 percent protein, with virtually no lactose or fat.  The isolate form comes at a higher price premium…usually 20% more but I firmly believe it is the better one to go with.

The additional process of cross-flow micro-filtration removes the impurities, yielding 8 percent more denatured protein while excluding remaining fats. The next step of adding whey protein hydrolysate allows for rapid utilization and excellent absorption.

The amino acid profile of whey protein is almost identical to that of skeletal muscle. Its high concentration of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) help to maintain and repair lean muscle tissue following exercise and prevent muscle breakdown. These BCAAs help to prevent fatigue during intense, long-duration sports events. Leucine, which is found in abundance in whey protein, helps to stimulate protein synthesis and maintain a positive nitrogen balance to enhance muscle repair and recovery.

Whey protein can be really effective when combined appropriately with exercise. Whey protein consumption post-workout may be one of the most beneficial things that you can do to maximize lean body mass. It is low-glycemic, but insulinogenic at the same time which means that it creates a unique opportunity for muscle growth without fat gain, especially in a post-workout setting.

Adding an appropriate amount of carbohydrate with whey is beneficial in terms of muscle gains. In studies analyzing post-workout intake of protein alone, carbohydrates alone or a combination of both, protein and carbohydrates together generated the greatest insulin response. This enhances muscle glycogen synthesis, glucose uptake and protein synthesis.

Research indicates consumption of 20 grams of whey protein is ideal post-workout:

  • For a power workout (e.g., weight-lifting), the appropriate ratio is 2:1 carbs to protein.
  • For a team sport (e.g., lacrosse) the appropriate ratio is 3:1 carbs to protein.
  • For an endurance workout (e.g., cross-country distance running), the appropriate ratio is 4:1 carbs to protein.

The optimal window of opportunity for absorption of all the carbs/protein is within 30 minutes of completing an athletic endeavor.  If you find that difficult to do for whatever reason, then some time up to 2 hours post-workout is still beneficial…the sooner the better!

Whey protein provides an excellent source of cysteine, enhancing glutathione status, which optimizes immune function. Additionally, it aids in recovery from eccentric exercise.

If you need some help to figure out how much protein your body needs every day to meet your body composition goals, call today to schedule a consultation with me!

Dr. Misa, ND

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