WHEY PROTEIN: What is it, and why is it so good?
Whey protein is considered by many to be the benchmark of protein powders. It is easily the most popular and well known supplement in the fitness world, and is especially popular amongst athletes, bodybuilders and weightlifters. And for good reason. Whey has been shown to have a wide range of health and nutritional benefits, as well as an almost unbeatable effect on muscle growth.
Whey protein is made from milk – specifically, the liquid that separates from the solid (curd) during cheese production, or when your milk spoils. Whey protein powders are created by processing this liquid into a more familiar powder form.
BENEFITS OF WHEY PROTEIN
Whey is widely considered the single best protein supplement when it comes to building muscle, and has been shown to have a wide array of benefits on your health and wellbeing. There’s a reason so many athletes, bodybuilders and fitness models have been taking whey protein for years. If your goal is packing on solid muscle, whey is the go-to option.
Consuming whey protein immediately after a workout has been shown to greatly increase protein synthesis and muscle growth, thanks to its fast-acting supply of BCAA’s and other essential amino acids (see more on that below). It has also been shown to affect body composition, and is great for weight loss. Increasing protein intake is undeniably beneficial when trying to gain muscle, but recently has been shown to have great benefits for burning fat, as well.
Whey protein has also been related to a variety of different health benefits, such as lower cholesterol and blood pressure, increased antioxidant defense, reduced inflammation, and is even beneficial for those with Type 2 Diabetes. Whey has a low glycemic index that does not cause a sharp an insulin response, keeping blood sugar relatively stable.
Whey protein contains one of the highest concentrations of BCAA’s and essential amino acids of any protein powder. BCAA’s, the Branched Chain Amino Acids, are Leucine, IsoLeucine and Valine, and can be considered the building blocks of protein. They are essential to protein synthesis and building muscle. Some amino acids are produced naturally in the body, while others must be found in our diets.
While all protein powders contain these amino acids, none contain them in as large a quantity or concentration as whey. This is one reason why whey is so popular (in addition to how easy it is to digest). Because whey protein’s nature is so simple (especially isolates and hydrolysates), consuming whey protein right after a workout can have an excellent anabolic effect, increasing protein synthesis, recovery and muscle building up to 132% more than casein protein.
TYPES OF WHEY PROTEIN
Whey Protein comes in three types: concentrates, isolates and hydrolysates.
Protein Concentrates are the most common form of protein powder, produced by extracting protein from the milk using heat or enzymes. A protein concentrate usually contains about 70-80% protein. They are also the easiest and cheapest whey to get your hands on.
Protein isolates are made by further refining a protein concentrate, removing any additional carbohydrates or fats. They will also have much less lactose. Due their more refined nature, isolates will be a little faster and easier to digest than concentrates. They usually contain about 95% protein, but thanks to their processing, may be missing some of the essential amino acids and nutrients that are found in concentrates.
Protein Hydrolysates are produced by further heating the protein enzymes or acid, which causes amino acids to break apart into finer, simpler protein. This process allows them to be much more digestible than concentrates or isolates, and will hit the muscles and begin protein synthesis much faster than a concentrate or isolate.
Is one of these better than the others? Not necessarily. If you have trouble with lactose, or prefer a faster-acting protein, you may want to choose an isolate or hydrolysate. But if you have no preference, a whey concentrate will be cheap and easy to find.
DRAWBACKS TO WHEY PROTEIN
Of course, there are some drawbacks to whey protein. As it is made from milk, whey is high in lactose. This can be problematic if you suffer from lactose intolerance. Whey protein concentrate is even higher in lactose than isolate, as isolate’s further processing removes much of the lactose content.
Also, the downside to whey’s being so easily digested and absorbed is that it does not provide the lasting fullness and satiety that other proteins (such as casein) can have. Casein has been shown to provide protein breakdown and synthesis over a much longer time than whey, often up to 8 hours after being consumed. If you are using a protein powder as a meal replacement and to help burn fat, you may want to look into using a casein or other slower-digesting protein.
Overall, whey protein is a fantastic option for an affordable, tasty and easy to find protein powder. It’s effectiveness at increasing muscle mass and for fat loss is undisputed, and whatever your goals are, is a fantastic option if you desire to get some extra protein in your diet.