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Why Whey Protein Remains the King

whey-protein
Posted in: Supplements

Whey is by far the most popular form of protein for exercise enthusiasts all over the globe, and is predicted to become a $15.4 Billion market by 2024 - a 90.5% growth from 2018. This naturally raises some questions, however: What exactly is whey, and how can it support my fitness goals? Is whey protein really as powerful as everyone believes it to be? What does it do to support muscle growth, and why is it so good at it?

This article will uncover the truth behind everyone’s favourite protein powder - whey. Whey protein is the king of protein powders, and for extremely good reason. Below, we’ll discuss the following key questions:

    • What is Whey?
    • What Makes Whey Different to Other Proteins?
    • What are the Different Types of Whey?
    • How Much Whey Should You Take?
    • When Should You Take Whey?

What is Whey?

Milk is comprised of two major protein types:

The majority is a protein called casein, which isn’t very effective at dissolving in water. The remainder is made of whey proteins, which are very effective at dissolving in water.

Whey is a naturally-found source of protein derived from milk. When mixed with rennet - a complex mix of coagulant enzymes - milk curdles and separates into different components. One component is liquid whey, while the leftover curds are used to make cheese -  as well as whey’s less-popular little brother casein. The liquid whey is then pasteurized to remove any harmful bacteria, and dried out to create the familiar powdery product that is found on store shelves all over the world.

For decades, whey was considered a waste product - with dairies having to pay just to have it disposed of (R.I.P to those wasted gains!). Eventually, they realised that whey contains whey proteins, which are of a very high quality. Whey is sometimes unfairly criticised as being unnatural - so it’s important to remember that it’s just as much a part of the cheese-making process as cheese itself!

Anyone interested in building muscle is generally aware of the fact that protein plays an essential role. Specifically, it plays a dominant role in a process known as ‘Muscle Protein Synthesis’, or ‘MPS’. Protein is composed of multiple amino acids - and of all of them, the amino acid Leucine is the most vital for sending signals to commence the muscle building process. MPS occurs when you add more amino acids to your muscle to encourage their growth/repair - and can be stimulated by exercise and consuming protein. The more you increase MPS through protein consumption, the higher the likelihood that you will build muscle over time.

Anyone interested in building muscle is generally aware of the fact that protein plays an essential role. Specifically, it plays a dominant role in a process known as ‘Muscle Protein Synthesis’, or ‘MPS’. Protein is composed of multiple amino acids - and of all of them, the amino acid Leucine is the most vital for sending signals to commence the muscle building process. MPS occurs when you add more amino acids to your muscle to encourage their growth/repair - and can be stimulated by exercise and consuming protein. The more you increase MPS through protein consumption, the higher the likelihood that you will build muscle over time.

MuscleTech's NitroTech 100% Whey Gold@hollyhaus posing with MuscleTech's NitroTech 100% Whey Gold.

What Makes Whey Different to Other Proteins?

There are a number of reasons why whey protein reigns supreme as the king of high quality proteins.

Firstly, whey has a very diverse amino acid profile - including Glutamine, the dopamine-assisting Tyrosine, the nitric oxide-building Arginine (plus Lysine, Glycine, Phenylalanine and Aspartic Acid). Most impressively, however, whey contains the vital Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), which immensely improve MPS when paired with resistance training. In particular, whey has high concentration of the amino acid Leucine - which (once again), is the most effective amino acid for muscle growth stimulation. In order to maximise the stimulation of muscle growth, you need to have a certain minimum level of Leucine in your diet - this level being exceeded is what really switches on protein synthesis. This minimum level is called the ‘Leucine threshold’. This threshold varies depending on body weight, but ~2.5-3g of leucine per meal is a general benchmark. When a source of food contains a high amount of Leucine, it helps you hit this threshold easily, therefore encouraging muscle growth. This is part of the strong appeal of whey, since it has a very high Leucine concentration - close to 3g!

Next, whey is an extremely quickly absorbed protein, meaning the amino acids in whey can get into your bloodstream fast - and quickly stimulate muscle growth. Essentially, whey (especially whey shake) gets amino acids into your blood faster than almost any other type of protein - helping you to reach the Leucine threshold faster.

Whey is also rich in all the other essential amino acids that are crucial for the muscle building process. Whey powder usually trumps just taking some essential amino acids on their own - since it has both the signal Leucine to kickstart muscle growth, and all the other amino acids required for making new protein and for building the muscles.

Another great aspect of the amino acids within whey, is that they form larger peptides and proteins to serve different health benefits. The most notable of these, are Immunoglobulins and Lactoferrin proteins, which are known to aid the immune system, and have anti-cancer and anti-aging effects.

 

What are the Different Types of Whey?

We’ve established that whey is fantastic for building muscle - but you’re probably wondering about the differences between each type of whey.

Whey concentrate is whey in its simplest form - and is the result of whey being neutralised and continuously filtered. In comparison to the other types of whey, it is slightly lower in it’s protein percentage, and slightly higher in the amount of fat and carbs it holds. These carbs are mostly in the form of lactose - so lactose intolerant people need to be careful with whey concentrate. MuscleTech’s flagship NitroTech 100% Whey Gold contains a blend featuring whey concentrate, and capable of delivering superior absorption, digestibility and mixability.

Whey isolate has been subjected to additional processing and purification, in order to remove the fat and carbs from the whey concentrate. Isolate has a higher protein percentage, a lower composition of fat and carbs, and also has less calories. Lactose intolerant individuals frequently find that they have no issue with using whey isolate, because the lactose has been removed - just be warned that there can still be some left over. While most whey isolates reach ~90% purity, MuscleTech's NitroTech 100% IsoWhey is formulated with 97% whey isolate - making it among the purest, cleanest whey isolates worldwide!

Whey hydrolysate is whey that has been partially broken down (or hydrolysed) to encourage quicker and easier absorption - which may enable faster recovery. While this isn’t directly useful for muscle growth, if you’re undertaking multiple daily training sessions it could help you recover and perform better in your later training sessions. This is through whey hydrolysate’s rapid absorption helping move amino acids from your stomach to your muscles faster.

 

How Much Whey Should You Take?

With all this discussion of whey, you’re probably wondering what the appropriate amount to take is. If your goal is to gain muscle, it’s important to remember that your total daily protein intake should be a minimum of 1.6g per kg of bodyweight. This means that a 70kg person should ingest at least 28g of protein per meal - this is why 30g of protein is used as a guideline for servings. Keep in mind: the higher the quality of protein, the less you’re likely to need in order to stimulate MPS. If you’re consuming lower quality proteins (such as some plant proteins), you’ll just need to consume more of it in order to have the same level of muscle growth.

 

When Should You Take Whey?

In short, whey can be taken at any time, and with any meal. It can be consumed as a shake, or mixed into food - but there are a few best practices for timing your protein consumption throughout the day.

Consuming some whey after a gym session is an ideal time, since your MPS is already being stimulated by exercise, and you can further stimulate it by adding protein - BUT it’s not essential to consume it immediately after your session. At one point, there was a commonly held belief in the fitness community that there was a very short period straight after your workout - called the ‘Anabolic Window’ - during which it was crucial to have protein, or else you would receive no benefits at all. It is now known that immediate protein consumption isn’t vital, and that your total protein intake in a day is more important. Having protein at any time following your workout is a good idea, although aiming to consume some within a couple of hours of training might also be useful. In fact, it's possible to benefit from the effects of MPS stimulation for up to 24 hours after a training session, so stimulating it multiple times a day may be a wise choice.

Another important factor to consider regarding muscle growth stimulation from protein, is that once MPS begins, it may be best to wait until the process has gone to completion before restarting MPS with another protein dose. There’s a concept known as the ‘refractory period’ - which is the time period after MPS has begun in which it probably can’t be restarted. Some research indicates the refractory period is approximately 3 hours. A lot of it may be worthwhile attempting to eat protein constantly throughout the day so that you’re consistently building muscle - but this doesn’t seem to be how MPS works. Ideally, you have 5 or 6 protein-rich meals everyday, with 3 hours in between each….in reality, however, 4 meals is probably a solid compromise for attaining great muscle growth without spending your entire day planning and cooking food.

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In summary, whey is an extremely easily-digested, high quality protein that is full of the essential amino acids your body requires for muscle growth.

3 months ago
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