Whey is the Whey!
Right off the bat, please accept my apologies for all the puns. I love puns, but we are here to talk about whey based protein, not my choices in humor…
Over the past 20 or so years, powdered protein supplementation has gone through many phases, products and versions. We have now come to a point where the supplement industry and trainees have settled in (for now) to whey as the primary source of protein supplementation. I have to agree with them, and I think you will too. Whey has a lot going for it, and is very beneficial to your overall heath, and of course your training.
Protein under the hood
The value of protein if it comes directly from food or from a supplement source is determined in its amino acid composition. Amino acids are the building blocks of both protein, and muscle tissue. Many physiological processes within the body relating to training (energy, recovery, hypertrophy, fat loss and strength gains) are linked directly to amino acids. 21 amino acids build protein molecules. Of these 21 amino acids they are further broken down into three categories - essential, conditionally-essential, and nonessential. Essential amino acids can’t be manufactured in large enough quantities to meet the demands of the human body so consequently, they have to come from food. If your body is being affected by sickness, injury or moderate/extreme emotional stress conditionally-essential amino acids also cannot be produced by the human body in the amounts needed. That leaves nonessential amino acids. These amino acids can be synthesized by the human body in sufficient amounts and are not required in a persons diet.
There are essentially two basic types of protein; complete and incomplete. Incomplete proteins are lacking in one or more of the eight essential amino acids, while conversely, complete proteins contain all of the eight essential amino acids. If you eat incomplete proteins, your body will not be able to fully utilize them during protein synthesis. That said, it is possible to mix two incomplete proteins to create a complete protein. One example is mixing rice and beans.
If you look at the table to the right you will see some examples of complete and incomplete proteins. Please note that the foods listed in the right column are not bad for you, they are just incomplete proteins, meaning that they are missing some of the essential amino acids. I am not going to tell you to not eat fruits and vegetables since they are great for you. Just don’t expect to be getting the full protein benefit from them unless they are combined.
Now we’re on our whey
Ok, we have the basics out of the whey (sorry) so lets get talking about whey. Living in the Dairy State, I can tell you that for a very long time, whey was once a by-product of dairy farmers and discarded. As I said earlier, however, for about the past ten years or so, whey has been the number one protein of choice among athletic training. To understand this more, you need to understand something called the Biological Value Scale. I won’t go into a whole lot of detail about it in this writing, but simply put it rates just how efficiently a body uses a specific protein source. The higher the Biological Value (BV) the more amino acids and nitrogen your body is retaining from the food you eat. This directly translates into the potential for quality muscle growth and strength. Before supplemental proteins came to the general market, eggs (specifically egg whites) were at the top of the list and have a BV of 100 – all other food sources are rated as a comparison to eggs. Whey protein has supplanted eggs with a BV of 106-159. Not only is more nitrogen retained in the body when you consume whey, but it also gets into the bloodstream faster than other sources. As a result, your body can receive the nutrients that it needs as fast as currently possible after training giving you a head start at recovery and and growth. When you are done with a workout, your muscles are screaming for the valuable amino acids to increase anabolism (muscle growth) and prevent catabolism (your body eating its own muscle). As an added plus, whey protein is full of Branched Chain Amino Acids as well as glutamine.
Many people call whey the anabolic protein since it increases protein synthesis with a greater efficiency than other sources. Now we have come to the point where we can actually select they type of whey we consume. There are three types of whey protein available to us; whey concentrate, whey isolate, and whey hydrolysate. Each has different characteristics, and pricing. Concentrate is between 50% and 80% proteins. Isolate separates whey from lactose, ash, fats and carbohydrates so that you receive 90% – 97% protein. Since it is nearly completely lactose free, this is a good choice for those out there that have lactose intolerance. The last version hydrolysate is partially digested and is already broken down into peptides allowing for much faster absorption into the bloodstream. Whey hydro is most responsible for producing an anabolic effect with ingested immediately after your workout.
What whey is the whey for me?
I get this question all the time. First, lets talk about requirements. Depending on what research you are reading, and what type of training you are involved in, you should be consuming between 0.8-2 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day from all sources – food and supplements. I subscribe to the philosophy that you should bet taking in at least 1 gram for each pound of body weight. Anything less is not going to give you enough, and I am not thoroughly convinced that anyone other than elite level strength trainees need 2 grams or more. It also makes the math pretty simple. If you are 200 lbs, then you have to consume 200 grams of protein per day. Just for additional reference no matter the source, there are always going to be 4 calories for every one gram of protein.
Given that information, I would then say that a product that blends both isolate and hydrolysate proteins is what you should be after. It is going to be expensive and you may have to dig around to find it (Google is your friend), but it will contain the best of both worlds. Please try and stay away from concentrate. As you can see, it has the lowest amount of protein per serving, and it is the least pure. If cost is an issue, then by all means use it since something is better than nothing. Just make sure that you are getting the correct amount into your system.