Whey Protein: the choice is yours
If we were to pick one supplement that has maintained its position as a staple of sports nutrition for decades, it would be whey protein. Long before it was available in supermarkets, bodybuilders were churning down shake after shake of the smooth stuff. Since then, training methods have evolved (What’s a treadmill? Hello, CrossFit!), dietary recommendations have shifted (fats aren’t so bad anymore but say bye bye to refined sugars) and we have a better understanding than ever before about how to get fit and how to stay fit. Yet despite all the progress, how many of us have actually asked ourselves the following:
1.) What exactly is Whey?
2.) What are the benefits of Whey?
3.) When should I take Whey?
4.) Are there any other considerations to take into account when taking Whey?
Let us delve into whey a little further…
1.) What is whey protein?
In research analysis led by Kamal Patel, he concluded that ‘Whey protein is a collection of proteins found in whey, a byproduct of cheesemaking. When a coagulant (usually renin) is added to milk, the curds (casein) and whey separate; whey protein is the water-soluble part of milk. Whey protein is considered a complete protein as it contains all 9 essential amino acids and is also low in lactose content (more on this later). As a supplement, it’s sold as dry powders with various levels of processing that affect how concentrated a source of protein they are and how fast they’re absorbed’. Whey is a seen as a well absorbed high quality source of protein, and as mentioned is used by sportsmen and women, bodybuilders and generally anyone looking to to hit a targeted daily protein goal!
As touched on above, a benefit of whey protein is that it contains all 9 essential amino acids, but what does this mean and why is it good? With a little help from Rosane Oliveira, let us help tell you why.
Amino acids are organic compounds that combine to form proteins, which allow growth and regulate nearly every biochemical reaction in the body. It is not an exaggeration to say that amino acids, and the proteins they create, are quite literally the building blocks of life. Amino acids account for 75% of dry body weight; 95% of muscle (and heart), and 100% of hormones, neurotransmitters and neuropeptides are made up of amino acids.
The human body uses 20 amino acids in various combinations to form the proteins our cells need to function. The body itself can create 11 of the 20. The other 9–the essential amino acids-– are amino acids that the body cannot make on its own; they must come from our diet, such as via whey protein for example. The 9 essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
As you can see already, whey protein has its benefits!
Whey generally speaking can be found in milk. Although the majority of commercially sold whey is derived from cows (bovine whey), whey can also be derived via any animal that produces milk through breast tissues: buffalo camels, llamas, and humans to name a few. The protein composition of bovine milk varies with season, stage of lactation, feeding, and health status of the cow but is predominantly determined by genetic factors (Bobe et al., 1999b). In all 6 bovine major milk proteins, amino acid changes have been detected that are caused by polymorphisms in the corresponding genes (Farrell et al., 2004). When these genetic variants are associated with the protein composition of milk, this information can be used to breed for cows that produce milk with improved value, such as a higher level of casein or altered concentration of other proteins.
Without delving too much into this technical aspect, it is good to know about the key forms of whey. Whey protein powder comes in four forms: concentrate, isolate, hydrolysate and native.
Concentrate whey protein is usually lower in fat than other forms and has higher levels of carbohydrates from lactose, the type of sugar found in milk products, and bioactive compounds. The protein content by weight can be anywhere between 30% to 90%.
Isolate whey protein is processed to remove fat and lactose, but is also lower in health-boosting bioactive compounds. The protein content by weight is at least 90% .
Hydrolysate whey protein is pre-digested and partially hydrolysed, which means water is added during the production process to break down the constituent compounds to make them easier for the body to digest, but this increases the cost.
Native whey protein is the purest form because it is extracted directly from skimmed milk, rather than being a by-product of the cheese production process like concentrate and isolate. It is very low in fat, lactose and bioactive compounds and the protein content by weight is typically 95% or higher.
2.) When should I take Whey?
Without doubt this is one of the most frequently asked questions regarding supplement use, and is a very important one at that!
Largely speaking after a workout is the most obvious time to consume whey protein powder because that’s when your muscles need it most. Mix your whey protein with either milk or water plus any other ingredient of choice and consume within 30 minutes and the recovery process will be kicked into overdrive as your bloodstream will be flooded with amino acids and sent to your muscle cells. (The process of how and its benefits you’ll read below!)
However, many choose to consume whey at other times during the day as a healthy protein snack. Protein pancakes are just one example and this is more than ok as part of a health diet!
3.) What are the main benefits of whey?
Whilst most associate whey protein with aiding that bulging bicep or tantalising tricep, there are a few lesser know benefits…
Promotes muscle/strength gain via:
– Creating building blocks: Whey provides large quantities of rapidly and easily digestible protein and amino acids, which serve as building blocks for increased muscle growth. It is important to note that muscle growth can only be achieved if the rate of muscle building is greater than the breakdown of muscle protein.
– Hormone release: It increases the release of anabolic hormones that can stimulate muscle growth, such as insulin.
– High leucine levels: It’s high in the amino acid leucine, which is known to stimulate muscle protein synthesis at the molecular and genetic level.
– Fast absorption: Whey protein is absorbed and utilised very quickly compared to other types of protein.
This certainly is an added benefit not all have bargained for!
During a caloric restriction diet, the body uses existing protein for fuel. Whey protein supplements give the body the amino acids needed to maintain muscle mass during this type of diet.
A 12-week study showed that 158 people on a 500-calorie reduced diet lost significantly more body fat and preserved far more lean muscle when taking a whey protein high in leucine. Subjects lost 6.1% body fat, which subsequently then reduces the risk of high body fat-related diseases. Furthermore, in a study of 19 men and 21 women assigned to either a whey protein supplement, a soy-based supplement, or a carbohydrate supplement throughout a weight loss regimen. Those using whey protein supplementation preserved more lean muscle mass while losing weight.
Pretty good (w)hey?
The British Journal of Nutrition published a study that gave whey supplements to 70 overweight men and women for a 12 week period and then measured a number of parameters, such as lipid and insulin levels. Results found that “there was a significant decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol at week 12 in the whey group compared with the casein (group).”
Whey protein could improve the immune response in children with asthma. One small study involving 11 children, published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, found that children with asthma who were supplemented with 10 gram whey protein twice daily for 1 month had an improved immune response.
Blood pressure and cardiovascular disease:
Research published in the International Dairy Journal found that beverages that were supplemented with whey protein significantly reduced blood pressure in patients with hypertension; their risk of developing heart disease or stroke was also lower.
4.) Any other things to consider?
Whey protein is considered one of the most bio available sources of protein: great amino acid profile, and it’s easy for the body to absorb the protein. Any fitness website will tell you this. What they may not consider, however, are things like:
Provenance: where the whey comes from, how the cows were treated, how the whey was processed and,
Additives: what added ingredients are included in your protein shake and how these can interact with your body’s digestive system.
Do you eat beef? If you do, you will probably know that grass fed beef tastes better. The cattle is allowed to graze outdoors at its leisure, resulting in meat which is higher in good things like Omega 3s, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) or vitamin E when compared to conventional grain-fed cattle. The same applies to milk from grass-fed cows, and this results in a higher quality whey protein, which will cause less inflammation (easier to digest), and will be more beneficial to your health and fitness results.
A word of warning: the term ‘grass fed’ can be misleading and is NOT defined by law. DEFRA guidelines loosely state that ‘a term such as ‘grass-fed’ must mean as a minimum, that the animal concerned was fed primarily on grass in the field.’ How can this be enforced in practice? By contrast, our Organic Certificate provided to us by the Soil Association, requires by law that the cattle providing the milk for our whey is fed a minimum of 60% foliage year round, and every organic dairy farm is regularly visited to ensure this is the case (contrary to the American organic authority USDA, which only requires a minimum of 30% grass feed during grazing season).
With that in mind, remember that organic dairy farms are free from artificial fertilisers, pesticides, GM feed, growth hormones and routine antibiotics use. Add a gentle, cold-process milk filtration method and you obtain the highest quality unadulterated whey protein available, which is full of nutrients and extremely low in lactose: as we do at Motion Nutrition.
With the baseline for Motion Nutrition whey established, let’s now consider what’s added to our shakes.
At Motion Nutrition, we are often asked what makes our products so different from other seemingly clean brands of sports supplements. Our answer is simple. They use ingredients that we are not even allowed to use under our organic certification (not that we’d want to use them in the first place). Artificial sweeteners, ‘natural’ flavours, even stevia are not allowed in organic products in any percentage whatsoever – generally because these ingredients are either considered detrimental to our health, or because of the lack of information about their impact on human health (stevia, for example, is considered a ‘novel food’ in the EU, due to the lack of understanding of its impact in human consumption). We also stay 100% clear from soy, due to the effect this could have on regular hormonal function. And of course, you will never find any cheap bulking agent such as maltodextrin in a Motion Nutrition shake.
So what do we use to flavour our shakes if not these potentially harmful additives? Organic Superfoods. Why choose synthetic ingredients when we can use health boosting natural flavours like raw cacao or coconut, and unrefined coconut sugar as a natural, low GI sweetener? The result is a shake that smells, tastes, and feels oh-so-healthy.
As with any individual, you know your body best and listen to that body. If you require a greater protein intake to meet your targets then whey certainly can help with that. However remember there are other things to take into consideration when choosing your supplement other than simply choosing your favourite flavour. Over the years, our training methods have developed, we’ve improved our diets, and today, Motion Nutrition offers a real solution to cleaning up our sports supplements.