Proteins, assembled from amino acids, are the building blocks of our body and muscle tissue. The nine amino acids that cannot be synthesised by the body, known as essential amino acids (EAA), must be sourced through dietary intake.
What is Whey?
Whey, one of two milk proteins — the other being casein, is loaded with branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, like leucine. Whey protein is one of the fastest absorbing protein sources, meaning it will be delivered to your muscle cells as quickly as possible. Whey protein promotes muscle synthesis and lean muscle by providing essential amino acids that promote the release of anabolic hormones.
Leucine is known to stimulate muscle protein synthesis at the molecular and cellular level. Crucial for building lean muscle, BCAAs also aid in muscle recovery and may prevent delayed onset muscle soreness.
BCAAs are essential amino acids, but different from other EAAs because of the ‘branched-chain’ structure. The three EAAs / BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine. Unlike other amino acids, muscles burn BCAAs as fuel, and the body’s supply of BCAAs becomes depleted with exercise and must be replenished through a diet source.
Over the years, numerous studies have proven the many health benefits of whey protein. Whey protein powder is quickly digested and absorbed, providing a rapid rise in amino acids that increase muscle recovery and strength. An easy way to supplement your diet with 25-50 grams of protein, evidence has shown that whey can be beneficial for body composition.
As part of a fitness and nutritional program, whey protein can reduce appetite and fat mass, while also preventing muscle loss and increasing lean mass.
There are different types of whey protein; the three main types include whey concentrate (WPC), whey isolate (WPI), and whey hydrolysate (WPH). These types of whey vary in protein content, taste, digestibility and price. These differences are due to processing methods.
The Different Types of Whey Protein
Whey protein concentrate (WPC):
Whey concentrate retains some lactose and fat during processing, the beneficial nutrients found naturally in whey. Whey concentrate is said to have the best taste, made up of about 80% protein depending on how concentrated it is.
Whey protein isolate (WPI)
Unlike whey concentrate, the isolate version contains very little fat and lactose, as most are removed during processing. WPI is usually at least 90% protein or higher but lacks a lot of the beneficial nutrients found in WPCs. Whey isolate is usually more expensive due to the higher purity of protein, but If you have problems tolerating concentrate, or you’re trying to keep carbs and fat low, isolate may be a better option.
Whey protein hydrolysate (WPH)
Whey hydrolysate, also known as hydrolysed whey, is the predigested form of whey protein. WPH doesn’t require as much digestion as the other two forms of whey protein as it has already undergone partial hydrolysis – a necessary process for the body to absorb protein. As such, hydrolysate gets absorbed faster and causes a 28–43% greater spike in insulin levels than isolate.
How is Whey Beneficial?
Combined with exercise, an increase in protein intake will result in weight loss and lean muscle mass. A catabolic state occurs when one engages in any kind of physical exertion, as the body utilises energy and copes with muscle and tissue damage in the process.
The body enters an ‘anabolic window’ post-workout workout; this is the most effective time to consume fast-digesting protein since proteins are ultimately broken down into amino acids by the body.
While all protein powders work similarly to help repair muscle damage and improve muscle mass, whey protein is superior as it has a better amino acid profile and absorption rate.
Whey protein powder is a great way to increase your protein intake, but it’s not always easy to have a protein shake so soon after a workout. Alternately, protein bars can provide a good dose of protein to ensure you fuel your body while on the go.