In this article we are going to look at the specific role that Whey protein can play in helping you to optimise health, performance and body composition.
When to use protein supplementation
Despite the efforts of many supplement companies trying to get you to consume protein powder 2-3 x per day, the reality with protein supplementation is that it’s main purpose and benefit is, allowing one to reach an appropriate protein level for their physical needs and demands, without solely relying on solid food options.
Protein supplements in general are able to provide very high percentage levels of protein, without delivering much in the way of additional calories from fats or carbohydrates. This makes it easier to manage calories and macronutrients or still hit your protein goal when looking to manage fats and carbohydrates. It also puts less emphasis on consuming high levels of lean meat or fish, is convenient and can be easier on the digestive system, especially around training when the digestive system is perhaps less prepared to take on solid food meals, because of being in a more fight or flight response state post workout.
What is optimal protein intake?
We touched on this in previous articles about protein, however, to summarise if you are a very active individual with fat loss and muscle preservation, or lean mass goals, then aiming for around 1.5-2.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight is the most research beneficial range.
For those partaking in less physical activity, then goals more around the 1.2-1.6g per kg of bodyweight will be about right, and those without physique goals or partaking in any type of intensive exercise as low as 0.8-1.2g per kg, will be adequate and protein supplementation should not be necessary, unless perhaps you have dietary restrictions that make it hard to reach these guidelines.
NB: Please note that if you are obese/overweight these recommendations may not be accurate, in which case use your long-term goal bodyweight or a healthy BMI based bodyweight. Also note that those with known kidney issues should not follow standard guidelines for protein intake.
What is so special about Whey protein?
Whey protein and Casein are the two proteins found in milk. You may have heard of curds and whey, well curd refers to the casein and then we have the whey separated. Casein is a slow acting protein, and has become popular with those looking for a protein powder to use prior to bed because of its sustained release through the night. Whether this is necessary or no is still up for debate, and in my personal experience many people develop digestive issues using Casein on a regular basis. Equally I am not convinced on the overall benefit of feeding before bed, and the negative impact this may have on sleep quality and the health benefits associated to fasting.
Supporting muscle mass and recovery
Whey protein is absorbed faster than other forms of protein and has been shown to be superior in supporting muscle protein synthesis (MPS). MPS is essentially the building of new muscle tissue, an important part of exercise recovery, muscle preservation and growth.
Supports anti-oxidant status & detoxification
Whey protein is particularly rich in cysteine an amino acid that acts as a precursor to the mother anti-oxidant in the body called glutathione.
Improving glutathione can help to reduce cardiovascular risk, some research demonstrates the combination of Whey protein paired with exercise, improves biomarkers of cardiovascular health.
Glutathione also plays a crucial role in supporting detoxification/clearance. Whilst people get suspicious of the word “detoxification”, the reality is that we are exposed now to more chemicals than ever. Thus, I do not find it unreasonable to support the body’s natural ability to clear toxins through food, nutrients, sweating, whilst trying to minimise exposure as much as possible.
Whey protein has been shown to enhance appetite control vs plant-based protein powder and also vs glucose alone as well, resulting in a higher rate of fat loss and control of the appetite hormone ghrelin.
Reducing intestinal permeability
Intestinal permeability is when our gut barrier becomes leaky; hence it is also known as “leaky gut”. Leaky gut can lead to chronic immune challenges and inflammation, and is said to be a significant cause of autoimmune and inflammatory related conditions.
Exercise has the ability to acutely induce intestinal permeability, whereas Whey protein and glutamine, a specific amino acid, have been shown to reduce gut permeability.
What form of Whey protein is best?
You may have noticed that Whey protein can come in different forms, Whey concentrate, Whey hydrolysate and Whey isolate.
Ultimately the different forms will have gone through slightly different processing and result in slight differences in the end product.
My preferred Whey protein recommendation is a filtered Whey protein isolate. Isolate has the higher levels of protein and lowest levels of lactose. In my experience this removes almost all digestive reactions to Whey protein, unless someone has an actual immune based sensitivity/allergy to Whey, in which case they should utilise a plant-based protein powder instead.
How to use Whey protein
I typically only recommend Whey protein in the post-training window. It has some benefits post training of increasing insulin levels that can further support protein synthesis. Equally I prefer to recommend a plant-based protein powder at other times when away from training, if one feels the need to supplement their diet to hit a high protein level.
The dosage of Whey protein will depend a little on your size and how much muscle mass you have. Most studies have demonstrated improved muscle protein synthesis with around 25g of protein, with some more muscular individuals getting slightly improved results with around 40g post training.
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