It is difficult to read through any sort of nutritional guide, or talk to any athlete about their post workout diet without coming across the term “whey protein.” This is the powdered substance you see most athletes scooping out of large tubs and shaking in their mixing bottles. The list of protein powders and companies can be overwhelming. There’s Optimum Whey Gold Standard, Six Star Pro Elite Series, Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey, Pure Protein 100% whey etc. With whey protein coming in so many flavors, types and forms nowadays, it is important to understand just what you are putting in your body. This article will cover the science and nutritional breakdown of whey protein, the product a majority of athletes use to achieve optimal recovery.
Whey Protein is one of two aspects of dairy protein. During the extraction process, the casein protein (the other half of dairy protein) is separated and we are left with the remaining 20-30% of protein which is the whey (1). There are 3 types of whey protein and different companies sell these different types. The first type is whey concentrate, which is the least processed form of protein and can be anywhere from 35-80% protein by weight. However, most supplemental whey protein concentrate (WPC) will be at the standardized 80%. The second type is whey isolate which has to be greater than 90% protein by weight. The last is whey hydrolysate, which is the most processed form of whey protein which is enzymatically and acid pretreated which reduces the particle size. This allows for faster absorption due to the whey proteins being broken down into peptides and free amino acids, before it’s even in your body (2)
These amino acids are essential to your bodies recovery, as they help repair and strengthen tendons, muscles and organs. (3) As you work out, whether it’s lifting weights, running, biking, swimming, your muscles undergo small microtears. It is crucial that within an hour of finishing a hard workout, that you provide your body with the amino acids it needs to repair and build more muscle fibers. Proteins supply these amino acids that are often defined as “essential”, the most important being the “BCAA”s which include Leucine and Cysteine. Both of these have been proven to be the most anabolic amino acids, helping your body recover faster and more efficiently.
If you have goals that involve losing weight, incorporating whey protein into your diet can also help you achieve them. (4) A study done by the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Texas Medical Branch showed that protein is the most fulfilling macronutrient. On top of that, it can boost metabolism by 80 to 100 calories per day (5). Paul Arciero, Ed.D., director of the Human Nutrition and Metabolism Lab at Skidmore College backs this up, stating, “Whey is perhaps the most effective dietary strategy to aid weight loss because it is the most thermogenic food source you can eat. This means it burns the most calories after you eat it.” (6)