So, what is protein really? Protein is necessary for various metabolic and biological processes happening within our bodies such catalyzing reactions, transporting molecules like oxygen, keeping us healthy as part of our immune system, even transmitting messages from cell to cell.
Consuming enough protein is KEY if you want to stay healthy, let alone reach your fitness goals. If you are just playing sports or trying to maintain your physique, you only need about 1 gram of protein per pound of LEAN bodyweight. BUT, building muscle, strength or even cutting requires at least 1.5 grams of protein per pound of lean bodyweight.
Is All Protein The Same?
No, not all protein is created equal. We have protein from milk, meat, fish, beans, soy, rice and they are not all the same. Proteins are molecules made of amino acids. There are 9 amino acids that your body absolutely needs to stay alive and cannot manufacture by itself. Then, there are additional 6 amino acids that are considered conditionally essential and 5 dispensable ones. The more of those 20 amino acids are present in a protein and the more absorbable (bio-available) the protein is by our body, the more WHOLE we can consider this protein. More complete. So, as you can understand it’s generally preferable that we get high quality protein from high quality sources in order to maximize results!
The highest quality protein we can get from our diet, is actually milk protein and egg protein.
How Is Whey Protein Made?
Turns out though, when we use milk to produce cheese, we end up with cheese (the solid component) and whey (the liquid component). So whey is essentially the by-product of cheese production. Unfortunately, whey is only 13% protein by calories which is not nearly enough to be considered “high in protein”. We successfully eliminated a lot of those carbs and fats but also got rid of a lot protein. As it so happens, protein, carbs and fats are all different sized molecules so we can separate them using the right size filters. This procedure is called concentration and we end up with what is called Whey Protein Concentrate. Sounds familiar, right? From similar processes, we can produce beef protein, egg protein, even soy protein which are also high quality proteins but not as much as Whey protein.
Whey Concentrate is actually a very high-quality protein and can be up to 80% protein by calories which is meal-plan friendly! Now, let’s talk about all the benefits that come from whey protein!
- Improves muscle protein synthesis and promotes the growth of lean tissue mass as well reduces recovery time
- Aids weight loss (by suppressing appetite and improving insulin sensitivity)
- Improves strength gains
- Lowers blood pressure
- Can Have Anti-cancer abilities
- Can reduce Asthma, Inflammation & High-Cholesterol Levels
- Boosts Immune System Function
And now that we have established what whey protein is and what it can do for you, the natural question is how much should you take and when?
When Is The Best Time To Take Whey Protein?
This is a question that is asked around a lot but it’s quite simple. It doesn’t really matter when you have your protein, your body won’t know the difference. The only thing your body recognizes is how many grams of protein, carbs and fats you had for the day. So timing your protein intake won’t do much for you other than stress you out. Having said that, your body is more “hungry” for nutrients, first thing in the morning and after your intense workouts so it’s more likely to absorb any kind of food or supplement such as whey protein, chicken, rice or creatine.
When it comes to risks, the biggest fear often expressed about whey protein intake is that too much protein is “bad for the kidneys.” Research though has shown this is not true at all in healthy individuals. For those with known kidney disease, high protein diets can exacerbate pre-existing conditions. Healthy individuals, without any underlying or unknown kidney disease have nothing to worry about with higher intakes of protein.
What Is The Best Type Of Protein?
So what’s the best type of protein in terms of athletic performance, recovery and overall benefits? Concentrate? Isolate? Maybe Hydrolysate? Let’s examine all 3 before you decide:
Whey Protein Concentrate: As we talked about at the start of this blog, whey concentrate is the concentrated form of whey produced by a simple filtration. This form of protein is basically untouched and it retains a lot of the immune system benefits we discussed earlier. It can potentially be up to 80% protein which naturally means the rest will be carbs in the form of lactose, and some fats. Let’s also note that it is absorbed a bit slower than the other 2 forms of whey.
Whey Protein Isolate: Now if we take whey concentrate and run it through a purification process we end up with an even more concentrated form of protein called whey isolate. There are 2 basic ways to produce protein isolate from concentrate. The first one is the one that is preferable and it’s called cross-flow microfiltration. Essentially the whey concentrate is treated with cold temperatures which does not damage the protein at an atomic level and it still retains all the immune system benefits, in addition to being more than 90% rich in protein. The 2nd way to produce protein isolate is with a process called ion exchange where the protein is exposed to heat and certain acids that dramatically alter some proteins such as lactoferrin which is mainly responsible for the immune system benefits. This type of protein isolate you should avoid, especially since there are better options.
Despite the manufacturing process though, whey protein isolate is very low in lactose which might be ideal for all those suffering from common lactose intolerance side effects, such as gas, bloating, stomach pains and fatigue.
Whey Protein Hydrolysate: This is the most expensive form of whey protein and it’s definitely not worth investing in it. You see, this hydrolyzed form of protein is treated and purified so much that it’s no longer protein. It is so broken down that it can almost be thought as amino acids. Due to this fact, it is absorbed super quickly but it now has no immune system boosting effects and it tastes awful. It is extremely high in protein, in some cases more than 99%, and therefore it might be suitable for those of you who are allergic or just sensitive to lactose. You see, lactose is almost non-existent in this form of protein. So, to summarize:
“My personal choice for whey protein is Six Star Pro Whey Protein Plus. I find that it’s better than regular whey and helps me perform at a high level and recover faster” – Rob Gronkowski
At the end of the day, whey protein is an exceptionally healthy way to add more protein to your diet. It is a quality protein source that is absorbed and utilized efficiently by the human body and it is highly recommended it AS LONG AS you have your meal plan down to a T!
So, here comes the big question. Do you actually NEED whey protein to reach the peak of your performance? If you read this blog carefully, you already know the answer. You definitely do not need it and you can make excellent gains by eating normal food. That does not mean whey protein doesn’t have a place in your diet. It’s a convenient high quality source of protein and it can make your life considerably easier. Also, compared to other sources of protein like chicken or fish, whey is much cheaper, especially if you buy in bulk, so it is worth investing in it.
If you are an athlete seeking maximum performance and recovery, supplementing your diet plan with whey protein will definitely help you reach your goals faster and easier. However, before you even start thinking about supplementation, be sure to get your meal plan right!