Often referred to by the English term “whey”, the whey protein contains many essential amino acids that are quickly absorbed by the body.
Numerous studies show that it can help you increase your strength, build muscle and promote elimination of body fat.
In fact, it is one of the most studied supplements in the world.
This detailed article explains what whey protein is, its effect on your body and how it can help you achieve your athletic goals.
Table of Contents
The protein and BCAA needs of athletes
Protein powders help you increase your intake of this essential nutrient and BCAAs.
Proteins are the main building blocks of the human body. They are used to make and repair the body. They play an essential role for tendons, organs, skin, as well as hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters and various molecules.
Proteins are also the building blocks of your muscles. They are assembled from amino acids, smaller molecules that are linked together like beads on a string.
Essential Amino Acids
Some amino acids are produced by your body's cells, while others are provided by the foods you eat. The ones you need to get from your diet are called essential amino acids.
Our body needs 20 different amino acids to grow and function properly. Although all of them are important for health, only 9 of them are classified as essential:
Foods that provide all nine essential amino acids are best for muscle needs, and a whey protein powder of good quality is loaded with it. It is particularly rich in the 3 branched chain amino acids that are often defined by their English acronym “BCAA” (branched chain amino acids). These are leucine, isoleucine and valine.
Studies show that leucine is the most anabolic (muscle growth promoting) amino acid. Athletes who need to develop their muscle mass or repair muscle fibers destroyed during their training therefore have every interest in consuming it.
Whey protein appears to be particularly effective in stimulating growth in humans. In fact, human breast milk contains 60% of whey, compared to 20% in cow's milk.
Without forgetting the importance of cysteine
Although not classified as an essential amino acid because our cells know how to produce it, a supply of cysteine promotes the production of glutathione, a cellular antioxidant.
Also, our bodies produce less of it as we age, and studies have shown that supplementing with whey isolate increases its production.
NOTE : Whey is generally well tolerated, but people who are lactose intolerant should be careful and some people may even be allergic to it. If this is your case, choose low-lactose or plant-based proteins, while making sure they contain enough BCAAs.
What is whey protein?
These are proteins isolated from whey, the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production.
Milk actually contains two main types of protein: casein (80 %) and whey (20 %).
Whey is found in the watery part of milk. During cheese making, the fatty parts of the milk coagulate and the whey is separated from it as a by-product that cheese makers used to throw away. When you open a pot of yogurt and see liquid floating in it, it's whey.
After being separated during cheese production, whey goes through various stages of transformation to become what athletes commonly know as whey powder. It is often added to shakes, snacks or protein bars.
Whey protein doesn't really have a taste, and that's one of its advantages. It can be mixed with just about anything you want. It is also often marketed with different natural or artificial flavors. The former are of course to be preferred.
In addition, it is very digestible, absorbed more quickly by the intestine than other sources of protein.
The nutritional benefits of protein
Taking whey protein is a convenient way to add protein to your daily food intake. Indeed, it can be very difficult or very expensive to sufficiently increase this intake by simple diet.
This is especially true when practicing a physically demanding sport. but you should also know that people over 50 should also eat more protein to reduce the effects of sarcopenia, age-related muscle wasting.
Even for those who simply want to curb their cravings, this nutrient is a great choice due to its satiating effect. It's a much better option than a carb-based snack.
This is why those who want to lose weight have every interest in turning to protein sources.
But back to the benefits for athletes…
Effects of whey protein on muscle mass and strength
Its best-known use is to increase muscle mass and strength.
It is popular among athletes, bodybuilders, fitness models as well as people looking to improve their athletic performance in general.
Reasons why this protein source promotes muscle and strength gain include:
- As you read above, it provides the most important amino acids for the muscle building ;
- It is rich in leucine, the amino acid known to stimulate muscle protein synthesis at the molecular level;
- It increases the release of anabolic hormones that can stimulate muscle growth;
- Whey protein is absorbed and used very quickly compared to other types of protein.
When to consume it?
Whey protein has been shown to be particularly effective in increasing muscle growth when consumed just before, after, or during a workout. Muscle protein synthesis is generally maximized in the post-workout period.
But that doesn't mean you won't get results if you consume it at other times of the day.
Indeed, recent studies have concluded that total daily protein intake is the most relevant factor in muscle growth. Whether or not they are consumed close to training is just a small additional factor.
The most important thing is to consume it regularly to increase your overall intake.
Conclusion on whey protein
This supplement has a very high nutritional value and is one of the best sources of this essential nutrient. It is highly digestible and absorbed quickly compared to other proteins.
If you have no digestive problems related to dairy products, you should not hesitate to consume them regularly.
This is especially true if you are athletic, over 50 and need to lose weight.