No matter what your goal is, increase muscle mass, reduce body fat, or control hunger, whey protein powder can help. Whey Protein powders comes from milk, which is actually composed of two proteins: casein, which makes up approximately 80 percent of milk protein, and whey, which makes up the other 20 percent.

What are the different Whey Protein Powders?

Like all proteins — chicken, beef, egg, soy, rice, hemp, and so on — whey is composed of amino acids, which the body can use for muscle growth and tissue repair. But if whey’s so popular since ever, it’s because of its high concentration in essential amino acids and moreover in a group of three essential amino acids known as BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These help to build and maintain muscle mass and can also serve as an energy source during prolonged or intense workouts.

There are three types of whey: Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Isolate and Whey Protein Hydrolysate.

Whey Protein Concentrate: Whey concentrate is about 80 percent protein, and typically contains slightly higher amounts of fat and carbohydrates than the other two varieties. It’s still relatively low in both, although plenty of powders and ready-to-drink protein products add extra sugar and fat back in.

Whey Protein Isolate: Whey protein isolate has all fat and lactose removed, boosting its protein concentration to 90-95 percent protein.

Whey Protein Hydrolysate: Hydrolyzed whey is often referred to as “pre-digested,” because it has already undergone partial breakdown. This reduces digestion time compared to the other two forms of protein. Both -whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate- can be made into whey protein hydrolysate, so its protein content can vary.

How do Whey Protein Powders work?

The basic equation for muscle mass is:

Muscle mass = rate of protein synthesis – rate of protein breakdown.

When the rate of synthesis equals the rate of breakdown, you don’t gain or lose muscle. If the rate of synthesis is higher than the rate of breakdown, you get muscle growth. When the rate of breakdown is higher than the rate of synthesis, you lose muscle. If you’re dieting, you may be burning the candle at both ends: raising muscle breakdown and lowering protein synthesis.

Whey protein is soluble, which grossly means that it can get into contact with digestive tract enzymes pretty much easily. Doing so, it speeds the digestion and then suck up step in the intestine. In short, that process makes Whey Protein a fast digesting nutrient unlike casein.

Now, another main difference between whey and casein is that one 25-gram scoop of whey protein has approximately 3 grams of leucine. Compare that to only 2.3 grams of leucine per scoop in casein and 1.5 grams in soy. Seeing as the threshold for activating protein synthesis occurs right around 2.5 grams of leucine, whey is a no-brainer for athletes looking to boost growth, recovery, and performance.

When and how to consume a Whey Protein Powder?

Before or after a workout as a supplement: Whey protein is commonly taken in 25-30 gram dosages, either 1-2 hours before your workout or immediately post-workout. For some people, you must swallow a shake within a 20-minute “anabolic window” after a workout for it to count, even though it’s better to do so, it’s not mandatory and it’ll still count if you drink it way after. Anytime within a couple of hours is probably just fine. So, whatever you feel comfortable with, do it!

As a dietary protein source: Whey makes a great appetite-suppressant snack between meals, or it can be added to your breakfast oatmeal or smoothie.

If you’re after the best-tasting protein or are on a tight budget, sticking with a whey protein concentrate makes sense. The extra carbs and fat often go a long way in the flavor department. On the other hand, if you are dieting down or low-carbing it, a whey protein isolate is a popular option. If you have a mild intolerance to lactose or suffer from GI problems every time you have a protein shake, you may want to try a whey protein isolate (which contains less lactose) or whey protein hydrolysate.

Whey protein powders in a nutshell

Use: Increase protein synthesis for muscle building and repair.

Timing: Pre-workout, post-workout, throughout the day.

How Much to Take: 20-30 grams.

References

Devries, M. C., & Phillips, S. M. (2015). Supplemental protein in support of muscle mass and health: advantage whey. Journal of Food Science, 80(S1).

Anders H. Forslund, Leif Hamraeus, Roger M. Olsson, Antoine E. El-Khoury, Young-Ming Yu, and Vernon R. Young (1998). The 24-h whole body lecine and urea kinetics at normal and high protein intakes with exercise in healthy adults. Am. J. Physiol Endocrinol. Metab. 38, E310-E320.

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