We’ve got cows to thank for this potent muscle maker. Milk is made up of two proteins: casein and whey, and they’re separated from milk when it coagulates, leaving a solution of lactose in water that’s loaded with all kinds of nutritional goodness.
According to Medical News Today, whey is a complete protein that contains all nine essential amino acids, and is low in lactose content. It’s obviously a great muscle-builder, but that’s not all: protein slows hunger and can help prevent obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Here’s the low down on whey protein supplements.
3 Types of whey
1. Whey protein concentrate (WPC) – The cheapest option, it contains low levels of fat and carbs (lactose). The amount of protein depends on the concentration.
2. Whey protein isolate (WPI) – More costly, it’s processed to remove fat and lactose – plus, it “contains fewer kilojoules and over 90% whey protein by weight”, says Jordana Ventzke, registered dietician and MH advisor. Good for the lactose intolerant.
3. Whey protein hydrolysate (WPH) – A “predigested” form of whey protein, it doesn’t need as much digestion as the other two. “It’s absorbed quicker and is more potent, but is also more expensive,” says Ventzke.
Portable protein power – Skip the takeaway smoothies and protein bars – they can be loaded with sugar, low on actual protein and expensive. Here are cheaper, more effective options:
- Two hard-boiled eggs = 13g
- A handful of biltong = 9g
- 150g Greek yoghurt = 15g
- 350ml chocolate milk = 11g
1. Add lean muscle. Whey and exercise improves muscle synthesis and promotes the growth of lean tissue mass, according to the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.
2. Recover faster. A study by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that strength levels were higher (by up to 30%) and that blood levels of lactate dehydrogenase (a marker of muscle damage) were lower in men who took whey protein.
3. Lose weight. According to a study from Nutrition & Metabolism, people who took a whey supplement lost significantly more body fat and showed a greater retention of lean muscle.
4. Lower cholesterol and blood pressure. According to a study published in The British Journal of Nutrition, “there was a significant decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.” And research published in the International Dairy Journal found whey protein supplements significantly reduced blood pressure in patients with hypertension and their risk of developing heart disease or stroke was also lower.
The bottom line: Like any supplement, it can be harmful if you abuse it. “Too much protein (in food or whey form) may lead to kidney stone formation or place undue stress on your liver,” says Ventzke.
Also, if you are lactose intolerant or have a cow’s-milk protein allergy, you should avoid whey completely. And if you’re on chronic medication, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before using whey protein supplements.
Ask A Coach
When should I take my shake? A study in The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine showed that a mix of whey and casein can work well before a workout, but the real kicker is your post-workout shake: research shows you have roughly a 90-minute window to get your protein in. For even more muscle building, don’t restrict your intake to your training: spread it throughout the day. Your body can only process a certain amount of protein in one sitting: use 30g as your limit. Then make sure you have protein in all your meals. Not only will you build more muscle, but you’ll eat less overall, as the protein will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
How much do I really need? The recommended daily intake of protein for someone who’s working out is 1.2 to 1.5g protein per kilogram of body weight. I’d recommend a whey protein supplement for my client if they’re struggling to reach these amounts through their diet. If you’re not working out – leave it. If you’d prefer a guideline, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition pinpointed 20 grams as the best amount of post-workout protein to maximise muscle.
Can whey replace my meals? If you’re in a rush, yes. Just don’t make it a habit. If it’s being used too frequently, whey can lead to a fewer total nutrients taken in, and result in decreased immunity or nutrient deficiencies over time. But it’s still better to take a whey supplement if you’re going to have a meal which isn’t nutritious.
How does casein and whey compare? Even though they come from the same place, they have opposite benefits – so you need to combine them to get the best of both. Whey acts fast, trumping casein in growing muscle, while casein is slower-absorbing, and a more sustained source of amino acids. So mix your whey powder with a glass of milk – the casein in there has a prolonged effect on the protein balance, while whey increases protein synthesis for a short while. You can also take casein at night, as the slower absorption will build muscle while you sleep.