Athletes should consume whey protein, particularly whey protein isolate, as it is an excellent protein source for muscle recovery.1-3 Whey protein typically falls into two types: whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate.Whey protein concentrate consists of protein (25-80 percent), lactose (4-8 percent) and fat (1-7 percent).4 This is the supplement form commonly found in health and nutrition stores.5 In contrast, whey protein isolate is the purest form of whey protein, containing anywhere from 90-95 percent protein, with virtually no lactose or fat.
The additional process of cross-flow micro-filtration removes the impurities, yielding 8 percent more denatured protein while excluding remaining fats.6 The next step of adding whey protein hydrolysate allows for rapid utilization and excellent absorption.7
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey proteins are high-quality proteins naturally found in cow's milk. Milk contains two major proteins: casein and whey. The latter comprises about 20 percent of the total milk protein, which is more soluble than casein and has a higher protein quality rating.8-9 Whey is also a rich source of branched-chain amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine. Whey protein contains all of the essential and non-essential amino acids needed by the body; it is a complete protein.10
The process of creating whey protein starts as cheese making. All milk should be from organic, grass-fed cows (high in omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio).11 Corn-fed cows produce high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, which are inflammatory. Unfortunately for most of the nutritional supplement industry, corn-fed cows are the source of whey protein. Beware! This is the reason I only recommend third-party certified companies that validate this grass-fed process.12-13
Whey Protein for Sports Nutrition
The amino acid profile of whey protein is almost identical to that of skeletal muscle.14 Its high concentration of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) help to maintain and repair lean muscle tissue following exercise and prevent muscle breakdown. These BCAAs help to prevent fatigue during intense, long-duration sports events. Leucine, which is found in abundance in whey protein, helps to stimulate protein synthesis and maintain a positive nitrogen balance to enhance muscle repair and recovery.15-18
Whey protein can be effective when combined appropriately with exercise. Whey protein consumption post-workout may be one of the most beneficial things one can do to maximize lean body mass.19-20 It is low-glycemic, but insulinogenic at the same time.21-22 This creates a unique opportunity for muscle growth without fat gain, especially in a post-workout setting.
The addition of an appropriate amount of carbohydrate with whey is beneficial in terms of muscle gains. In studies analyzing post-workout intake of protein alone, carbohydrates alone or a combination of both, protein and carbohydrates together generated the greatest insulin response. This enhances muscle glycogen synthesis, glucose uptake and protein synthesis.23-24
Whey Post-Workout Ratios
Research indicates consumption of 20 grams of whey protein is ideal post-workout:25
- For a power workout (e.g., weight-lifting), the appropriate ratio is 2:1 carbs to protein.
- For a team sport (e.g., lacrosse) the appropriate ratio is 3:1 carbs to protein.
- For an endurance workout (e.g., cross-country distance running), the appropriate ratio is 4:1 carbs to protein.26-27
The optimal window of opportunity for absorption of all the carbs/protein is within 30 minutes of completing an athletic endeavor completion.28
Additional Benefits of Whey
Whey protein provides an excellent source of cysteine, enhancing glutathione status, which optimizes immune function. Additionally, it aids in recovery from eccentric exercise.29
Whey protein provides an excellent source for muscle recovery from athletic activity. This occurs as a result of whey protein yielding high levels of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and aiding in protein synthesis. The purest form is whey protein isolate from organic grass-fed cows (third-party certified). The consumption of proper ratios of whey protein and carbohydrates remains critical to ensure muscle recovery and performance. It's the whey to go for athletes.
- Clarkson PM. Antioxidants and physical performance. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 1995;35:131-41.
- Shephard RJ, Shek PN. Heavy exercise, nutrition and immune function: is there a connection? Int J Sports Med, 1995;16:491-97.
- Xu R, et al. Antioxidative effects of whey protein on peroxide-induced cytotoxicity. J Dairy Sci, Aug 2011;94(8):3739-46.
- Foegeding EA, Davis JP, Doucet D, McGuffey MK. Advances in modifying and understanding whey protein functionality. Trends Food Sci & Technol, 2002;13(5):151-9.
- Marshall K. Therapeutic applications of whey protein. Alt Med Rev, 2004;9(2):136-156.
- Belfort G, Davis R, Zydney A. The behavior of suspensions and macromolecular solutions in crossflow microfiltration. J Membrane Sci, 1994;96:1-58.
- Lee YH. Food-processing approaches to altering allergenic potential of milk-based formula. J Pediatr, Nov 1992;121(5 Pt 2):S47–50.
- Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein - which is best? J Sports Sci Med, 2004;(3):118-130.
- Luhovyy BL, Akhavan T, Anderson GH. Whey proteins in the regulation of food intake and satiety. J Amer College Nutr, 2007;26(6):704S-712S.
- Rieu I, Balage M, Sornet C, et al. Increased availability of leucine with leucine-rich whey proteins improves postprandial muscle protein synthesis in aging rats. Nutrition, Apr 2007;23(4):323-31.
- Daley C. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutr J, May 10, 2010:1-81.
- Natural Products Association: Npainfo.org.
- NSF International: NSF.org.
- Hulmi J, Lockwood C, et al. Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: a case for whey protein. Nutr Metab, 2010;7:51.
- Kimball S, Jefferson LS. Signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms through which branched-chain amino acids mediate translational control of protein synthesis. J Nutr, 2006;136(1):227S-31S.
- Cooper MB, et al. The effect of marathon running on carnitine metabolism and on some aspects of muscle mitochondrial activities and antioxidant mechanisms. J Sports Sci, 1986;4:79-87.
- Kashyap S, et al. Protein quality in feeding low birthweight infants: a comparison of whey-predominant versus casein-predominant formulas. Pediatrics, 1987;79:748-755.
- Wong CW, Watson DL. Immunomodulatory effects of dietary whey proteins in mice. J Dairy Res, 1995;62:359-68.
- Kakigi R, et al. Whey protein intake after resistance exercise activates mTOR signaling in a dose-dependent manner in human skeletal muscle. European J Applied Physiol, 2014;114:735-742.
- Matthew S, Judith L, et al. Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. J Int Society Sports Nutr, 2012;9:54.
- Akhavan T, et al. Effect of premeal consumption of whey protein and its hydrolysate on food intake and postmeal glycemia and insulin responses in young adults. Am J Clin Nutr, 2010;91(4):966-75.
- Gunnerud UJ, et al. Effects of whey proteins on glycaemia and insulinaemia to an oral glucose load in healthy adults: a dose-response study. Eur J Clin Nutr, Jul 2013;67(7):749-53.
- Zawadzki KM, Yaspelkis BB III, Ivy JL. Carbohydrate-protein complex increases the rate of muscle glycogen storage after exercise. J Appl Physiol, 1992;72:1857-59.
- Ivy JL, Goforth HW Jr, Damon BM, et al. Early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. J Apply Physiol, 2002;93:1337-44.
- Witard OC, Jackman SR, et al. Myofibrillar muscle protein synthesis rates subsequent to a meal in response to increasing doses of whey protein at rest and after resistance exercise. Am J Clin Nutr, Jan 2014;99(1):86-95.
- Drummond MJ. Skeletal muscle protein anabolic response to resistance exercise an essential amino acids is delayed with aging. J Appl Physiol, 2008;104:1452-61.
- Cribb PJ. The effect of whey isolate and resistant training on strength body composition, and plasma glutamine. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2006;16:494-509.
- Tang JE, Phillips SM. Maximizing muscle protein anabolism. The role of protein quality. Curr Opinion Clin Nutr Metab Care, 2009;12:66-71.
- Buckley JD, Thomson RL, Coates AM, et al. Supplementation with a whey protein hydrolysate enhances recovery of muscle force-generating capacity following eccentric exercise. J Sci Med in Sport, Jan 2010;13(1):178-81.
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