The Science Behind Whey Protein

For those who really want to get the most out of their training, research has shown that Whey Protein can help to increase muscle mass and strength and also improve athletic performance.|

By Strength Editorial Team July 19, 2019
Posted in  Nutrition Supplement Knowledge Training

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When it comes to getting better results for performance and muscle growth, nutrition makes up at least a third of the factors involved – the other two being exercise and sleep. Because nutrition is a significant factor, every gram of the food you eat matter, every macro, calories, vitamins, and minerals considered.
Of all the nutrients in food, protein is perhaps the favorite for those who want to see what their body is capable of achieving with enough dedication and discipline. Most of the time, getting food from diet suffices. However, there are those who really want to get the most out of their training and dietary protein simply wouldn’t be enough.

This is where protein supplements come in.

Protein supplementation has been around for decades. Its efficacy when it comes to giving fitness enthusiasts the results they want has been proven either through clinical studies or bodybuilding competitions. We also learned that not all protein is created equally, and in just about every study on performance and muscle protein synthesis, whey protein comes out on top.

Why is whey protein the best? How does it work? Before we get to that, let’s first get to know what whey protein is and how it’s made.

What is whey protein?
Whey protein consists of a mixture of various proteins isolated from whey, which is the liquid byproduct of cheese production. The liquid on top of your favorite yogurt is whey.

Once separated, whey undergoes various processing steps for it to become whey protein, the very powder added to many health shakes, bars, and meal replacements. It is also often used as the primary ingredient in many gym supplements.

On its own, whey protein doesn’t taste good. That’s the reason whey protein supplements add flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. And because some companies know how to flavor their powders properly, whey protein powders can also be used to add a good serving of tasty protein to smoothies and other healthy recipes.

The Science Behind Whey Protein
Whey protein ingestion has a lot of benefits, but how does it work for muscle growth? Some of the ways whey protein helps with building muscles include:

  • Amino acids. Amino acids serve as building blocks for a more efficient muscle protein synthesis.
  • Hormones. Studies confirm whey protein’s stimulatory effects on anabolic hormone production like insulin.
  • Leucine content. Whey has abundant BCAA content, especially leucine. Leucine is an amino acid known to directly influence muscle growth at a genetic and molecular level.
  • Quick absorption. Compared to its contemporaries, whey protein is absorbed the fastest.

Science has also confirmed that whey protein ingestion before or during training is better than taking whey protein as part of a post workout. It doesn’t mean it’s useless after training, but it just performs better. However, regardless of timing, it’s the fact that you should be taking adequate levels of protein every day that matters most when it comes to long-term muscle growth.

Benefits of Whey Protein Supplements
Whey can help to increase muscle mass and strength and also improve athletic performance. Due to its fast absorption time, whey protein is ideal for consuming pre-, during, or post-workout. Taking whey protein after exercising can improve protein oxidation and blood levels of essential amino acids.

More than just muscle growth, whey protein also helps you with:

  • Weight loss
    Protein is a really hard to digest nutrient, so eating lots of protein in place of carbohydrates can help keep you feel full faster and longer. Because of this, protein is considered the most satiating macro. Studies have also shown direct whey protein substitution, combined with resistance exercise, can lead to better weight loss efforts.
  • Cardiovascular health
    Whey protein has been shown to help with better blood pressure and blood sugar management.
  • Overall health and quality of life
    Whey protein has been shown to provide antioxidant benefits by way of boosting glutathione stores, the body’s most abundant most powerful antioxidant.
    Studies confirm its anticarcinogenic properties and immunity support.
    Researchers also found daily consumption of whey protein alone can improve bone mass density significantly.

However, when selecting a Whey Protein, there are many elements to consider:

  • Variety – there are 3 varieties of Whey with distinct benefits. Read more here.
  • Quality – not all Whey Protein powders are of equal quality. Read the supplement label when you buy to check for unnecessary ingredients and look for a 3rd party seal of approval to ensure it does not contain any banned substances. A Whey protein with minimal ingredients and NSF for sport certification is a good place to start. Here’s why it’s important to know what’s in your protein.

References:

  • Paddon-jones D, Westman E, Mattes RD, Wolfe RR, Astrup A, Westerterp-plantenga M. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(5):1558S-1561S.
  • Miller PE, Alexander DD, Perez V. Effects of whey protein and resistance exercise on body composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Coll Nutr. 2014;33(2):163-75.
  • Fekete ÁA, Giromini C, Chatzidiakou Y, Givens DI, Lovegrove JA. Whey protein lowers blood pressure and improves endothelial function and lipid biomarkers in adults with prehypertension and mild hypertension: results from the chronic Whey2Go randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;104(6):1534–1544. doi:10.3945/ajcn.116.137919
  • Frid AH, Nilsson M, Holst JJ, Björck IM. Effect of whey on blood glucose and insulin responses to composite breakfast and lunch meals in type 2 diabetic subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(1):69-75.
  • Kent KD, Harper WJ, Bomser JA. Effect of whey protein isolate on intracellular glutathione and oxidant-induced cell death in human prostate epithelial cells. Toxicol In Vitro. 2003;17(1):27-33.
  • Bumrungpert A, Pavadhgul P, Nunthanawanich P, Sirikanchanarod A, Adulbhan A. Whey protein supplementation improves nutritional status, glutathione levels, and immune function in cancer patients: a randomized, double-blind controlled trial. J Med Food. 2018;21:612-616.
  • Aoe S, Toba Y, Yamamura J, et al. Controlled trial of the effects of milk basic protein (MBP) supplementation on bone metabolism in healthy adult women.Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2001;65(4):913-8.
  • Salehi A, Gunnerud U, Muhammed SJ, et al. The insulinogenic effect of whey protein is partially mediated by a direct effect of amino acids and GIP on β-cells. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012;9(1):48. Published 2012 May 30. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-9-48
  • Almeida CC, Alvares TS, Costa MP, Conte-junior CA. Protein and Amino Acid Profiles of Different Whey Protein Supplements. J Diet Suppl. 2016;13(3):313-23.
  • Boirie Y, Dangin M, Gachon P, Vasson MP, Maubois JL, Beaufrère B. Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997;94(26):14930–14935. doi:10.1073/pnas.94.26.14930
  • Kim J, Lee C, Lee J. Effect of timing of whey protein supplement on muscle damage markers after eccentric exercise. J Exerc Rehabil. 2017;13(4):436–440. Published 2017 Aug 29. doi:10.12965/jer.1735034.517

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