So whats the reason for all the hype about Whey powder ?
Firstly the basics – Whey is whats left over when cows milk is coagulated during the process of making cheese. Cows milk is made up of 80% casein and 20% whey protein – and as a comparison, human milk is like around 60% whey and 40% casein.
Whey is typically taken as a dry powder mixed into water, and you can buy it in three different forms. Firstly, a concentrate (whey protein concentrate, or WPC), an isolate (whey protein isolate, or WPI), or a hydrosolate (WPH). The isolate form removes fat, most of the lactose, and is high in its protein percentage (i.e. like >90%). The concentrate form, is the cheapest form, and has the lowest percentage of proteins, relative to the hydrolysate or isolate form.
So what can it do for us ? Well honestly – many things, but I want to focus on three of its strongest actions in the body.
1. Whey protein is well recognized as a strong stimulant to protein synthesis in the body – hence the reason whey powders are used by endurance and weight-lifting athletes to support rapid recovery from intensive exercise. The key branch chain amino acid (BCAA) responsible for this anabolic effect is leucine, which is high in whey protein.
2. Now as we know carbohydrates can spike insulin via raising blood sugars, provides limited fuel to the endurance athlete, can cause weight-gain and trigger chronic inflammatory diseases. So it’s not surprising to see the growing interest in ways to reduce post-meal spikes. Research has long showed that when whey protein is mixed with carbohydrates, the post-meal spikes in blood glucose and insulin are measurably reduced.
3. There is one action of whey that in recent times has received its fair share of coverage in the news – and that’s the effect of whey protein on glutathione production. Whey protein includes a broad array of branch chain amino acids – including the key three, that matter most for glutathione production, being, cysteine, glycine and glutamate. In addition whey includes alpha-lacalbumin (high in cysteine), immunoglobulins and other factors which create the right setting for glutathione action. Now – why does this matter? Well Glutathione is like the master anti-oxidant. It’s produced endogenously (inside) the body, and it not only has a very strong anti-oxidant capability – it can help recycle antioxidants.
4. Finally – Why not SOY protein. Yes its cheaper, and yes big agriculture is pushing it – and hence why a number of high volume energy bar companies looking to drive quality and price down use soy protein over, whey protein isolate. You can read some well documented articles on the issues with Soy, here and here, but the summary on Soy is this – it has far weaker effects (some say nil) on anabolic muscle recovery (detailed comparison study here), and has been shown to cause and increase hypothyroidism (already a big issue for endurance athletes, on edge of over-training – download Ultra Recovery How-To-Guide) …So, the bottom-line is, avoid Soy based foods and bars if you want to train harder, recover faster and go longer as an endurance athlete.
WPI – it has an anabolic effect on muscles, a blood-sugar regulating effect and a master anti-oxidant. Whey protein isolate, IS the definition of a super-food. Make sure it’s in your training and recovery foods today.
1. Postprandial muscle protein synthesis is higher after a high whey protein, leucine-enriched supplement than after a dairy-like product in healthy older people: a randomized controlled trial. Luiking YC et al. Jan, 2014
2. The glycemic index issue. Brand-Miller J et al. Feb, 2012
3. Effects of whey proteins on glycaemia and insulinaemia to an oral glucose load in healthy adults; a dose-response study. Gunnerud UJ et al. Jul, 2013
4. Glutathione: The Mother of All Antioxidants. Hyman, Mark. Apr, 2013.5. Effect of whey protein isolate on intracellular glutathione and oxidant-induced cell death in human prostate epithelial cells. Kent KD et al. Feb, 2003.