Which Whey is the Way?
The G.A.I.N. Plan has some “must have” supplements including BCAAs, Creatine, a multivitamin, etc. but these are totally dependent on your goals. However, there really is one supplement that can benefit just about everyone from fat burners to muscle builders; whey protein. Whey protein isolates are so powerful in their ability to promote lean body mass and adaptations to exercise that I believe it is an essential component of an athlete’s recovery from intense training. Not only do athletes benefit from whey protein’s unique properties, but dieters, post-surgical patients, those with metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and otherwise malnourished patients can benefit profoundly.
Whey protein is a rich source of highly bioavailable essential amino acids derived from the cheese making process. The protein from cow’s milk consists of 80% casein protein and 20% whey protein. Whey has been described as the most highly bioavailable protein that contains a favorable amino acid profile high in branched-chain amino acids (especially Leucine). Besides having a structural role in building muscle, leucine in whey protein acts as a powerful signal to muscle. It encourages the activation of the muscle protein building machinery.
Breast milk is high in whey protein suggesting that nature finds whey to be the best protein for the rapidly growing baby. Additionally, whey has a number of properties that are favorable to athletes beyond building muscle.
Boost glycogen stores: For instance, whey protein can increase glycogen stores in skeletal muscles and the liver to a greater extent than casein supplementation in the face of similar carbohydrate intakes. BCAAs have insulin sensitizing effects improving the efficiency of glucose management.
Boost the immune system: Whey protein supports glutathione synthesis. Glutathione is a potent antioxidant that protects the body from harmful free radical damage and plays a significant role in immune system function.
Research supports that consumption of whey protein can raise levels of glutathione in tissues; thus providing an immune system supportive effect. When researchers compared whey protein to casein at supplementation of only 20g per day the whey protein supplemented subjects improved their body composition and peak power output in testing with a concomitant rise in lymphocyte glutathione concentrations.
Types Of Whey Protein
Whey protein concentrate (WPC) is the rawest form of whey after removal from the curdling process in cheese making. WPC is usually sold at ~80% purity of protein content. Whey protein concentrates contain lactose, fat, cholesterol, and minerals.
Whey protein isolate (WPI) is the purest form of whey protein. It has a protein concentration of 90-95% and contains very little fat, lactose, or cholesterol.
As one can probably imagine, WPI’s are more expensive than WPC’s. Therefore, the cheaper protein supplements will contain the relatively inexpensive WPC’s and casein. The disadvantage is that per gram of protein, one actually gets less usable amino acids and the extra lactose can cause some people intestinal discomfort. The best way to understand the quality of your protein supplement is to read the label. If there is more sugar (lactose), cholesterol, and fat content to the supplement this may be related to WPCs instead of WPI’s. If your supplement says it has a protein blend and the cholesterol and sugar content are higher it is likely that it is more casein or WPC than WPI. Whey protein concentrates are often derived in a process that involves high temperatures that destroy the native peptides of the WPC. Micro-fractions of protein found in whey include molecules like immunoglobulins (immune system supporting proteins), alpha-lactalbumin and albumin (important for glutathione synthesis), beta-lactoglobulin, glycomacropeptide, and lactoferrin. High temperatures can also oxidize the cholesterol in the WPC’s making the cholesterol more damaging to your arterial walls.
Ion Exchanged Whey Protein Isolates
Ion exchange is a purification process which concentrates the protein content while removing fat, lactose, and cholesterol. Ion exchanged whey isolates can be the purest of the whey proteins. However, the downside of this process is that it removes all the valuable health promoting micro-fraction peptides. Unfortunately this process often leaves a high amount of beta-lactoglobulin which is a common allergen in milk.
Micro-Filtered Whey Protein Isolates
There are a few different types of micro filtrations techniques which differ in their ability to concentrate various peptides of whey protein. Micro-filtration produces a very high quality protein without destruction of the peptides that can provide unique health benefits to whey protein. This type of whey protein is also very low in fat, lactose, and cholesterol. Another feature is that this protein mixes in solution with minimal clumping and thus can be mixed in foods, shakes, and water quite easily. My favorite really.
Hydrolysis is the process that the enzymes in our gut use to break down proteins into their individual amino acids. Whey protein can be treated enzymatically to create a “pre-digested” form of protein. This leads to a more easily digestible form of whey protein. The rapid absorption is advantageous for post-workout protein supplements in order to get a more rapid rise in blood amino acid levels.
Further research shows that whey hydrolysates also cause a higher rise in blood insulin levels when combined with glucose than milk combined with glucose. This rather remarkable augmentation of the insulin response by whey hydrolysates may be beneficial in producing greater augmentations of muscle protein synthesis after exercise.
Another theoretical advantage of hydrolysates is that less protein is needed to be consumed as it is more easily digested. Additionally, less bloating may occur with consumption after exercise leaving room for consumption of your post-workout meal which should be consumed within 2 hours after your workout. However, hydrolysates have a bit of a bitter taste and require some clever masking in supplements.
My favorite protein on the market today GNC’s Amplified Wheybolic 60 has Isolates and hydrolysates with added leucine to boost muscle protein synthesis. I have 30g before my training and another 30g after. Sometimes I just buy pure 100% Whey isolate protein in bulk to add to smoothies, oatmeal, and yogurt. I love mixing whey isolate in with greek yogurt to make a power packed post-workout snack.