What is whey protein?
When casein is removed from milk during cheese production, whey protein is derived from the remaining fluid through a drying process (Foegeding et al., 2002). A study by Jovanov et al., 2019 found that protein supplements were the most widely used in a group of international athletes in comparison to other ergogenic aids. The popularity of protein supplements can be explained by their ability to increase muscle mass, promote fat loss, improve performance and improve recovery (Clintineo et al., 2018).
Why whey protein?
Whey protein is classified as a ‘complete’ source of protein as it contains all 9 essential amino acids. Proteins are long chains of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks which determine the function of a protein. Essential amino acids (EAAs) are amino acids which cannot be synthesised in the body meaning that they need to be consumed within our diet. There are 9 EAA’s which include phenylalanine, valine, tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, methionine, histidine, leucine, and lysine (Lopez and Mohiuddin, 2020). EAAs are involved in processes such as muscle growth, energy production, immune function, and the absorption of other nutrients. Aside from whey protein powder, dietary sources of complete proteins generally come from animal sources e.g. eggs, meat, and dairy.
Whey protein is a high-quality source of protein as it has a high biological value, this means that it can be used efficiently by the body due to effective absorption rates and digestibility (Hoffman and Falvo, 2004). It has been documented in the literature that whey protein stimulates muscle protein synthesis (MPS) to a greater extent than other protein sources such as soy and casein protein (Tang et al., 2009). Muscle protein turnover is in a constant state of synthesis and breakdown. MPS is the driving force behind exercise induced adaptations (Atherton and Smith, 2012). It is thought that whey protein stimulates MPS to a greater extent when compared to other sources as it has the highest leucine content. Leucine plays a key role in stimulating the anabolic response to exercise (Vliet et al., 2015).
Benefits of protein consumption
Resistance Exercise Performance. The influence protein supplementation has on inducing performance enhancements in response to resistance training is dependent on multiple factors including: intensity, volume and progressive overload of training, length of training programme, athlete’s training status, energy intake, total protein intake, and ingestion of other supplements e.g. creatine (Jager et al., 2017). In the event that an athlete is experiencing difficulty meeting their protein requirements, supplementing with whey protein is an easy and convenient way of helping them increase their protein intake. If the athlete is going from a protein deficient state to eating optimal amounts of protein, gains in muscle strength and hypertrophy will be evident (Jager et al., 2017).
Body Composition. High protein diets above the recommended daily allowance (~0.8g/kg) when combined with resistance training and a hyperenergetic diet (eating more calories than you are expending) have been shown to increase lean muscle mass. On the other hand, when consuming a high protein diet alongside a hypo energetic diet (expending more calories than you consume) greater improvements in body composition are seen as a result of greater fat mass loss and improved maintenance of lean mass (Jager et al., 2017).
Recovery. Co-ingesting carbohydrates and protein post-exercise has been shown to promote recovery by enhancing glycogen resynthesis. This effect is only seen when carbohydrate consumption is suboptimal (<0.8-1g/kg bodyweight per hour) post-exercise. It is also well established that protein ingestion following a bout of exercise increases the rate of MPS and reduces muscle protein breakdown. This enhances recovery by facilitating the repair and remodelling of muscle tissue (Van Loon et al., 2007).
Optimal protein consumption
Amount of Protein. The recommended daily allowance for protein consumption in the general population is ~0.8g/kg. It is well established that the requirements for athletes are above that of the general population. Guidelines for athletes have been designed based on the physical demands of the sport. Daily intakes of ~1.4-2.4g/kg of protein have been recommended for athletes. Endurance athletes are at the lower end of the recommended intake and strength/power athletes or those in energy restricted states are at the higher end (Jager et al., 2017). Protein is a very satiating macronutrient meaning that high protein meals will help you feel fuller for longer when total calorie intake has been lowered. Lowering your calorie intake may be implemented when the goal is to lower fat mass or for athletes who are required to drop body mass to fit into specific weight categories.
Timing of Protein ingestion. A study by Areta et al., (2013) determined that consuming protein at frequent intervals (every 3-4 hours) in equal doses is the most optimal approach in promoting MPS and enhancing the anabolic response following resistance training. For example, for a 70kg athlete with a protein requirement of 140g (2g/kg), it would be recommended that they consume 4-5 meals per day, every 3-4 hours, with 28-35g of protein in each meal.
The anabolic effect of exercise (often coined the ‘anabolic window’) is long-lasting with a study by Burd et al., 2011 showing that muscle sensitivity to protein feeding is increased for approximately 24 hours post-exercise. However, it has been suggested that this effect diminishes as time continues and therefore, it is recommended that protein is consumed as soon as possible following a bout of exercise to maximise training adaptations. Some athletes often have trouble eating immediately after training. Therefore, whey protein shakes are a good remedy for this solution, as they are quick to make and are easily digested.
How to use whey protein?
The classic use for whey protein powder is mixing 30g with milk or water to form a shake. There are also several different uses for whey powder:
- Protein coffee: make your hot or iced coffee as your normally would then whisk in a scoop of vanilla or chocolate whey protein powder.
- Protein pancakes (recipe makes 6 pancakes, 541 calories, 30g protein, 67g carbohydrates, 16g fat):
- Ingredients: 50g oats, 1 banana, half a scoop of vanilla whey, 2 eggs, 10g dark chocolate chips.
- Method: Blend oats, banana and whey powder together. Seperate the egg whites into a bowl and add yokes to the mixture in the blender. Whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form. Mix everything together (add chocolate chips at this point) and cook in a hot pan with oil or butter.
- Chocolate and peanut butter baked oats (447 calories, 28g protein, 53g carbohydrates, 15g fat):
- Ingredients: 40g oats, half of a banana, 1 scoop of chocolate whey, 1tbsp peanut butter, 1tsp of baking powder, 10g dark chocolate chips, pinch of salt.
- Method: preheat oven to 200◦C. Blend oats, banana, whey powder, peanut butter, salt, and baking powder together. Add mixture to an oven proof dish and stir in chocolate chips. Cook in the oven for 5-10 minutes.