Everything You Needed to Know About Whey Protein

Whey protein is something of a workout staple nowadays. Just about everyone who lifts weights takes it, and there are hundreds of companies with their own lines of products.

But just because it’s popular shouldn’t be enough motivation for you to start,  especially since so few people really know what it is to begin with. This article should clear up these misconceptions – learn what whey protein is and how it can work for you.

What Is Whey Protein

Whey is basically just food. Nothing more. Whey is one of the two types of protein found in milk (the other is casein). The supplements you see are just this protein after it has been been removed and extracted into a powder form for easy consumption. The reason it is viewed as so beneficial to muscle development, is due to the speed with which it can be broken down -whey is the quickest digesting protein source available.

Is it Really Necessary?

Absolutely not. But it does assist you in a few different ways.

At crucial periods when your muscles are in need of protein, you do not always have the time necessary to digest a source of whole food, such as chicken or tuna. This is where whey comes in. A speedy rate of digestion means that whey facilitates a rapid burst of amino acids to be broken down and sent to the muscle cells to ward off catabolism. (Most whey proteins also contain additional amino acids to assist with this process and facilitate protein synthesis.) The primary example of this would be post-workout ,when you only have a 30-60 minute window to transport carbohydrates and proteins to your muscle cells (or in the morning after your body is in a fasted state).

You may ask, why not just drink milk? This too, is an option, but it is not ideal. Fat-free milk would digest fairly rapidly, but unfortunately the bulk of the proteins (70-a80%) are casein, which are break down very slowly.  There are always alternatives, such as consuming BCAAs to preserve muscle tissue until the food digests, but whey is typically the easiest and most efficient method.

Different Forms

Concentrate - The cheapest and most basic form of synthesized whey. Typically has a few grams more of fat and carbs as well as traces of lactose.

Isolate - A more processed form than concentrate to remove the fat and lactose.

Hydrolysate -  Is broken down even further. Partially digested/ hydrolyzed to allow for a more rapid absorption. These are the most rapid digesting proteins, but are also the most expensive. Hydrolysates are generally safe for people with allergies/ lactose intolerance.

You can also find blends of all three kinds available.

When Should I Take It?

Post-workout, about 30 minutes after completing training. The amount is dependent on your body-weight – about 40-50 grams for a 200lb male. (It can also be a mix of 1-1 casein and whey).It can be consumed in the mornings as well, or pre-workout in a lesser amount.

Try to avoid taking it at random times of the day, as whole-food sources are always healthier, and too much unnecessary whey can lead to unwanted fat gain.

What Should I Look for When Choosing One?

The major considerations are type, nutritional content, taste, and price.

While hydrolysate is the most rapid digesting form available, it typically comes with a far steeper price tag. The minor difference you may get from it is not usually worth it (unless you are lactose intolerant).

There are many different types of whey out there, but the key is that you want them to be relatively free of fats (under a couple grams per serving). If you consume fat with the whey it will slow down the digestion and defeat the purpose. It is for this reason that you should always steer clear of brands like Muscle Milk, which can have a whopping 15 -20 grams of fat in a single serving (thus they are pretty much useless). This is especially true considering that many brands nowadays make whey products with just 1 gram of fat per serving.

The tastes can range from delicious (like a real milkshake) to downright awful ( a chalky, dry, bitter concoction), and there are any number of flavors depending on preference. Prices also vary pretty wildly, anything from $25 to $60 for a 5 lb tub.

My personal favorite as far as taste goes is Optimum Nutrition – they have the widest range of flavors, and almost all of them are delicious. They can be a bit pricier though, if not on sale ($45). By contrast, All The Whey also makes quality products for cheaper and with virtually no fat/carbs ($30-$35), but the taste is a bit lacking. The best deal I have found is the new NutraPro - on sale for about $30, they have some delicious flavors like Chocolate Graham Cracker, and contain under 2 grams fat.

(Image via isoflex)

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Everything You Needed to Know About Whey Protein — 97 Comments

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