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Whey Protein | How Does It Work? Is It Good For You?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Whey makes up one of the major components of milk, and is the liquid portion that separates from the curds during the process of making cheese. Due to its strong amino acid profile it can be what’s considered a ‘complete’ protein with fast and easy absorbsion. This makes it ideal for times when a fast and easily digestible protein source is required, such as immediately after exercise.

Whey protein has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis, reduce protein breakdown, assist with fat burning and increase insulin sensitivity, decrease appetite and support the immune system.

In fact, whey concentrate has been shown to increase the body’s production of glutathione, an extremely potent antioxidant sometimes referred to as the body’s’ ‘master’ antioxidant!

Types of Whey Protein

Whey protein can commonly be found in three main forms:

Whey concentrate

Typically contains the lowest percentage of protein per 100g. This is due to concentrate undergoing less processing to produce the end product. A good quality whey concentrate should contain 75% protein per serving (Myprotein Impact Whey protein contains more than 80%!)

Whey isolate

Contains a larger percentage of protein per serving. It’is produced when whey concentrate is further processed and purified using techniques such as crossflow micro-filtration, ultra-filtration, reverse osmosis, or nano filtration. The rate of absorbsion is typically about the same between concentrate and isolate, however isolate may be the best choice if you want the highest amount of protein per serving.

Whey hydrolysate

This is whey isolate that has been further broken down, producing smaller peptides that are rapidly absorbed into the blood stream.

It’s important to note that although some would consider whey concentrate to be the lowest quality of protein versus isolate and hydrolysate, due to its protein content alone, this could not be further from the truth, and in fact concentrate contains some potent immune boosting properties.

Are these types of  Whey Protein good for you?

Several bioactive fractions of whey contribute to its immune boosting potential including beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, glycomacropeptide and lactoferrin.

As whey concentrate is further processed in to isolate, a larger portion of these fractions are removed to make way for a higher percentage of protein.

Therefore there is no right or wrong type of protein;

Concentrate for immune function and health.

Isolate for its higher protein content.

Hydrolysed for faster absorbsion!

How does whey protein work and how effective is it? Is whey protein good for you?

During a typical training session the body will be in a negative net protein balance; as synthesis of new proteins grinds to a halt, protein breakdown increases as the duration of the workout gets longer. After training muscle protein synthesis eventually increases and breakdown reduces, creating a positive nitrogen balance.

Using whey protein and supplying your body with the amino acids that it needs around these key times is vital in helping to increase muscle protein synthesis as well as decrease protein breakdown. Because of this, a higher net protein balance can be achieved, and help to promote gains in lean muscle mass, strength and muscle recovery.

Numerous research has shown that adequate whey protein intake in the post-workout “window” is vital for optimising muscle protein synthesis, protein breakdown, creating a positive net protein balance, repairing damaged muscle tissue, and stimulating training adaptations.

Which whey protein to choose?

protein shakes

When choosing a whey protein product you should consider a number of things:

1) What are your goals?

Concentrate contains higher amounts of calories, fat and carbohydrates than isolate or hydrolysed whey, which may not fit in to your daily macro-nutrient targets. Isolate and hydrolysed protein also contains higher amounts of protein per serving. However there are the health benefits provided from whey concentrate to consider.

2) When are you looking to use your whey?

Before, after and even during a training session the faster absorption the more likely the amino acids are to get to work at the right times. The absorption rate of concentrate and isolate are similar and could be better used during other times of the day, and are perfect post-workout, but for next-level results and rapid absorption you may want to consider hydrolysed whey.

3) What’s your budget?

Because there is less processing involved, and production is cheaper concentrate is typically cheaper than isolate, with the most expensive being hydrolysed whey.

4) Do you have any allergies?

For example, some whey concentrate products contain lactose, whereas isolates generally do not – or at least in very, very small amounts!

Take Home Message

Hopefully you’ve gained a little more knowledge on how whey protein works in the body to provide benefits such as:

Increased muscle mass/lean muscle.

Prevention of muscle breakdown/promotion of muscle recovery.

 The ability to assist weight loss goals/lower body in relation to it’s satiating effect!

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

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Jennifer Blow

Jennifer Blow

Editor & Qualified Nutritionist

Jennifer Blow is our UKVRN Registered Associate Nutritionist – the UK’s register of competent and qualified nutrition professionals. She has a Bachelor’s of Science in Nutritional Science and a Master’s of Science by Research in Nutrition, and now specialises in the use of sports supplements for health and fitness, underpinned by evidence-based research.

Jennifer has been quoted or mentioned as a nutritionist in major online publications including Vogue, Elle, and Grazia, for her expertise in nutritional science for exercise and healthy living.

Her experience spans from working with the NHS on dietary intervention trials, to specific scientific research into omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and also the effect of fast foods on health, which she has presented at the annual Nutrition Society Conference. Jennifer is involved in many continuing professional development events to ensure her practise remains at the highest level. Find out more about Jennifer’s experience here.

In her spare time, Jennifer loves hill walking and cycling, and in her posts you’ll see that she loves proving healthy eating doesn’t mean a lifetime of hunger.

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