Protein powders such as whey protein are used to help people pack build muscle by providing their bodies with the extra protein they will need. Many use it if they are starting a new workout program or ramping up their workout as their body will require more protein as it takes on the extra strain.
Those making large dietary changes, such as the switch to vegan, may use it to make sure their body gets all the proper nutrients.
What Are Protein Powders?
The three most common protein powders are whey, soy, and casein.
Whey protein is made by straining the liquid portion when making milk. What is left behind is dried and that creates whey protein concentrate.
Whey is commonly used because it is water-soluble and easy to use. It is a complete protein, containing all nine amino acids necessary for a human diet. It is usually taken before and after a workout.
Casein protein which is the primary source of protein in milk is found as suspension particles in milk. It is not water-soluble and can be taken to provide a slow but extended source of protein. It is often taken before bed.
Soy protein takes the major protein component of the soybean and concentrates it. It is the protein of choice for those on vegan and lactose-free diets. It is also a complete protein.
Other protein powders are made with egg-white protein, hemp protein, rice protein or pea protein.
How Does Protein Powder Work?
Protein powder is taken as part of a training schedule to aid your workout either in a pill form or mixing the powder into milk, water, or juice to make a protein shake.
The powder provides your body with the building blocks for the amino acids needed to promote healthy muscle growth in conjunction with your workout.
Providing your body with protein makes up for the net protein lost during intense physical activity and gives your body more time to recover.
This increases protein muscle synthesis and decreases protein breakdown, creating a positive protein balance.
Taking protein powder before a workout allows that protein to be broken up sooner and turned into those amino acids to aid muscle growth. Current research suggests whey protein-based products offer the best results for muscle gain.
Whey is one of the most studied supplements on the planet. There are three major types of whey protein.
Whey concentrate goes through the least processing. It is the filtered milk dried and left behind. Its protein percentage is typically around 30% to 80%. Always check the packaging to make sure.
75% would be a good quality product, but whey concentrate still has the lowest percentage of the whey proteins.
Whey protein contains beneficial subfractions as well, and evidence suggests these must remain denatured to achieve their benefits. This means whey concentrate may give you the biggest health advantage. Many find it tastes the best.
The whey concentrate is further processed until it loses its base component of water and is free of lactose and cholesterol. There are a few different processing techniques.
This method uses the ion exchangers to the surface charge of the molecule to extract the native whey protein from the solution of whey concentrate.
Using mild pH adjustments, the ion exchange resin is detached from the protein molecules. The separated isolates are washed and extracted in between the binding process.
Usually using a combination of microfiltration and ultrafiltration, these techniques use molecular size as a basis for separating parts from the whey stream.
Pressure is applied to a membrane placed on the surface of the solution. This forces the smaller molecules through the membrane while the larger molecules remain. What remains is the isolate.
Whey isolate typically maintains 90% protein and has the highest protein concentration. Its absorption rate is about the same as whey concentrate and is used by people who want a greater protein percentage and are willing to pay more.
Depending on the processing technique used it may not lose all the benefits of the subfractions. Crossflow microfiltration, for example, is a more expensive technique but will keep the peptides more intact. The whey isolate will still lose some benefits but not all.
Hydrolyzed whey is made by breaking the isolated or concentrated whey down even further so that it can be absorbed more rapidly into the bloodstream. It creates a greater spike in insulin levels by up to 40% versus the other whey proteins.
Whey More Benefits
Whey protein has been found to have more benefits than some other types of protein supplements. Although whey concentrate is the most popular, most studies showing the benefits to be listed have been done using whey isolate.
Whey protein has been seen to give slightly better results than soy overall, and better short-term results than casein. It does this by providing all the necessary amino acids as stated earlier, but it also provides the increased release of anabolic hormones like insulin to promote muscle growth.
Whey protein is high in Leucine, an amino acid that helps raise muscle protein synthesis. The fast absorption rate is beneficial as well.
It isn’t a miracle supplement, but whey protein can help with weight loss. It is the most fulfilling macronutrient, can boost your metabolism by up to 100 calories a day, and has caused some to stop eating almost 450 calories a day.
Studies have shown whey to be able to cut cravings and decrease snacking. Not a miracle, but still potent. Combining it with activities that increase muscle gain like weightlifting have shown to increase these effects.
These include lowering blood pressure and blood sugar, in addition to reducing stress and depression.
Whey can increase bone density, decrease hepatitis symptoms, and some say it helps prevent cancer. Some studies have shown it to improve immune systems among HIV patients.
The Whey Ahead
Protein powder is a great supplement to other diet and exercise to grow muscle. It has other benefits but to take the supplement for these reasons irresponsibly would be a mistake. It’s just food, not a miracle.
Whey protein powder specifically has a lot to offer, but you need to make sure you calculate your protein intake to make sure you receive the proper dosage for your age, weight, and activity.
A typical adult needs 0.8 grams of protein per day per kilogram of body weight. Athletes building muscle need up to 2.0 grams per day per kilogram.
Protein is the king of muscle gain, and whey protein seems to be the best of the batch based on current studies.