In the world of nutrition, there are often trends surrounding a particular macronutrient (protein, carbohydrate, fat). If you think back to the 90's, you may remember that there was a low fat trend for a number of years. Fast forward to today, low carb, high protein is all the rage. Being that the current trend pushes high protein, food and supplement companies are taking advantage of this by marketing products with higher amounts of protein.
With increased marketing efforts by nutrition supplement companies over the past few years you have undoubtedly heard of whey protein. Being that there are so many different brands and types the general consumer is often left confused. Here I will break down the different types of whey protein to give a better idea of which might be best for you, if any at all.
How much protein should I be eating?
The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for protein is based on .8g/kg or ~.36g/lb. This is the recommendation to meet nutrient needs for 98% of the healthy population. This number can drastically change when you add in varying types of exercise or other physical stressors. Recent studies suggest that protein intakes of up to 1.3-1.8g/kg may be beneficial for maximizing protein synthesis (the process in which muscle is built). (1) What it really comes down to is your goals as an individual. If you are an endurance athlete 1.0-1.2g/kg may be fine for you, if you are a bodybuilder, it may be advantageous to consume slightly more (closer to the 1.3-1.8g/kg). Lastly, if you do not exercise on a regular basis the general recommendation of 0.8g/kg may be sufficient. In the case of protein more isn't always better, but too little may be counterproductive to your goals. If you are concerned with proposed health effects of consuming "too much" protein, a 2016 study looked at athletes consuming a high protein diet and found no detrimental effects at levels of >1.2g/kg/day. (2)
What is whey protein?
Whey is one of the two proteins found in cows milk. The other being casein which we will save for a later post. Cow's milk is made up of about 80% casein and 20% whey. Whey is a by-product of producing dairy items such as cheese and greek yogurt, to name a few. Whey can be processed in a few different ways to turn it into a powder form. This is the product that we see sold by supplement companies.
Where does whey protein come into play?
When it comes to the athletic population, higher protein intake is beneficial, as mentioned. While it is possible to get the additional protein from food sources, other sources such as whey protein may be more convenient at times. Another benefit to consuming whey is the rate at which it is absorbed and utilized in the body. (also called bioavailability) Check out this previous post where I go over different types of protein and their bioavailability. We can use the bioavailability of whey as a nutrition strategy surrounding workouts. This is why many people consume whey protein after workouts, because it is absorbed and utilized much quicker than lets say, a chicken breast or steak. There have been studies to show that protein consumption immediately after a workout is not necessarily beneficial if protein intake for the rest of the day is adequate. (3) Consuming whey protein can help ensure you meet your protein needs for they day but it is totally possible to meet your needs through food. This comes down to a matter of personal choice and time.
Types of Whey Protein
As mentioned, whey protein can be processed in a few different ways, each providing a different end product. I will detail each type briefly below.
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
This is the most popular and least expensive form of whey protein. The amount of protein in concentrate can vary from 25-89%. Most WPC's sold as nutrition supplements are ~80%. The other 20% is made up of lactose (4-8%), fat, minerals, and moisture.
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
Whey protein isolate is also a popular form although it is slightly more expensive due to the way it is processed. WPI contains 90-95% protein. As the name implies, the protein is further isolated to remove lactose, fat and other substances. This would be a good whey protein for an individual with lactose intolerance being that it contains very little. WPI's are also lower in fat allowing you to add protein without adding many calories.
Hydrolyzed Whey Protein
Hydrolyzed whey protein is even further processed. The long protein chains are broken down into shorter chains which enhances digestibility. This makes this type of whey protein more easily absorbed by the body and may reduce the potential for allergic reactions. HWP is ~80-90% protein and contains little lactose. This type of protein is used in specialized sports nutrition products and infant formulas.
If you choose to use whey protein, the type you select depends on budget, tolerance to lactose and concern with protein percentage. Like I previously mentioned whey protein is not a necessity if you are an athlete or active individual. It is just another tool in the toolbox.
Glad to be back with another post in our supp series. If you found this post informative please don't hesitate to share. Do you use whey protein? If so, which type? Leave a comment below. We will see you back in the next one and until next time, BE ELITE!