Protein powder is big business. Billions are spent each year, across the world on protein powders and other protein supplements by athletes and amateur meatheads.
There is a vast array of protein supplements to choose from, different brands with different ingredients such as hemp, casein and whey protein.
Whey protein has been the most popular form of protein powder since the late 90s – before that milk protein powders dominated the gym shelves.
But what exactly is whey protein and is it worth the price tag?
What is Protein?
Protein is an essential macronutrient – the others are fats and carbohydrates. It is used to build tissues and cells in the body, it’s a bit like building blocks that make up your body.
Chemically, the main difference between carbohydrate, fat and protein, is that protein contains nitrogen in addition to carbohydrate, hydrogen and oxygen.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are joined together by peptide bonds.
Amino acids are compounds made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and some sulphur.
There a 9 essential amino acids. These are needed in the diet – as they cannot by manufactured in the body.
Meat contains the essential amino acids, so does whey protein and hemp. Many vegetarian sources of protein do not contain all the essential amino acids.
Hemp and quinoa are regarded as the best forms of vegan protein, because they contain all of the essential amino acids. Nuts are also very high in protein and fat but don’t contain all of the amino acids required to build muscle.
Why Do People Supplement with Protein Powder?
The theory is that if an athlete adheres to a resistance training program and supplements with protein, then protein synthesis will increase – resulting in the muscle cells increasing in size (a process called muscle hypertrophy).
If an athlete adheres to a resistance training programme, but consumes no protein – then in theory the muscles will not be able to repair and regrow – recovery from exercise will be slow or impossible and the muscles will not grow (in theory). It would be like trying to build a house without any bricks!
The question is – how much protein is required? How many ‘building blocks’ do muscles need to regrow stronger and larger?
In 1995 a study conducted by Lemon – concluded that:
Strength athletes probably need about 1.4-1.8 g.kg-1.day-1
This would mean that a 100kg man needs between 140g and 180g of protein per day. That’s about 5 or 6 tins of tuna per day.
How is Protein Effectiveness Determined?
There are a number of scientific methods for determining the effectiveness of protein in terms of its ability to aid muscle growth.
Protein Effectiveness Ration (PER)
Protein Effectiveness Ratio is determined by feeding rats the specific source of protein.
Whey Protein has a PER Ratio of 3.0-3.2
Milk Protein (casein) has a PER Ratio of 2.8
Egg Protein has a PER Ratio of 2.8
Beef has a PER Ratio of 2.2
2. Biological Value (BV)
Biological Value measures what percentage of protein becomes incorporated/absorbed in the body. It is a measure of protein utilisation.
Whey Protein has 96
Whole Soy Protein also has a B.V. of 96
Cheese has a BV of 84
Beef has a BV of 74
3. Net Protein Utilization
This is similar to Biological Value, except that it is a direct measure of the amount of nitrogen retained in the body (nitrogen is contained in protein).
Whey has a NPU of 92
Casein (milk protein) has an NPU of 76
Soy has an NPU of 61
4. Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score
This is a measure of amino acid digestibility on a scale of 0.0 t 1.0
Whey, Casein, Soy and Egg protein all have a PDCAAS of 1.0 – meaning that all the protein can be digested.
|Protein Type||Protein Efficiency Ratio||Biological Value||Net Protein Utilization||Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score|
Things to know about whey protein
One thing you should all know, no matter the brand, it all comes from the same couple of dairies and all consists of the same ‘raw material’.
Don’t be caught up in the marketing hype
Marketing in general is all bollocks to fool you and/or make you feel insecure. This is especially true when it comes to marketing in the fitness industry.
In fact, supplement companies could claim absolutely anything they wanted to in advertising and labels, as long as they didn’t suggest that the product could treat or diagnose a disease.
Whey is a byproduct of cheese production, and for UK brands, will normally come from a dairy in Ireland, or England, somewhere.
The raw material is the same, no matter the brand.
Branded products add flash packaging, and make up names like “peptide bonded” and “micellar” (all casein protein is micellar) and sell it for 3 times the price.
Don’t be fooled by the marketing and the steroid taking fitness models that share lion memes on Facebook.
Is Whey Protein Best?
Whey protein is the ‘best’, according to research.
Whey is the superior protein in terms of increasing protein synthesis.
This is thanks to its leucine content, which increases protein synthesis via the mTOR pathway.
Leucine is linked to increased protein synthesis, also prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer cells need leucine to grow, multiply and spread, determined a “Journal of the National Cancer Institute” study published in 2013.
I wouldn’t supplement with leucine for this reason, however, supplementing with whey protein doesn’t appear to carry any risks in terms of prostate cancer thanks to some of the other beneficial components of whey. In fact, thanks to its ability to increase glutathione levels, it reduces the risks.
Research for whey protein is very robust and extensive.
Some people however criticise much of the research, as it is suggested by some that the American Dairy Association funded many of the studies.
If you’re interested in the politics of research, there is a bit of information regarding on similar goings on here
I WOULD recommend whey protein, post workout for bodybuilders and strength athletes.
Perhaps with creatine and alpha lipoic acid + a source of high glycemic carbs like maltodextrin if you’re a bodybuilder.
If you’re training for health / long term fitness, I would probably recommend consuming whole foods before, during and after training instead.
Where should I buy Whey Protein in the UK?
I would recommend buying from:
What are the side effects of whey Protein?
Main thing – if you have whey protein concentrate, it will still contain some carbs, and you will probably fart a lot, thanks to the lactose.
Any dairy based food will increase mucous production, in theory. So avoid if you have asthma etc.
As stated above, whey protein contains high levels of leucine, which has been linked to prostate cancer.
How much Whey Protein do I need to Take?
Honestly – I don’t know.
The majority of evidence, seems to suggest that around 1.7g per KG of bodyweight are required.
However, there was a study in 2014 – Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation which concluded:
“…most but not all bodybuilders will respond best to consuming 2.3-3.1 g/kg of lean body mass per day of protein...”
So if you weight 100kg, you’ll need over 200g of protein per day, at least.
This may have been due to the fact that the subjects were all in calorie deficit, and cutting weight for a competition.
The majority of other studies suggest that a lot less protein is required.
For example –
“Strength-trained athletes should consume protein consistent with general population guidelines, or 12% to 15% of energy from protein”
This would mean that the average male strength athlete requires under 100g a day in total.
I’ve no idea which is correct, and how much strength athletes and bodybuilders need exactly…
I would personally aim for somewhere in between.
I am just under 90kg, and aim for about 150kg
Examine.com have a very interesting, science-based article about protein intake.
They conclude that:
“If you’re of healthy weight, active, and wish to build muscle, aim for 1.4–3.3 g/kg (0.64–1.50 g/lb). Eating more than 2.6 g/kg (1.18 g/lb) is probably not going to lead to greater muscle gains, but it can minimize fat gains when “bulking” — i.e., when eating above maintenance in order to gain (muscle) weight.”
They also conclude that high protein diets do not have a negative impact on healthy individuals:
Since higher protein intakes seem to have no negative effects in healthy people, one may want to err toward the higher amounts.
In fact, it may actually be unhealthy to eat a low protein diet.
What Whey Protein is Best?
Whey protein concentrate is the best value, but whey protein isolate is much ‘lighter’ and doesn’t make you do massive farts and mega-dumps.
I would use whey protein concentrate, as long as you’re not lactose intolerant.
I would recommend starting with something like Pure Whey Protein from BulkPowders.
Where can I get more information about Whey Protein?
Ask questions on forums like http://muscletalk.co.uk before investing in a protein powder or supplement.
Any other Tips about Protein?
Tip 1 – Look out for the offers on the homepage banners on MyProtein and BulkPowders
Tip 2 – Check out research for any supplement on http://examine.com
Tip 3 – Opt for whole foods whenever possible. For example hemp seeds for protein.
Too much animal protein however, has been linked to kidney stones. Whey protein is fine in this regard.
Tip 4 – You don’t need protein every 3 hours. This is one reason that intermittent fasting has become popular with bodybuilders and athletes.
Tip 5 – Too much animal protein can cause health problems:
Animal protein and kidney stones research/article by Harvard University:
“Limit animal protein: Eating too much animal protein, such as red meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood, boosts the level of uric acid and could lead to kidney stones. A high-protein diet also reduces levels of citrate, the chemical in urine that helps prevent stones from forming. If you’re prone to stones, limit your daily meat intake to a quantity that is no bigger than a pack of playing cards. This is also a heart-healthy portion.”
If you love eating animals too much…tart cherry juice is shown to reduce the amount of uric acid in the blood (or at least offset its ability to cause gout and kidney stones. It’s also great for inflammation and arthritis.