There is a great array of articles that have been written about protein, both in print and online. They might appear in magazines or medical journals. Some are in the profiles of aspiring Instagram models who think that looking good at the beach qualifies them to talk about the benefits of protein and its effect on the body.
But at Max’s, we’re all about putting the best, highest quality information in front of you. And we do that because we know you’re motivated and keen. But we also know that you want to get the best ‘bang for your buck’ that you can possibly get. And in this case, your ‘buck’ is the many hours you spend in the gym, moving heavy weights, knocking down k’s on the rowing machine or bike and being consistent.
You want the reward for that effort.
And that makes perfect sense. We’re here to help with that with in-depth guides to your training and nutrition (oh, it’s free, by the way). And we’re also here to put together high-quality, in-depth content about how to use whey protein in the right way so you maximise the rewards you get for your hard work.
Let’s get into it.
Why Whey – The Quick Version?
The most obvious question that most people ask when it comes to protein is ‘why is whey such a popular option?’ There are three main reasons:
- It is digested by the body in a quick, efficient manner. That means it gets to your tired muscles quickly.
- It’s absorbed quickly. Not only does it get processed by the digestive system fast, but whey protein also begins the process of muscle repair fast.
- It tastes good. If you’ve ever had a protein powder or meal you hated the taste of, you know how important this is. The best diet or supplement is the one that you look forward to eating or drinking. If you dread having to get your post-workout protein shakedown, then you might not finish it or skip it. And both those things detract from your steps towards your fitness goals. So, taste matters. That’s why we pay particular attention to it in our whey range.
Whey Used to Go Down the Drain
If you’ve heard the old nursery rhyme where the main character is ‘eating her curds and whey’ then you’ve probably already figured out that whey protein is a milk product. In fact, it’s a by-product. It used to be tipped down the drain as it was just the clear liquid left over after milk has been processed and strained.
But some enterprising scientists and food industry types did some further investigation on this seemingly worthless by-product. And what they found was a bit of a game-changer.
It turned out that was being poured down the drain was actually choc-full of nutrients and, more importantly, proteins. And because it was given no value, it was also a far more cost-effective (per gram of protein) way of getting protein than purchasing meat.
Not all proteins are created equal. In fact, ‘protein’ is an umbrella term for a whole range of ‘building blocks’ called amino acids. Leucine is one of the ‘all star’ amino acids. Scientific studies have shown that leucine is an essential amino acid. Put simply, that means that it needs to be there for muscles to grow.
That’s because leucine is key to starting a process called ‘protein synthesis’. That’s the process by which your body takes the food you consume and turns it into lean muscle. You can aid this process by eating the right supplements for lean muscle gain, training hard and getting enough sleep.
How to Use Whey Protein for Maximum Effect
Any increase in protein supplementation paired with an effective training regime should result in lean muscle building and fat loss. Of course, that’s only up to a point. Eating 500 grams of protein a day won’t give you five times better results than eating 100 grams of protein (and will leave you feeling very sick).
But apart from the quantity (which will vary depending on your goals), how can you use whey protein most effectively?
Well, it turns out that timing matters. Whey protein is especially effective if taken within 30 to 60 minutes of completing a workout. That’s down to the fact that the body is quick to digest it because it naturally contains a blend of carbohydrates, protein and fats (just like whole milk).
The other ‘superpower’ that whey protein has from a nutritional perspective is the abundance of leucine. As we talked about before, leucine is a bit of a standout among the wide range of amino acids. It alone has the status of ‘essential’ compared to the other ones when it comes to muscle growth and getting the best bang for your buck from your training. And whey protein is absolutely packed with it.
Whey – One Name, Many Forms
Here’s a bit of a secret that most people won’t admit to anyone: protein can get confusing. No point pretending it isn’t. But once you get your head around it once, you’ll never forget – it’s like knowing how to ride a bike.
Whey and protein powder, in general, have gotten confusing because of two things. First, it’s because of the huge interest that many more people have in Australia about getting fit, healthy and getting their bodies in good shape not just for today but for the long term. Which leads to the second thing: money. More people interested in getting fit means more people interested in spending money to get fit. And diet and nutrition are a huge, non-negotiable part of that.
Let’s break the types of whey down.
- Whey protein concentrate (WPC) – Whey protein concentrate is the least processed type of whey protein. Fewer steps required to produce this kind of protein yields a fantastic advantage: lower costs. These lower costs translate all the way through to lower shelf prices for your favourite brands of whey. Whey protein concentrate has three main components: protein, fat and carbohydrates (in the form of lactose). Depending on the quality of the product, the percentage of whey can be as low as 40% or as high as 80%.
- Whey protein isolate (WPI) – Whey protein isolate is true to its name: it is an isolated form of whey protein. Specifically, it is more processed than WPC. That extra processing means that the additional fat and lactose are ‘stripped out’ of the product. For that reason, WPI is a good bet for people who are sensitive to lactose. The downside is that WPI supplements are a little more expensive than their WPC cousins. In terms of percentages of protein, WPI’s are between 80%–90% protein.
- Whey hydrolysate (WH) – whey protein that has been through a purifying process called hydrolysis is called whey hydrolysate. WH protein supplements are free of allergenic substances that are present in WPC and WPI. The benefits are not just the removal of allergens. WH is also incredibly easily absorbed by the body. But, as you might have guessed, all this comes at a cost. These types of supplements are easily the most expensive of the whey options, and many suppliers don’t even sell them due to the low demand for such a high-priced option.
So Which One Would be Right for Me?
The first one. Just kidding. With health and nutrition, it’s rarely that clear. Instead, there are reasons why you would choose one over the other. We’re about putting that information in front of you without the marketing ‘spin’ so you can make up your mind.
You’ll often see whey protein isolates and hydrolysates marketed as ‘premium’ options. There is some merit to that. In terms of ‘protein per gram of product’, these two options definitely give you more. But it’s also important to realise that there is a ‘ceiling’ to just how much protein you can effectively consume in one sitting.
An Easy Example: Watering A Plant
That fact isn’t one you often hear much about. It helps to think of it like watering a pot plant. You know that water is required to help it grow by giving it the nutrients it needs. But there is also a point at which more water doesn’t have any additional benefit. That’s because the soil gets saturated and can’t take any more water. After a certain point, that water will just run off and not be used effectively to support the growth of the plant.
It’s incredibly similar with protein. According to plenty of academic research, the optimal serve of protein is around 20–25 grams per serving. That’s the sweet spot in terms of how much protein your body can effectively absorb in one sitting. That doesn’t mean that consuming a little more or a little less is a waste of time or harmful. But just like over-watering the plant, 40 grams of protein in one sitting isn’t going to be twice as beneficial as 20 grams in a serve.
At the other end of the scale, whey protein concentrates are often marketed as a budget-friendly alternative. And given that overdoing it with huge quantities of protein isn’t going to help you get to your results in a more effective way, it makes sense to think about your hip pocket.
But the pitfall of this is that sometimes these so-called whey protein concentrates are a bit lacking in the quality department. That’s because a good quality WPC will have well over 60% protein in the package (by weight) and limited ‘filler’. Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of to find WPCs on the market with as little as 30% protein by weight in the package. Fillers can take the form of anything from artificial sweetener to flour! Make sure you buy from a reputable supplier, with a strong history in the industry to back up any claims they make about their product.
You can also do your own research by checking the nutrition panel on different products. If something says it’s a ‘high-quality protein,’ but the serving size is 40 grams and there are only 15 grams of protein in that serve, then you want to be finding out what else is making up the other 25 grams. If it isn’t all protein, that’s not necessarily a bad sign. For example, plenty of high-quality weight gainers will include a decent amount of high-quality carbohydrates to get the ideal ratio of nutrients to build lean muscle (since your body isn’t fuelled by protein alone).
The other main factor that leads people to choose one type of protein over the other is the presence of lactose. There’s nothing wrong with lactose. It’s a naturally occurring sugar that is present in milk. And that naturally occurring property is what gives milk its great taste and the creamy mouthfeel that makes it and things like thick-shakes and ice cream a favourite for many people. And, of course, since whey is a milk product, it contains lactose.
But some people have trouble digesting lactose. It’s usually a fairly minor issue, with symptoms ranging from mild bloating to occasional stomach upsets. But whey protein concentrate contains a fairly high quantity of lactose per serve. In comparison, whey protein isolate has very little.
So, if you are lactose-intolerant, or if you avoid milk and milk products because you don’t feel great afterwards, then whey protein isolate might be a better way for you to use whey protein to get the best results. Of course, if you love a glass of milk or really enjoy the creamy taste of milk-based products, then a good quality whey protein concentrate is likely to suit you perfectly.
How to Use Whey Protein (and When and Where!)
- Whole Food - First things first. Whey protein is not a magical ingredient. Consuming three protein shakes a day alone won’t suddenly catapult you towards all of your fitness dreams and goals. If you’ve started a high-intensity training routine, you’re on the right track. If you are in a good routine and doing it consistently, then you’re well on the way. And if you add the right nutrition and diet, then you’re likely to be seeing the results you want.
- Percentages of Whole Food - So, what does the ‘right nutrition and diet’ part of the puzzle look like? Well, first of all, you want to be eating a varied diet, with plenty of colourful vegetables and food that is ideally less processed. A decent rule of thumb is aiming to get between 40%–60% of your protein from whole food sources like lean meat, eggs and fish, and plant sources like beans and legumes.
- Timing: Post-Workout – according to a widely cited and reproduced study, around 20 grams of protein consumed after a workout is the ‘gold standard’ to promote muscle growth. That’s because that is the time when trained muscles are most receptive to a hit of protein and other nutrients to build back stronger after being challenged. This process is called ‘protein synthesis’.
- Timing: Pre-Workout – according to another study, protein consumed before workout out may have benefits for some people in terms of reducing muscle damage. It may also assist in reducing the feeling of muscle soreness. So, if you’re someone who suffers from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), then experimenting with a hit of protein prior to working out might be a good way to see if you can reduce post-workout symptoms.
- Where – the two times above can be called ‘protein windows’ that you want to hit. Ideally, you want to be consuming a good source of high-quality protein within 60 minutes of a workout or 30 minutes prior, or both. Obviously, the incredible portability of protein powders is perfectly suited to this purpose. You can premix your protein with water in a shaker and have it in the car ready for your drive home after the gym, or just have the dry powder in the shaker in your gym bag ready to be filled up at the chilled water machine and mixed up post-workout. The best way to ensure you are using whey in the right way (and at the right times) is to plan when you’ll be using it and having it easily accessible. For the pre-workout window, plenty of people keep a container of their preferred protein at work to mix up and drink before they leave, which also leaves enough time for it to settle in your stomach before you do any strenuous exercise.
Why Should I Supplement with Whey?
If you’ve read this far, chances are that you already know about the benefits of protein when training. So we’ll just treat this like a refresher (rather than a deep dive) about the benefits. In short, whey:
- Supports healthy weight loss. As a protein-dense macronutrient, it is filling and gives you an increased feeling of satisfied ‘fullness’ for longer than other options.
- Turbocharges the effects of weight and resistance training. Dozens of studies from academics and universities, published in journals all over the world, prove this beyond a doubt.
- Helps reduce hunger pangs, which is a nice lifestyle benefit while chasing your fitness goals.
At Max’s our goal is, and always will be, helping people who are working hard at achieving their fitness goals get to those goals. That might be adding 10 kilograms of lean muscle, it might be hitting some weight loss goals in a healthy way, or it might be putting down the foundations for a strong, healthy body a long way into the future.
Part of supporting you is strongly researched, in-depth articles like this one. Whey protein isn’t a magical ingredient. But it is a strongly researched, safe, effective supplement that can be integrated into your training and nutrition plan to help you get the best results in less time.
Hopefully, now you’ve got a better understanding of exactly how you can use whey protein to hit your fitness goals.