Whey protein – also known as lactalbumin – has been a bodybuilding and strength-training staple for two decades now but what exactly is it, and why is it the best choice for our muscle growth and recovery?
Whey protein is in fact a mixture of lactoglobulin, immunoglobulin, and albumin proteins with various vitamins and minerals also present. One of the reasons it is prized by athletes and exercisers alike is that it represents a balanced source of all twenty three amino acids– which are the building blocks of protein molecules. Whey is also more utilisable for the body when compared with soy protein its ingestion leads to greater concentrations of amino acids in peripheral tissues. Whey protein also has a relatively high BV (or Biological Value) of up to 180 which means it is very quickly absorbed in the intestine unlike other proteins such as casein (a milk protein) or egg-white, which has a BV of only 100.
Branch-chain Amino Acids. Of interest to exercisers and sportspeople is the fact that whey is the best known source of the three branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, valine) which play an important role in muscle composition. Not only are these the only amino acids to be used directly in muscle growth and repair, they are also the first to be broken down as the body exercises intensely.
Glutamine. Whey protein is relatively high in the amino acid glutamine which plays a strong role in muscle repair and growth. What is more, glutamine aids immune system functioning and is thought to improve erectile performance in men, serving as an aphrodisiac.
Anti-oxidation. The amino acids present in why protein play an antioxidant role. For example, Lactoferrin and lactoferricin (two minor whey proteins) function as antioxidants via their iron binding capacity, which inhibits bacterial growth and oxidative reactions. Amino acids such as Cysteine control the synthesis of other antioxidants, including those which are depleted by exercise like Glutathione. Remember that exercise bombards the body with free radicals and courses oxidative damage itself. Studies have shown the whey protein increases Glutathione levels in the heart and liver tissues far more than casein. Dr Kyle Kent and colleagues from the Ohio State University published a study that showed intracellular injections of whey protein isolate delivered into the epithelial lining of the human prostate increased concentrations of Glutathione and protected the cells from oxidant-induced cell death. The Ohio State team were unable to repeat these results with less utilisable proteins such as casein.
Fat and energy Unlike many other protein sources (for example, eggs and milk) whey protein contains little energy in the form of fat or carbohydrates. This means that whey fits well into a low calorie, nutrient-rich eating plan.
Post workout Whey is the ideal protein source after exercise because it works in synergy with insulin. One of the functions of Insulin is to shunt carbohydrates and proteins into muscle cells rather than fat cells. In order for this to happen, the body develops high insulin sensitivity during exercise which falls to baselines levels approximately two hours after the cessation of training. To maximise the post-workout absorption of the amino acids in whey you should consume a high GI (Glycemic Index) carbohydrate, which induces an insulin spike thereby increasing the rate at which nutrients are delivered to the recovering muscle cells.
Insulin and blood sugar control When added to high-carbohydrate meals, whey stimulates insulin release which in turn reduces spikes in blood glucose levels after the meal. This means that whey has a role to play in blood sugar control, which can be of benefit to those suffering from Type-II Diabetes.
Toxicity While there is minimal risk of food allergies being triggered (no more than with soy, milk, or egg-based proteins), there is a minor risk associated with the use of whey by insulin-dependent diabetic children. Some studies have shown that one of the lesser whey proteins – BSA (bovine serum albumin) – is present in greater quantities in children who are developing the condition. However, the evidence is contradictory and there is no proof that the protein causes the development of diabetes. Protein ingestion places a strain on the kidneys, and while no studies have supported the idea of supplementation causing renal damage, researchers have warned against excessive intake (>2g per kg of body weight per day). On the positive side, the work involved in digesting protein does consume burn extra calories. With excessive protein intake there is a corresponding risk of dehydration, so adequate fluid intake should be maintained. Under such circumstances, acid production is increased which may deplete calcium (used as a buffer). If you are looking for a raw whey that is organic and contains nothing other than pure organic whey concentrate, then this one is really good:
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