“Whey”ing in on Protein: What is Whey Protein?
What comes to mind when you think of protein? Is it a thick, juicy steak that still looks half-bloody on the inside, literally looking only a few moments beyond the “Moo”? Or is it a massive body builder advertising for protein shakes with the guarantee of becoming a lean, mean, muscle machine? Whatever it is, there is definitely a lot of hype behind protein! Legit hype too, especially when it comes to performance and the fitness industry. Protein supplementation, whey protein in particular, is definitely a term you should be familiar with.
What is Protein?
Here are the basics:
Protein is a basic building block of almost everything in our bodies. Proteins are part of every organ, every tissue, every cell. When we eat protein, our body breaks it down into amino acids for its use. Some of the amino acids cannot be made by our bodies, so it is essential that we consume these through our diet-thus the name, essential amino acids.
Foods or protein sources are categorized based on how many of these essential amino acids they supply. They are either categorized as complete or incomplete proteins. Complete proteins supply all of the essential amino acids. They are often called high quality proteins and are animal-based foods such as meat, fish, milk, eggs, poultry, and cheese. Incomplete proteins are lacking one or more of the essential amino acids. Therefore, they must be consumed within a certain time frame with another incomplete protein source to provide the sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids. Examples are rice, beans, corn, tofu, dry beans, nuts, etc.
The thing to remember with protein is that protein is not stored like carbohydrates and fat. We must consume the essential amino acids every day!
When it comes to fitness and performance, replacing these stores of amino acids becomes critical not only for muscle growth, but also for recovery. So, many athletes are turning to protein supplementation, and the use of whey protein seems to be a favorite.
What is Whey Protein?
First things first, let’s break it down even more. What is whey? Whey is actually the liquid that is produced right before cheese becomes cheese. Whey proteins are then separated out from the liquid and then purified to their various forms (powder, concentrate, isolate). Whey protein is a complete protein and has often been referred to as the “ultimate protein” because it actually exceeds the requirements of essential amino acids for health, maintenance and growth. It is superior to other forms of protein because it offers more immune system benefits, has a faster digestion and absorption rate, as well as better antioxidant properties. And this is just scratching the surface.
For athletes, because of its high concentration in branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) whey protein has been associated with increased rates of protein synthesis, increased lean muscle mass, improved strength, improved immunity, improved recovery, and decreased musculoskeletal injuries. These factors relate directly and become critical to the health and performance of an athlete.
You need your protein! What you choose to consume is up to you, but when you need a complete protein that comes with everything you need and then some, whey protein is tough to beat!
Campbell, Bill, PhD, CSCS, FISSN. (Downloaded 3/25/2010). Protein Needs for Athletes. NSCA Hot Topic Series. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2011 from http://www.nsca-lift.org/HotTopic/download/Protein%20Needs.pdf.
Centers for Disease Control. (Last updated Feb. 23, 2011). Protein. Retrieved on Oct. 7, 2011 from http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/protein.html
Geiser, Marjorie, RD, NSCA-PT. (October 2003). The Wonders of Whey Protein. NSCA’s Performance Training Journal, vol. 2, number 5, 13-15. Retrieved Oct. 7, 2011 from http://www.nsca-lift.org/Perform/issues/0205.pdf