Whey protein is a byproduct of the cheese making process, created from milk. It is a supplement that can be incorporated into the diet of vegetarians who eat dairy and eggs but not in that of the vegans who do not eat any animal products at all. It is a common myth that vegans and vegetarians do not get enough protein of any kind in their diet, but this is not true. The average diet is 14-18% protein while the average vegan diet is only slightly lower at 10-12%.
The need for protein increases as the activity level does; however, there is no need to go extreme no matter how athletic or active you have become. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that there is a limit to how much protein the body can use at one time.
Whey Protein By the Numbers
The average person needs around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The very sedentary person may need about half that amount. For the very active person, the amount will increase slightly with some body builders, long distance athletes and others needing as much as a full gram of protein and in some cases as much as 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. The American Heart Association suggests that protein should be restricted to around 35% of the daily calories or less for safety, with most of the high protein diets coming in around 20-30%.
In addition to how much protein is actually safe, it is important to consider that only the first 30 grams of protein eaten in any meal are used to make muscle. The myth that athletes eat tons of protein foods or drink huge vats of whey protein supplements to get their big muscles is a dangerous one. It is better than to keep the amount of protein to the safe level in the overall diet and to remember that eating too much protein at one time does not help at all.
A study by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that two groups of adults did not have any increase in muscle mass when they consumed larger amounts of protein. Spreading protein out throughout the day allowed for better digestion and also allowed the person to stay fuller.
Why Whey Protein?
Whey protein is the most like skeletal muscle and has higher amounts of the amino acids arginine and lysine, both important to stimulate the release of a particular growth hormone. IGFI is an anabolic hormone, which is a natural alternative to steroids. Whey protein also is a good, natural source of glutamine which helps the athlete with fatigue and over training. Whey protein, a complete protein source, is the only natural food source of branched chain amino acids. BCAAs metabolize directly to muscle tissue rather than having to be digested, stored and then used for the same purpose. These amino acids are used first by the body for exercise and resistance training. Whey is also an excellent source of leucine which is needed for muscle growth.
Whey protein has been shown to stabilize blood glucose and slows the absorption of glucose into the blood stream.
How Whey Protein Is Used During Digestion and Exercise
When we exercise, our body breaks down the energy from the food that we have consumed. The proteins are converted to free amino acids, which are then used to provide energy for the muscles. Heavy resistance training will increase the rate of protein synthesis and muscular breakdown for up to twenty-four hours after a workout. If there is not a new protein source during the recovery period, the breakdown will continue and will exceed the synthesis of protein to muscle mass leading to a loss of muscle mass. It is recommended that athletes consume protein both before and after their workout including using protein and protein supplements.
Additional Benefits of Whey Protein
In addition to the benefits already mentioned, protein also lowers the hunger level and can increase fat burning potential. Whey has two bioactive compounds that release hunger suppressing hormones: these include CCK and GLP-1. Glutathione may also inhibit the growth of some tumors and decrease the risk of infection. Studies have shown that rats that were fed whey had 50% fewer tumors than casein and the tumors that they did have were slower to grow. Whey protein may also help slow muscle and bone loss, especially in the older person. Whey also contains the protective anti-microbial lactoferrin which is used to promote wound healing.
Warnings About Whey Protein
There are some disadvantages to protein, however. Too much can cause liver damage. Those who have problems with lactose may not be able to digest protein either, however, many can handle whey protein isolate which has less lactose content to deal with. Whey protein is the most common supplement type and should be easy to find; however, different brands have differing amounts of protein and may have different amounts of calories per serving as well.
A high protein diet, including one that is high in protein, can increase the risk of dehydration in athletes. It is important to note that three out of four people may be at risk of dehydration at any point during the day and those people may actually be chronically dehydrated.
Like other types of protein, it is important to get the right amount of whey protein. Too much can cause serious problems while too little protein in the diet can lead to a protein deficiency.