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Protein powder made from whey is one of the most popular sports nutrition supplements in the world, because it is rapidly digested and absorbed, which means it reaches your muscles very quickly after training. This kick-starts the process known as muscle protein synthesis, where the amino acids in protein are used to rebuild and repair the muscular damage caused by weight training.

If you are serious about adding as much lean muscle to your body as quickly as possible then you should invest in a tub of high-quality whey powder. A protein shake, ideally made with whey powder and cold water or skimmed milk, taken within 60 minutes of the end of your training session, will flood your bloodstream with amino acids. These are then shuttled into your muscle cells, where they are laid down as new tissue to make your muscles bigger and stronger.

The Benefits Of Whey Protein

YOUR MUSCLES GET LARGER AND STRONGERA study published in the Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition found that subjects who consumed whey protein after training experienced improved blood flow to their forearm muscles, enhancing the delivery of muscle-building nutrients such as oxygen and hormones. It is also generally understood that the anabolic effects of weight training are increased through the consumption of whey protein because amino acids are rapidly driven to skeletal muscle tissue. This helps your muscles get larger and stronger in less time than if you weren’t taking whey protein.

How Much Protein Should You Consume?

Considering your muscles are made of protein, it’s no surprise that eating more of it will enable you to add lean muscle mass faster. The UK government recommendations say an adult needs 55g of dietary protein a day, but if you are serious about adding muscular size to your frame you need to aim for more than double that target. Most experts advise eating around 1.5-2g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, which means an 80g man needs 120-160g over the course of every day. The best way to do this is to eat a diet that contains the right types of protein, which include eggs, red meat, white meat and fish, because they contain the complete profile of nine essential amino acids – aka the building blocks of protein – that our bodies can’t synthesise and so need to be eaten.

When To Take Whey Protein

Take whey straight as soon after a workout as possible for a quick hit of muscle-building nutrients. Casein is the bedtime protein, and you should take it before you hit the hay for a prolonged release of protein to aid muscle recovery and growth. Soy protein is a vegan option derived from soya beans, and studies have shown that it, like the previous two, supports muscle hypertrophy.

What Should I Look For?

The word to remember is “bioavailability”. This pharmacological term refers to how much of your scoop – or rather, the amino acids in it – can actually be used by your body. It’s linked to biological value (BV), a unit of measurement that compares different protein sources via the nitrogen they allow to be stored in the body (bonus fact: if your powder causes, ah, emissions, that’s nitrogen being under-used). Eggs are the usual comparison unit, with a BV of 100. A typical “good” value for whey is about 104.

Are There Different Types Of Whey Protein?

You bet. Concentrate whey protein is typically lower in fat than other forms and has higher amounts of carbs from lactose, the type of sugar found in milk products, and bioactive compounds. Protein content by weight can be anywhere between 30% and 90%.

Isolate whey protein is processed to remove fat and lactose, but it’s also lower in health-boosting bioactive compounds. Protein by weight content is 90% and higher.

Hydrolysate whey protein is pre-digested and partially hydrolysed, which means water is added during the production process to break down the constituent compounds. This makes them easier for your body to digest but also increases the cost.

Native whey protein is the purest form because it is extracted directly from skimmed milk rather than being a by-product of cheese production like concentrate and isolate. It is very low in fat, lactose and bioactive compounds, while its protein content by weight is typically 95% and higher.

When to Mix It Up

So, you’ve done your research and brought home a tub of high-quality protein powder. What now? Figuring out the best times to supplement can be difficult. Here are the two most common uses for protein powder during the day and specific applications for each.

Meal Replacement

When you’re rushing out the door late for work in the morning, the last thing you have time for is to make a quick breakfast to kickstart your day. That’s one scenario where protein shakes can come in handy. In general, St Pierre recommends adding in a source of vegetables, a serving or two of fruit and some healthy fats alongside a scoop or two of protein powder. In fact, he and the team at Precision Nutrition have coined a term for these massive meal-replacers — “super shakes.” These shakes can be used in place of a meal or in addition to a regular meal when trying to gain weight. Here’s their recommend recipe for both men and women:

2 scoops of protein powder
1-2 cups of vegetables (like spinach, which doesn’t affect the taste)
2 handfuls of fruit (fresh or frozen)
2 tablespoons of healthy fat (a nut butter or seed for example)
Mixer (almond milk, regular milk, water — your choice)

1 scoop of protein powder
1 cup of vegetables
Handful of fruit
1 tablespoon of healthy fat
Mixer (almond milk, regular milk, water — your choice)

These recipes bring up another topic of concern — gender differences. Workout supplements are often viewed as a male-dominated industry, but protein powders are also effective for women. St. Pierre points out, however, that women have different nutritional needs than men. In general, they need less protein per pound of bodyweight (primarily due to differences in body composition). For that reason, St. Pierre initially recommends for females to use one scoop instead of two. However, he’s quick to admit that the “cut in half” lesson isn’t the definitive solution. “It’s not that women need exactly half as much as men…Ultimately, it’s just giving you a framework to start something. You can adjust it from there based on your needs,” says St. Pierre.

Gender differences aside, if these shakes are so nutrient-dense, why shouldn’t you just blend up a shaker bottle for each meal and ditch cooking (and dirty dishes) for good? St. Pierre cautions that although the shakes are great, they still aren’t the same as whole food. “There is more nutrients inherent to whole foods then there ever will be in a powder,” he says. You can also sometimes lose nutritional value drinking your nutrients and vitamins instead of eating them. For that reason, he recommends supplementing with no more than two shakes in one day (even that is pushing it). The key is to use shakes in a pinch and rely on whole food sources for the rest of your meals.

Author: Henry Davis

Hello. I’m an author and international speaker. I’ve traveled the world full-time since 2009, moving to a new country every four months or so, each home determined by the votes of my readers.

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