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I have talked in the past about my love for the timed-release protein blends and how they fit in with my hectic lifestyle, however, whey protein is still the biggest player when it comes to protein and training and for good reason. It is a complete and balanced protein with a high branched chain amino acid (BCAA) content and importantly, it is fast digesting, getting vital amino acids to where they need to be around the body rapidly. This makes it ideal around the work out, both before and after, or as a meal replacement where it produces rapid and sustained muscle protein synthesis.
Who and why?
Whey protein is an extremely useful tool for anyone who needs a convenient source of good quality protein. A lot of people incorrectly believe that drinking a protein shake will automatically cause them to gain muscle and become bulky or that if they consume shakes and don’t train that the protein will turn to fat. Both of these misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth.
As many know, for people who train hard, whey is a prime candidate for convenience and can provide that perfect blend of amino acids to create an optimal muscle building environment. What’s more, it promotes recovery and repair of damaged muscle fibres when taken immediately after gruelling sessions, whether they are weights, cardio or training for sports.
What people may not realise is that whey protein can be used by anyone, including people who are just starting out in their exercise activities in any age group. Even people who perhaps don’t train or are injured can take advantage of whey protein to increase their protein intake day to day or as a low calorie, highly nutritious meal replacement.
There is also a huge trend at the moment for whey protein to be used in cooking and recipes for it can easily be found with a simple Google search. Using whey protein can reduce the calories of a recipe as well as adding that all important protein hit and all of the benefits that come with that. Using different flavours of whey can add a twist to otherwise bland or boring recipes and because whey protein is milk based, it is perfectly safe for children to drink and can make a healthy alternative to sugar and fat laden milk shakes.
What to look for in a good protein supplement?
An effective protein supplement should be complete and balanced with a high proportion of BCAA’s. If the leucine content is low then it is more or less pointless when it comes to muscle maintenance and growth. Whey protein fits the bill perfectly and generally speaking beats most other sources of protein, particularly soy protein. Soy protein is used a lot in the supplement industry and is whey proteins’ cheaper, poorer quality alternative.
On top of this, when buying protein, you want a powder which mixes easily and which you enjoy drinking. My personal favourites at the moment include Raspberry Delight and Chocolate Mint Perfection as they are versatile and taste great whether I mix them with water, milk or almond milk and work really well in both oats or stirred in with yoghurt as well.
The best times to use whey protein can include:
- First thing in the morning is a perfect time for a shake when it may be difficult to get protein in or if you’re in a rush. This applies to anyone, whether you’re dieting, trying to build muscle or just need a convenient tasty snack before work. For myself, I am rarely hungry in the mornings and ALWAYS in a rush but muscle retention is a priority for me so a shake with unsweetened almond milk and some fruit hits the spot perfectly.
- Immediately post workout is the traditional time to use whey protein as you want a fast digesting, good quality protein with a complete amino acid profile to optimise the effects of the training session. It’s also hugely convenient and it means you don’t need to rush home or think about your next meal for a few hours.
- At any time when you want to replace a meal, whether it is for convenience on the road for example or if you want to reduce your daily calories when dieting. Whey can be more filling and better at holding off hunger than other more traditional snacks such as crisps or fruit and will again increase your daily protein intake.
When wouldn’t you use whey protein?
Although whey is an incredible all round protein, when it comes to choosing your supplement there are a few scenarios when you might want to choose a different blend or source.
- If you want a slower release option for example before bed or when you know you won’t be eating for extended periods of time, either a protein blend or a slow release protein such as casein may be a better option.
- If you are vegan then whey isn’t appropriate as it is sourced from milk and an alternative option such as pea protein may be a better choice.
- If you are intolerant or get GI symptoms such as bloating when you drink whey then it may be worth trying a whey isolate (e.g. Micro Whey). Often the symptoms can be caused by other ingredients present in whey protein supplements and not the whey itself so by using a more refined source of whey you may avoid most, if not all of them. Alternatively, you may need to look to a non whey source of protein, depending on the nature of your intolerance.
Apart from the points above, whey protein is an all-round, comprehensive protein supplement and can be used by any one of any age with any training background or history. There are a few specific medical conditions that preclude the use of whey and higher protein diets but these are few and far between and your doctor can advise on these. In these cases, alternative options are always available.