Whey protein shakes, whey cookies, whey protein bars, whey ice cream? It’s everywhere. Every fitness enthusiast is on it, everyone who wants to be fit is drinking it. Such is the craze that the global whey protein market is projected to hit $ 13.5 billion by 2020 from $9.2 billion in 2015 according to BBC Research.
What is this obsession? And what makes whey protein such a hot selling item?
What is the Whey?
Milk provides us with two proteins, Casein and Whey. Whey is the liquid that is left behind when milk is curdled for making cheese or paneer. Earlier this water was discarded, but as the knowledge of its benefits grew, this liquid is now preserved and used for making supplements used mainly by sports persons.
Whey is a complex protein made up of macro proteins like lactoferrin, betalactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, glycomacropeptide, and immunoglobulins. These macro proteins have demonstrated immune enhancing properties. It also contains minerals.
Whey made from butter milk, and not from cheese, contains the lipid sphingomyelin.
While the world is waking up to it, we Indians have always used whey of butter milk… another proof grandma and ma is always right!
Why this Whey?
Research discovered that Whey could be a functional food, which means the constituents of whey are so good for our health that they have a potential positive effect on our health beyond basic nutrition. According to an article published in Alternative Medical Review: a Journal of Clinical Therapeutics “whey has the ability to act as an antioxidant, antihypertensive, antitumor, hypolipidemic, antiviral, antibacterial, and chelating agent.”
Whey protein has also exhibited benefit in the arena of exercise performance and enhancement.
Need you ask more!
In addition to its general health benefits, it is also considered a protein source of choice for sports and active lifestyle.
Whey is one of the highest quality proteins, because of its amino acid profile containing good amounts of essential AA, branched chain AA and Leucine amino acid.
In addition as per research published in the Journal of Food Science, Whey is a good choice because of its easy and fast digestibility, and its ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. The branched chain AA are known to increase protein synthesis hence muscular growth at a greater pace than other sources of protein.
Active Lifestyle and Whey
Proteins are an essential macronutrient for general health of every individual, but for people who follow an active lifestyle or are amateur/professional sports people, proteins become more important to help them achieve and maintain correct body weight, lean body mass, muscular integrity and good recovery.
Proteins are made up of Amino Acids. There are 21 AA (amino acids) in all, which form the building blocks for protein molecules. Out of these 9 AA are essential, which means that these are not manufactured by our body and must be provided by our food. And these are the ones that are critical for both performance and recovery.
The presence or absence of these AA is what defines the quality of the protein food.
From the perspective of sports persons/athletes two AA in whey stand out for their benefits.
- Leucine: It is an important amino acid and is important in energy production during exercise. Research has found that during exercise and rest, muscle use more leucine for energy, in fact it is believed that 50% of dietary leucine may be used for energy during exercise. It is also known to stimulate insulin release which increases protein synthesis and decreases protein breakdown.
- Cysteine: It is a sulphur bearing AA and is important for the production of protein, hair, skin, connective tissues growth factor, glutathione and insulin. It is a good detoxifying agent and most importantly helps in the formation of Glutathione which is an important antioxidant and detoxifying agent in the body.
Whey to Choose?
- Concentrate: This form of whey contains 50-80% of protein. It has carbohydrates in the form of lactose along with fat and higher levels of bioactive compounds which have significant health benefits. It is easier on the pocket.
- Isolate: When whey concentrate is purified it loses the bioactive compounds, ash, lactose and carbs providing about 90-97% protein. It is more expensive but gives you more protein and is a good choice if you are lactose intolerant and are into hard training.
- Hydro isolate: These are partially digested whey proteins so are absorbed faster by the body. They are a good choice for muscle building post a work out session. Their taste is however not the best.
When to Whey?
Timing for taking whey is also something that needs to be tailored to your needs:
- Pre workout helps maximize training effort and is a good choice if you train early in the morning.
- But on the other hand, post work out intake has shown the maximum benefits as the hungry muscles crave for protein and the BCAA present in Whey will help recovery faster.
Choose your whey depending on the goals you wish to achieve and get a professional sports dietician to work out the quantities you need. More is not always better.
(Rupali Datta is a clinical nutritionist who has led teams in corporate hospitals. She has an in-depth knowledge of health care, food and nutrition – both in wellness and diseases.)
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