Whey Protein - All you need to know!
How much do you whey bro?
In terms of protein intake, most of your protein should come from natural foods (animal protein, plant-based protein). Supplements such as whey protein are there to supplement your diet, not replace natural foods. However, as long as the majority of your protein intake is coming from actual foods, then adding supplements on top of this can be very useful! So, for those of you aiming to hit a high protein intake daily (and perhaps struggling to), supplementing with whey protein is an excellent way of increasing your daily intake. A protein shake can also be used as a method of stimulating muscle protein synthesis (MPS) 'on the go' pre or post training/gym session, when you know you won't get to eat for several hours. If you read our blog on post-training recovery hits, you will know that we advocate for two recovery hits post-training or gym session, even (and especially) if that session ends late at night. The first recovery hit should ideally be consumed within 30 minutes of the session ending, and so, a protein shake can be a good option here. For example - your training session ends late at night and your journey home takes 40-60 minutes - in this situation, a protein shake is an excellent option to consume 'on the go', providing you get your second recovery hit in later that night when you arrive home. Similarly, it can be a good option pre training, but again this depends on your situation. For example - you regularly do a gym session at 6:00am before rushing off to start your days work for 8:00am. Your session focus is typically strength or hypertrophy based and so training on an empty stomach is not ideal - lack of circulating amino acids, low glycogen stores, potentially dehydrated from sleeping for the previous 7 hours. In this situation, a protein shake containing some carbohydrates (maybe in the form of some oats or seeds) is a good option as opposed to waking up an hour earlier to prepare a meal and wait for it to digest! Now in saying this, it is important to remember that a protein shake is a tool which can be used to help you achieve your nutritional aims - not a necessity. Do you have to have one before and after every gym session? Absolutely not - but it can be a good option depending on your situation.
From a nutritional standpoint, how good is whey protein in comparison to whole foods such as chicken, fish, eggs and dairy products? The great thing about whey is that it contains 10% leucine, meaning 30g of whey protein provides 3g of leucine, the optimal amount for maximising MPS. Whey has also been shown in numerous studies to cause greater increases in MPS in comparison to soy or casein, and is a faster digesting protein, meaning it can raise MPS levels faster than other proteins. How important is this? Quite important - if you are in a situation where you are relying on a whey protein shake as your sole means of fuel around your training session (be that before or after). At this stage though, we are delving into the minor-minor details of protein intake and we should take a step back and remind ourselves of the bigger picture, that being the hierarchy of nutrition. With the big picture in mind, if your daily protein intake is consistently low and below your aim, then the importance of your pre/post training protein shake (quality, timing etc.) diminishes, as you are 'missing the forest for the trees' so to speak. Overall protein intake trumps timing and distribution and you should not lose sight of that. Once you have achieved a consistently high intake and developed good nutritional habits, then a protein shake as a way of 'fine tuning' your nutrition, is definitely an excellent idea! Another benefit of whey protein is that its ratio of protein : calories is quite high - a 30g serving of protein from whey protein equates to approximately 150 calories. In comparison, 30g protein from a protein milk equates to 294 calories whereas 30g protein from eggs equates to over 320 calories! With its high ratio of protein : calories, whey is an excellent option for anyone trying to eat in a calorie deficit yet still keep their protein intake very high. Moreover, adding a scoop of whey to a smoothie, overnight oats or a pancake mix is an easy way or increasing the protein intake of otherwise carbohydrate-dominant meals, without a huge increase in the overall calorie content of the meal. This addition of whey to 'normal meals' will perhaps be your most regular use of whey, as shakes alone can get quite bland and difficult to remain consistent with.
In terms of what other supplements are suitable to add to a protein shake? Creatine monohydrate is always a good option - it can be taken at any time of the day so the timing of creatine supplementation isn't important - adding it to your whey shake just makes it easier to remain consistent with. Adding a BCAA supplement to your whey shake is probably pointless, as whey already contains roughly 4.5g BCAA in every 25g serving and more importantly, is also high in leucine content. The main thing you should be looking to add to your whey protein shake is carbohydrates - as a means of increasing glycogen stores pre or post training!