Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Whey and the Gym

You have been going to the gym for a few months now and are becoming a regular.  Lifting weights is enjoyable for you.  You feel it's time to take your workout to the next level and are planning to either change your body composition, gain muscle mass, or increase your strength.  Now, if you think you can't eat enough protein consistently throughout the day, or are planning to start taking your first supplement - this article is for you!

1.      What is it?
Whey protein is the liquid part of cow's milk that separates from the curds – it happens when we make cheese, for example.  Whey is highly bio-available, digestible and rapidly absorbed by our body.  For those reasons, whey protein easily increases the production of new proteins in our blood and tissues.  In 100g of whey, you may find 414kcal, 80g of proteins, 7g of fats, and 8g of carbohydrates.  But it varies, click here to read more about its composition.  The isolated version doesn't have carbohydrates, fats and lactose.  The hydrolyzed version has a similar composition, but its particles are pre-digested.

2.      What is it for?
Whey proteins are used in a great variety of industrialized foods, such as ice cream, bread, and infant formula.  This supplement is also popular among those who want to not only increase muscle mass, gain strength or improve performance, but also those who look for prevention or treatment of some conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, terminal cancer, colon cancer, allergies, lactose intolerance, obesity, non-induced weight loss, acne, and bone diseases.  Moreover, whey protein has antimicrobial functions and it regulates your immune system.  Although, some of the functions of whey protein related to the prevention or treatment of conditions may require additional in-depth research.  Check this 2011 review here.

3.      Why and how much protein do I need?
Whey is rich in amino acids, such as lysine, tryptophan, cysteine, and isoleucine.  The benefit of muscle mass gains is related mainly to leucine.  If you now exercise regularly, you probably need a greater amount of protein than before.  Protein is used as a source of energy and as a building block for your muscles.  The addition of whey protein to your diet will increase the level of available amino acids in your blood and improve the repairs of your tissues.
Besides, intense exercises, such as lifting weights for hypertrophy, may negatively affect your immunity.  In addition, intense resistance training may also increase the production of toxins (free radicals) in your body and promote the breakdown of your own proteins.  Whey protein will stimulate your immune system and promote antioxidant function, while preserving your proteins – due to its rapid absorption and use by your body.
Research shows, here, that, for maximum muscle hypertrophy to happen, weight lifters need to consume between 1.2-2.0g/kg of body weight of protein every day and 44-50kcal/kg of body weight daily.  It is also recommended, here, to eat between 25-30g of protein in every meal.

4.      What time should I take this supplement and how much of it?
The timing of whey protein consumption have been considered important in research focusing muscle hypertrophy and strength of weight lifters.  In general, whey supplementation before and/or after your workout will increase performance, recovery post-workout, muscle mass, muscle hypertrophy, and strength!
Tipton et al. lead a study with 23 men and women.  The participants took either 1) 20g of casein, 2) 20g of whey, or 3) sweetened water one hour post intense resistance training of their legs. Increases in muscle mass occurred in both groups who took protein, but not on the water group.  This study showed that milk proteins (casein and whey) post intense workout increased protein synthesis (formation).
According to Stark et al, once protein is taken, anabolism (muscle mass gain) is increased for up to 3 hours after the consumption, with a peak of 45-90 minutes.  After 3 hours, this result falls back to the base level.  With this in mind, a protein supplement would have been ideal if taken right after your resistance training to promote the beginning of muscle formation.  It is known that the combination of protein with maltodextrin or glucose is needed, since leucine (present in whey) cannot control muscle synthesis efficiently without the presence of insulin (insulin works by picking up blood sugar and putting it inside the cells to give us energy).  The sooner your ingestion of whey protein after your workout, the better and faster your anabolic response to the exercise.  Take 20-30g of whey with 8.5-10oz of water, skim milk or another type of milk.  Add 50-80g de maltodextrin or dextrose to your drink.

5.      Is this supplement safe?
Whey protein is probably safe for most adults when utilized adequately.  High doses may cause some side effects, such as increase in bowel movements, nausea, thirst, swelling, cramps, appetite reduction, fatigue, and headache.
There is no guaranty of the purity and security of supplements available in the market.  Read more here.  So you must read nutritional labels and look for recommendations by registered sports dietitians.  
Also, if you have any medical condition, or are taking medications, such as those that reduce cholesterol, herbs or other supplements that affect your immunity, you have to talk to a health professional before starting whey protein supplements.  Finally, talk to your doctor immediately if you have any side effects.

Stark et al. Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2012, 9:54

Tipton K, Elliot T, Cree M, Wolf S, Sanford A, Wolfe R: Ingestion of casein and whey proteins result in muscle anabolism after resistance exercise. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc 2004, 36:2073–2081.

​Livia Ly
I'm a health enthusiast and a wellness activist. I'm a dietitian trained in Brazil and also a nutrition grad student in Chicago. Ѽ