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What is Whey Protein?
Protein contains Amino Acids and Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) which are the building blocks for muscle. Without sufficient amino acids the body cannot repair and build muscle and so recovery from muscle damage done through training can be slow or nonexistent. The body can be in a catabolic state, using more protein (muscle) than it is rebuilding. Different proteins contain different amounts and types of amino acids as well as offering different absorption and digestion properties so benefits can be gained from using combinations of proteins depending on training and dietary requirements.
Good protein is obtained from whole food protein sources like turkey breast, tuna, chicken breast, lean red meat, cottage cheese and milk, and from protein supplements, popular today due to convenience, ease of use, and economy.
By far the most popular protein supplement available today is whey protein. Whey is one of the two major proteins found in milk (casein is the other) and is isolated from milk as a by product in the production of cheese and casein. Pure whey contains a large amount of the milk sugar lactose, as well as a variety of proteins, fat and cholesterol.
Whey traditionally used to be considered a waste product and dumped on fields and into the nearest lake. Fortunately whey was discovered to contain high quality proteins and so methods have been developed to remove as much of the undesirable lactose, fat and cholesterol as possible from the protein. Original methods developed included acid treatment and high temperature drying. This unfortunately destroyed much of the protein and ruined the quality of the protein extracted.
New methods have been developed that can extract the protein from the whey while maintaining its quality. The most common methods today include ultra-filtration, micro-filtration, ion-exchange and cross flow micro-filtration. Ultra-filtration and micro-filtration use a low temperature process where the proteins are physically separated by filters. The ion-exchange process removes the protein through an ion-exchange column that takes advantage of the specific electronic charges of the protein, fat and lactose contained in the whey and uses opposite charges to extract each individual component. Crossflow micro-filtration uses natural, nonchemical ceramic membranes to separate the undenatured whey protein from the fat and denatured protein.
All of these processes result in a high quality whey protein, low in fat and lactose. Always be sure to check the label for which method or methods have been used, as some of the cheaper proteins may use whey proteins that have been processed by cheaper acid treatment or high temperatures and contain high levels of undenatured proteins. Undenatured proteins are unusable by the body and result in the whey having a bitter taste when consumed. A good quality protein powder will always list in the ingredients panel or on the label whether it is microfilltered, ultrafiltered or ion-exchange. If it simply lists whey protein concentrate or isolate you can only assume that it contains a cheaper form of protein.
To build muscle you have to train hard, sleep well, and eat your protein. Pretty simple really. But with so many different protein sources available many people are confused about what their personal requirements are and so are not eating enough and are eating the wrong types of foods. When doing any form of training, whether for strength and muscle gains in the gym, endurance work including running, cycling and swimming or for team or individual sports, protein is crucial for aiding in recovery and helping rebuild damaged muscle tissue.
Benefits of Whey Protein
There are several benefits to choosing whey protein over other protein sources. Whey protein has an extremely high biological value (BV) afforded to it (Whey Protein BV = 104 with Whey Peptides having a BV between 110-159). The BV of a protein is essentially a measure of how well it is utilized by the body, and takes into account the amino acid profile, solubility and digestibility of the protein. Whey protein is an ideal source of protein post workout as it is absorbed extremely quickly to help rebuild damaged muscle.
Whey protein contains the highest percentage of BCAA’s of any protein source as well as high levels of essential amino acids. BCAA’s protect muscle from protein breakdown and help to stimulate protein synthesis or muscle growth. Whey protein also contains protein fractions. These are the active components that high quality whey proteins should contain. These include Alpha-Lactalbumin, Immunoglobulins, Glycomacro-peptides and Lactoferrin. These components possess properties that support the immune system, act as antioxidants and can help with cell growth and repair in the body.
Essential amino acids are important as the body cannot manufacture these itself and relies on getting them from the diet.
Whey protein may also suitable for some lactose intolerant individuals as it is extremely low in lactose with some whey protein isolates being virtually lactose free.
High quality whey proteins tend to be relatively expensive, with whey protein isolates being the most expensive source of protein available. Many companies produce several different sizes with the larger containers being more economical. Whey protein is also low in the essential amino acid phenylalanine as well as glutamine when compared to other protein powders. Many brands add these two components to help increase the BV of the protein and improve its effectiveness.
With so many protein powders on the market you could be excused for not worrying too much about what sort of protein you use. Many people probably don’t care about whether the protein they are using is instantised, partially hydrolysed, ultrafiltered, ion exchange whey protein isolate with low molecular weight whey peptides, featuring full spectrum whey protein fractions, including Glycomacropeptides, Beta Lactoglobulin and Lactoperoxidase. If you understood all of that then you probably don’t need any help. But if you’re like the majority of people who base their decision on whatever they find tastes best or which one your favorite bodybuilder used to pack on twenty kilo’s of solid muscle, then you may find some of the following information useful.
While it may not be necessary to know exactly what all these terms mean, if you want to be able to make an informed choice and get the most from your training, it can be of benefit to know a few of the basics.
Whey Protein Basics
Lets start out with the two major types of Whey Protein – Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC), and Whey Protein Isolate (WPI). As stated earlier Whey protein is a by-product of cheese and casein production. Pure whey contains a large amount of the milk sugar lactose, as well as a variety of proteins, fat and cholesterol. To remove the undesirable components and produce a more pure protein, different filtration techniques can be employed. The most common are ultrafiltration and microfiltration, all of which are low temperature methods and so avoid denaturing the protein.
Denaturing of protein, which occurs through the use of cheaper extraction methods using high temperatures and acid treatment, destroys the important protein fractions, lowering the biological activity or effectiveness of the protein. Denaturing can also occur after manufacture due to high temperatures. Never expose whey protein to high temperatures and direct sunlight for extended periods. Avoid leaving protein in a hot car, next to the oven in the kitchen or any other source of heat. Also avoid using whey protein in recipes that use high heat – muffins, pancakes etc, as this may denature the protein as well.
WPC & WPI
High quality WPC’s are typically 70-85% protein, and are reasonably low in fat and lactose.
WPI’s however are typically greater than 85% protein, with some being over 90% protein. The most common extraction methods used to produce WPI’s are Ion-exchange (IE), Cross flow Microfiltration (CFM) and Ultrafiltration (UF). Because of the extra cost involved in the production of CFM and ultrafiltered whey isolate the majority of supplement companies use ion-exchange whey.
The Ion-exchanged (IE) process produces the most pure protein, gram for gram (around 95% protein), when compared to microfiltration and removes the protein through an ion-exchange column. This takes advantage of the specific electronic charges of the protein, fat and lactose contained in the whey and uses opposite charges to extract each individual component. Unfortunately this process uses chemical reagents to control the electrical charges. This can change the pH level and denature the whey by destroying some of the biologically active protein fractions.
Crossflow Microfiltered (CFM) Whey Isolate is produced by passing the whey protein concentrate through natural, nonchemical ceramic membranes to remove the fat and denatured protein and is typically around 91% protein. Since chemicals aren’t used in this process, very little of the protein is denatured so the protein retains the important protein fractions.
Protein fractions are the active components of whey that have their own unique effects on health and can help enhance immune function and improve recovery from training.
Beta-Lactoglobulin – This is present in the greatest amounts but unfortunately is considered an allergenic fraction in whey. Good whey proteins should be less than 50% Beta-lactoglobulin, however, the ion exchange process isolates this particular fraction easily and so Ionised WPI’s will be quite high in this. To avoid any allergies from this, avoid whey proteins with higher than 70-80% of Beta-lactoglobulin. The higher the percentage of Beta-Lactoglobulin, the lower the percentages of the higher biological value fractions.
Alpha-Lactalbumin – This nutritious fraction is found in the second highest levels at around 15-20% and can also be found in mother’s milk.
Immunoglobulins (IgG) – This fraction helps to stimulate the immune system with IgG’s having important antibody activity within the body, helping support the immune system and preventing disease.
Bovine Serum Albumin (BSA) – This fraction is a precursor to glutathione. Glutathione is an essential water-soluble antioxidant in the body that protects cells and serves as a primary detoxifier of harmful compounds such as peroxides, heavy metals, carcinogens and many more. Betalactoglobulin and IgG fractions are also important sources of glutathione.
Glycomacropeptides (GMP) – GMP is a powerful stimulator of cholecystokinin, which plays many essential roles relating to gastrointestinal function, including the regulation of food intake. In addition to being a regulator of food intake, cholecystokinin (CCK) stimulates gall bladder contraction and bowel motility, regulates gastric emptying, and stimulates the release of enzymes from the pancreas. The pancreatic enzymes are critical for the complete digestion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates and therefore the full nutritional realization of food. Also, CCK has the effect of slowing the overall digestive process by slowing intestinal contractions, thus giving the digestive enzymes more time to work on their respective substrates resulting in more complete absorption. In animals, a rise in cholecystokinin is followed by a large reduction in food intake, as by slowing digestion, one perceives the “full” feeling longer following a meal.
Lactoferrin (LF) – This is quite an important fraction for its immune enhancing effects. Lactoferrin (LF) is found in tiny amounts in the body, yet appears to be a first-line immune-system defence. LF is a powerful antioxidant and strongly inhibits iron-dependent free radical reactions by directly binding iron. This iron binding effect results in the inhibition of iron dependent bacteria growth, and can block the growth of many pathogenic bacteria and yeast. Its antimicrobial action may also improve antibiotics. In the digestive tract, LF may help by stimulating intestinal cell growth and enhancing the growth of “good” intestinal microflora.
Lactoperoxidase, Lysozyme, Growth Factors – These are very minor fractions yet are reported to be the most biologically active. Lactoperoxidase (LP) has a high antimicrobial activity, and inactivates or kills a wide spectrum of microorganisms.
Lysozyme, present in only very small amounts in cow’s milk, possesses antibacterial activity against a number of bacteria and works synergistically with lactoferrin against bacteria such as the Salmonella species. Lysozyme is found in saliva, tears, and other body fluids, where it acts as a natural antibiotic.
Growth Factors include IGF-1 and IGF-2. IGF-1, or Insulin-like Growth Factor, is the hormone released during growth hormone metabolism, the amount produced which determines the extent of growth in children and the building of muscle and lean body mass in adults. Studies have shown that IGF-1 rises in direct proportion to the quality and quantity of protein in the diet.
Hydrolysing (predigesting) whey to make di-, tri-, and oligo-peptides (short & long chain amino acids), increases the bioavailability (BV) of the whey, further increasing the release of IGF-1.
As you can see, the greatest differences between the two types of WPI lies in the immunological and digestive implications of the proteins, with IE WPI missing three significant protein fractions, Lactoferrin (LF), lactoperoxidase (LP) and Glycomacropeptides (GMP).
Hydrolysates & Peptides
Hydrolysates are essentially smaller proteins. These are produced by subjecting proteins to digestive enzymes, which breakdown the large protein molecule into many smaller proteins. These proteins can be broken down into peptides (chains of two amino’s) or polypeptides (chains of three or more aminos), and are broken down until they are the right size for absorption.
This process occurs naturally during digestion but can take some time, up to several hours for whole foods. So it is possible to buy whey proteins with added peptides or “predigested” hydrolysates. Predigested hydrolysates are when the proteins are exposed to natural enzymes from plant or animal sources. Protein hydrolysates are of benefit as they more easily and more quickly absorbed.
These can be most beneficial after training when there is an increased need for amino acids. The aminos are required to prevent protein (muscle tissue) breakdown, so the faster they can be absorbed the better. Another factor effecting absorption rates is the molecular weight of the formula. The lower the molecular weight of the protein the faster the absorption. Whey proteins with added whey peptides will often state the weight in Daltons (D) of the protein: i.e. MW 500D (very low molecular weight), MW 80,000D (high molecular weight).
What To Choose?
Choosing which protein to use depends on what you are looking for. Using Whey Isolates, Hydrolysed proteins and Whey proteins with added peptides will offer increased recovery when used straight after training due to their quick absorption. However during the course of the day when absorption rates aren’t quite as important, the use of the more basic proteins such as whey concentrate, casein and whole food protein sources may be more economical. Many of the whey proteins available today use a blend of two or more different wheys with some having added amino peptides. These are of benefit as they offer rapid absorption yet are more economical than some of the more pure whey protein isolates.
Some popular whey proteins compositions are:
Pure Whey Protein Concentrates
Pharmasports 100 % Instantised Whey – Ultrafiltered WPC. Approx 77% protein.
Reactiv Defining Whey – Ultrafiltered WPC. Approx 77% protein.
Leppin Ultimate Whey – Ultrafiltered WPC. Approx 77% protein.
Whey Protein Concentrate/Isolate Blends
Balance 100% Whey – IE WPI, UF WPC, Hydrolysed WPC, added L-glutamine, L-arginine. Approx 80% protein.
EAS 100% Whey – WPC, WPI. Approx 77% protein.
Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey – MF WPI, IE WPI, UF WPC, Hydrolysed Whey Peptides approx 79-82% protein
Pure Whey Protein Isolates
Balance Ion Exchange Whey – IE WPI. Approx 88% protein (flavoured)
Balance Ion Exchange Whey Unflavoured Approx 92% protein
Horleys ICE Whey – Cation Exchange WPI, approx 90% protein.
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