Athletes are constantly looking for ways to get the most out of their workouts and boost performance through supplementation. Recently, STACK cautioned young athletes against hopping onto the creatine bandwagon without consulting a nutritionist or doctor. But whey protein is a safe and effective form of supplementation that experts say will boost strength and help athletes bulk up for the regular season. “Whey” is a term many strength and performance athletes have heard in conjunction with protein, but aren’t sure what exactly it is and how it can enhance performance.
According to dairy expert Ashley Skabar, “Whey, a derivative of milk, is the liquid that is left behind after the first stages of the cheese-making process.” She notes that whey has a high protein content. Within whey is leucine, an amino acid essential for muscle growth. Because of whey’s muscle-building prowess, fitness companies have used it as an ingredient in many powders marketed to athletes. Studies show that consuming protein 30 to 60 minutes following a high intensity workout can enhance muscle growth.
Producers make two types of whey protein that are relevant to athletes: isolate and concentrate. Natural health researcher Patience Lister says, “The isolate is a higher-quality product that contains about 90 percent protein and almost no fat or lactose. Whey concentrates contain between 29 and 89 percent protein, and variable concentrations of fat and lactose.” Although more costly, it’s best for athletes to stick to a whey isolate product when selecting a protein powder. In this case, cost does indicate a better quality product.
Meeting your body’s daily protein demands can be difficult, especially if you’re looking to bulk up so you can power past opponents throughout the season. The amount of whey protein to include in your meal plan depends on your current diet, body type and fitness goals. Athletes in training should consume approximately 0.6 to 0.9 grams of protein per one pound of bodyweight. An athlete who weighs 200 pounds would consume between 120 and 180 grams of protein per day. But not all of that protein should come from whey isolate. After all, whey is a supplement. Your diet should already consist of protein-rich foods like beans, lean meats and dairy products other than whey. Use whey protein powder only to meet the protein need that the food in your diet isn't already providing.
A myth among some whey protein advocates is that the more you include in your diet, the better. Take only enough to meet your body’s daily protein need. Excess protein will be processed by your kidneys and turned into waste.
Individuals with preexisting kidney disease should follow strict guidelines about the amount of whey they consume. An excess amount can overload the kidneys, causing them to fail. It never hurts to consult a doctor or nutritionist before starting a supplementation program.
Whey protein isolate is a healthy supplement that athletes should consider along with other protein-rich foods. Available in many gyms and nutrition stores across the country, the powder form is easy to mix with water and/or milk. To enhance muscle growth, drink a whey protein shake within 30 to 60 minutes after a workout. One scoop contains about 23 grams of protein. Athletes with higher caloric needs can add their favorite fruits to the shake mix.