A few factors determine your nutritional needs, including age, sex and activity level. You need more protein throughout the day if you're an active woman, but carrying around chicken breasts and tuna may not be the most convenient. Whey protein is a good alternative that won't spoil in your handbag. But before you start gulping down protein shakes, make sure you understand what whey is and when to take it.
What Is Whey?
Whey is a very easy-to-digest form of protein that's produced during the cheese making process. You can find whey in a variety of foods, including bread, ice cream and baby formula, but you probably recognize it as the stuff you see people mixing with water in shaker bottles at the gym. Whey is known for its ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, and it has the highest known levels of branched chain amino acids of any natural food. Whey comes in two forms: whey concentrate, which is about 75 percent pure protein, and whey isolate, which is about 90 percent protein.
When Should I Take It?
If you're training to gain strength and lean muscle mass, whey protein is most beneficial immediately after a workout. Because it's so rapidly digested, whey provides a quick burst of amino acids to the bloodstream, which aids in muscle recovery and repair. This is essential immediately following workouts because you break down muscle fibers during resistance training. A postworkout serving of whey will quickly provide your body with the nutrients it needs to begin repair and recovery. You can also take whey when you get up in the morning, to give your body a shot of protein after being in a fasted state. If you're just supplementing with whey to increase your protein intake, you can simply take it on the go. Whey can be mixed with water, milk or juice and taken as a supplement between meals. It can also be taken with a carb and fat source, such as a banana and a handful of almonds, to make a complete, muscle-building meal replacement.
How Much Should I Take?
To determine how much whey to take, you need to figure your daily protein needs. The average person needs 0.4 to 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. However, because their bodies are constantly breaking down and rebuilding muscle tissue, active people and athletes need 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight. An average scoop of protein powder will supply 25 to 30 grams of protein, which is perfect for a postworkout supplement. One to two servings of whey a day will help supplement your protein intake when you're engaging in resistance training.
Consult your doctor before changing your diet or adding supplements. Use whey as a supplement, not a dietary replacement. Although whey is convenient, you don't want to get into the habit of relying on it to meet all of your protein needs. Using whey in place of whole protein sources may cheat you out of other vital nutrients. Use it in moderation; excessive protein consumption is unhealthy and can lead to kidney damage.
- The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition; Anita Bean
- Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance; Heidi Skolnik and Andrea Chernus
Jessica Bell has been working in the health and fitness industry since 2002. She has served as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Bell holds an M.A. in communications and a B.A. in English.