Whey Protein Guide
Whey protein is one of the most popular nutritional supplements available today, and is used by everything from bodybuilders and athletes to casual gym users looking to add a little extra muscle. While most people with an interest in fitness will have heard of whey protein, there are always lots of questions around its use and the effect it can have on their training. We’re trying to find the answers to as many whey protein-related questions we can find, so it’s easy for you to find everything you could ever want to know about the supplement. If you have a question that isn’t answered below please get in touch and we’ll see if we can add it!
What Is Whey Protein
Whey, otherwise known as milk serum, is actually a liquid by-product that is formed during the curdling of milk. It contains all 9 essential amino acids, which perform various important physiological functions including (but by no means limited to) aiding muscle repair and growth and improving overall bodily function.
Rather than attempting to explain the scientific makeup of whey here, check out the following sources for a more thorough explanation:
How Does Whey Protein Help Build Muscle?
Around half of the total protein in the body is muscle protein, with most being used for muscular structure. In order for muscles to grow adequate protein needs to be available in the body, and this is dependent on getting the correct balance between protein intake, re-synthesis and protein breakdown.
Lifting weights will force the muscles into protein breakdown, and in order to rebuild the muscle, the body requires amino acids to synthesise new protein. For optimal muscle repair and growth the body needs to have a positive protein balance, which means protein intake and synthesis exceeds protein breakdown.
The addition of whey protein as a supplement makes it much easier to achieve this positive balance by providing a quick, simple and extremely effective protein source.
How Much Whey Protein Should I Take?
Whey protein should be used to make up any shortfall in protein intake, so the amount you should take will depend on your target intake for the day and the amount of protein you’ve ingested from food. The general consensus is that to gain muscle you should be looking to get 1-1.5 grams of protein per lb of lean body weight every day, so subtract your intake from food and you’ll be left with your target whey protein intake.
Remember to check your protein powder to see how many grams per scoop it provides, and don’t forget to include the protein found in milk if you’re using it (1% milk has around 8g per cup).
When Is the Best Time to Take Whey Protein?
There are a few schools of thought on the best time to take whey protein, but the one consistent time that’s recommended is as soon as possible after your workout. This allows the shake to get to work repairing your muscles as quickly as possible, and is generally considered the most effective time to take whey protein.
If you’re taking 2 shakes a day, the other commonly cited time to have a shake is around 30 minutes before you start your workout, which should give your body some time to process the shake while you’re working out and gives your muscles a bit of a head start on their recovery.
For 3 shakes, either just when you wake or just before you go to bed is the next best choice. In truth, there’s not really a bad time to have a whey protein shake, but certain times are slightly more effective at aiding muscle repair than others. If pre/post-workout shakes aren’t an option for you just try to hit your daily protein target and you’ll be fine.
How Long Does Whey Protein Last?
Your whey protein should have an expiration date printed somewhere on the tub, but generally speaking, it has a pretty stable shelf life – typically between a year and two years. Manufacturers of all food products are pretty conservative with expiration dates, largely to avoid any complications with food going off early, so there may be some leeway with the printed expiration date. Powdered whey is not particularly susceptible to rancidity, so it’s unlikely it’ll go bad ahead of the expiration date.
As for how long the tub will last if you’re using it regularly, well that depends on how much you have and how often you use it! Just to use a fairly common example, a 2kg tub will last someone around 26 days if they have 3x25g servings every day.
How Do I Make a Protein Shake?
It’s really as simple as mixing your whey with water, milk or your liquid of choice and blending it all together. We’ve put together a more detailed explanation in our How to Make a Protein Shake article.
What’s the Best Tasting Whey Protein?
Taste is obviously a very personal thing, so it’s difficult to say what the best-tasting whey protein is. Most flavoured whey isn’t especially tasty, so it can take a bit of trial and error before you find something you like. Many of the bigger manufacturers like Myprotein.com offer small samples that let you try a few different flavours before you commit to a bigger order.
Personally, I prefer to get unflavoured whey protein and just add some milkshake powder or syrup for taste. That way you’re getting all the benefits of a normal shake with a much more pleasant taste. Unflavoured whey can also be mixed with fruit juice to provide an alternative to the standard whey and water/milk option.
How Fast Does Whey Protein Digest?
Whey protein digests fairly quickly, with studies suggesting it can make its way through your gastrointestinal tract within just an hour and a half, however it can take a little longer if you’ve blended the whey with milk or casein. The addition of these proteins can cause the whey to coagulate, which keeps it in your stomach a little longer than normal. This approach is ideal if you’re looking for a more gradual release of the amino acids into your system.
As for the rate of absorption, various studies have found slightly different results but the most common range is around 8-10g per hour. By comparison, casein protein is thought to be absorbed at under 5g per hour.
When to Take Whey Protein for Weight Loss
Protein is the most filling and satiating macronutrient, so including additional protein as part of a weight loss plan can help you to feel fuller for longer. Having a protein shake before your meal can help you to eat fewer calories and still feel like you’ve had a decent meal.
A high protein breakfast has been shown to have a positive effect on weight loss, so having your shake before breakfast could help make a difference. Just remember to include the calories from the whey powder and whatever you mix it with!
When to Take Whey Protein for Muscle Gain
Whey is perfect for supplementing your protein intake, which is perfect for those looking to build muscle. You should be looking to get around 1g of protein for every lb of lean body weight, so factor in your dietary protein and make up the difference with whey.
It’s recommended that whey protein is taken around 30 minutes before the start of a workout and as soon as possible afterwards. If you need a 3rd shake, either first thing in the morning or last thing at night have been suggested, but the exact timing isn’t as important as your pre and post-workout shakes.
How Much Whey Protein after a Workout?
The amount of whey protein you should take after a workout will largely depend on your intake goals and the amount of protein you’ve already had from food. Most people will aim for around 25g of protein after a workout as it was thought that the body could only process that amount at one time, but that notion has been questioned in various studies.
As a general rule, you should aim for between 25-50g after a workout, which usually equals between one or two scoops of powder.