The in’s and out’s of whey protein

I get at least one question a week about whey protein. Who should be taking whey protein, when to take it, how much, what company, will it make me fat? it goes on and on.  This post will hopefully answer many of your questions and concerns.  Before we start down that road though, I want to preface everything by saying that whey protein is not some magical formula that will take your performance to the next level.  It is a small tool that can help improve recovery time and is a convenient option for many.  Lets get started!

Who should be taking whey protein?

I actually think its easier to focus on who should NOT be using a whey protein shake than it is to focus on who should be.  If you are:

1) Trying to lose body fat

2) Focusing mostly on health and general fitness as a goal.

3) This should go without saying but if you’re not very active at all, you don’t need whey protein shakes.  Sounds too insane to be true, but trust me, I’ve seen people stop working out and continue to use protein shakes.

These  3 groups of people should focus on eating real foods post workout instead of taking in a protein isolate.  This mostly has to do with the effects of liquid food on the body, a fact Robb Wolf has laid out more than enough over the years.  While the science isn’t actually very convincing, the experience that I’ve had with DOZENS of clients has been.  People struggling to lose weight generally make better progress when they drop the protein shake and eat real foods post-workout.  Yes it requires you spend 15 less minutes prepping food, but the results are worth it.

A good post workout option for those looking to improve body composition
A good post workout option for those looking to improve body composition

When to take in whey protein and how much to take?

Now, if you’re a lean person, focusing on athletic performance with intense exercise more than 3 days a week, whey protein can be a very useful tool to aid in your  recovery.  Generally I recommend 30 grams of protein for men and 20 grams for women as a starting point for discussion.  Try to consume the shake as soon as possible after finishing my workout.

The one situation where I’ll wait an extra 20-30 minutes is if the workout has been extremely intense.  In this situation, the body responds by inducing a “leaky-gut” state, most likely to improve nutrient reabsorption from the intestinal lumen.  While I couldn’t find any sound evidence to show that this leads to increased potential for food intolerance, it makes sense immunologically that undigested whey proteins crossing intact into the intestinal tissue could induce an immune response.  It might not actually be a problem, but the trade off of waiting a half an hour is minimal.

What to look for in a good whey protein?

1) I prefer whey protein isolates as the isolation process removes most (but not quite all) of the other ingredients in dairy that can give people problems.

2) Your whey protein should have digestive enzymes added to improve the bioavailability of the protein.

3) All artificial sweeteners suck, but stevia seems to be the least horrible of them all so finding a whey protein that uses stevia is about as good an option as you’re going to find.  Personally, as a lean individual I don’t mind the higher carbohydrate whey proteins that use maltodextrin as a sugar source, but they aren’t for everyone.

Personally, I’ve had very good experiences with two whey proteins:

1) Low carb whey protein from MRM (w/ Stevia)

2) Higher carb whey protein from MRM (with maltodextrin)

There are many other brands out there that also produce a good product however, I would generally avoid many of the highly commercialized main stream products however.  A consumer reports study of EAS and Muscle Milk found high levels of several heavy metals such as arsenic (a poison) cadmium and lead.  Needless to say, spend a very small amount of extra money and get the higher quality products.

Hopefully this helps answer a number of questions you have about whey protein.  If you have a specific one, leave a comment or shoot me an email.