Discovering Why Whey Protein Supplementation is Integral for Recovery?
By: Amira Haninah Misri, Bachelor of Dietetics (Hons.)
Protein plays a significant role in helping to aid recovery process, be it post-surgical, post-dialysis, burn, trauma and particularly hypermetabolic cases. There are many sources of protein available outside but not all protein are equally created and forming the desired results.
Some form of protein is better than others. Whey protein is formed through milk. It is found in the watery portion of milk. When cheese is produced, the fatty parts of the milk coagulate and the whey is separated from it as a by-product.
Whey protein contains an incredible range of essential amino acids, which are absorbed quickly1. Whey protein is a mixture of beta-lactoglobulin, alpha lactalbumin, bovine serum albumin, and immunoglobins2. Whey is an excellent source of high-quality protein, highly digestible, quickly absorbed from the gut compared to other types of protein3.
Whey protein is also the best source of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs [leucine, isoleucine, and valine]). The body requires higher amounts of BCAAs for muscle regeneration and tissue replenishment. Unlike other amino acids that must first be metabolized through the liver, BCAAs are taken up directly by the skeletal muscle. Low levels of BCAA contribute to fatigue, and they should be replaced quickly following exercise or a competitive event4.
There are three main types of whey protein powder, concentrate (WPC), isolate (WPI), and hydrolysate (WPH). Concentrate is the most common type, and is also the cheapest. The more expensive ones would be isolate and hydrolysed as they are more refine and undergoes processes that improve the quality of protein itself. These 3 types of protein carry huge differences in (a) content of protein and (b) rate of absorption as summarised in table below:
WPC WPI Hydrolysed whey
Total protein content Up to 80% Up to 95% Follow total protein content of WPI
Rate of absorption 3-4 hours 1-2 hours Almost immediately
Selection on type of protein is integral to help in recovery process. The selection process varies according to individual need. As the protein level in whey protein concentrate is quite high, the amounts of fat and lactose usually increase. Individuals with lactose intolerance should avoid whey protein concentrates as they usually contain lactose and the amount can vary greatly from product to product.
Whey protein isolate is the purest and most concentrated form of whey protein available. It contains 90% or more protein and very little (if any) fat and lactose. Compared to other proteins, on a gram-to-gram basis whey protein isolate delivers more essential amino acids to the body but without the fat or cholesterol. Most likely suitable for lactose compromised individual. Meanwhile, hydrolysates are predigested, partially hydrolyzed whey proteins that, as a consequence, are more easily absorbed, but their cost is generally higher. Whey protein hydrolysate also tends to taste quite different from other forms of whey protein, usually in a way that many find undesirable, but the taste can be masked when hydrolysates are used in beverages or with additional flavour added by manufacturer.
All types of protein help greatly in term of recovery process, the differences are only in the speed of recovery, palatability and also tolerance as intolerance may produce unwanted side effect. Higher protein content in a whey able to speed up recovery process, reduce unwanted side effect (due to low lactose content), most importantly, improve the quality of life.
1 Ha E and Zemel M. (2003). Functional properties of whey, whey components and essential amino acids: mechanisms underlying health benefits for active people (review). The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry Volume 14 Issue 5 p 251-58.
2 Olsen N. (2017). What are the benefits and risks of whey protein? Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263371
3 Boirie Y et al. (1997). Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United Stated of America 94(26)
4 Saljoughian M. (2009). Whey protein: Health benefits at a glance. US Pharm 34(9):HS-14-HS-18. Retrieved from https://uspharmacist.com/article/whey-protein-health-benefits-at-a-glance