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Whey: perfect ally for boosting performance and muscle mass

Introduction

Are you looking to improve your physical performance and build muscle mass? Whey is undoubtedly one of the most effective dietary supplements to help you achieve these goals. Rich in high-quality, rapidly assimilated proteins, whey stimulates muscle protein synthesis after exercise. But did you know that there are different types of whey with different properties? Let’s take a look at whey, whey isolate and whey concentrate to help you choose the one that’s right for you.

 

What is whey ?

Whey, or whey protein, is the liquid part of cheese. It’s an excellent source of protein, containing all the essential amino acids in the right proportions. It is particularly rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) such as leucine, which play a key role in muscle protein synthesis [1].

Whey is highly bioavailable, meaning it is rapidly digested and assimilated by the body. This makes it a major asset in the post-workout period, helping recovery and muscle development.

The benefits of whey on performance and muscle mass

Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of whey supplementation in improving physical performance and increasing lean body mass :

  • A 2017 meta-analysis of 49 studies concluded that protein supplementation, including whey, resulted in significantly greater gains in strength and lean mass compared to placebo in athletes [2].
  • A 2018 study showed that taking 25g of whey after resistance exercise increased muscle protein synthesis by 20-40% in the hours following exercise [3].
  • In trained men, whey supplementation (1.8g/kg/day) for 12 weeks resulted in superior increases in lean mass and strength compared with a placebo group [4].

Whey stimulates muscle anabolism via several mechanisms [5] :

  • It provides essential amino acids that serve as building materials for muscle proteins.
  • It increases secretion of insulin and IGF-1, anabolic hormones.
  • It activates intracellular signaling pathways (mTOR) involved in protein synthesis.

In addition to its anabolic properties, whey may also promote fat loss.

One study showed that whey was more effective than casein or carbohydrate in increasing energy expenditure and lipid oxidation [6].

Whey isolate vs whey concentrate: what are the differences?

While all whey products are beneficial, they are not all equivalent. There are 2 main types of whey, depending on their degree of purification and protein concentration: whey isolate and whey concentrate.

Whey isolate is the purest form of whey. It contains at least 90% protein and very few carbohydrates and lipids. Whey concentrate is less refined, with a protein content of between 70 and 85%. It contains slightly more carbohydrates, lipids and bioactive compounds such as immunoglobulins.

Let’s compare their respective advantages and disadvantages:

Whey isolate: advantages and disadvantages

Advantages:

  • Higher protein content (>90%)
  • Very low in fat and lactose (well tolerated)
  • Rapid digestion and assimilation
  • Effective for lean mass gain

Disadvantages:

  • More expensive
  • Less rich in bioactive compounds

Whey concentrate: advantages and disadvantages

Advantages:

  • Cheaper
  • Contains more beneficial bioactive compounds
  • Effective for mass gain and recovery

Disadvantages:

  • Lower protein content (70-85%)
  • Higher fat and lactose content
  • Slightly slower digestion
A 2016 study compared the effects of whey isolate and concentrate on muscle protein synthesis. Both stimulated anabolism, but whey isolate proved slightly more effective, probably due to its faster assimilation rate [7].
 
The choice between isolate and concentrate will therefore depend on your objectives and constraints. If your priority is to build lean body mass, and budget is not an issue, choose whey isolate. If your aim is to optimize recovery at lower cost, whey concentrate will do the trick, provided you tolerate it well. 

How to choose the right whey isolate?

Here are a few criteria to consider when selecting a quality whey isolate:

  • Amino acid profile: check leucine (>2.5g/25g) and BCAA (>5g/25g) content.
  • Manufacturing process: prefer “cross-flow micro-filtered” or “ultra-filtered” cold whey, which better preserve proteins.
    Purity: at least 90% protein, less than 1% lipids and carbohydrates.
  • Absence of superfluous additives: artificial sweeteners, thickeners, colorants.
  • Digestibility: if possible hydrolyzed for optimal assimilation.
  • Value for money per kilo.

The best whey isolates on the market include :

  • Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Isolate
  • Dymatize ISO-100
  • MyProtein Impact Whey Isolate
  • BioTech USA Iso Whey Zero

Conclusion

Whey is a highly effective supplement for boosting performance and muscle development, thanks to its high-quality proteins.

While whey concentrate represents excellent value for money, whey isolate is more suitable if your priority is rapid lean mass gain.

In all cases, to get the most out of your whey, combine it with progressive resistance training and a suitable diet.

Remember, supplementation is a complement to, not a replacement for, dietary protein! You can also check out this article on spirulina, which can also be a good product for supplementation. And also this article on the ketogenic diet if you’re interested in weight loss.

In short, whey is an essential ally for any athlete seeking to optimize performance and muscle development. Among the different types of whey, whey isolate stands out for its purity and speed of assimilation, making it the number 1 choice for lean mass gain. Properly dosed and combined with the right training and diet, it will help you achieve your goals more effectively. So don’t wait any longer to include it in your supplementation strategy!

Sources

[1] Devries MC, Phillips SM. Supplemental protein in support of muscle mass and health: advantage whey. J Food Sci. 2015 Mar;80 Suppl 1:A8-A15. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.12802.

[2] Morton RW, Murphy KT, McKellar SR, et al. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Mar;52(6):376-384. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-097608.

[3] Churchward-Venne TA, Pinckaers PJM, Smeets JSJ, et al. Myofibrillar and Mitochondrial Protein Synthesis Rates Do Not Differ in Young Men Following the Ingestion of Carbohydrate with Whey, Soy, or Leucine-Enriched Soy Protein after Concurrent Resistance- and Endurance-Type Exercise. J Nutr. 2019 Feb 1;149(2):210-220. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxy251.

[4] Cribb PJ, Williams AD, Carey MF, Hayes A. The effect of whey isolate and resistance training on strength, body composition, and plasma glutamine. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Oct;16(5):494-509. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.16.5.494.

[5] Hulmi JJ, Lockwood CM, Stout JR. Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010 Jun 17;7:51. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-7-51.

[6] Acheson KJ, Blondel-Lubrano A, Oguey-Araymon S, et al. Protein choices targeting thermogenesis and metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Mar;93(3):525-34. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.005850.

[7] Hamarsland H, Nordengen AL, Nyvik Aas S, et al. Native whey protein with high levels of leucine results in similar post-exercise muscular anabolic responses as regular whey protein: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Nov 21;14:43. doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0202-y.

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