Conversations in the weight room tend to revolve around aspects of health and fitness. Guys chat about how they’re doing in respective Fantasty Football leagues, about the Sports Center Top 10, and about the best tri-set of bicep curls to totally blast the gunz. You’ll hear conversations about the guy that’s on Men’s Health, the girl on Women’s Health, and infinite conversations about fad diets and nutrition strategies. In a few short years, I’ve figured out pretty easily how to tell if the diet-specific conversations are about whole foods or if they’re about supplements. How?
Whatever the reason may be, discussions about dietary supplements are treated with the same caution as insider trading tips and the nuclear launch codes; it’s top secret! Many gym-goers ask me about supplement use on a regular basis, and the questions tend to come from males age 16-24. Their curiosity is hedged against society’s idea that “supplement” means “performance enhancing”, and “performance enhancing” can only mean one thing: Steroids.
Within the past week, I’ve had several conversations about supplements, but the most memorable one started with this nervous question: “Harold, do you think I should go back on whey protein?” With a recording camera and an audio swap, you would have heard him asking if he should rob a bank or wrestle an alligator. Those questions would have been met with a resounding “No!” but this one was a hearty “Maybe!”
My first response was, “Well why did you stop taking it?” As it turns out, our whey-less friend was trying to weigh more and was having some gastrointestinal distress from his double scooper. Not a big deal, but obviously not very comfortable, right? It makes sense that he would stop, and it’s normal; there are a good number of people who can’t stomach whey. That’s fine, as there are a large number of whole food proteins and supplemental proteins which can be used to meet daily protein requirements. Whey just happens to have the highest availability, and if you take glance at a bio availability chart of proteins, you’ll see it at the whey top:
Interestingly, Cow’s Milk is just off the podium, and casein, another cow’s milk component is in the number 9 position. Whey protein can be found in dairy products made with cow’s milk; milk (duh!), cheese, yogurt, etc. It can also be found in a variety of supplemental forms, and has been researched to show a number of benefits. If you’re interested in research studies about whey protein, their easy to find on Google Scholar and PubMed. After sorting through all of the data, you’ll see a trend emerging. Whey has been shown to increase lean body mass, decrease fat mass, (and as a result improve body composition), increase rates of protein synthesis, increase strength levels, improve recovery after exercise, improve immune function, and decrease risk of musculoskeletal injuries by improving bone health. If you’d like to learn more but would rather not sort through scientific studies, the Whey Protein Institute website is a good place to start.
The benefits of whey consumption listed above lead me to believe that it’s a good idea for healthy, active adults to take. This isn’t specific to bodybuilders, or elite athletes, or professionals. This means if you have a pulse and you’re active, it might be a good idea for you. This includes younger male trainees who swear they eat and can’t gain weight; whey may help. It also applies to college age women that want “glutes of steel” but think that whey is going to make them bulk up. Just as it’s beneficial to the younger trainees, it will also help the middle-aged exerciser who wants to lose fat mass and maintain or increase lean body mass. Across the board however, it would also behoove you to clean up your diet; supplementing with whey isn’t going to cover up the effects of a poorly executed dietary plan.
I’d like to include the Summary from the NSCA Hot Topic paper, Protein Needs for Athletes, to help reinforce some of the ideas I’ve stated above:
The types of protein that athletes should attempt to derive their intakes are complete, high-quality proteins. These types of proteins are found in animal proteins (chicken, egg, beef, fish). The proteins found in milk (whey and casein) are two of the most scientifically studied proteins in supplemental form and are of the highest quality. Lastly, the timing of protein intake is also an important consideration for the athlete. Athletes should attempt to ingest high-quality proteins in liquid form as soon as possible following training and/or competition.
Now, if you’re wondering about me, I’ve been using a variety of whey proteins for several years now, and I’m currently using the Optimum Nutrition Natural Whey, Vanilla Flavor. I tend to mix it into fruit and vegetable smoothies, so the flavor isn’t a huge impact on my purchase, but it is slightly bland on its own. The ‘Natural’ line cuts out most of the chemical ingredients, and while there are still higher quality proteins out there, this one has the best bang-for-your-buck ratio I’ve found so far. (If you have any recommendations, please feel free to whey in below.)
I like to include videos, so we’ll finish with two videos showing the Optimum Nutrition Natural Whey that I’ve been using. Check them out, let me know what you think, what you use yourself, and if you counted how many times I intentionally misused whey. I’m not sure, but it was whey too much.