There is much confusion about whey protein, and protein in general. It seems the average individual finds it a little overwhelming trying to grasp the importance of protein.
Common questions include: How much protein should I consume? Do I really require protein? Why should I take protein powders? What is the difference between protein in food and whey protein powder.
Though I have known there is some confusion about protein and whey protein powder for some time now, for whatever reason it never really dawned on me to explain in a detailed manner, providing answers to a number of questions that have arisen over the years. Sometimes when you’re so heavily involved in something the most obvious things just don’t seem that obvious anymore.
Recently a good friend of mine, also an elite athlete, was involved in a motor cycle accident and recovering in hospital when we had a conversation which revolved around the foods given to him during his hospital stay. I won’t go into too much detail about the conversation except to say that he was not impressed with the sugars, carbs and poor quality of food that he was provided; bread, cereal, fruit with some milk and sandwiches including more carbohydrates for dinner.
Now initially it just sounds like any other story you may have heard about hospital food; like aeroplanes, hospitals are not renowned for having a great feed, but here is what’s really interesting. Carbohydrates and sugars do not put your body in a mode of recovery. In fact they do the exact opposite. Sugars, cereals and white flour including bread and pasta, are a source of energy, but when your body needs to recover, particularly when you are in hospital, the only foods that are going to speed your recovery are foods that help the body mend and recover…yes, you’re correct if you’re thinking protein.
Protein from food and whey protein powder are in fact building blocks that directly assist with recovery, healing and rebuilding. Not only did my close friend want to recover quickly after surgery as a result his accident, but he also wanted to get the heck out of the hospital bed asap…not an uncommon desire. He would not be the only person in history to want to leave the hospital sooner rather than later and no doubt the hospital staff would have been ambitiously trying to free up his bed for the next patient.
So why then do hospitals feed their patients foods that have been scientifically and anecdotally proven to make us less healthy and slow down our recovery process as opposed to speeding up our recovery. Shouldn’t a hospital be the number one place that gets this sort of stuff right? I don’t have all the answers but my guess is that greater amounts of protein, quality fats and fibre are much more expensive than some bread and cereal.
Have you ever wondered why protein or whey protein powder is much more expensive than its macro nutrient sister carbohydrates? The answer is simple; to create protein there is a significant process involved. All forms of complete protein are derived from animals and animals need to be fed and provided with water, heat, sunlight and shelter.
They need to be nurtured and assisted to grow and be of the quality required to make them marketable and saleable. So, when you’re comparing the cost of beef, eggs, chicken, whey protein powder, dairy products, etc. (proteins) to bread, rice, pasta and cereals, the cost is significantly different placing protein at a cost 2-3 times that of a similar amount of carbohydrates.
However, what you are putting into your body with protein, as opposed to carbohydrates, is many times over more beneficial and indeed serves purpose. Real purpose of recovery, real purpose of rebuilding and real purpose of healing, providing you with exactly what is required to be healthy and well nourished.
So now that you understand the basics about protein and why it is the most important nutrient for your body to consume, perhaps the very next question may be…
What is the Main Difference Between Protein Foods and Whey Protein Powders?
As mentioned, protein derived from animal sources, also known as complete proteins, are absolutely the most beneficial proteins to consume. I make no apologies to the vegans or vegetarians out there as I do not judge their choice, but am merely stating facts based on science. I have no issue with others choice of nutrients whatsoever, however it would be remiss of me not to mention that vegetable proteins are not complete proteins unless combined.
A complete protein is a protein that contains all of the essential amino acids, which all animal-derived foods do (an essential amino acid is referred to as ‘essential’ because the human body cannot produce these amino acids therefore making it essential to consume them via foods to avoid being malnourished. Amino acids referred to as ‘non-essential’ can be produced by the body).
So if you’re unsure about the difference between complete protein and incomplete proteins just know that incomplete proteins do not have all of the essential building block (amino acids) in them to nourish you correctly in order to enhance your recovery and repair your system. If you are purchasing a rice protein or pea protein on its own and think that consuming one of these will cover your protein requirements…WRONG, think again.
They simply will not and do not. Whey protein powder on the other hand contains all the essential and non-essential amino acids available, making it the most complete stand-alone protein powder on the market. That’s an inarguable fact. What’s even more important to understand is that whey protein powders have the highest value of protein nutritionally and absorption ratio than any other food available.
I have mentioned this before but in case you missed it, it can take up to 24 hours for your body to obtain amino acids from red meats, so that means it may take some time for your body to gain the maximum benefit from consuming red meat from a protein perspective. White meats such as chicken and fish, and eggs, can take several hours to break down in your body after you eat them. This means that if you require instant recovery don’t count on your last meal providing it…unless that last meal was up to 24 hours ago J.
Quality whey protein powder contains pre-digested peptides (chains of amino acids readily available to be absorbed directly into the blood stream) and are therefore available for instant recovery as quickly as 30 minutes or less after you have consumed your protein drink. So, the fundamental differences between protein from animal sources (any other protein derived from other individual foods that are not animal origin are not complete protein) and whey protein powder is that whey protein powder provides rapid absorption of the absolute highest quality and on its own, without the levels of fat and cholesterol that most animal foods carry in them!!
Besides the convenience factor, whey protein powder commences the recovery and repair process quicker, in fact much, much quicker than any other food you could possible consume. Now I am not suggesting for a minute that you consume all of your protein via whey protein powder.
Food really is one of the keys to maintaining optimum health and well-being, however when supplementing it is important to be aware of the purpose of using a supplement and the effect that it has on your system.
Do You Really Require Protein, and if so, How Much Protein is Optimum?
Protein is absolutely mandatory to consume if you want to maintain prime health. Protein has been known as one of the 3 macro-nutrients for centuries meaning it is one of the essential nutrients to consume. It is not a question of whether or not protein is required, but the correct, and in fact more common question, being, how much protein is required?
This is where a significant amount of confusion lies. The answer is varied and quite dependent on a number of factors; the gender, lean tissue on the individual, activity level, the individual’s macro-nutrient intake, recovery required etc. My good friend that I referred to in earlier paragraphs had a greater requirement for protein whilst recovering in hospital as his body needed nutrients that would speed up the recovery process. This was not because he is an elite athlete but rather the result of undergoing surgery following a traumatic accident. His body would have benefited from much more protein and far lesser carbohydrates and sugars than what was being presented to him during his hospital stay.
The average person who is sedentary and is not aiming at losing or gaining any weight should be consuming approximately 1-1.5g of protein per kg. of body weight. Keep in mind that 200g of chicken breast contains approximately 40-45g of protein. This isn’t the food with the highest content of protein but it certainly is one of the leanest with a fair amount of protein in it.
Those trying to put on lean tissue via resistance training (some form of weight training including bodyweight lifts, training with bands, Pilates etc.) will have higher requirements for protein, however this will also be dependent on the amounts of carbohydrates they are consuming. The fewer carbohydrates/sugars being ingested, the higher the amounts of proteins required.
Whilst it is important to ingest a small amount of carbohydrates and fats along with your protein in order to gain the maximum benefit of complete nutrition, it is still the protein that goes to work on building, recovering and healing the body. No other nutrient has the ability to do so. Whey protein powder very efficiently nails this task, and as mentioned gains access to your cells at a rapid rate.
Proteins (fats and fibres included) will also sustain the individual for far longer periods than carbohydrates/sugars do, leaving you feeling fuller for longer.
On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most important and 1 being the least important, from a nourishment angle, proteins score a 9-10 and carbohydrates and sugars a 2-3. If we were to focus on protein alone, then from an absorption and digestion angle, and only from this angle, whey protein powder (specifically whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate) scores a 9-10 with a full egg being a 7-8, then white meat including fish and chicken 6-7, followed by red meat being a 5-6.
Remember that all of these proteins are complete proteins containing essential amino acids that are able to fully nourish the human body with all its protein requirements.
Proteins exist in every living cell in the human body, and just about all living cells period. It makes perfect sense to understand the basic benefits of consuming protein, the difference between complete and incomplete protein and the rate at which protein should be consumed and is absorbed into the human body.
Undoubtedly, the most effective way to consume protein is with a percentage of fat(s) and a small amount of carbohydrates. Don’t think into this too much as all of the proteins you consume will have a percentage of fats accompanying them, and most if not all of us will have some form of glycogen (carbohydrates/sugars broken down into their simple form) carbohydrates available in the blood stream to assist with digestion and absorption, and if not then the body can convert fats and proteins into carbohydrates to assist.
So, the human body is very clever and can convert protein into carbohydrates and carbohydrates into fats. However, the one thing the human body has yet to be found capable of, is the conversion of fats or carbohydrates into proteins, hence the extreme importance of consuming proteins, particularly protein in its most complete form being via animal products, and in its most absorbable mode via whey protein powder.