Is whey protein really more “bio-available” or better than other protein sources?
How much protein does a person need?
Is more protein necessary for muscle recovery or building after working out?
Does whey protein improve our immune system?
– Michael (last name withheld)
(City unknown), Illinois
The average healthy adult requires no more than 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (if you only know your weight in pounds, divide it by 2.2 to determine the kilogram equivalent).
The 0.8 grams figure solely represents the daily requirement — you can consume up to 200% of that total and still be within a perfectly safe range.
It’s always amusing to me to see protein heavily advertised on certain products, almost as if it were a nutrient we were all severely lacking.
Far from it! The average adult in the United States consumes anywhere from 175 – 200 percent of their daily protein needs.
Let’s break down this ever-persistent myth that athletes (or any regular person who lifts weights and wants to bulk up, for that matter) need to consume tons of protein.
Remember, the average adult requires 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
When it comes to athletes and others engaging in strenuous physical activity, protein needs ARE higher, but we are talking, at most, 1.5 or 1.6 grams per kilogram.
In other words, their needs fall within the “permissible” 200 percent range (which, again, corresponds to average protein intakes in the United States anyway).
A few things worth mentioning here.
Firstly, building muscle has more to do with consuming excess calories and performing weight-bearing exercises that challenge and shock the muscles appropriately.
Overloading on protein but consuming too few total calories and/or not performing the appropriate exercises at the appropriate intensity levels is completely futile.
What athletes and people performing strenuous exercise should focus on is protein quality, not quantity.
This is where biological value comes in.
Biological value is a term referring to how closely a protein matches the amino acid composition required by the body.
Complete proteins – all animal-derived ones as well as soy – contain all 8 essential amino acids.
Incomplete proteins – from vegetable sources – usually lack one or two.
This is not to say that vegetarians are not getting adequate protein.
See, Mother Nature is one smart cookie.
Proof? The amino acid lacking in grains is present in legumes (and vice versa). So, as long as a vegetarian has a diet containing various food groups, their amino acid needs are met.
In fact, many athletes as well as Olympic, Ironman, and Mr. Universe bodybuilding competitors and winners have been vegetarian.
Back to biological value. If we are speaking about foods, eggs are the absolute best (yes, even better than meat, chicken, and fish).
Whey protein, however, has an even higher score. So, technically, it is the most bio-available protein.
Since biological value also tells us the percentage of the protein used for muscle growth and repair, it is no surprise whey protein is the chosen favorite of weight-lifters.
Again, though, many people fail to realize that protein quality is more important than protein quantity.
Remember, except for extreme circumstances, protein is not used for energy; carbohydrates and fat are. Too much protein simply ends up being stored as fat.
So how about nutrition needs after a workout?
Again, many people immediately think, “protein.” While that is certainly one part, they often forget two other just as crucial nutrients: carbohydrates and water.
Countless studies have determined that consuming protein AND carbohydrates no more than 30 to 45 minutes after a strenuous (approximately 1 hour) workout are more efficient at muscle recovery than protein alone.
Think roughly 30 – 50 grams of carbohydrates.
Another tip: carbohydrates ranking higher in the glycemic index (such as watermelons, dates, potatoes, and cereals) are often preferred during this window of time, since they replenish fuel stores more quickly and aid in muscle repair.
In regards to whey protein’s effects on the immune system, there is a good body of research showing a link between whey protein consumption and an increase in glutathione levels (a protein that plays a crucial role in human immune systems).
It is important to note, though, that other foods (spinach, walnuts, cauliflower, avocado, and broccoli, all in their raw forms) also have the same effect.