By Chow Zi Siong
According to Examine.com, an independent organization that provides un-biased research on supplements and nutrition, “whey is a component of Milk Protein, with the other being casein”. (1)
So let’s cut to the chase: Does whey offer a superior muscle building effect? This means, if I were to compare the same amount of whey to the same amount of other protein sources, does whey have an advantage? Unfortunately, the answer is no. When one consume protein-rich food be it whey or other such foods like beef, chicken, egg and pork, these foods are broken down into amino acids in the human body and the amino acids contribute to what is responsible for muscle building but no one protein-rich food has a more superior effect.
Till date, there has been no scientific study that shows whey is superior to other sources of protein. Many studies have attempted to prove so but to no avail. To be fair though, whey has been shown by some studies to cause a greater acute muscle protein synthesis. (6,7,8) However, acute muscle protein synthesis does not mean muscle is built.
So, what about timing whey protein around your gym sessions? Does this boost muscle growth? The answer is no. The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition has a meta analysis on “the effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy”. (9) A meta analysis, in layman’s term, is basically a compilation of all the research surrounding a topic, in attempt to sieve out an answer for a question in the topic. The results of the meta analysis show that “current evidence does not appear to support the claim that immediate (≤ 1 hour) consumption of protein pre- and/or post-workout significantly enhances strength- or hypertrophic-related adaptations to resistance exercise.” This means that there is no strength of muscle building value in chugging down your whey immediately (≤ 1 hour) before or after training.
So you might ask this question: Why do people rave about whey then - given that current science does not appear to support its value? That is a great question, and I will provide you with my two cents worth.
I think it is important to look at the answer for this question from the perspective of compliancy. Individuals who consume whey protein have a higher tendency to consume whey. Why is this so? Whey is a relatively cheap source of protein – in Singapore, a typical serving of whey costs about SGD1. And it yields about 20-25 grams of protein. Furthermore, whey is relatively easy to consume: it is poured into a shaker, mixed with water, and drank. These two reasons when added together, and taken into context of an individual whom before consuming whey protein was insufficient in protein intake that supports muscle growth, will enable the individual to bridge the deficiency and thus see muscle growth. Let me paint a scenario to illustrate the points above: Let’s imagine if an individual needs 100g of protein daily to support muscle growth. Before he started the habit of regular whey consumption, he consumes 70g of protein daily. Once he starts using whey on the daily basis (due to the relatively low cost and ease of consumption), he consumes an additional 30g on top of his usual 70g. He now has 100g of protein daily, and therefore, is enough to support muscle growth.
I hope I have done my best in addressing my opinion on whey and its claims on muscle building. Till next time!
Zi Siong Chow is a personal trainer and has a huge interest in sports and fitness since his junior college days. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor in Sports Science and Management at the Nanyang Technological University and spends his free time either training and coaching in a gym or seeking out new fitness theories.