When I was 25 I decided to go vegan. Yep… No meat, no dairy, no eggs… And no whey protein powder. I built my wedding day bikini body on that diet.
When I was 25 and a half, my coach at the time figured I needed more protein. Knowing I was vegan, he figured the easiest way to slide anything in would be through whey protein – the lease recognizable form of an animal product. I obliged… Rolled down the slippery slope… And within months was eating a bodybuilders diet instead. But that’s another story.
Of course now I’m well aware there are many ways to ensure one gets enough protein on a veggie diet. Over the years I’ve experimented with many types of diets – always trying to conclude which is best for health and performance.
I’ve landed on the fact that a whole foods based, plant-strong and anti-inflammatory diet is without question required for optimal health and performance. Problem is, whey protein doesn’t fit in anywhere along the spectrum of my ‘whole foods’ definition of an optimal diet. It’s quite simply just not a whole food. It’s a supplement.
I don’t recommend whey often and I go through periods where personally, I abstain from it completely. I’m currently in a heavy training period and use less than half a scoop maybe once per day. Like any supplement, it has its time and place.
How do you know if you should use whey protein? In order to make an informed decision, let’s look at the pros and cons.
1. Whey is a complete and convenient high-quality protein. It offers all nine essential amino acids required to build hormones, neurotransmitters and antibodies, as well as strong muscles and bones. Plus, it is quickly absorbed by the body – making it ideal for post-run when your body doesn’t want to work to digest food.
2. Whey enhances recovery. Studies consistently show protein enhances carbohydrate uptake, meaning your glycogen stores will be re-filled more quickly. A post-run carb-rich shake is good; a carb-rich one that includes some protein is better. Additionally, the protein will aide in post-run muscle repair.
3. Whey has been shown to powerfully support your immune system. Whey is one of the richest sources for the building blocks of glutathione, one of the strongest antioxidants in the body that must be made by the body. More powerful antioxidants mean a more powerful immune system. Additionally, whey contains proteins such as beta-lactoglobulin that have been shown to positively affect the immune system. It also contains glutamine, which also assists the immune system.
1. Whey protein is a processed, packaged product. It’s a byproduct of the dairy industry, removed after cheese is processed. Processing includes removing the fat and carbohydrates from the protein. If it’s processed with heat, the proteins can be denatured (not good). For this reason, you want to ensure if you buy protein powder that it has been processed using low temperature, filtration-based processing techniques.
2. Most whey protein is simply a vehicle for sugars, sweeteners, flavourings and/or colourings. Ninety-nine percent (that’s purely a guesstimate) of whey powders contain additives that are designed to make it more palatable. This is completely unnecessary – plain, unflavoured whey protein tastes like nothing more than weak milk and can be added to natural ingredients (bananas, berries, juices) in order to enjoy it. Your protein powder ingredient list should be nothing more than whey protein isolate and an enzyme blend.
3. It’s easy to overdose… I think it’s that ‘more is better’ mentality. For the most part, those who do not work out don’t need to be supplementing with protein powder. Athletes may wish to take it pre- and/or post-workout. But not a full scoop. An average female serving is 1 heaping tablespoon and an average males about 1.5 to 2 tablespoons, once per day. The rest of your protein needs to be coming from whole food sources.
4. Whey’s benefits don’t apply if you’re lactose intolerant or have a milk protein allergy. Many people are lactose intolerant and whey, being a by-product of milk, contains lactose. However, if you purchase pure whey isolate (as opposed to whey concentrate), the lactose has been removed so you should be able to safely consume whey isolate. If you have a milk protein allergy (milk is 80% casein and 20% whey), you’ll want to avoid whey protein unless you know for sure it is only the casein you’re allergic to. In order to avoid the lactose, you’d want to purchase only protein isolate (not concentrate).
If you choose to include whey protein into your post-run or post-workout recovery routine, I recommend you choose an organic (or from New Zealand) whey protein isolate that is non-hydrolyzed, non-denatured, unflavoured and unsweetened. The reason for choosing organic is to ensure that you are avoiding any added hormones (rBGH), steroids or antibiotics.
Personally my favourite brand is Ergogenics New Zealand Whey Isolate unflavoured (I am not affiliated with Ergogenics).
Do you use whey protein? Do you have a favourite brand, a favourite way to use it? Let me know in the comments below!
Happy running 🙂
Sarah J Cuff, RHN