Whey is a concentrated form of protein that arises during manufacture of cheeses. Whey is the powdery substance that remains when all the milk has congealed and soaked up all the available liquid. All of the fat is soaked up into the cheese and none is left in the whey by-product.
Whey protein is available in a myriad of powders, shakes and pills, all promising different results. However, the truth is that there has not yet been any conclusive clinical trial (in humans) that would suggest that consuming whey is beneficial to muscle gain and/or fat loss.
You can buy concentrated, isolated or hydrolysated whey protein powder. The current consensus amongst professional trainers and bodybuilders is that whey isolate is the superior form for aiding weight lifting, as it contains the highest protein to calorie ratio and is the fastest to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Whey concentrates should be avoided as they contain some (albeit low) levels of fat.
Some studies in animals indicate that whey might be useful beyond the diet arena in that it shows signs of alleviating inflammations and slowing carcinogenic growth.
Gym rats will tell you that the timing for taking protein supplements such as whey isolate is of paramount importance. The general idea is to consume the powder immediately after weight training when the body is ‘craving’ protein. However, once again there is little or no evidence for this, and the timing of protein ingestion remains debated.
Some people complain of digestive problems as a result of using protein powder on a regular basis. The reason for this is (once again) poorly understood, but may have something to do with the gym goers being lactose intolerant without being aware of this condition.
As the current wisdom stands, forget protein powder and maintain a normal and balanced diet. Try to have something with a high amount of protein after weight lifting, such as fish or chicken, just in case there is something to the rumors of timing. Or if you’re really interested in the truth, start monitoring your weight (with bathroom scales) and body fat (with skin calipers). Then go one year without protein powder and the next year with protein powder. Plot the results and see if there’s a statistically significant difference – then send us the results.