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| What is Whey Protein? |
Whey comes from milk, which is actually comprised of two proteins: casein, which makes up approximately 80 percent of milk protein, and whey, which makes up the other 20 percent. When milk is turned into cheese, whey is separated from the solid curds and can be found in the liquid that is left behind.
Once separated, it goes through several more processing steps to become what most people recognize as whey protein: a relatively tasteless powder that can be added to shakes, protein bars, or even baked goods. It’s a common protein booster in commercial smoothies, bars, cereals, and plenty of other foods, but can also be taken on its own.
Whey is made up of many smaller protein subfractions such as beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, and immunoglobulins (IgGs). Each of these subfractions has its own unique biological properties. The protein subfractions are made out of amino acids.
Like all proteins—chicken, beef, egg, soy, rice, hemp, and so on—whey is composed of amino acids, which the body can use for muscle growth and tissue repair. But it’s whey’s high concentration of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), especially leucine, that sets this protein apart from the others.
| What Does Whey Protein do In The Body? |
For starters, whey is a complete protein, meaning it has all nine essential amino acids necessary for protein synthesis. We call these amino acids “essential” because your body can’t make them and therefore you must consume in them in your diet.
Whey is particularly high in the group of three essential amino acids known as BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These help to build and maintain muscle, and can also serve as an energy source during prolonged or intense workouts.
Leucine, specifically, has been shown to have the greatest impact on rates of muscle protein synthesis, the process that makes your muscles bigger and stronger. One 25-gram scoop of whey protein has approximately 3 grams of leucine.
Compare that to only 2.3 grams per scoop in casein and 1.5 grams in soy. Seeing as the threshold for activating protein synthesis occurs right around 2.5 grams of leucine, whey is a no-brainer for athletes looking to boost growth, recovery, and performance.
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