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A Primal Primer: Whey Protein

Posted Feb 04 2010 9:29am

Whey Protein PowderWe’re long overdue for a goodsolid post on whey protein. I include it in my Responsibly Slim shake mixa number of readers asked about it after last week’s dairy postand it’s one of the more commonly used nutritional supplements aroundso it’s a no-brainer of a post.

Whey is a byproduct of cheese production. It’s that pseudo-clear liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained that used to be tossed aside as waste material. Todaywe know that it houses an impressive array of proteins: beta-lactoglobulinalpha-lactalbuminand serum albumin. These are complete proteinscomprised of the essential amino acids central to protein synthesis and increased muscular hypertrophy. Our bodies can produce non-essential amino acids from lesser amino acidsbut we cannot produce the essentials ourselves; we must eat quality protein sources. Whey is a naturally occurringessential protein that satisfies the body’s protein requirements – hence its popularity.

Whey contains trace elements of lactoseso the extremely intolerant may have problems digesting it properly. Because whey isby definitionthe stuff that separates from the casein when it curdlesit has even less casein (save for trace amounts)rarely enough to be noticeable to anyone but the most casein-intolerant. But that’s pure whey; whey protein powder has even less of both.

Lactose may pose a problembut casein almost certainly will not.

As for whey protein powderyou’ve got a couple options. Whey protein concentrate contains some fat and lactosewhile whey protein isolate is pretty much pure protein with very little of the other dairy elements remaining. Concentrate is less processed and more wholebut has less protein. Isolate is about 90-94% proteinbut it’s subjected to a more rigorous refinement process. Bodybuilders are drawn to the “purity” of whey isolatelured by the moderately higher protein counts. Isolate is also considerably more expensive than concentrateand the purported boost in beneficial effects on protein synthesis are overstated; drinking any kind of whey protein shake will have a beneficial effect on your muscle recovery and protein synthesis. Whey protein is whey proteinand concentrate allows you to get more for your money. Go with concentrate unless you’re terribly sensitive to dairy (in which case it might be a better idea to just eat a steak instead).

Whey hydrolysate is predigested whey protein that’s easily absorbed and virtually free of any potential allergensbut it’s (in my opinion) horribly overpriced. Whey in general is already highly bioavailable and easily absorbed by our bodiesso absorption is rarely an issue with whey. Hydrolysate is great marketing. That’s about it. The elite of the elite – those hulking magazine cover superheros with tannedsmiling faces atop strainingveiny necks – may have actual cause to maximize protein absorptionbut you guys definitely don’t need to fuss over that stuff.

Whey protein falls into the 80/20 category. It isn’t strictly Primal (and certainly not paleo) in that it wasn’t available to Grokbut it can be an effectiveoccasional high-protein meal replacement with most – if not all – of the potential allergens mitigated or negated. It’s an analoga bit like dairy itself. If you can’t handle any dairyskip it (or try whey isolate) and take the time to prepare a meal. If you can handle dairy without a problema whey protein powder is a pretty good way to shuttle nutrients into your bodyespecially if you’ve chosen to go the post-workout nutrition route  – which I usually don’t.

Going Primal means acknowledging both the limitations and the advantages of modern life. I wish I could laze around on the savannah for days following a successful kill. I wish I had ten hours of leisure time every day. The reality is that we’re a busy bunch of peopleand if we’re truly serious about maximizing our quality of lifeslamming down a quick protein shake so we can get to the office a little earlier might mean we can leave earliertooand get home in time for a date with the significant othera hike at duskor an extra couple chapters on that great book we’ve been meaning to read. If that isn’t a feature of modern life that can help us follow the Primal ways more easilyI’m not sure what qualifies.

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