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What Is Whey Protein?


Whey protein is derived from the cheese making process and has a high biological value. Whey contains high levels of essential and branched chain amino acids. It’s fast to digest, and also convenient to prepare.

When Should I Take Whey Protein?

To achieve the best results aim to spread your protein intake across the day. Recent research suggests that 20g consumed every three hours is superior for muscle protein synthesis to both smaller, more frequent amounts and larger, less frequent amounts (Areta et al, 2013, Journal of Physiology).

Taking a protein shake first thing in the morning is a good way to get essential nutrients after eight hours of sleep, and is great to have with your breakfast foods. A scoop or two of protein around an hour before sleep will provide your muscles with protein.

When you work out, it’s good to have a protein shake 30 minutes before your first rep to create an anabolic window. A post-workout shake with some carbs in it is a good idea. For those on the go, we also produce ready to drink protein milk drinks.

Protein is an essential nutrient for life, responsible for numerous functions, like supporting the building of tissue, cells and muscle. Proteins are made from a collection of up to 20 amino acids.

Of those, 8 are classed as essential, as they cannot be made within the body and need to be sourced from the diet and the other 12 are known as non-essential amino acids. They all collaborate in different ways to perform their duties in the body, so we need a good balance to keep healthy. So what is whey protein as a supplement? In order to answer the question we need to delve deeper into protein science.

Why Is Protein Important For Muscle Building?

Muscle growth relies on adequate proteins being available. That means a balance between protein intake and protein breakdown; something scientists call protein balance.

To further explain, to achieve muscle growth an individual should combine weight training along with a positive protein balance; meaning that protein intake and synthesis is higher than protein breakdown.

During a heavy weights session your muscles are forced into protein breakdown, with the body splitting the amino acids into energy or using them to synthesise new protein. Following training, to promote muscle growth this exercise-induced protein breakdown needs to be turned around to be positive – taking on extra protein is how you can do it.

How Much Protein Do I Need?

Research studies have identified that the upper limit for protein ingestion, for athletes engaged in intense training, should be 2g per kg of body weight. Above this there is no evidence of further benefit to muscle growth. For an 80kg individual, the upper intake should be 160g protein per day to aid muscle growth.

Which Form Of Protein Is Best?

Meat, fish, dairy, beans and nuts are all good sources of protein. Because of their amino acid make up, along with other nutrients they contain, like carbs and fats, they all have varying digestion rates. Food sources such as dairy, meat and fish all contain the ideal balance of the essential amino acids to support protein synthesis.

Proteins vary in their absorption rate within the body, based on their biological value (BV). BV is not a % but a value that takes egg as a constant at 100. Figure 1 shows a list of other protein sources and their BV.

Fig. 1: How quickly different proteins are absorbed

Protein source Absorption rate (g/h) Reference
Egg Protein Raw 1.3 43
Pea flour 2.4 41
Egg protein cooked 2.8 43
Pea flour: globulins and albumins 3.4 42
Milk protein 3.5 40
Soy protein isolate 3.9 46
Free A A 4.3 39
Casein isolate 6.1 38
Free A A Same profile as casein 7-7.5 39
Whey isolate 8-10 39

Bilsborough & Mann, 2006

Fig. 2: The biological value of different proteins

Proteins Biological Value - in %
Whey Protein 104
Whole Egg 100
Fish 83
Beef 80
Chicken 79
Casein 77
Soya 74

Article written by Gareth Nicholas

Gareth Nicholas is the head nutritionist and HNC scientist within the Maximuscle ambassador team.  Gareth has been working in the fitness industry since 2000, and has the following qualifications: MSc Human Performance, BSc (Hon) Sport Science, IOC Diploma in Sports Nutrition. Gareth's favourite workout is the Squat.