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Does Whey Protein Powder Build Muscle?

by
author image Angela Ogunjimi
Angela Ogunjimi has been a prize-winning writer and editor since 1994. She was a general assignment reporter at two newspapers and a business writer at two magazines. She writes on nutrition, obesity, diabetes and weight control for a project of the National Institutes of Health. Ogunjimi holds a master's degree in sociology from George Washington University and a bachelor's in journalism from New York University.
Does Whey Protein Powder Build Muscle?
Young man lifting weights in a gym. Photo Credit Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

You probably first heard about whey when you learned the Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme. She may have been eating cottage cheese, but the whey in her meal is a powerful protein that can help you with muscle development and physical performance. It is also an excellent way to get protein without getting much of the saturated fat and cholesterol that you would get if you ate meat. When you take whey and train your muscles, the combination gives your body important amino acids that help your muscles strengthen and grow over time.

What is Whey?

Whey is a common form of protein powder found in health food stores. The powder is a by-product from making cheese. Once separated from the cheese ingredients, the remaining whey goes through a purification process and gets dried to powder form. MayoClinic.com says, whey is an excellent source of protein, and the Whey Protein Institute calls it the “gold standard” of protein because it helps athletes develop a lean, well-defined physique. It is quickly digested and generally well-tolerated.

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Whey and Muscle Building

MayoClinic.com says, there is good evidence whey protein increases muscle mass and muscle strength. Whey protein powder is a complete protein, which means all the amino acids -- the building blocks of protein -- you need for protein to do its work are present. One key amino acid is leucine, which plays a vital role in promoting muscle building and growth. Athletes, including body builders, favor whey protein powder for this reason but research has shown that whey is for everyone. For example, the leucine in whey was singled out as the most important factor that helped a group of elderly people stop losing muscle mass in a 2008 Australian study. When they added simple resistance training, their muscles went through the same processes that athletes experience in terms of muscle building.

Before or After Workout

In “The Abs Diet Eat Right Every Time Guide,” author David Zinczenko says, whey protein powder contains the highest amount of protein you can get with the fewest amount of calories. People who use it for exercise performance often take it as a pre-workout shake. This helps increase protein synthesis by having protein available when blood flow to the muscle starts to increase through working out. That blood then gets more protein to deliver as needed throughout your body, and you develop more muscle mass and increase your strength. Some research supports taking whey powder after your workout. A 2007 Canadian study with young men doing exercises on one leg and resting the other proved this. The participants took either whey or a mostly carb-based post-workout drink. Whey protein, with a small dose of carbohydrate, stimulated a rise in muscle protein synthesis in the leg that worked. The researchers concluded that about 10 grams of whey protein taken in a drink with approximately 21 grams of carbohydrate would lead to hypertrophy, or an increase in the size of muscle cells.

How Much Is Enough?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says adults need between 46 and 56 grams of protein per day. Men need slightly more than women. The Institute of Medicine recommends that between 10 and 35 percent of your total calories come from protein. Few Americans are protein deficient, however. Most get enough in their diets. After reviewing studies that examined the effects of whey on enhanced muscle mass and strength, the MayoClinic.com advises that 45 grams of whey protein powder mixed with Gatorade, three times per week for 14 weeks proved effective in one study. However, other studies have used significantly smaller doses and found some benefit when it was used in conjunction with resistance training. Many of the studies provided approximately 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you are thinking about taking more protein through whey, talk with your doctor or a nutritionist about the total amount of protein you should be getting in a day.

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