Protein powders such as whey have their place and purpose, but they are not a required part of a healthy lifestyle or all training and nutrition programs. Whey and any protein powder, as the name implies, is simply a good source of protein in a powdered form. Instances where use of any protein supplement may be beneficial include
- Convenient source of protein when whole food is not available or desired
- Proper timing of protein intake, such as immediately pre- and post-workout [1,2,3]
- Low calorie protein source when dieting or low calories are required
Use of whey protein as opposed to other proteins of equal grams and times of ingestion in well-fed exercising persons would not likely increase exercise-induced results. Where whey protein and other high biological value (BV) proteins (those high in essential amino acids) may deliver value is in helping to maintain or increase muscle in low calorie situations, such as bodybuilders, wrestlers, or other weight-conscious athletes preparing for competition (these athletes are often underfed and over-trained at this point). Protein needs are based upon essential amino acid (EAA) requirements of the body and due to their high EAA content (especially BCAA and Glutamine), high BV proteins such as whey can more easily meet these requirements thus requiring less total protein and calories.
1 Kraemer WJ, Volek JS, Bush JA, Putukian M, Sebastianelli WJ. Hormonal responses to consecutive days of heavy-resistance exercise with or without nutritional supplementation. J Appl Physiol Oct 1998;85(4):1544-55.
2 Chandler RM, Byrne HK, Patterson JG, Ivy JL. Dietary supplements affect the anabolic hormones after weight-training exercise. J Appl Physiol Feb 1994;76(2):839-45.
3 Tarnopolsky MA, MacDougall JD, Atkinson SA. Influence of protein intake and training status on nitrogen balance and lean body mass. J Appl Physiol Jan 1988;64(1):187-93.
4 Tipton KD, Witard OC. Protein requirements and recommendations for athletes: relevance of ivory tower arguments for practical recommendations. Clin Sports Med. 2007 Jan;26(1):17-36. Review.