Whey Protein: Do You Really Need It?

Over the past four months I’ve been going to the gym and I have noticed that many of the men there – young and old; slim and not so  slim – were chugging down protein drinks. They drink it before they work-out or after they work-out. In addition, the gym even has a drinks vending machine that is dedicated to selling a variety of flavours of a ready mixed protein brand. But are there any real benefits to drinking whey protein? Will protein drinks give me the body of an Adonis or is it just marketing mumbo-jumbo to sell expensive powders? Am I missing out on huge gains? Let’s investigate!

What Exactly is Whey Protein?

Whey protein is a combination of proteins isolated from whey, which is the liquid component of milk that separates during cheese production. Milk actually contains two main types of protein: casein (80%) and whey (20%). Whey is left over when milk is coagulated during the process of cheese production. The fat is removed and then processed for human foods. Processing can be done by simple drying, or the relative protein content can be increased by removing non-protein materials.

Furthermore, the costs of manufacturing whey powder is inexpensive and ranges from 16 US cents per kilogram of powder in a large cheese factory that produces 1.2 million Kilograms of milk per day and operating around the clock to 52 US cents per Kilograms of powder in a much smaller factory.

How Much Protein Do I Need?

…protein intake in the European population is adequate for all population groups.

In the UK, adults are advised to eat 0.75g of protein for each kilogram they weigh, On average, men should eat 55g and women 45g of protein daily. In contrast the average healthy adult male whose primary goal is building muscle, getting “toned,” maintaining muscle while losing fat, increasing strength or improving performance should consume1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Currently the European Food Safety Authority Panel considers protein intake in the European population to be adequate for all population groups.

According to collated national food consumption surveys, the average protein intake of adults in Europe is often at or above the Population Reference Intake (PRI) of 0.83 g per kg of body weight per day (between 67g and 114g per day for men and between 59g and 102g per day for women). They found that the main sources of protein in European adult diets are meat and meat products, followed by grains/grain-based products and milk/dairy products.

Anabolic Window

Many people believe drinking a protein shake within 30 minutes of exercise will maximize their results in the gym. Commonly known as the “anabolic window,” is a short period of time in which your muscles are like a sponge for protein. The idea being that if you consume protein outside of the anabolic window, your body won’t effectively utilise it or build muscle.

Krissy Kendall, Ph.D., is a lecturer in the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia. She suggests that taking whey protein can be beneficial. She states that whey protein supplements:

Boosts the effects of resistance training

Supports Healthy Weight Loss

May help to reduce hunger


But recent findings now suggests that this anabolic window of opportunity is much longer than 30 minutes and may not be limited to after exercise. In fact, it may not matter if you drink a protein shake before or after your workout in terms of maximising muscle repair and growth.

In 2010 the European Food Safety Authority  (EFSA)  Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies also examined proposed health claims made for whey protein: satiety, weight loss, reduced body fat, increased muscle, increased strength, increased endurance and faster recovery after exercising. Most importantly, the EFSA concluded that the provided literature did not adequately support the proposed claims.

Thomas Sanders, professor of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, is quite clear with his summation, “There are some quite nice trials which now show that giving people extra protein doesn’t actually increase muscle mass. What builds up muscle is exercise and load bearing and the body has ways of conserving its existing protein to do that. If you eat more protein, the body just breaks it down into ammonia and urea and you excrete it.”

The Verdict?

So, it’s clear. Is protein needed to aid muscle growth? Yes! But the vast majority of people already eat enough protein although those who exercise frequently may need to eat more protein. Certainly, getting your protein is best done through eating a balanced diet from meat, fish, milk, nuts or legumes but you may want to supplement your diet with a protein shake, though drinking them immediately before or after a workout is unnecessary as an anabolic window doesn’t actually exist!

In conclusion, will a protein shake boost the effects of resistance training? No. Will a protein shake support healthy weight loss? No. Will a protein shake help to reduce hunger? Nope!

Therefore, I will save my money, steer away from processed foods and just keep exercising and burning calories. Easy!

Are you a pre/post workout protein shake drinker? What do you think?

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