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Whey protein isolate benefits

"Whey protein isolate has many benefits which make the extra cost worthwhile" says sports scientist and former international athlete Jay Provan BSc.

What is whey protein isolate?

Whey protein isolate (such as GN Whey Isolate 90™) is a pure form of whey protein that contains a higher concentration of protein and lower lactose and fat than whey protein concentrate (such as GN Whey Protein 80™.) Comparatively, whey protein isolate is far purer than concentrate; the types typically weigh in at around 90-98% protein vs 75-85% protein respectively. The extra purity of isolate means that you are getting more protein per gram, but the downside is that the extra processing required to produce whey protein isolate makes it more expensive.

Why does protein source and timing matter so much?

All results rely upon specific training and a gradual adaptation to them by the body. This adaptation is cumulative; coming from consistent training and nutrition. In order to really get maximum benefits from all the effort put into training, you must feed the body with the right protein at the right time. The trap that many people fall into is to train increasingly hard; gaining fewer results and more injuries. The best strategy is to use the science from sports nutrition to enhance your training and results. Train hard and eat smarter.

When should I use whey protein isolate?

Not only is whey protein isolate higher in protein content, it is also absorbed far quicker than concentrate. This is important when it comes to the post-workout window. The post-workout or post-training window is generally agreed to last between 90 minutes and 2 hours and is the time that potentially you can get more muscle tissue packed on. During this time the body becomes more insulin-sensitive and this is the best time to get protein to the muscles. As insulin helps increase metabolic activity within the muscle, a post workout drink ensures the maximum amount of protein can get to the muscles and your body can start increasing muscular size. What's needed is a high quality protein that can be quickly absorbed and a high glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrate (e.g. maltodextrin, dextrose or waxy maize starch). Slower release carbohydrate sources are not advisable as they provoke a slower and less pronounced insulin response. The insulin spike that will result from high GI carbohydrate will help to shuttle vital nutrients and protein to the stressed muscles, boosting the amount of protein synthesis that can take place. The greater the amount of protein synthesis taking place, the more possible muscle gain there is. During this time, a protein type that is rapidly absorbed is ideal as it will get to the muscles quickest and be used immediately.

Why is absorption time important?

Recent studies have shown that the faster the body can get protein to the muscles, the longer it has to increase muscle tissue production before this metabolic activity decreases. Whey protein isolate quickly delivers high quality protein quickly to the muscles. When compared to whey protein concentrate, the peak absorption times look like this:
Protein Absorption time
Whey protein concentrate 60 to 90 minutes
Whey protein isolate 30 to 60 minutes

How long do I have after my workout?

If you factor in that there is only a finite time in the post workout window, absorption times become very important. One study into this "performance zone" concluded that there was a 600% increase in protein synthesis, peaking 15-45m after training. You therefore have the opportunity to pack on 600% more muscle tissue than any other time. This is why timings are critical to results. If we were to agree that the window lasts 90 minutes (there is lots of conflicting research published), in the best case you would only get 30 minutes of this using whey protein concentrate. Worst case, you'd get a massively limited amount, thereby limiting your results. That's not to say that protein synthesis isn't occurring outside of this window; it is, but just to a far lesser extent. Respectively, whey protein isolate would give you between 30-60 minutes within the window. 30-60 minutes building muscle at an accelerated rate or potentially no time were you to take a slower absorbing protein. It may not sound like a lot, but think about how many training sessions a typical weight trainer performs in a year. Then multiply even a small gain over that many sessions.

Is whey protein isolate worth the extra cost?

When it comes to maximising opportunities, whey protein isolate may be more expensive, but it provides the body with much needed protein far quicker that concentrate. This fast delivery can also decrease muscle soreness and speed recovery up, helping you train harder next session. There are many similar benefits between protein types, but their unique absorption times make them better suited to different ingestion times. Results are gained from utilising each protein's properties and applying them as a part of a full nutritional plan. Continue to train hard, just eat a little smarter.
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