The unique benefits of whey protein for boosting muscle recovery, stimulating growth and aiding physique goals

Anyone serious about training and their physique knows the importance of eating a protein rich diet for muscle repair and growth. In fact, leading protein researchers such as Dr Peter Lemon recommend eating 2-2.5g of protein per kg of body weight per day, for maximum muscle growth [1]. However, not all proteins are equal and whey has developed a reputation as one of the very best muscle building proteins. Our in-depth look at whey protein will help you understand the value of supplementing your diet with whey protein shakes and bars and how to take full advantage if its unique benefits.

Whey protein basics – what is it?

Whey protein is one of two proteins found in cow’s milk (the other being casein). As a complete protein, whey has very nutritious levels of all of the amino acids needed to build muscle tissue and is particularly rich in leucine and glutamine – two of the most important muscle building aminos. Although you can get some whey from drinking milk, one pint of milk typically contains less than 4g of the nutrient. Thus, to get research proven results from whey, you’d need to drink in excess of 7 pints of milk! In contrast, one serving of a high quality whey protein shake such as ULTRA WHEY™ PROTEIN, contains 35g of whey protein with very low levels of sugar and fat. In addition, quality whey protein supplements are processed to offer ultra-pure whey protein, enhanced whey protein absorption and higher levels of beneficial nutrients, which compound the benefits.

Now we know what whey is, let’s look at the benefits in more detail…

Whey protein – what the research says?

One of the major benefits and features of whey protein is its capacity to digest fast and increase amino acid levels quicker than other proteins, leading to enhanced protein synthesis and growth support.

Although whey protein was being used by body-builders and athletes during the early 1990’s, the potential benefits of the protein was only revealed to mainstream trainers, after the publishing of several research studies. This included a report by Yves Boirie in 1997, comparing the digestion speed and rate of amino acid release among different proteins, titled, “Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion” [2].

The study found that whey protein had a very ‘anabolic’ impact, rapidly increasing blood amino acid levels, spiking them higher and stimulating protein synthesis:

“After WP (whey protein) ingestion, large amounts of dietary amino acids flood the small body pool in a short time, resulting in a dramatic increase in amino acid concentrations… This amino acid pattern is associated with an increased protein synthesis and oxidation and no change in protein breakdown.”

The study went on to conclude that, “the speed of protein digestion and amino acid absorption from the gut has a major effect on whole body protein anabolism after one single meal”. The research speculated that the high levels of branched chain amino acids and particularly of l-leucine in whey, is a big factor in the dramatic impact of whey protein.

Unsurprisingly, this kind of whey protein research prompted experts to suggest that if whey protein had the ability to rapidly turn on anabolism in the body and increase amino acid levels in the blood, then it may be a powerful protein for stimulating muscle growth (particularly when consumed after intense workouts, when the body is in a catabolic state).

Hundreds of research studies have since confirmed that whey protein can increase muscle growth when combined with resistance training. In 1996 researchers looked at the impact of a high quality whey protein isolate supplement, versus regular milk protein, in a group of experienced weight trainers, during an intensive 12-week muscle growth plan. In addition to increasing strength, the trainers consuming whey protein, gained an average of 5kg of muscle mass, compared to just 0.4kg in the regular milk protein group [3].

Key research findings include:

• Enhanced muscle growth
• Greater strength gains
• Enhanced exercise and muscle recovery speed
• Immune defence support
• Lean muscle protection when dieting

It’s worth noting that good quality whey protein supplements are very rich in several nutrients (in addition to quality protein) that offer all-round benefits to weight trainers, athletes and anyone who exercises intensely. This includes high levels of the amino acid l-cystine, which the body can utilise to boost levels of glutathione (often called the ‘mater anti-oxidant’) which may combat free radicals. Whey is also naturally rich in l-glutamine, which is vital for immune and gut health, in addition to muscle cell volume and growth.

When and how to take whey protein for optimal results?

Whey protein shakes and bars can be useful at any time of day, to help trainers and athletes consume sufficient high quality protein. However, to take advantage of whey’s ability to raise amino acid levels very quickly and trigger protein synthesis, there are some key times to consume your shakes and bars:

1. Breakfast time: After sleeping, the body is in a catabolic state (muscle breakdown) and low on plasma amino acids. Drinking whey protein on an empty stomach will create a rapid amino acid spike to stimulate protein synthesis and aid muscle growth.

2. Before and/or after workouts: Research has proven that consuming protein before and after weight training can enhance the muscle repair and growth process. Although post-workout nutrition has in the past gained most interest, it now appears that whey protein pre-workout is equally as effective at promoting muscle anabolism and protein synthesis. Recent research has also revealed that consuming a large serving of whey protein after exercise (such as 1 serving of ULTRA WHEY™ PROTEIN which contains 35g whey protein), is more powerful than sipping a whey protein shake over several hours [4].

Who can benefit from whey protein?

Whey protein will benefit anyone who trains hard in the gym or plays sport intensively. In fact, regardless of whether you’re training to pack on slabs of muscle, or aiming to shed fat to get ripped Abs, whey protein offers benefits:

Muscle growth – enhance muscle anabolism and protein synthesis
Getting ripped/Dieting – prevent muscle loss when in a calorie deficit
Training/sports recovery – speed-up muscle repair and aid immune defences

Whey is also just as beneficial for both male and female trainers.

How much whey protein to take per day?

Research has widely shown benefits of consuming between 20g and 100g of whey protein per day, in conjunction with intensive training. Generally, 1-3 servings per day of a high quality protein supplement like ULTRA WHEY™ PROTEIN is ideal.

What to look for in a good quality whey protein supplement?

With all the conclusive research on ‘whey protein’, it’s easy to think that supplementing your diet with any whey protein shake or bar will boost your muscle growth. However, not all whey protein supplements are of research-level quality. Look for a whey with the following:

Cold-processed whey protein

Heat processed whey contains denatured protein and is lower in the nutrients that make whey such a good protein. The best quality whey is ‘Cold Processed’ and not denatured.

Whey isolate and concentrate

It’s possible to create different grades of whey protein, which have a different impact on the body in terms of amino acid delivery and protein synthesis. The latest research suggests that a blend of cold-processed whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate offers optimal benefits. Whey isolate digests extremely quickly for an optimal amino acid spike, while whey concentrate digests slightly more slowly for a longer release of amino acids, while also being rich in whey’s wide range of nutrients such as glutamine.


Even the best quality whey protein can be a waste of money and have little impact, if your body lacks the digestive enzymes needed to process it and release amino acids. The addition of research proven enzymes such as Aminogen® (as contained in ULTRA WHEY™ PROTEIN) is essential to fully benefit from whey protein. It’s been shown to boost BCAA retention by 250%, muscle nitrogen by 32% and overall amino-acid plasma concentrations by 100%.

Whey is without question one of the best muscle building proteins to supplement your diet with. However, by being smart and consuming whey at the right times (most notably before and after training), you’ll maximise muscle repair, growth and training adaptations.


[1] Effects of exercise on dietary protein requirements. International Journal of Sport Nutrition, 8, 426-447. Lemon, P.W.R. (1998).

[2] Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion Yves Boirie*, Martial Dangin*†, Pierre Gachon*, Marie-Paule Vasson‡, Jean-Louis Maubois§, and Bernard Beaufrère*
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

[3] The Effect of Whey Isolate and Resistance Training on Strength, Body Composition, and Plasma Glutamine. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2006, 16, 494-509. Paul J. Cribb, Andrew D. Williams, Michael F. Carey, and Alan Hayes

[4] Rapid aminoacidemia enhances myofibrillar protein synthesis and anabolic intramuscular signaling responses after resistance exercise. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2011; DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.111.013722. D. W. West, N. A. Burd, V. G. Coffey, S. K. Baker, L. M. Burke, J. A. Hawley, D. R. Moore, T. Stellingwerff, S. M. Phillips.

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