I use protein powders with all my clients. It is an indispensable tool that helps them meet their protein needs while also proactively supporting muscle growth and repair following their workouts. Protein is made up of smaller components, that become the building blocks of your muscles and cells, called amino acids.
Protein consumed from protein shakes is quickly digested and taken up by your body in a way that whole foods are not. Liquid protein gets into your system fast because there is no need for mechanical digestion and minimal need for chemical digestion (i.e. the breaking apart of the molecular strings of proteins). This results in the amino acids getting shuttled to your hungry muscles faster with a protein shake than with whole food protein.
The protein that makes up a majority of protein powders is whey protein. Whey is one of the two dairy proteins, the other being casein. Whey protein is one of the richest sources of essential amino acids that your body needs to help grow and repair muscle. Proteins found in protein powders are described in different ways - concentrate, isolate, hydrolysate. This describes how the proteins are processed and purified.
Whey protein isolates are a highly purified version of whey protein which means that it contains a very high proportion of protein. It is also rich in key amino acids like leucine (which is responsible for turning on muscle building). Whey protein isolate is seen by many as the gold standard of muscle-building proteins.
Whey Protein Hydrolysate or Hydrolyzed Isolate takes whey protein isolate one step further as the molecular chains of amino acids that make up the proteins in the shake are broken up into smaller pieces. This is essentially a form of pre-digesting the protein, allowing your body to take it up, and absorb it even faster. The protein from hydrolyzed whey isolate gets into your bloodstream and to your muscles faster than any other kind of whey protein. The downside of whey protein hydrolysate is that while it will cause the amino acid levels to peak in your bloodstream quickly, this also means that they will decrease quickly as well.
You will sometimes see protein powders that contain a blend of whey protein isolate and hydrolyzed isolate. This is an optimal combination because the two different protein powders are absorbed at slightly different rates.
This kind of protein blend will provide you with the very fast delivery of amino acids from the whey hydrolysate - this serves to provide your body with the amino acids needed to turn on the muscle building and repair processes. Then, as those amino acid levels in your system being to subside the amino acids from the whey protein isolate will help sustain elevated levels of key amino acids in your bloodstream. This sustained elevation will help maintain the muscle building and repair pathways while also providing your body with building blocks for the actual muscle growth and repair process.
The whey isolate and hydrolysate combination creates a unique and optimal metabolic environment to maximize muscle growth and repair following exercise.