Protein quality: Is whey the whey?


Image source: Innovative Results
So much protein, such little time.

Matrix Nutrition’s James Pickering explains the importance of protein quality

Your protein packed meal plan probably consists of protein shakes,meat, eggs and peanuts, plus a whole lot more to boot. But though you are consuming protein, is it the best protein that can be?

There’s whey, soy, casein and many more sources of protein; logic would dictate that they aren’t all the same quality. So what is the best?

We’ll answer that soon, but first, let’s get back to basics.

What is protein?

Protein is one of the three basic macronutrients and is composed of various amino acids which provide the building blocks for muscle tissue. Protein is also a component of all organs and is involved in many bodily functions.

Training for increased muscle mass and bodybuilding requires plenty of protein, with as much as 1g per pound of bodyweight for certain individuals. In fact protein is an important macronutrient for anyone partaking in any regular physical activity, so it goes without saying that the quality of this protein is very important.

What constitutes good quality protein?

Not all protein is created equal. Some protein is much more useful for building muscle than others. The determining factors behind this are the amino acid profiles of foods and their biological value.

The body cannot use the protein you ingest for muscle building unless all of the necessary amino acids are present. Some of these amino acids are created by the body, the other amino acids need to be obtained from the foods or supplements we consume, these amino acids are called essential amino acids.

Some foods contain a complete or full amino acid profile as they provide all the necessary amino acids to produce usable protein, these are called complete proteins.

Examples of complete protein foods are whey protein, meat, fish, milk, eggs and vegetable products such as soybeans, however, even these complete protein foods contain differing amounts of usable protein per weight, this is where the biological value of food becomes important.

What is the biological value of food?

The Biological Value (BV) is the measurement of how effectively the body can use the protein contained in any given source of food. It is expressed by an index, relative to egg protein (which has a BV of 100).

The higher the biological value, the more protein that can actually be used by the body to build muscle.

So which foods have the highest biological value (BV) of usable protein?

Below is a table showing different protein sources and their biological value.

Protein vs bio values updated

Created by James Pickering

As you can see from the table it is clear that whey, a milk derivative that is commonly found in most protein shakes, has a very high biological value estimated to be the same as whole eggs with a BV value of 100.

So why not just eat eggs after a workout?


Image source: Ockra

Whole eggs are great for protein, but they also contain fat which although good for the human body, is also very calorific. This is where whey protein powder mixed with water can be very beneficial. Because most whey protein shakes will contain only very small amounts of fat. Whey protein dissolved in water is also very quickly digested by the body and can therefore be used to supply the body’s muscles with a quick and high quality supply of amino acids.

Take home points:

• Providing your body with complete proteins is essential for muscular growth and repair and the table of biological values can be a useful tool in determining which foods should be included in your diet.

• Whey protein can be a useful supplement to increase your protein intake of high quality protein with a high biological value coupled with low fat content. These amino acids can then be drip fed into your muscles throughout the day to be used to promote protein synthesis and the creation of new muscle.

To find out your ideal daily protein intake, try out our new protein calculator.

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