When it comes to supplementation, protein is arguably the most commonly used among athletes with whey protein being the number source. A new protein has surfaced on the market called hydrolyzed whey protein. Before we proceed, I want you to understand that protein has various structures. This includes primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary. The primary and secondary protein structures are simply chains of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) bound together by water. As protein becomes more complex, for example, the steak you’re going to eat later tonight, the chains of amino acids start to fold over top of each other and begin to form what we know as muscle (NIH, 2017).
The process of collecting whey protein first comes from collecting cow’s milk. This dairy is then separated into curds, that eventually can be used to create a whey liquid. The protein goes through pasteurization and filtration to create our beloved whey protein powder. However, one more step is required for hydrolyzed whey; a process called hydrolysis. Hydrolysis breaks these bonds between amino acids resulting in smaller amino acid chains and free amino acids; hydrolyzed protein. Smaller chains and free amino acids allow for much faster digestion and absorption! As you can see, regular whey protein has higher amounts of the secondary and tertiary protein structures. Although, hydrolyzed whey protein is broken down more, which means that it has more simple chains of amino acids (Zumwalt et al., 1987).
Hydro Whey and Fat Loss
Now that we understand what hydrolyzed whey is, we are going to take a look at how it compares to normal whey protein on body composition and recovery. When it comes to gaining muscle mass and increasing strength, whey and hydrolyzed whey both exhibit similar effects.
Where they differ is changes in fat loss. A recent study showed that subjects supplementing with hydrolyzed whey experienced a greater loss in fat mass and body fat compared to subjects using regular whey protein (Lockwood et al., 2014).
This increase in fat loss in the hydrolyzed protein group is due to a different of reasons including a rise in total amino acids, improved insulin response, and an increase in satiety hormones. The research also showed that muscle cells were able to burn more fat! This study suggests that using hydrolyzed whey over regular whey protein is beneficial if the goal is to lose fat mass while simultaneously increasing muscle mass. If your goal is to bulk up with little to no concerns towards gaining fat mass, then there is no benefit of using hydrolyzed whey over regular whey protein (Lockwood et al., 2014).
The Lactate Lie
The common misconception regarding lactic acid is that a buildup of lactate in the cells is related to muscle soreness, however, that is not necessarily true. Lactic acid is a byproduct from the energy system glycolysis. If we continue to exercise, eventually lactate cannot clear fast enough resulting in the impaired function of glycolysis (Abramson et al., 1993). In conclusion, Yes! As a result of physical activity you will have a buildup of lactic acid, but as soon as you stop exercising your body begins to clear lactate once again. Therefore, short term (during training) lactic acid can cause pain, but after you stop working out it does not cause soreness.
If lactate or lactic acid isn’t responsible for muscle soreness, then what is? This soreness that you may have experienced is called DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness. DOMS is believed to be caused by micro-trauma to the muscle fibers. This micro-trauma heals and creates a larger, stronger muscle fiber and is also considered to be a contributing factor to muscle hypertrophy. DOMS may not be fully preventable, however, there are some treatments that have shown to help with muscle soreness after exercise and one of them is supplementing with hydrolyzed whey. When two groups of participants were put through a muscle damaging workout, the group consuming hydrolyzed whey protein increased recovery (Nosaka, 2008).
The Thermic Effect of Protein
When it comes to metabolism, there are a number of factors that contribute to your daily energy expenditure, one being the thermic effect of food (TEF). This accounts for roughly 10-15% of your daily caloric expenditure. TEF is impacted by the caloric content of a meal, the diet of the individual, and the composition of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates of the meal. Studies have shown that the greater the protein content of a meal, the higher the TEF (Tataranni et al., 1995). Dr. Jose Antonio (2015) found that an increased intake of protein (roughly 1.5g/pound/day) resulted in a decrease of body fat while gaining muscle! One group ate a normal protein intake and another group ate high protein (1.5g/pound/day). Both groups saw similar increases in muscle mass but the high protein group experienced much more fat loss, even though the high protein group consumed more calories (2600 vs. 2100 calories).
Research has shown us that protein types have different benefits. Dr. Jose Antonio has shown us that an increase in protein intake to roughly 1.5g per pound per day increases fat loss while increasing muscle mass. Still, the question remains, does the amount of protein consumed post workout matters? How much is needed to maximize muscle growth?
Protein Post Workout
To answer this question a group of researchers in Dr. Tipton’s lab analyzed the impact of 0g, 10g, 20g, and 40g of whey protein in active, young, college aged individuals at rest and following resistance training. At rest 20g was enough to maximize protein synthesis, however, after training, protein synthesis was not maximized until 40g of protein was consumed (Witard et al., 2014). Suggesting that consuming a larger dose of protein post exercise can assist in muscle growth. What makes consuming protein so critical around a workout? Are there specific amino acids that act as a trigger for protein synthesis; the building of new muscle in the body. With one of those specific amino acids being Leucine (La Bounty et al., 2011).
When it comes to protein type and protein intake, we do believe according to research, that there are a number of different methods that can be used to strategically design your macronutrient distribution according to your goals. Whether that be through supplementation or diet intervention. Therefore, before starting any diet, it is beneficial to explore all options so that you can use the most effective method.