The Amino Acid Profile of Whey Protein

In the world of nutrition and fitness, it is important to understand the terms used in order to make informed nutritional choices. Hence, it is only natural that we take a look at amino acids and the amino acid profile of Whey Protein – A highly potent nutritional supplement. 

The following sections will cover the basics of amino acids and their relation to Whey. 

Amino Acids: What Are They Exactly?

Amino acids are the natural chemical building blocks of protein. 

These building blocks play an integral role in almost all functions of the human body. 

Repairing muscle tissue, healing wounds, and supporting neurotransmitter functions are just a few of the vital tasks amino acids are responsible for. Additionally, they also help synthesize hormones.

Culminated research shows that a lack of amino acids seriously impairs overall immune function in both animals and humans. 

The 20 common amino acids can be grouped into two categories: essential and non-essential

Non-essential amino acids are made endogenously. That is, the human body is normally capable of manufacturing the amino acids classed under non-essential. 

Non-essential amino acids can also be obtained through dietary sources. 

In fact, some of these amino acids may still be essential for infants or individuals with special conditions. This is why six of the non-essential amino acids often are referred to as conditionally essential.

Supplementation of arginine, a non-essential amino acid, may be important for the healing of immune-compromised patients

Essential amino acids must be obtained through exogenous means. In other words, essential amino acids must be obtained from our food. This is because the human body is unable to synthesize them itself.   

There are a total of 9 essential amino acids. These are called histidine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, leucine, isoleucine and valine

The three last ones are our so-called Branched-Chain Amino Acids.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

Branched-Chain Amino Acids are the evergreen hot topic of the fitness world! 

But what are they exactly? 

BCAAs include three of the essential amino acids, namely leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The term “Branched-Chain” refers to the structure of these particular amino acids. 

BCAAs are responsible for filling several roles in our bodies, both metabolic and physiologic. BCAAs promotes protein synthesis, metabolism of glucose, as well as having roles in the immune system and brain.

The most interesting role of BCAAs in the world of nutrition, however, is their role in protein synthesis. More specifically, their role in muscle protein synthesis. 

BCAAs: Muscle Boosters?

BCAAs, and particularly leucine, has shown to be highly involved in both the building and preserving of muscle mass. There is also some evidence that BCAAs help alleviating post-exercise fatigue and muscle soreness. 

One notable 12-week study involves leucine. Two groups of novice trainees were given either leucine or a placebo. The leucine group showed a greater improvement in overall strength performance compared to the placebo group. 

Another study involving a trained group of athletes also showed promising results. The athletes that were given BCAAs after hypertrophy training had a greater rate of recovery than the placebo group. Subjects also recovered quicker from their perceived muscle soreness. 

A third study showed that supplementation of 5.6 grams of BCAAs resulted in a 22% increase in muscle protein synthesis, compared to a placebo group. 

BCAA in Whey Protein

While BCAAs have shown to increase muscle protein synthesis on their own, their effects are limited without supplementation of the other essential amino acids. It seems that an adequate amount of all the essential amino acids are needed for the best result.

This is where whey protein comes in. It is regarded as a superior nutritional source, partly because it contains all of the essential amino acids. Whey also contains solid amounts of BCAAs compared to other protein sources. 

Several studies suggest that whey protein is able to provide a sufficient amount of nutrients to build muscle, at least for most of us.   

One study shows how a 20-gram whey protein supplementation increased muscle protein synthesis by 49%. This is more than double of what was recorded when supplementing 5.6 grams of only BCAAs. 

Another comparative study concluded that whey protein leads to a prolonged increase in muscle protein synthesis, when compared to the supplementation of BCAA alone.  

The Amino Acid Profile of Whey Protein

Whey protein has an impressive amino acid profile. The average values of essential amino acids are presented in the table below. 

Note that the nutritional profile in various protein powders may vary and that some deviations are normal.

Amino Acid Profile of Whey Protein

Amino Acidmg/100g in concentratemg/100g in isolate
Histidine22001311
Isoleucine*58005600
Leucine*10,23910,239
Lysine96009700
Methionine19001689
Phenylalanine33002579
Threonine72007911
Tryptophan21001889
Valine*58005879

*Branched-Chain Amino Acids | Source

As can be noted from the table, there exists a minimal difference in the amino acid profile of whey protein concentrate and isolate

If we assume that one serving of whey protein is 25 grams, it provides an average between 5.4 and 5.5 grams BCAA.  

BCAA in Whey Protein: Enough?

Are the BCAAs found in whey alone enough or is additional supplementation necessary? 

From the research available, it seems that the most beneficial way to ingest BCAAs is through a balanced diet and careful supplementation of a good quality protein powder containing all of the essential amino acids. 

However, there may exist cases where BCAA supplementation is both necessary and beneficial.

 

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