4 Reasons to Take Whey Protein for Muscle and Health

I made this short video to discuss the 4 reasons to take whey protein for muscle and health. (Article continues below.)


Fast Protein

Whey protein is “fast”, which in this case doesn’t mean that you can prepare it and down it quickly, although you certainly can – prep time from start to stomach is about a minute. But here it refers to speed of digestion. The proteins in whey have a structure that makes them easily broken down into their constituent amino acids, and they therefore hit the blood stream and the muscles quickly. In contrast, a protein like casein, or meat proteins, take much longer to digest. In certain cases, slow digestion is beneficial, otherwise nature wouldn’t have made them that way.

But when we’ve been lifting weights, muscles are primed to grow. Researchers have suggested several reasons for why this happens, but very simple reason may be that the blood vessels going to the muscles have all opened up greatly to increase the movement of blood to them, facilitating the provision of oxygen and nutrients and the removal of the cellular waste products of metabolism. Whey digests quickly, and then its amino acids hit the muscles right when they’re most susceptible to growth stimulation. Therefore, timing of protein ingestion can be important.

Other studies have found a lesser or even no effect, and much of this seems due to nutrient status of the trainee, e.g. whether he’s fasted or fed, other types of foods he eats, calorie intake, etc. But since I want to ensure that I get the biggest bang for my workout buck, I take whey protein immediately after every workout. Research shows that taking it immediately before a workout may be just as effective.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids

The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are leucine, isoleucine, and valine, and they’re important for muscle growth. While past researched focused on all three, more recent research has fingered leucine as the most important, as it acts as a signal for muscular growth. (Absence of leucine promotes autophagy, the cellular self-cleansing process, and when enough tissue has been broken down via this process, leucine rises in the blood stream and shuts off autophagy via a feedback mechanism.)

Whey contains about 25% BCAAs, which is the highest of any protein, therefore it’s the best muscle growth stimulant.

Essential Amino Acids

Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are of two types, essential and inessential. Inessential amino acids are those that the human body can make from other molecules, and therefore they don’t need to be supplied by food. The body can’t make the essential amino acids, of which there are nine, and therefore the diet must supply them.

Only essential amino acids build muscle. Provision of extra inessential amino acids does not stimulate extra muscle growth, and if sufficient essential amino acids are not present, muscle won’t grow.

Whey protein is about 50% essential amino acids, again among the highest of any protein.


Cysteine is a sulfur-containing amino acid, and whey contains an abundant amount of it. Cysteine is important in the synthesis of glutathione, the body’s most important internal antioxidant.

When the body metabolizes to create energy, it also creates free radicals as a byproduct, and these are reactive molecules that can cause molecular and cellular damage. The cells endeavor to keep free radicals under control, neither too many nor too few of them, since besides their potential for damage, they are also important signaling molecules. (Free radicals drive much of hormesis, for example.) It does this through a tripeptide (a string of three amino acids) called glutathione.

Glutathione is made from cysteine, glutamine, and glycine, and of these three, cysteine is the rate-limiting constituent, the bottleneck. Provision of cysteine therefore promotes glutathione synthesis. Lack of cysteine promotes excess free radicals, leading to oxidative stress, a condition to be avoided.

This has benefits not just for athletes, but in aging as well, which has been characterized as a cysteine-deficiency syndrome.


Whey is of great benefit to athletes, and can help the elderly too.

Between 20 and up to 40 grams of whey can be taken before or after a heavy exercise session (yes, endurance athletes benefit too), although amounts higher than 20 grams appear to give diminishing returns.

By the way, if you watch the video above, I display a container of NutraBio Grass-Fed Whey Isolate. In view of the fact that I’ve said that grass-fed isn’t necessarily a big improvement over regular whey, I should explain that the NutraBio company comped me the whey. Nevertheless, it’s chocolate, has no sugar (it’s sweetened with stevia), and is quite tasty, and you can buy it here.

PS: I discuss whey and other proteins in my new book, Best Supplements for Men.

PPS: Check out my Supplements Buying Guide for Men.


Leave a Comment:

Bill says June 26, 2017

Thanks for this post PD. It clarifies lots of stuff about whey powder.

Nick says June 27, 2017

I’ve been using lemon & lime juice to spark up my post-lifting shakes (sugar-free vanilla & chocolate mix). Is there any reason why I shouldn’t do this?

I also normally have a bed-time dessert of quark, biotic yogurt, a bit of whey and berries on lifting days, just to have some nice casein over night. (Quark is sort of like cottage cheese meets fat-free cream cheese, loaded with BCAA’s. The lack of it in the US is a market opportunity, I think. There are fatted-up versions too.)

    P. D. Mangan says June 27, 2017

    Hi Nick, no reason why you can’t use lemon or lime juice.

Mark says June 27, 2017

I’m better than all you

Parminder says June 27, 2017

Hi friend, I have mild uric acid, is it whey more safe than eggs and chicken.

Rob Hardy says June 28, 2017

Great article Dennis. I was completely unaware of the theory of ageing as a cysteine deficiency syndrome – extremely interesting concept.. Over the last few weeks I had already adopted the practice of taking 1 x 30g whey protein isolate + glycine shake per day, but was having my doubts on whether this is necessary for the 3 x days when I am not working out – but this ageing theory convinces me I am doing the right thing here. Would you see any potential downsides from taking whey protein isolate every day, even on non-workout days? The studies you mention above seem to indicate that if whey is taken before a main meal then it can actually help both in muscle gain AND fat loss.. I guess the only nagging doubt in my mind is that taking whey will clearly result in a very large spike in insulin (although this is only supposed to last for 2 or 3 hours, and apparently the insulin ‘area under the curve’ (AUC) at the subsequent meal is improved as a result of the pre-meal whey. ) But I know other ‘experts’ have talked about the dangers of constantly spiking insulin, even if it is not chronically raised – what is your stance on that? (For what its worth I can’t see that spiking it each day will be that deleterious – as opposed to chronically elevated levels of insulin). Great video too by the way – very clearly explained!

    Nick says June 28, 2017

    My layman’s reaction is there should be other concerns about the 21 gm of protein in your shake rather than the insulin reaction.

    I’m of a mindset that lifting +24 hrs should be heavy protein including whey, then the rest of the time should be moderate protein, more fat. But this is new thinking for me, not sure it’s right or ideal.

    P. D. Mangan says June 28, 2017

    Hi Rob – I don’t think there are downsides to taking whey daily. My elderly mother (95) does so, and I think it keeps her from losing muscle and glutathione. As for insulin, with whey, that’s a feature not a bug. Insulin is required for muscle growth, and with whey you get a spike with a fairly rapif decline. The concern with insulin is, as you say, chronically elevated levels.

      Rob H says June 29, 2017

      Great, good to hear we are in agreement on that Dennis. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I fast from dinner the previous evening through to 2pm (following my workout). I then take a 45g whey shake, promptly followed by lunch containing around 30g protein. I have approx 30g -40g of protein with dinner , but as I try not to eat after 7pm now (time restricted feeding and all that..) I have recently added in a second whey shake just prior to my dinner in order to make sure I get enough protein on these days to facilitate hypertrophy. And I believe adding the glycine to the whey will boost glutathione production further, help reduce inflammation/ balance out the methionine in my diet as well as giving the whey shake a sweeter taste – win/ win! (plus it’s cheap!)

Ole says June 28, 2017

@Rob ….’the theory of ageing as a cysteine deficiency syndrome’…I’m sorry to say, but that this is grossly over-simplification of the theory of aging.

Misha says July 3, 2017

PD, thanks for this information. Other than the NutraBio, which whey supplements do you recommend? GNC is easy to find; is it any good? Thanks.

    P. D. Mangan says July 3, 2017

    I’m afraid I know nothing about GNC supplements. Besides NutraBio, I’ve used whey from Bulk Supplements and Optimum Nutrition, both available on Amazon.

      Misha says July 6, 2017

      Many thanks for the response

Joseph says July 3, 2017

Regarding the supplement buying guide, are these ok to take with an underactive thyroid and geneticly high cholesterol? Also whats a good combination of substances for a good anti acne treatment?

    P. D. Mangan says July 4, 2017

    Joseph, someone with an “underactive” thyroid should be treated for it, but I know of no reason why whey should interfere with thyroid function. It’s not a goitrogen.

Joseph says July 3, 2017

Also are there any good organic whey producers in the uk?

Mike says July 5, 2017

I was taking Solgar Whey to Go or Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard for about 6 months, but as they are a blend of concentrate and isolate, and my goal is to get lean and lose visceral fat, I switched to Now Sports Whey Isolate.

Along with my no sugar, low carb diet, I’m sloooowly losing the deep belly fat. However, I’m not certain if the isolate (vs. concentrate) is contributing.

What are your thoughts and experiences with whey protein isolate?

    P. D. Mangan says July 5, 2017

    Hi Mike – I think isolate is probably unnecessary for most people. The difference in amount of carbs between concentrate and isolate is small. If expense doesn’t matter, go for the isolate, otherwise, I’d just get the concentrate.

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