The benefits of Whey Protein for Crossfit Athletes


When I originally began to study protein in the late ‘90s – there was really only a handful of different protein sources on the market. Today – there are at least a dozen different commercial sources of protein used in supplements. Casein, soy, pea, hemp and rice are just a few of the many popular sources of protein we see in the massive protein supplement market.

I could write pages upon pages about these different sources of protein, how they compare quality wise against one another and even why one costs more than the other. But today I wanted to focus on what I consider the king of all protein sources – whey.

You might be wondering, what the heck is whey anyway? Well, whey is the liquid portion of milk leftover in the cheese making process. And after all who does not LOVE cheese!? We consider whey to be a complete protein – meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids required for growth. Based on all its benefits it is no surprise whey is the most popular protein source on the market.

Reason # 1: Why Whey is SO AWESOME – Hello BCAA’s!

Did you know that whey just happens to be one of the richest sources of branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s)? As most of you know, the BCAAs include the three amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs are unique in the fact that they bypass the liver and go DIRECTLY to the muscles where they are used for fueling, building and repairing tissue. In addition, BCAAs can potentially help enhance muscle growth by boosting growth-hormone levels and lowering cortisol levels. Therefore, it is no surprise that these bad boys have been shown to be absolutely critical for muscle growth and recovery.

Reason # 2: Why Whey is SO AWESOME – Super Duper Proteins

Whey protein contains the biologically active proteins alpha-lactalbumin, beta-lactoglobulin, glycomacropeptides, immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase and various growth factors (1). While these protein fragments sure sound like a mouthful – all that you need to know is that they impart whey with a wide variety of phenomenal properties. These traits range from their ability to squash free radicals, to their immune boosting potential and ultimately their profound ability to enhance muscle growth, recovery and performance. What’s not to love ?!?

Reason # 3: Why Whey is SO AWESOME – Speedy Gonzalez

Whey is quickly digested and absorbed by the body. This makes it super useful for post-workout recovery. Studies support that in less than 30 minutes whey can “fast-track” a good portion of its aminos (the building blocks of protein) into to your muscles. Muscle growth is dependent on the balance between protein synthesis and breakdown. Therefore, if the synthesis of new muscle protein is greater than the breakdown of muscle protein, net gains in muscle mass are seen (1, 2). Now we are talking!

It is important to mindful that whey contains a modest amount of milk sugar called lactose. Lactose is a common allergen. When whey protein is consumed by athletes who are sensitive to lactose — their experience is anything but pleasant. Digestive discomfort, bloating, stomach distention and abdominal pain are just a few of the lovely GI symptoms these folks might experience.

Thankfully, people who are lactose intolerant can still consume whey. They just need to make sure they choose their whey wisely!

Whey protein isolate (one of the three forms of whey!) is the purest form of whey. Isolates go through a significant amount of processing. This refinement removes the majority of lactose (and fat!) from the final product. Whey protein isolate contains less than 1 % lactose (that’s low just in case you were wondering!) Therefore, even if you are lactose intolerant or lactose sensitive you may still do a-okay with whey as long as you choose products whose label states “whey protein isolate” as the protein source.

So I hope you learned a little something about the benefits of whey protein. With a plethora of different flavors (did someone say cake batter?!), varieties and price points available, I consider whey protein one of the top supplements you should be adding to your diet for performance and recovery optimization. However, as always, no matter how many benefits any supplement may offer – no supplement should serve as a replacement for a solid, well-balanced diet.

You knew that was coming, right? ☺

Hugs and High-Fives,

Amy Plano

The Crossfit RD

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Muscle and Fitness, ‘The Best (and worse) Protein Powders, Accessed June 19, 2016.
2) Dangin M., Biorie Y., Rodenas-Garcia C., Gachon P., Fauquant J., Callier P., Ballevre O., and Beaufrere B (2001). The digestion rate of protein is an indipendant regulating factor of postprandial protein retention, Am. J. Physiol. Endocrinol. Metab, 280 E340-E348.