In short, no.
You may feel like you do, which is understandable since every time you turn the page of ‘Mens Health’ or ‘Muscle and Fitness’ you are bombarded with colourful, celebrity endorsed adverts for the latest Whey protein powder, but when it comes down to it, this supplement is just that, a supplement, albeit a useful one.
Don’t confuse ‘useful’ with ‘essential’ however, trainers have been building great physiques for years without using a single supplement, and despite what the sports nutrition companies would have you believe, that’s still possible today.
That’s not to say that Whey protein doesn’t have a place in the arsenal of the modern trainer. Whey is a convenient, fast digesting form of protein that’s ideal for pre and post workout meals. Why? Because it’s in liquid form (unless you’re some kind of freak that prefers to snort the raw powder), this means it’s absorbed through the intestine and into the blood stream quicker than whole food, which is what you want, particularly after an intense resistance workout.
The difference to your physique between having a whole food meal and a whey protein shake is negligible, the main issue here is convenience. It’s far easier after an intense workout to add some water to your powder, shake it up and drink it than it is to prepare a whole food meal with comparable protein content.
And so onto cost, many people cite Whey protein as being cost effective, but is that true? Let’s compare;
The price of these ‘Basic’ Chicken Breast fillets from Sainsbury’s are £7.41 per Kg
The price of this ‘Impact Whey Protein’ from myprotein.com (which I’ve found to be one of the cheapest high quality protein powders out there) is £8.00 per Kg.
So very little difference, but the chicken comes out on top.
Bare in mind however that this is pretty much the cheapest you’ll be able to get Whey protein, other brands are far more expensive. Take this Reflex Instant Whey for example, this brand of protein powder wheys in (sorry) at a staggering £19.20 per Kg!
Extortionate even when compared to the more expensive Sainsbury’s chicken which comes in at £8.33 per Kg, and Reflex isn’t the most expensive Whey on the market by any stretch of the imagination.
Now, this is a quite a simplistic way to compare the two. Why? Because the protein content of Whey and Chicken are very different. Chicken is roughly 21% protein, while whey is typically 75-80%, this means you’re getting a much larger protein hit with Whey gram-for-gram. Or, to look at it another way, you need a lot less whey to get the same amount of protein as you would in chicken. On the face it of it, this makes it much more cost effective.
More important however, is the issue of substituting real food for whey. Whey protein is a man-made product, and while the convenience and cost effectiveness is undeniable compared to real food, the nutritional benefits pale in comparison. Humans have been eating food like chicken, beef and lamb for centuries, and to simply look at the protein percentages is entirely narrow-minded. Protein for animal sources don’t only contain protein, but also essential fats, and micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals which will actually help the body absorb and utilise the protein.
Not only does whey lack the qualities of real food, it can also have some undesirable additions that could contradict your goals. Take BSN Syntha-6 Whey for example, this has a relatively high sugar content, to make it taste good. High sugar intake is very closely related with fat gain, so if you’re taking in a lot of this kind of product then you could be unknowingly sabotaging your own goals. Always read the labels.
Another problem is that people become enamored by the glamourous image and grandiose promises made by these supplement companies and don’t just purchase Whey powder, but other supplements like BCAAs, Glutamine. Testo Boosters and other weird and wonderful pills which will only be of any use if you’re competing at the VERY TOP level.
In fact, the guys at the very top of their game, whether that game is Bodybuilding, Powerlifting, Weightlifting, Strongman or Crossfit probably don’t even use Whey protein. Yes, they’re paid top dollar to promote such products, but because they earn so much, their need for a cost-effective protein source is negated, they can afford to get the BEST sources of protein, and that’s always going to be real, whole food.
Put it this way; if you’re missing workouts, not training as intensely as possible and don’t have spot-on nutrition, you’re wasting your money on these kind of supplements. Anywhey (you can just leave if you want), back to Whey protein;
Is Whey protein cost effective? Yes.
Do you need it? No.
Should you get some? Probably.
Even if you don’t use it on a regular basis, it’s handy to have some Whey in the cupboard in case you need a quick hit, or if you find yourself unable to eat whole food protein. Whatever you do, DON’T be under the illusion that Whey is some kind of magic powder that will pack on slabs of muscle with little effort. Get some, use it as part of a great diet, don’t spend fortunes on it, don’t rely on it.