Having grown in popularity in sports nutrition over the last decade, one of the seemingly most complex forms of protein today is whey hydrolysate. These hydrolysate proteins, including both whey and casein are produced from purified protein sources traditionally by utilizing heat or acid, however the newest and most preferred method used today is by introducing proteolytic enzymes.
This process creates a protein that contains complex mixtures of peptides of different chain lengths that create various degrees of hydrolysis which is the fraction of peptide bonds that have been cleaved from the original protein source. Different combinations of hydrolyzed proteins including different peptide and protein origin sources can create different absorption characteristics, so they are not all created equal.
Why Whey Hydrolysate?
It has been suggested that protein hydrolysates, specifically those containing mainly di- and tripeptides are superior to intact (whole) proteins and free amino acids in regards to muscle protein synthesis. In layman’s terms, meaning that hydrolyzed proteins absorb much quicker and produce a greater response in protein synthesis compared to traditional sources.
Applying the Knowledge
From a practical standpoint (like for athletes), whey protein hydrolysates are generally not used for between meal or as meal replacement proteins. There is no added benefit at these times compared to traditional protein sources. However, the time that these proteins shine is for inducing rapid increases in plasma amino acid concentration around workouts including pre/intra/post workout. This time frame has been suggested to maximize muscle protein synthesis and facilitate advanced recovery.
If you choose to incorporate hydrolyzed proteins such as whey, it is preferential to utilize sources that are primarily di- and tripeptides. This source will provide the optimal kinetics of absorption (rather than net absorption) of ingested protein and illicit the additional value of hydrolysates over traditional protein sources.