Anne Marie Mulholland

Anne-Marie Mullholland: Wheying up the benefits

In my last article, I addressed the topic of nutritional supplements and how these can be a common confusion area for many athletes. Remember; although nutritional supplements can be a positive addition to enhance an already well-balanced diet for an athlete, they should not be used as a substitute for key nutrients in your diet. In most cases, people can meet their nutrient requirements through a well-balanced diet, however in other cases, some may require a little extra support to help meet their daily nutrient needs (e.g. due to high training demands, reduced satiety/hunger levels, busy daily routine etc), under the advice of a Registered Dietitian, Doctor or Registered Sports Nutritionist.

A few weeks back, I discussed the ins and outs of creatine monohydrate in GAA and highlighted the importance for assessing the need for this supplement and its effective use in GAA. So, this week, following on from creatine monohydrate, we are going to look at whey protein supplementation. A question I commonly get asked is; ‘Should I be taking a whey protein supplement?’ Due to the smart marketing claims of supplement companies, many of us are led to believe that we require the consumption of protein-based supplement products in our diets, in order to meet our health and fitness goals- which is not the case! When considering whey protein supplementation, we should consider 1) Do I need to increase the protein content of my diet and 2) Is a powdered supplement the best option for me?

Assessing your protein requirements

Before delving into purchasing a protein supplement, you need to consider how much protein you require in your diet. For GAA players, you should be aiming for 1.7 to 2.2g of protein per kilo of body weight per day to support both health and fitness goals. Further, to optimise repair and development of muscle, you should aim to evenly distribute your protein intake throughout the day in your 3 main meals, snacks, and in your post exercise recovery snack/drink. For those who consume an animal-based diet, meeting your protein targets can be achieved through consuming a variety of red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk and dairy products in your daily diet, rich in essential amino acids (EAAs) which are required for muscle development. So, if this is the case, what is all the fuss about whey protein supplements?

Whey protein

Whey protein is derived from milk which is extracted as a by-product during the cheese making process. Further, as previously mentioned, whey protein contains high levels of essential amino acids (EAAs) required in our diet for many biological processes, one of which is muscle development. We have established by now that we can optimise body composition goals in GAA by including amino acid rich protein sources in our diet. However, is it always practical and convenient for a player to consume optimal quantities of these foods around training and in their busy daily routine? Is it always practical to safely store these foods around training and matches for immediate post session recovery? No, not always. And this is where a whey protein supplement can be of use.

I have come across many players who struggle to consume food after a game or training session. So, rather than miss a key window for recovery, a practical solution may be to consume a whey protein supplement made with either milk or water to kick start their post exercise recovery process, while preventing gastric/stomach upset. In this case, as a typical serving of whey protein equates to 20-25g protein, 1 scoop of whey made with 400mls of milk should be sufficient to begin a GAA players recovery process. Further, another example scenario is for someone travelling a distance to a session or an away game. You may have limited access to store post session recovery food products such as a meat filled wrap or yoghurt in the gym/venue and therefore, in this case, whey protein can be easily stored and used as the initial stage recovery in combination with a carbohydrate rich food such as a banana (to refuel both carbohydrate and protein- dependent on the mode of exercise completed). Finally, for those who have higher protein requirements due to increased training demands and/or body weight, whey protein can be used as a way to enhance snack recipes to help work towards your daily protein goals e.g. protein energy balls, whey protein with greek yoghurt and granola, and protein pancakes to name a few. But remember; whey protein supplements should be used for enhancing and not replacing!

Still not made up your mind on whey protein supplementation? Here’s a few summary points of the pros and cons of whey protein supplementation:


Convenient and easily transported/stored for recovery at away fixtures.

Easily added to dishes such as porridge to enhance overall protein content.

During periods of reduced appetite, whey protein can help meet protein needs when consuming reduced quantities of food.

Convenient during periods of intense exercise when time is limited.


Athletes can become reliant on supplements, which can result in replacing nutrient dense foods in their diets.

Supplements can be expensive! Don’t waste your money on supplement products if you are already meeting your nutrient requirements through food sources.

Contamination risk is present when including a supplement in your diet. Players should be careful when choosing a whey protein product to ensure they are free from prohibited substances in line with anti-doping regulations (for further detail, discuss with a Registered Dietitian or Registered Sports Nutritionist).

There you have it- whey protein in a nutshell. Take time to consider your need for these supplements before spending a pretty penny on expensive pee.

Anne-Marie is a Sport Dietitian with a BSc in Dietetics and MSc in Sport Nutrition. Anne-Marie has experience in both Clinical and Sport environments and currently works within the IRFU as a Performance Nutritionist. You can catch Anne-Marie on Instagram @theperformancedietitian and Twitter @AnneMarie_Mul

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