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Whey + EAA: The best of both worlds in SHIFTED Recovery

Whey + EAA: The best of both worlds in SHIFTED Recovery

In this article we explain how SHIFTED Recovery works as combination of Whey and Essential Amino Acids to give you a better overall post-workout recovery supplement.

By Dr. Adam M. Gonzalez
SHIFTED’s Chief Scientific Officer

Whey protein isolate has gained a reputation as the highest quality protein source, and it remains a staple post-workout supplement for both strength and endurance athletes. 

But, can it get any better? 

Emerging research clearly shows that supplementing with a combination of whey + free-form essential amino acids (EAAs) is superior for promoting an anabolic environment for muscle to recover and grow.

Key Points: 

  • Whey protein isolate is often viewed as the highest quality protein source because of its high levels of EAAs, rapid digestibility, and ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.  

  • Free-form EAAs require no digestion and can be used by the muscle even more rapidly than those from whey.  

  • Whey protein isolate plus free-form EAAs results in a greater muscle building response according to the latest research, and are therefore best taken together.

The proven quality of whey

Whey protein comes from dairy protein – the protein in a glass of milk is comprised of ~20% whey and ~80% casein.  Whey becomes isolated as a byproduct from the cheesemaking process.  Whey protein isolate is considered the gold standard because it has undergone more processing, which results in a higher protein content and less carbohydrates, lactose and fat.

Whey protein isolate is often viewed as the highest quality protein source because of its high levels of EAAs (particularly the branched-chain amino acids), rapid digestibility, and ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. 

Incorporating a whey protein shake into your post-workout routine is an effective and convenient way to help jumpstart recovery and meet daily protein needs.  Research has supported the use of whey protein supplements to increase muscle mass and strength when combined with a resistance training program [1]. 

Can it get any better than this? 

Free-form EAAs require no digestion and can be used by the muscle even more rapidly than those from whey.  

Free-form EAAs are the most anabolic form of protein.  

A study by Church and colleagues [2] showed a very clear relationship between an increase in the blood EAA concentration following protein intake and the increase in muscle protein synthesis.  In other words, in regard to muscle growth and adaptation, the most important outcome after a meal is the speed and magnitude to which blood EAAs are elevated

The problem with an intact protein – even a fast-digesting form such as whey – is that it requires digestion.  The long strands of amino acids in an intact protein need to be broken down by specialized enzymes in the gut prior to becoming absorbable into the bloodstream. 

Interestingly, the human body can only absorb free-form amino acids, dipeptides (2 amino acids), and tripeptides (3 amino acids) from the gut. Ingesting protein in the already pre-digested state of free-form EAAs are simply the best way to promote rapid anabolism and recovery of the muscle because they are so easily absorbed and readily available for the muscle.   

Free-form EAAs are superior for other reasons as well.  On a gram-for-gram basis, free-form EAAs offer the highest amount of actual protein since it is made up of purely EAAs.  Also, a large dose of other forms of intact powdered protein such as whey, casein, and even vegan sources can often cause gastrointestinal distress and bloating – particularly when sipping during a workout or slammed down post-workout. Free-form EAAs do not cause stomach issues and are much lighter on the gut because it bypasses digestion. 

Like whey protein isolate, the research clearly shows that free-form EAAs effectively increase muscle anabolism.  A study also showed that, compared to an equal amount of whey protein, 12 weeks of free-form EAA supplementation led to better functional outcomes, strength, and body composition in older adults [3].  It also appears that when comparing free-form EAAs vs. whey, the free-form EAAs induce unique effects on plasma protein expression [4].  This indicates that free-form EAAs have the potential to differentially impact muscle recovery and work synergistically with other forms of high-quality protein like whey.  

While few studies have directly compared the effects of supplementing free-form EAAs vs. intact supplements such as whey protein vs. whole food proteins as part of a meal, they have been independently studied in great detail [5]. 

The following figure from Gwin et al. [5] shows the theoretical comparison of the effect of free-form EAAs, whey protein, and an egg-containing mixed meal on EAA availability and muscle protein synthesis. 

Whey + EAA: The best of both worlds?

Which is better post workout – EAAs or whey?  The truth is that the latest research supports that the combination of free-form EAAs + whey protein is more anabolic than a whey protein-based supplement.  A 2020 study assessed the anabolic response following the intake of 3 different supplements [6]: 

1.) Low EAA/Whey: 3.2 g free-form EAAs + 2.4 g whey protein

2.) High EAA/Whey: 6.4 g free-form EAAs + 4.8 g whey protein

3.) Whey Protein: 12.6 g whey protein + 1 g fat + 2.6 g carbohydrate

All three beverages increased blood EAA concentration with the greatest response in the High EAA/Whey group.  Similarly, the anabolic response (i.e., net balance between whole-body protein synthesis and breakdown) was greatest following consumption of the High EAA/Whey beverage.  The Low EAA/Whey and Whey Protein beverages produced similar anabolic responses.  This study found that the EAA/Whey based supplements produced a highly anabolic and dose-dependent response that was greater than the intake of a higher dose of whey protein in isolation.  In other words, the combination of free-form EAAs + Whey is more anabolic than Whey Protein alone. A combination free-form EAAs + Whey sparks a rapid and robust increase in blood EAA concentrations required to activate and maintain a prolonged availability of the necessary amino acids required for protein synthesis.

A 2021 study also assessed the anabolic response following the intake of 3 different supplements during a short-term energy deficit [7]:

1.) Free-form EAAs + Whey: 34.7 g protein (24 g total EAA), 5.2 g carbohydrate, 1.4 g fat

2.) Whey Alone: 34.7 g protein (18.7 g total EAA), 1.9 g carbohydrate, 0.4 g fat

3.) A mixed-macronutrient meal: 34.7 g protein (11.4 g total EAA), 60.1 g carbohydrate, 20.8 g fat

This study found that the Free-form EAAs + Whey group produced the greatest increase in blood EAA concentrations and promoted greater whole body net protein balance (i.e., increase in protein synthesis and attenuation of protein breakdown) compared to the other two groups.  While all three groups consumed the same amount of total protein, the anabolic response was enhanced by incorporating free-form EAAs to increase the digestibility and total amount of EAA.  

In both studies, it is likely that the superior anabolic response following the free-form EAA + Whey groups is largely driven by the enhanced blood EAA concentrations induced by the free-form EAAs

The free-form EAAs spark a rapid increase in EAAs in the bloodstream to initially stimulate muscle protein synthesis and the whey-derived protein allows for this anabolic response to be sustained. 

It is also important to note that the EAA + Whey groups are also superior in the fact that they are more efficient for the given energy intake.  That is, a superior anabolic response is observed with less calories, making this combination particularly attractive for those looking to get the most out of their post-workout protein during a cutting phase. 


EAAs vs. whey post workout? The answer is BOTH!  The latest research shows that free-form EAAs and whey protein isolate work best when taken together and encourage a greater muscle building response. 

SHIFTED has created the first ever post-workout formula with an optimally dosed combination of free-form EAAs + whey protein isolate for rapid and sustained muscle growth and repair. 

To maximize recovery, we also added 500 mg of CherryPure Tart Cherry, which has consistently shown to enhance aspects of recovery and reduce soreness following both resistance and endurance exercise.

You can learn more about the benefits of tart cherry on recovery in this article. Best of all, it is offered in delicious, light, and refreshing flavors that are perfect for during and after your workouts.

Click here to buy SHIFTED Recovery, our  innovative, state of the art post-workout based on the latest in muscle recovery science.

About the Author

Adam M. Gonzalez is an associate professor in the Department of Allied Health and Kinesiology at Hofstra University.  He earned a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Central Florida in 2015 and holds certifications as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), along with a Certified Sports Nutritionist Certification (CISSN). 

His primary research interests include exercise and nutritional strategies to optimize body composition, maximize health, and enhance adaptations to exercise.  He was also awarded the 2022 Nutritional Research Achievement Award by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.



  1. Morton, R.W., et al., A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. British journal of sports medicine, 2018. 52(6): p. 376-384. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28698222/

  1. Church, D.D., et al., Essential amino acids and protein synthesis: insights into maximizing the muscle and whole-body response to feeding. Nutrients, 2020. 12(12): p. 3717. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33276485/

  1. Azhar, G., et al., Daily consumption of a specially formulated essential amino acid-based dietary supplement improves physical performance in older adults with low physical functioning. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, 2021. 76(7): p. 1184-1191. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33475727/

  1. Azhar, G., et al., Differential plasma protein expression after ingestion of essential amino acid-based dietary supplement verses whey protein in low physical functioning older adults. GeroScience, 2023: p. 1-15.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36720768/

  1. Gwin, J.A., et al., Muscle protein synthesis and whole-body protein turnover responses to ingesting essential amino acids, intact protein, and protein-containing mixed meals with considerations for energy deficit. Nutrients, 2020. 12(8): p. 2457. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32824200/

  1. Park, S., et al., Anabolic response to essential amino acid plus whey protein composition is greater than whey protein alone in young healthy adults. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2020. 17(1): p. 9.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32041644/

  1. Gwin, J.A., et al., Essential amino acid-enriched whey enhances post-exercise whole-body protein balance during energy deficit more than iso-nitrogenous whey or a mixed-macronutrient meal: a randomized, crossover study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2021. 18(1): p. 4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33413462/
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