Table of Contents:
- 1. Whey protein overview
- 1.1. What is Whey Protein and Where does it Come From?
- 1.2. Production of Whey Protein
- 1.3. What Types of Whey Protein are There?
- 1.4. How does Whey Protein Work and What Are The Benefits?
- 1.5. Assessing the Quality of Whey vs. Other Protein Sources
- 1.6. Who Can Benefit from Using Whey Protein Supplements?
- 1.7. Do Any Foods Contain Whey Protein?
- 1.8. Does Whey Protein Have any Side Effects?
- 1.9. How and When Should I Use a Whey Protein Supplement?
- 1.10. How Much Whey Protein Should I Use?
- 2. Choosing the Right Whey Protein Supplement
- 2.1. Pros and Cons of Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
- 2.2. Pros and Cons of Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
- 2.3. Pros and Cons of Whey Protein Blends
- 3. Whey Protein - Common Questions Answered
This Guide Teaches You:
- What whey protein is and where it comes from.
- Who can benefit from using whey protein supplements.
- How to choose the right whey protein supplement.
- How much whey protein should you take, and when is the best time.
Welcome to Muscle and Strength complete guide to whey protein! This page contains everything you need to know about whey protein and the information you need to choose the whey protein powder that is right for you. At the bottom of the page you'll find a list of whey protein powders that we have on sale, or you can just check out the protein powders section of the M&S Store. If you still have questions after reading the whey protein information on this page ask one of our experienced members on the forum.
Whey protein powder is undoubtedly one of, if not the most, utilized supplements by physique competitors, strength trainers, athletes, and even just general health/fitness enthusiasts. This doesn’t come as a surprise given the vast collection of research that has shown protein demands to be greatly increased in active individuals and especially those who lift weights regularly.
Due to the inherent high bioavailability and anabolic properties of whey protein, it should be a staple in most any trainees supplement stash. The rest of this guide will teach you what exactly whey protein is, where it comes from, how its produced, what types there are, how you might benefit from using it, and any side effects it poses. There will also be answers to commonly asked questions and ideas for whey protein recipes to get your culinary side stirring.
The term “whey” refers to milk serum, which is the liquid by-product produced during the curdling of milk. Whey proteins make up about 20% of the protein content in animal milk, with the rest of the content being casein fractions (~80%). (1)
Whey proteins come in a variety of fractions, such as albumins and globulins, that vary according to the species from which they are secreted; since we are primarily consumers of dairy cattle milk, the major whey proteins we ingest are denoted alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin. For simplicity and cohesiveness, the term “whey protein” throughout the rest of this guide will remain singular and encompass the variety of specific fractions it’s found as.
Whey protein is a complete protein source, which denotes that it contains all 9 of the essential amino acids (*more on why this is important in the “Benefits” section). In contrast to casein protein, whey protein remains readily soluble in liquid environments and over varying pH ranges. (2) This is the basis for production of many dairy products such as defatted milk, cheese, cream, etc.
For example, whey protein is the by-product of cheese production due to the precipitation of casein fractions after treatment with acidic solutions (since casein is insoluble at low pH, i.e. acidic environments). Hence the gelatinous property of cheese is primarily due to casein coagulation, but there is still some whey in certain cheeses. (3)
Analogous to the production of various dairy products, digestion of milk starts with separation of casein and whey proteins via stomach acid. But enough with the food chemistry lets move on to our other intended topics.
Whey itself contains whey proteins, lactose, minerals and minute amounts of fats. The production of whey protein from whey itself can proceed via several membrane filtration methods depending on the desired protein content (such as microfiltration, ultrafiltration, etc). (4) After the protein is filtered it is spray dried to give the desired powdered product which may then be utilized by the supplement manufacturer for further modifications like flavoring, coloring, etc.
- Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)—Produced via ultrafiltration of whey, this refers to whey proteins that contain < 90% protein concentration, but could be as little as 20%. (4) Usually the specific concentrations will be notated following the term “WPC”, such as WPC “85”. The rest of the concentration is made up of lactose, minerals, and fats.
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)—May be produced by a variety of membrane filtration techniques, with the goal of reaching >90% protein concentration and removal of most (if not all) lactose. Manufacturers will also often combine filtration with an ion-exchange technique to selectively filter out particles by ionic charge rather than just molecular size. (4)
- Whey Protein Hydrolysates (WPH)—A relatively new technique in whey protein production, whey protein hydrolysates are produced via enzymatic hydrolysis of either WPCs or WPIs. (5) Essentially, this acts as a method of “pre-digesting” the protein by separating (i.e. lysing) peptide bonds; hence the time for digestion and absorption of amino acids will be reduced.
Proteins are an essential macromolecule and play a critical role in muscle development and maintenance (as well as many other physiological processes). To give a truncated flow of how whey (and other) proteins actually work, it may help to think of amino acids as the building blocks of proteins; proteins can thus be thought of as the building blocks of muscle tissue since muscles serve as the richest reservoirs of amino acids in the human body. (6) Amino acids go on to perform a plethora of roles physiologically, such as neurotransmission, energy production, brain metabolism, cardiovascular function, immune system function, and several others. (7)
There are a multitude of benefits from ingesting whey protein that stem from the biological role of essential amino acids. Whey protein is a complete protein (i.e. contains all 9 of the essential amino acids) with a significant amount of L-leucine, which is pivotal for stimulating the Mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway (which regulates muscle protein synthesis, among other things); thus it serves an invaluable role to individuals looking to improve their musculature, fitness and even just overall bodily function. (8)
Overview of Whey Protein’s Benefits:
- Is a complete protein source, with a particularly high L-leucine content for positively regulating the mTOR pathway (8)
- Is rapidly absorbed/digested
- Is easy/convenient to add to one’s diet
- Increases anabolic response to resistance training (8)
- Helps maintain muscle mass and prevent age-related muscular atrophy (9)
- Can provide anti-catabolic properties during prolonged aerobic activities (6)
- Boosts insulin sensitivity and may boost metabolism/enhance fat loss (10)
- Enhances immune system functioning, especially in those who are physically active (11)
The two most popular indications of determining a protein sources overall quality/efficacy are the biological value (BV) and protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS). The BV of a protein source refers to a practical measurement that assesses the degree to which an animal is able to utilize that protein. It is computed by analysis of nitrogen retention in an animal after ingesting the intended protein source to be tested. (12)
The PDCAAS is a number between 0 And 1 that evaluates protein quality based on its amino acid contents in relation to human’s requirements for them. Essentially, the higher the BV and PDCAAS of a protein the more efficiently it is utilized by the respective animal (yes, humans are animals too). Below is a chart that summarizes the BV and PDCAAS of a variety of common protein sources for humans: (13)
|Whey Concentrate and Isolate||104 to 159||1.00|
The most obvious beneficiaries of whey protein supplementation will be those who are physically active and looking for an optimal way to kick-start the recovery process after an intense training bout, but even those concerned with just basic health and bodily function can stand to benefit as well. Here is a quick list of individuals who should consider supplementing with whey protein (*allergies notwithstanding):
- Bodybuilders & strength trainers
- Competitive Athletes
- Recreational exercisers and those new to weight/strength training
- Anyone else who is looking for a simple way to get more protein in their diet
Yes, a variety of foods contain whey protein. These can include:
- Ricotta Cheese
- Cottage Cheese
- Animal-derived Milk
- Some dairy butters and creams
- Baked goods such as bread, crackers, cookies, etc. that use whey during preparation
If you are unsure if a food contains added whey, read the label and it should be listed as an ingredient (note this is not the case in certain dairy products like yogurt since its just a milk product).
Whey protein is generally well tolerated by the majority of users, but in special circumstances there is the risk for certain side effects such as:
- Bloating/Cramping/Upset stomach
- Increased bowel movements/Passing gas
- Allergic reactions
These side effects can generally be easily alleviated by monitoring your total protein intake and making sure you are aware of any possible food allergies that you may have. If a nominal dose of whey protein consistently causes stomach/GI issues, consider trying a different whey protein supplement and/or adding in a digestive enzyme to take along with it.
Whey protein supplements don’t have to be bland and chugged down in a matter of seconds like so many people seem to believe. In fact, with a little effort and creativity it is possible to create some delectable hi-protein shakes and foods using your whey protein supplement. For some great ideas, check out the Muscle and Strength protein shakes and protein bar recipe pages.
Whey protein supplements don’t have to be restricted to certain times either. In reality, whey protein is just that, a protein; it can and should be utilized whenever you are looking for a high-quality source of protein to add to your diet. That being said, it is indeed beneficial to ingest whey protein around your workout times so don’t neglect your pre/post-workout nutrition.
There is no universal answer to this since everybody’s protein needs will vary. The first thing to do is determine your caloric and macronutrient allotments. A general nutritional calculator can be found here.
After you have done that, simply use your whey protein supplement accordingly to reach your intended macronutrient goals for the day. If you choose to use it as your main source of protein or just as a quick shake after your workout you really can’t go wrong.
It should be noted that whey protein itself is a food source (technically), but it is still oft referred to as a supplement since the Food and Drug Administration currently does not regulate supplements. Choosing the right whey protein supplement will come down to a few factors including: budget, quality, flavor, lactose tolerability, and intended uses. A list of the different types of whey protein supplements is given below with more information on each so you can decide which suits your needs best:
WPCs are generally the most economical whey protein supplements and are fairly well tolerated. Depending on the concentration of the powder, WPC can be a great option for individuals on a budget who don't mind a bit more fat and carbohydrate in their whey protein supplement. There will also be a small amount of lactose in most WPCs, so be aware of any intolerances you may have beforehand. The other slight drawbacks to WPCs are that they are less bioavailable than their WPI counterparts and have lower protein concentration.
Top 3 Selling Whey Protein Concentrate Powders:
WPIs are great choices for individuals who are looking for a lactose-free way to increase their protein intake. WPIs are highly bioavilable, easy to digest, very low in fat and carbohydrates, and contain a high (>90%) protein concentration. The main disadvantages to WPIs is they are slightly more expensive then pure WPCs and are sometimes a bit blander in flavor due to the lack of fat and carbohydrate content.
Top 3 Selling Whey Protein Isolate Powders:
Blended whey protein powders are the most common protein supplements as they aim to create a balance between cost, flavor and protein quality. These blends will vary in cost generally based on what the actual ratio is of whey proteins in the supplements (more whey protein isolate/hydrolysate content will generally increase cost). On the same token, you get what you pay for and more WPI/WPH content means higher bioavailability, less fat/carbohydrates, and often a more efficient anabolic response to resistance training. (8)
The primary drawback to whey protein blends is that they can sometimes be misleading as far as the food label is concerned since they often omit the ratio of WPC:WPI:WPH. You will be able to decipher what their order of abundance is though by simply noting the order they’re listed in (i.e. if WPC is the first ingredient, it is inherently the most abundant protein in the blend).
Edit: M&S now stock a very cheap, pure whey protein isolate powder. Check it out here
Top 3 Selling Whey Protein Blends:
- Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard
- All The Whey Whey Protein Blend
- Dymatize Elite Whey Protein
I’m lactose intolerant, can I still use a whey protein supplement?
Yes, but it may be wiser to invest in a pure whey protein isolate supplement if you have digestive issues with lactose since whey protein concentrate supplements tend to be a bit higher in lactose content.
I’m allergic to milk, is a whey protein supplement safe for me?
You will need to consult with your physician first to make sure your allergy is not due to the whey fractions in milk. If you’re allergic to the casein fractions of milk but lot the whey fractions then yes, whey protein supplements should be safe.
Is it true that whey protein is bad for the kidneys?
No, whey protein itself is not bad for the kidneys. This myth stems from the issue of renal impairment in individuals who have chronically superfluous amounts of protein intake in their diet. It has nothing to do with the source of the protein.
Can I combine whey protein supplements with my other powdered supplements like creatine, glutamine, etc?
Yes, that’s absolutely fine.
Does it matter what liquid I use to mix my whey protein with?
Nope, but I would try and match the flavors unless you plan on concocting some sort of protein “frankenshake” (like mixing grape juice with cinnamon roll-flavored protein)
Doesn’t cooking/baking with denature the protein?
Yes, but this has little ramification in regards to how your body utilizes the protein since denatured protein is essentially “hydrolyzed” protein; you’re still ingesting all the amino acids that were originally there to begin with.
1. Resource Library - Milk Composition & Syntheis. (n.d.). Animal Sciences Classes. Retrieved March 29, 2013, from http://classes.ansci.illinois.edu/ansc438/m
2. Solutions, N. B. (n.d.). PRINCIPALS OF DAIRY CHEMISTRY. NEM Business Solutions Specialist in food industry CIP systems. Retrieved March 29, 2013, from http://www.cip.ukcentre.com/chem1.htm
3. Bishop, R. (n.d.). Dairy Proteins.Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board,. Retrieved March 31, 2013, from www.cdr.wisc.edu/programs/dairyingredie
4. Onwulata, C., & Huth, P. (2008). A Brief History. Whey processing, functionality and health benefits (pp. 5-6). Ames, Iowa: Wiley-Blackwell.
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8. Reidy PT, Walker DK, Dickinson JM, Gundermann DM, Drummond MJ, Timmerman KL, Fry CS, Borack MS, Cope MB, Mukherjea R, Jennings K, Volpi E, Rasmussen BB. Protein blend ingestion following resistance exercise promotes human muscle protein synthesis. J Nutr. 2013 Apr;143(4):410-6. doi: 10.3945/jn.112.168021. Epub 2013 Jan 23. PubMed PMID: 23343671
9. Drummond MJ, Dreyer HC, Pennings B, Fry CS, Dhanani S, Dillon EL, Sheffield-Moore M, Volpi E, Rasmussen BB. Skeletal muscle protein anabolic response to resistance exercise and essential amino acids is delayed with aging. J Appl Physiol. 2008 May;104(5):1452-61.
10. Frestedt JL, Zenk JL, Kuskowski MA, Ward LS, Bastian ED. A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2008 Mar 27;5:8. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-5-8. PubMed PMID: 18371214; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2289832.
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