What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is the protein contained in whey, the watery portion of milk that separates from the curds when making cheese.
Whey protein is commonly used for improving athletic performance and increasing strength, but evidence to support these uses is mixed. Whey protein is also used to reverse weight loss in people with HIV and to help prevent allergic conditions in infants.
Whey is found in the watery portion of milk. When cheese is produced, the fatty parts of the milk coagulate and the whey is separated from it as a byproduct.
If you’ve ever opened a yogurt container to see liquid floating on top — that’s whey. Cheesemakers used to discard it before they discovered its commercial value.
After being separated during cheese production, whey goes through various processing steps to become what people generally recognize as whey protein — a powder that is added to shakes, meal replacements, and protein bars.
Whey protein doesn’t taste very good on its own, which is why it’s usually flavored. Chocolate-, vanilla- and strawberry-flavored powders are popular. Most flavored whey proteins are also rather delicious and can be used to add an incredible taste to healthy recipes like smoothies.
It’s important to read the ingredients list, as some products may have unhealthy additives like refined sugar.
Taking whey protein is a convenient way to add protein on top of your daily intake.
This can be important for bodybuilders and gym enthusiasts, as well as people who need to lose weight or are simply lacking protein in their diet.
Whey is generally well tolerated, though people with lactose intolerance need to be careful, and some people may even be allergic to it
Types Of Whey Protein: Concentrate Vs Isolate Vs Hydrolysate
There are several popular types of whey protein.
Their main difference is in the way they have been processed.
Concentrate: About 70–80% protein; contains some lactose (milk sugar) and fat and has the best flavor.
Isolate: 90% protein, or higher; contains less lactose and fat and lacks a lot of the beneficial nutrients found in whey protein concentrate.
Hydrolysate: Also known as hydrolyzed whey, this type has been pre-digested so that it gets absorbed faster. It causes a 28–43% greater spike in insulin levels than isolate.
Whey protein concentrate seems to be the overall best option. Many options are available online.
It’s the cheapest and retains most of the beneficial nutrients found naturally in whey. Many people also prefer the taste, which is probably due to the lactose and fat.
If you have problems tolerating concentrate, or you’re trying to emphasize protein while keeping carbs and fat low, whey protein isolate — or even hydrolysate — may be a better option.
Keep in mind that even though concentrate is the most popular form, most studies have examined whey protein isolate.
Fast facts on whey protein:
- Many of the potential benefits are based on single studies and more evidence is required before making a definitive judgment.
- Whey protein is a mixture of beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, bovine serum albumin, and immunoglobins.
- Possible benefits include weight loss and lowering cholesterol.
- Possible dangers include nausea and headaches, but at moderate doses, whey protein is not considered dangerous.
Whey Protein Supplements Can Help Boost Your Protein And BCAA Intake
Proteins are the main building blocks of the human body.
They’re used to make various important things, including tendons, organs, and skin, as well as hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters, and various molecules.
Proteins are also the building blocks of the contractile elements in your muscles.
They’re assembled from amino acids, smaller molecules that are linked together like beads on a string. Some amino acids are produced by your body’s cells, while others are supplied by the food you eat. The ones that you must get from foods are termed essential amino acids.
Proteins that supply all nine essential amino acids are the best, and whey protein is loaded with them.
It’s particularly high in important branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) like leucine, and also contains a high amount of cysteine.
Studies show that leucine is the most anabolic (growth-promoting) amino acid, and cysteine can help boost levels of the cellular antioxidant glutathione.
Whey protein appears to be particularly effective at stimulating growth in humans. In fact, human breast milk is 60% whey, compared to 20% in cow’s milk.
Evidence-Based Health Benefits Of Whey Protein
Whey Protein May Enhance The Body’s Antioxidant Defenses
Antioxidants are substances that act against oxidation in the body, reducing oxidative stress and cutting the risk of various chronic diseases.
One of the most important antioxidants in humans is glutathione.
Unlike most antioxidants we get from the diet, glutathione is produced by the body.
In the body, glutathione production depends on the supply of several amino acids, such as cysteine, which is sometimes of limited supply.
For this reason, high-cysteine foods, such as whey protein, may boost the body’s natural antioxidant defenses.
A number of studies in both humans and rodents have found that whey proteins may reduce oxidative stress and increase levels of glutathione.
Whey Protein Aids Weight Loss
Aiding weight loss: In one study of 158 people, published in Nutrition & Metabolism Trusted Source, those who were given whey “lost significantly more body fat and showed greater preservation of lean muscle compared to subjects consuming the control beverage.”
Promising results were published in the journal Anticancer Research Trusted Source for the use of whey protein concentrate in cancer treatment. More research is needed.
A study, published in The British Journal of Nutrition Trusted Source, gave whey supplements to 70 overweight men and women for 12 weeks and measured a number of parameters, such as lipid and insulin levels. They found that “there was a significant decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol at week 12 in the whey group compared with the casein (group).”
Whey protein could improve the immune response in children with asthma. One small study involving 11 children, published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition Trusted Source, found that children with asthma who were supplemented with 10-gram whey protein twice daily for 1 month had an improved immune response.
Blood Pressure And Cardiovascular Disease:
Research published in the International Dairy Journal found that beverages that were supplemented with whey protein significantly reduced blood pressure in patients with hypertension; their risk of developing heart disease or stroke was also lower
Whey Protein Promotes Muscle Growth
Muscle mass naturally declines with age.
This usually leads to fat gain and raises the risk of many chronic diseases.
However, this adverse change in body composition can be partly slowed, prevented, or reversed with a combination of strength training and an adequate diet.
Strength training coupled with the consumption of high-protein foods or protein supplements has been shown to be an effective preventive strategy.
Particularly effective are high-quality protein sources, such as whey, which is rich in a branched-chain amino acid called leucine.
Leucine is the most growth-promoting (anabolic) of the amino acids.
For this reason, whey protein is effective for the prevention of age-related muscle loss, as well as for improved strength and a better-looking body.
For muscle growth, whey protein has been shown to be slightly better compared to other types of protein, such as casein or soy.).
However, unless your diet is already lacking in protein, supplements probably won’t make a big difference.
Whey Protein May Help Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is part of the body’s response to damage. Short-term inflammation is beneficial, but under certain circumstances, it may become chronic.
Chronic inflammation can be harmful and is a risk factor for many diseases. It may reflect underlying health problems or bad lifestyle habits.
A large review study found that high doses of whey protein supplements significantly reduced C-reactive protein (CRP), a key marker of inflammation in the body.