Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from whey, the liquid material yielded as a by-product of cheese production. But perhaps even more interesting is the fact that not all protein is created equal—some forms of protein, like whey, are better than others for a variety of reasons. To begin with, whey protein benefits include boasting a formidable range of essential amino acids, often absorbed quickly (x), with multiple studies revealing that it may be able to help you increase strength, lose significant amounts of body fat and gain muscle (x).
And who wouldn’t be all for that, especially when engaging in bodybuilding or other physical stamina-enhancing activities?
From a historical perspective, whey protein in its “near native” form (via ultrafiltration, or UF) and whey protein “isolates” have been the single biggest technological development in the global dairy industry since the potential of membrane filtration was demonstrated in the late 1960s. Yet whey protein’s origins trace back to a time much earlier than that, with archeologists having found the first known examples of cheese-making from over 7,000 years ago in Poland—so it can be deduced that there was already a knowledge of curds, which made the cheese, all those centuries ago…including whey, which was discarded.
Now, what links the historically-rich philosophy of ancient Greece to that tub whey isolate some folks scoff two or three times a day when they’re working out? These people have something in common with none other than Hippocrates, often considered the “Godfather of Modern Medicine.” Realizing that whey brings with it health benefits, he considered it a significant booster for the immune system, and as word spread of Hippocrates’ beloved whey, more medical experts began to use this “serum” to help their patients.
So, how exactly did we get from whey tonics prepared by ancient Greeks to the protein powders consumed today? It is believed that Eugen Sandow (x), known as the “Father of Bodybuilding,” used a variety of products to sculpt his physique. He went on to promote a product called Plasmon, which may have been some form of whey protein.
What is Whey Protein?
Though we touched on this in the Introduction section above, whey protein is considered a mixture of proteins isolated from whey, the liquid material created as a byproduct of cheese production. Like all proteins, whey protein is made of building blocks called amino acids and bodybuilders consider whey protein a rich source of leucine, isoleucine and valine. These amino acids, as a whole, comprise the BCAAs (three-branched chain amino acids) vital to building muscle.
In addition to these BCAAs, whey protein boasts all essential amino acids (x).
What’s more, because whey protein features the highest biological value of any protein, it is digested and absorbed more efficiently than other proteins (as always, we recommend checking with your doctor before trying any supplements). It is vital that the body absorbs amino acids fast, and its digestion process is indeed fast compared to other proteins like casein. But exactly how fast does the body absorb whey protein? According to Helen Kollias, Ph.D., an expert in muscle development, whey is absorbed at a rate of approximately 8 grams to 10 grams per hour (x).
What Are the Functions of Proteins?
We often hear about proteins—mainly when discussing the elements of certain diets—but did you ever stop to think about what they actually do in the human body…what roles they play? Proteins perform a wide range of functions for cells, and as a class of “macromolecules,” they aid in metabolism by providing structural support while also acting as carriers, hormones or enzymes (x).
Okay, so we can define proteins as large, complex molecules that play a myriad of critical roles in our bodies, accomplishing most of their work in cells and required for the structure, function and regulation of the body’s organs and tissues (x).
Going beyond that, proteins can actually be described according to their formidable range of functions within the body, and these include (x):
- Antibodies – Antibodies help protect the body by binding to specific foreign particles such as bacteria and viruses.
- Enzymes – Responsible for nearly all of the thousands of chemical reactions that occur in cells, enzymes also help create new molecules by interpreting the genetic information stored in DNA.
- Messengers – So-called “messenger proteins,” such as some types of hormones, transmit signals to coordinate biological processes among various tissues, organs and cells.
- Structural Components – On a larger scale, these proteins enable movement, but on a more basic level they provide structure and support for cells (as we touched on earlier).
- Transport/Storage – These proteins bind and transport atoms/small molecules within cells and throughout the body.
How does whey protein fit into this mix? It is becoming increasingly popular to use whey in a supplemental fashion alongside resistance exercise to help improve muscle protein synthesis and promote the growth of lean muscle mass. While we always emphasize the importance of getting a doctor’s input regarding diagnoses, accurate medical information and permission before taking any supplements, we can tell you that there are many potential benefits associated with the absorption of whey protein and researchers are constantly discovering new possible therapeutic elements.
Some of these areas include:
- Weight loss
- Anti-cancer properties
- Lowering cholesterol
- Blood pressure and cardiovascular disease
- Reducing weight loss in HIV/AIDS patients
Where Does Whey Protein Come from?
To understand the fundamentals of whey protein, one must first break down the rudimentary elements at its core, beginning with milk and the relationship between casein and whey. Milk is comprised of two proteins, the aforementioned casein and whey, and whey protein is separated from the casein in milk or formed as a by-product of cheese-making.
The protein in cow’s milk is 20 percent whey and 80 percent casein. The protein in human milk is 60 percent whey and 40 percent casein. The protein fraction in whey constitutes about 10-percent of the total dry solids in whey (x).
What is Casein?
Throughout this study of whey protein, we have made multiple references to casein – but what is it, exactly, and how does it compare to whey? Casein is the protein found in the milk of all mammals, a group that encompasses humans, camels, buffalo, yaks, sheep, goats and cows (x).
Interestingly, buffalo and sheep milk contain a higher casein content than other types of milk and our own (that is, human) milk has a particularly low content. Indeed, casein boasts a variety of uses, running the proverbial gamut from representing a major component of cheese to being a food additive, the most common form of casein being sodium caseinate.
This then begs the question, what is the difference between whey and casein? These two milk proteins represent excellent sources of all the essential amino acids, yet they differ when it comes to one vital aspect. Whey is considered a fast-digesting protein while casein is considered a slow-digesting variant.
We can define whey as “fast-digesting” because it empties from the stomach quickly, resulting in a large and fast increase in plasma amino acids, which translates into a quick but transient increase in protein synthesis. Whey protein is very good at augmenting this protein synthesis rapidly, but the positive effect, unfortunately, is short-lived.
The basis for why casein has a slower rate of digestion (and why it results in a slow but steady release of amino acids into circulation) has to do with the processing of milk—as the most abundant protein in milk, casein’s peptides and micelle structure become disturbed to form simpler structures, specifically a gelatinous material (x).
What is Whey Protein Used For?
Whey protein is commonly used for improving athletic performance and increasing strength, but some studies support its potential in weight management as well.
Research from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (JACN) tested a whey protein supplement fortified with compounds designed to aid in muscle recovery following highly demanding resistance exercise. The study noted reduced muscle damage markers and improved athletic performance in subjects who absorbed the whey protein (x).
Furthermore, other studies have shown that whey protein may be able to improve lean body mass, muscle size and strength, rendering it a bastion for positive benefits when it comes to athletic appeal. To improve performance during training, experts often believe that the best way to consume whey protein is just before, during and immediately following a workout (x).
For some people, whey protein may help with weight maintenance. But the fact of the matter is, getting adequate protein is essential to lose weight. It helps keep you full while also fueling muscle mass instead of fat (in conjunction with exercise). But here’s the kicker: Whey protein is most successful with a low-calorie diet and the aforementioned exercise plan (x).
How Whey Protein Benefits the Body
Once processed, whey protein is normally sold as a powder on its own or mixed into smoothie powders and drink mixes that also contain other nutrients. It is also used as a supplement to address protein deficiencies or malnutrition issues, but it is most often used in an effort to increase athletic performance and improve body composition. Now that we know why people choose to use it, what does whey protein do for the body and how does it protein work?
Research suggests that consuming whey following resistance training may enhance muscle function and decrease muscle recovery time (x). Studies produce evidence that supports the potential effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength and aerobic/anaerobic power in healthy adults (x).
Leucine is a very common amino acid potentially effective at protein synthesis in the muscles. And according to Stuart M. Phillips, Ph.D. of McMaster University, the amount of leucine in a protein supplement (such as whey protein supplements) has the greatest impact on muscle protein synthesis (x). Roughly translated, this means it makes the most impact on your muscles’ ability to actually use the protein you are digesting.
Many patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) are turning to “undenatured” whey protein based on a recommendation from CFS specialist Paul Cheney, MD, Ph.D. These products are processed at lower temperatures than typical powdered whey protein. Undenatured whey can address the glutathione deficiency that is virtually universal in CFS patients, and Dr. Cheney found undenatured whey protein to be the best way to increase glutathione levels and function (x).
Glycomacropeptide, a protein found in whey, was discovered to reduce intestinal inflammation, a result comparable to that of the anti-inflammatory drug sulfasalazine in rats with chemically-induced colitis (x). Further, a minor protein found in whey protein, lactoferrin, has been the subject of active research, and rightly so. Indeed, this element demonstrates anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties based on several studies on lab animals (x).
How to Take Whey Protein
Types of Whey Protein
There are three primary types of whey protein
- Whey protein concentrate (WPC)
- Whey protein isolate (WPI)
- Whey protein hydrolysate (WPH)
Whey protein concentrate contains low levels of fat and carbohydrates, while whey protein isolates are processed further to remove all the fat and lactose. Whey protein hydrolysate is considered the “predigested” form of whey protein, because it has already undergone partial hydrolysis—the necessary process wherein the body absorbs protein.
How Much Whey Protein to Take
Before getting into determining how much whey protein to take per day, keep in mind that if your protein intake is already high, adding whey on top of it may be completely unnecessary. Further, dosages may be different for different people, products, et al. and we always recommend speaking to a medical doctor for official advice on dosages.
That said, some premium whey protein supplements (and their recommended dosages) include:
- Hydrolyzed whey protein isolate powder: 15-30 g per day
- Whey protein concentrate 80 percent powder: 15-30 g per day
- Whey protein powder isolate 90 percent: 15-30 g per day
- Organic whey protein concentrate 80 percent powder: 15-30 g per day
- Grass-fed whey protein isolate 90 percent powder: 15-30 g per day
When to Take Whey Protein
To maximize protein synthesis and ultimately build more muscle, on a long-term basis, it’s better to consume whey protein before and after your workout (as opposed to trying to eat a meal that consists of whole foods). Research indicates that individuals who consume 20 to 25 g of fast-digesting protein—like whey—may experience an increase in muscle building via the process of muscle-protein-synthesis (x).
This rings true for the post-workout period, as well (i.e. two hours following the workout), but is also true for up to 48 hours after an intense resistance training session.
What Foods Contain Whey Protein?
As a popular food additive, whey lurks in places that you may not expect: cake mixes, waffles, pancakes, breakfast cereals, nougat, chocolate candies, baked goods and even deli and meat products such as sausage, pate, hot dogs and shellfish. Still, to fully take advantage of what whey has to offer in terms of health-enhancing benefits (sans the negative effects of packaged foods), you should begin your search in the dairy aisle.
Some of these dairy-oriented foods that contain whey include:
Is Whey Protein Vegan?
Protein powder comes in two standard varieties, whey and plant-based. Whey contains milk/dairy while plant-based is a vegan-friendly approach.
Does Whey Protein Have Lactose?
Because whey protein is a by-product of the cheese-making process, as we covered earlier, it would be logical to assume whey protein contains lactose. Interestingly enough, whey protein in its isolate form contains less than 1 percent lactose. We can then conclude that pure whey protein isolate contains little lactose, potentially allowing those who are lactose intolerant/sensitive to consume it. However, it’s best to consult a doctor for advice (x).
Side Effects of Whey Protein
Whey protein (even in forms such as grass-fed whey protein or organic whey protein) is likely safe for most children and adults taken orally in appropriate doses. But high doses can cause some side effects, including:
Users may avoid these side effects by confirming doses with a doctor before starting a regimen with whey protein or adding it to an existing one.
Where to Buy Whey Protein
You can purchase whey protein in both powder and capsule form at BulkSupplements.com. The company is an industry-leading manufacturer and distributor for pure dietary supplements. BulkSupplements.com is not just a consumer brand. It also supplies pure ingredients to other food and supplement brands to make their products. All products at BulkSupplements.com are manufactured and tested according to current and proper manufacturing practices.
Are you interested in trying whey protein as a dietary supplement? Contact BulkSupplements.com to place an order today.
So let’s recap.
Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from whey, the liquid material yielded as a by-product of cheese production. But perhaps even more interesting is the fact that not all protein is created equal. Some forms of protein, like whey, are better than others for a variety of reasons. To begin with, whey protein boasts a formidable range of essential amino acids, often absorbed quickly. There are multiple studies that reveal that it may be able to help you increase strength, lose significant amounts of body fat and gain muscle.
How exactly did we get from whey tonics prepared by ancient Greeks to the protein powders consumed today? Experts believe that Eugen Sandow, often called the “Father of Bodybuilding,” used a variety of products to sculpt his physique, going on to promote a product called Plasmon, which may have been some form of whey protein.
It is becoming increasingly popular to use whey in a supplemental fashion alongside resistance exercise to help improve muscle protein synthesis and promote the growth of lean muscle mass. Although there are studies that support the potential benefits of whey protein, it’s always important to consult a doctor before taking this supplement or any other. Vital to note is that whey protein supplements are not designed to treat, cure or prevent any disease. Furthermore, these statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.