Whey protein is one of the most researched sports supplements in the world, with results suggesting it may just be the best form of protein there is.
Sports nutrition products are designed with the aim to help make it easier for an individual to reach their fitness goals, and replace any nutrients depleted during a workout; but with the ever-growing market and new products appearing regularly, it is hard to know which ones will benefit you and your individual needs most.
Luckily, whey protein is one offering on the market that supplies a multitude of benefits and targets various populations. Whether you’re an elite athlete, casual gym-goer, or simply someone looking to improve their health, this powerhouse supplement offers advantages for all.
In this article, we will cover how whey is manufactured, the different forms of commercially available whey protein, how it can be used as an ergogenic aid (supplements that enhance energy production, use or recovery) and body composition aid, as well as wheying in on its role in contributing to other aspects of our health - see what we did there?
This thorough whey protein guide will consist of the following contents:
- What is Whey Protein?
- How is Whey Protein Powder Manufactured?
- Types of Whey Protein
- What Does Protein Do in the Body?
- Advantages of Whey Protein
- Whey Protein Dosage
- Nutritional Value of Whey Protein
- How do you Take Whey Protein?
- Who Will Benefit From Whey Protein Supplements?
- What to Look For When Buying Whey Protein?
- What Are The Side Effects of Whey Protein?
- What is the Best Type of Whey Protein?
- Fitness Goals Whey Protein Assists
- Natural Food Sources of Whey Protein
- Where to Buy Whey Protein?
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What is Whey Protein?
In short: Whey protein is a mixture of the proteins that are isolated from whey - the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production.
In more detail: Milk contains two primary proteins - whey and casein. Casein is the predominant protein found in milk, constituting 80% of its total protein, with whey making up the remaining 20%.
Whey is a by-product of the cheese manufacturing process and for many years was disregarded and considered as waste.
Before becoming the interest of health scientists, and subsequently the health industry as a whole, whey was a contentious topic; cheese manufacturers used to dump this “waste product” into rivers and landfills causing a whole range of environmental issues.
Whey protein gained attention due to its nutritional quality, which now makes it one of the most lauded products in the supplement market. It contains all 20 of the amino acids, including the nine essential amino acids (EAAs) that cannot be made by the body, as well as a host of other important bioactive components. It is considered a high-quality, or a 'complete', protein because of the presence of all nine EAAs.
Whey protein is particularly rich in the branched-chain amino acids (isoleucine, leucine and valine - known as BCAAs), which have a range of important functionalities within the human system.
Whilst whey protein is most popularly associated with sports performance and muscular development, its potential for general health benefits are much more extensive which we will explore later in this guide.
How is Whey Protein Powder Manufactured?
As mentioned, whey is a by-product of the cheese manufacturing process. More accurately, it is the leftover liquid which remains following the straining of the cheese curd.
Milk is first pasteurised (a gentle heating process which removes any harmful pathogens), before enzymes are added to create the separation of curds and the liquid whey.
The liquid whey then undergoes various stages of filtration to purify it and remove any fats, carbohydrates and water. This process of microfiltration removes mostly all of the fat and lactose from the liquid whey, with the resulting product being used as the base of whey protein concentrate.
Dependent on the end product desired, it may undergo a further stage of filtration - we will get onto this in the ‘types of whey protein’ section.
The high-protein whey liquid is then made into powder via a spray drying process which helps to preserve the nutritional quality of the whey protein and avoid denaturation (the breakdown of proteins).
Typically, the powder will then undergo quality tests for purity before being blended with other ingredients to make it commercially viable (flavourings, colourings etc.). This stage may require the product to be shipped out, however some companies will also have their own manufacturing sites.
Types of Whey Protein
There are a number of different types of whey proteins, with the primary difference being the way in which they were produced.
While the differences are minor, it is always worth knowing what you’re putting into your body with any form of supplementation.
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
WPC is the most common iteration of whey protein powder supplements. It contains a protein content of approximately 70–80%, generally the cheapest protein option on the market, as well as retains the majority of the beneficial nutrients found naturally in whey. Lactose and fat is also present in concentrate and it is often regarded as having the best flavour.
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
WPI has undergone a further degree of filtration (microfiltration) than WPC. This additional filtration removes virtually all lactose and so is a suitable option for those with a lactose intolerance (and or those following specific restrictive diets).
WPI can typically be found in concentrations around 90% - a higher protein content. An increase in purity is matched with an increase in price as the manufacturing process is more expensive than that of WPC.
Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH)
WPH involves a unique production stage which breaks down longer protein chains (via hydrolysis) into shorter chains called peptides. This mimics a stage within our own digestive process, leading to an increased rate of absorption (and overall increase in absorbability) as a well as a reduction in the potential for allergic reactions. Of note, this process does not impact the nutritional quality of the protein itself. This form of protein is generally less allergenic compared to others, however is typically a more expensive option, too.
Depending on your goals may see you opt for a different form of whey protein, for instance, those wanting to maintain a low fat diet would likely prefer whey isolate or hydrolysed, wheres those looking for a more substantial and higher nutrient protein would benefit from concentrate.
What Does Whey Protein Do in the Body?
As we mentioned, whey protein is a complete protein; this is the term used to describe a food source which contains an adequate offering of all nine of the essential amino acids that are required for protein synthesis - the process in which cells make proteins.
Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body itself, therefore have to be consumed through your diet. You may benefit from checking out our thorough guide on amino acids to help you better understand their role in the body.
Whey protein offers a particularly high level in the group of three essential amino acids that are known commercially as BCAAs (branched-chain amino acid): isoleucine, leucine and valine. The function of this particular group is to help build and maintain muscle, as well as serving as an energy source during intense workouts. While available in whey protein, BCAAs are also a popular dietary supplement that are sold primarily in powder form.
Leucine, specifically, has been shown to have the greatest impact on rates of muscle protein synthesis (the process that makes your muscles bigger). Leucine activates a protein in the body called mTOR, which starts the process of forming muscle tissue and while both isoleucine and valine also interact with the protein, they do so at a much lower effectiveness.
One 25g scoop of whey protein consists of approximately 3g of leucine, and while there are no official guidelines outlining the exact amount of leucine to consume each day, most sources advice the baseline daily dosage of leucine for inactive people is approximately 3-4g - making one whey protein shake an ideal source of this amino acid.
When compared to other protein forms, this is quite impressive; with casein offering 2.3g per scoop, and soy with only 1.5g. Seeing as the threshold for activating protein synthesis occurs right around 2.5 grams of leucine, whey is a no-brainer for athletes looking to boost growth, recovery, and performance.
Whey Protein Advantages
The advantages of whey protein supplementation is vast, whether you’re looking to use it for its weight loss and body composition benefits, or as a medical aid - incorporating whey protein into your lifestyle offers benefits for most individuals.
In addition to the points listed below, we have a thorough guide specifically dedicated to the health benefits of whey protein for your use.
#1 Boosts Protein and BCAA Intake
Lets begin with one of the more generally obvious advantages; whey protein offers an ideal method of increasing your protein and BCAA intake, which is important for the general health of the human body.
Proteins are the primary building blocks of the human body, in fact, excluding water and fat, the human body is made up almost entirely of protein. It is the main component of bones, muscles, organs and skin, along with playing a vital role in the production of enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and various molecules.
Proteins are assembled from amino acids (small organic compounds composed of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen). While some proteins are produced naturally by the body's cells, others need to be sourced from dietary products - these are known as essential amino acids.
As whey protein is a complete protein, offering all nine of the essential amino acids, it is often regarded as the best protein and it just happens to be easy to implement into your diet.
It is highly important that we provide our bodies with enough protein in order to carry out every day tasks. If we were to neglect protein intake, or consume less than our body requires, it can affect/result in the following issues:
- Weakness/Fatigue - When depriving your body of enough protein, over time this can encourage loss of muscle mass; which in turn, reduces your strength and balance, as well as slowing your metabolism. Lack of protein can also lead to anemia, a condition where the body lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body's tissues - causing fatigue. Additionally, depriving your body of enough protein can affect the muscles that are responsible for your posture and movement, particularly if you're 55 or older.
- Slow healing wounds and injuries - People who have a low protein intake tend to find their cuts and wounds take longer to heal. Further research has found similar effects on sprains and other exercise-related incidents; this has been linked to the body not producing enough collagen (a protein found in the connective tissues and skin).
- Getting sick/prolonged recovery - The amino acids in our blood help the immune system produce antibodies that activate white blood cells which are responsible for fighting off viruses, bacteria, and toxins. Not enough protein, of course, increases the risk of illness and recovery.
- Skin, nail and hair damage - brittle nails and hair loss Protein deficiencies can impact the health of our skin, nail and hair as they are made up mostly of proteins. Not enough protein can cause severe damage and brittleness to each of them, as well as potential hair loss.
- Loss of muscle mass - Protein is essential for muscle growth and maintenance. A loss of either is a distinctive sign of a protein deficiency.
- Greater risk of bone fractures - Protein helps maintain the density and strength of bones; insufficient protein intake has been linked to a lower bone mineral density and thus, an increased risk of bone fractures.
Additionally, whey protein is particularly high in important branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), such as leucine, as well as containing a high amount of cysteine.
We spoke about leucine and its benefits earlier, however cysteine is proven to help boost levels of the cellular antioxidant, glutathione. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that is responsible for a number of functions, to name a few:
- Supporting immune function
- Creating DNA
- Making sperm cells
- Breaking down some free radicals
- Helping certain enzymes function
- Regenerating vitamins C and E
- Moving mercury out of the brain
Glutathione can be found in foods such as avocados, which also constitutes as one of the best antioxidant foods!
Therefore, by supplementing with whey protein, you’re increasing your cysteine levels, which in turn boosts production of glutathione and aids the above points.
#2 Increases Muscle Mass And Strength
On most occasions, the subject of increasing muscle mass and strength are discussed independently, however, in practice, there is undeniable crossover between the two.
Resistance training provides the stimulus for muscular growth; if we are stronger, we are able to move a greater load and impose a greater stimulus. Additionally, increased muscle mass runs in parallel (to a certain degree) with increases in strength. The two are interrelated.
These increases in muscle mass and strength will not be facilitated without an adequate recovery period. Recovery is simply the time between two exercise sessions in which the muscle is repaired and adapts.
This recovery process requires adequate protein intake. Experts suggest consuming between 1.2 – 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day to facilitate optimised recovery.
The dietary sources of protein we’re aiming to include should be “high quality” protein sources. These sources provide us with all the EAAs and other amino acids that are critical for repairing and building tissue.
As whey protein is regarded as one of the best dietary sources of protein (due to its amino acid profile), it has been touted as a potentially beneficial aid to improving muscular size and strength. This is enhanced when paired with an effective workout plan, check out our guide on how to get bigger arms fast for example!
A 2019 meta-analysis evaluated the effect of whey protein supplementation and resistance training on body mass and muscular strength through randomized controlled trials. They looked at the results from 21 trials in which 837 subjects participated in resistance training and supplementation for more than three months.
The researchers found that those within whey protein supplemented groups showed significant improvements in fat free mass, lean mass and muscular strength. They also found a significant difference in these parameters’ comparative to placebo. Duration of time was positive associated with improvements in lean mass.
Further studies have found that whey protein supplementation may protect against loss of lean muscle mass (even increasing it in some cases) in times of disuse and as a result of sarcopenia (age related loss of lean muscle mass). It may have further effects on the elderly when combined with resistance training.
Additionally, women respond similarly to whey protein supplementation seeing improvements in both strength performance and increases in lean muscle mass.
#3 Improves Body Composition
Body composition is characterised by the percentages of fat, bone, water and muscle in the human body.
There are two main elements of improved body composition: increased lean body mass and reduction in fat mass. The present available research supports the use of whey protein supplementation as a mediator of increasing lean muscle mass and improving overall body composition.
A higher protein diet appears to be an effective intervention for weight/fat loss and subsequent management. This is attributed to a number of factors, including: the thermogenic properties of protein intake (thermogenic supplements and food sources boost metabolism, increase fat burning and reduce appetite), its influence on improving satiety response and increases in lean muscle mass.
As a supplement, it isn't simply reserved for weightlifters and strongmen; whey protein also works effectively in conjunction with cardio and aerobic exercise, which also offers benefits for weight loss and body compisition.
Whey protein has been considered the most satiating macronutrient - meaning it leaves people feeling more full after consumption in comparison to other food groups (like carbohydrates and fats). It has been demonstrated that by consuming approximately 25% of your daily caloric intake in the form of protein, it can lead to a reduction of cravings by 60%.
Whey protein specifically provides an excellent, high-quality form of protein which should, in theory, have major benefits for weight loss by reducing cravings, snacking and additional calorie intake.
In support of this, a 2017 meta-analysis found whey protein supplementation to be an effective intervention in reducing body weight, total fat mass, and some cardiovascular disease risk factors in overweight and obese patients. This effect appears to be further improved when combined with an exercise program in these populations.
The role of whey protein supplements in boosting metabolism stems from the energy required by the body to digest and metabolise it. Referring back to an earlier point about the presence of leucine in whey protein products; leucine has been found to stimulate the mTOR gene, which not only preserves muscle mass, but can increase lean muscle mass which has a direct impact on your resting metabolic rate (RMR). Your RMR is the rate at which you burn calories at rest, therefore by increasing this, you’re encouraging your body to burn more calories on a daily basis; thus, a faster metabolism.
Through improving all of these factors, whey protein offers an extremely effective supplement for improving your body composition.
Other Health Benefits Of Whey Protein Supplementation
As mentioned previously, whey protein contains other bioactive compounds which may have a positive influence on human health. We address many of these points in more detail on the article we mentioned earlier, however, let us outline a few:
#1 Fights Viruses and Boosts Immunity
The protein and peptides (shorter protein chains) found within milk - specifically when referring to whey - show promising results as antibacterial and antiviral modifiers that can boost the body’s immune system.
These compounds show positive results in protecting against various infections and viruses, as well as shielding from some cancers. Additionally, they are responsible for providing probiotic support, enhancing the antibacterial activity of certain enzymes and even suppressing the gut colonization of harmful bacteria.
Below we have outlined some of the compounds present in whey protein and how they benefit the human body’s immune system.
Immunoglobulins: These active components are involved in multiple elements of immune function, such as: stimulating immune cells, neutralising viruses, and bacteria - making them particularly relevant in the current situation. They help to confine viruses outside of the cell; reducing their chances of successful colonisation and causing sickness.
Lactoferrin: This compound plays a significant role in iron binding and absorption. It also ensures that the iron is not available to harmful bacteria, thereby inhibiting their growth.
Beta-lacto-globulin: Beta-lacto-globulin may serve as a compound that delivers amino acids to immune system function.
Sialic acid: This compound reduces the adhesiveness of E. Coli and H. Pylori to cells in the gut, thus reduces the risk of these types of gut infections. Additionally, sialic acid is suggested to have prebiotic effects, stimulating the growth of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli - often labelled as ‘friendly bacteria’.
Glutamine: Glutamine serves as fuel for the body’s cells and immune system. There is strong evidence to support its role in improving the immune function, reducing the incidence of infections and better maintenance of plasma glutamine levels. You can read more about this compound in our L-Glutamine guide.
Selenium: a micronutrient that is known to improve multiple aspects of immunity, including viral handling.
#2 May Help Treat Cancer
The role of whey protein in assisting those undergoing cancer treatment and as a possible anticarcinogen also offers vast positive results.
Providing whey protein supplementation during cancer treatment can improve health outcomes in patients as it is an easily consumable, highly nutritious foodstuff. Additionally, certain bioactive compounds within whey can protect against cancer development and diets containing whey have been shown to reduce the risk of developing certain cancers.
A review published in Anticancer Research showed promising results supporting the use of whey protein in cancer treatment, stating:
“Animal experiments showed that the concentrates of whey proteins also exhibit anti-carcinogenesis and anticancer activity. They do this via their effect on increasing GSH concentration in relevant tissues, and may have anti-tumor effect on low volume of tumor via stimulation of immunity through the GSH pathway. “
Take a break from the science of fitness and supplements and check out the inspiring story of one of OriGym's current students, who beat cancer and plans to help others overcome their struggles with personal training.
Furthermore, a trial conducted in 2018 found that whey protein supplementation can increase glutathione (one of the body's most important and potent antioxidants) levels, as well as improve nutritional status and immunity in those undergoing chemotherapy.
While the research is sparse, what does exist is very promising.
#3 Lowers Cholesterol
High cholesterol, particularly low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol - often referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’, is a significant risk factor for heart diseases - including heart attacks and strokes.
It is a condition whereby a person has too much of a fatty substance called cholesterol in their blood and is a common condition that many people suffer with without their knowledge.
Whey protein has been linked with being an effective supplement for lowering bad cholesterol when supplemented within high dosages over a long period of time. This suggests that whey protein, in theory, can reduce the risk of heart disease.
The results of a study published in The British Journal of Nutrition, which gave 70 overweight subjects whey protein supplements for a 12 week period, found “there was a significant decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol at week 12.”
Again, the research around this is limited, however results to date are encouraging.
If you have found this guide helpful so far, you may want to check our some of our other articles for more nutritional advice and information. We suggest starting with the posts below:
- 18 Best Vegan Protein Sources
- Nutritionist Job Description in 2020
- Pea Protein: Nutrition, Benefits and Side Effects
Whey Protein Dosage
When referring to the dosage of whey protein, it is important to take into consideration the goals of the individual, as well as their activity level.
As a general rule of thumb, it is suggested that healthy individuals should aim for approximately 0.8g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight and athletes should aim for 1.3-1.8g per kilogram of bodyweight. This is protein that arrives in the form of everything we consume during a day - not simply protein supplements.
1.3g sits at the minimum requirement end of the scale and is suggested for endurance sports athletes, such as distance runners, cyclists and footballers. The higher end (1.8g / kg) targets more strength-based workouts, such as: rugby, powerlifting, bodybuilding and functional fitness.
For instance, if you’re an athlete weighing 70kg and exercise moderately most days of the week, you would multiply your weight by 1.3:
70kg x 1.3g/kg = 91g protein per day
Whereas, if you’re a 110kg athlete with an intense 2/3-a-day strength training routine, you are looking at needing to consume around 200g of protein per day - which can be hard to achieve purely through high-protein food sources.
110kg x 1.8g/kg = 198g protein per day
A serving of between 20 – 40g of whey protein (typically one to two scoops of whey protein powder) appears to be the range most suggested across supplement brands (if consumed in isolation of any other nutrient contributing sources).
Notably, greater rates of muscle protein synthesis have been observed in servings of whey protein supplements of up to 40g.
Nutrional Value of Whey Protein
When referring to the nutritional value of whey protein, it is important to be specific about what form of whey you are referring to; whey protein, whey isolate or whey concentrate. While the benefits they offer are the same, if not similar, their nutritional contents can have some notable differences.
We have taken three examples of whey protein products on the market currently, with an offering to represent each form of whey for your reference.
MyProtein Impact Whey Protein
A regular amongst all best whey protein products shortlists, MyProtein is one of the UK’s favourites.
Their popular whey protein blend (in flavour vanilla, however this could vary flavour to flavour) consists of: Per 25g serving / One scoop
- Calories: 103
- Fat: 1.8g
- Carbs: 1.6g
- Sugars: 1.6g
- Protein: 20g
- Salt: 0.6g
MyProtein Impact Whey Isolate
Per 25g serving / one scoop of MyProtein’s Impact Whey Isolate (in flavour vanilla), it contains:
- Calories: 93
- Fat: 0.1g
- Carbs: 1.8g
- Sugars: 1.4g
- Protein: 21g
- Salt: 0.12g
MyProtein Hydrolysed Whey Protein
The hydrolysed whey protein is served as a 30g portion (as opposed to 25g) and is only available in an unflavoured option. One scoop consists of:
- Calories: 113
- Fat: 1.4g
- Carbs: 1g
- Sugars: 1g
- Protein: 24g
- Salt: 0.45g
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How Do You Take Whey Protein Supplements
Another debatable topic amongst nutrition, athletic and fitness enthusiasts is when is the best time to take whey protein.
It is definitely worth looking at the research that supports the time frames, as well as considering what you're looking to achieve by taking whey protein supplements. Depending on your goals, whether that be fitness focused or in terms of general health, can play a role in the best time to take whey protein.
Here are the best times to take whey protein powder and supplements based on your goals.
As we have discussed, protein as a whole is one of the most important nutrients for fat reduction; a high-protein diet is effective in raising the body’s metabolism, reducing appetite and curbing cravings, which combined are three factors that contribute towards a calorie deficit, healthier lifestyle and overall weight loss.
When considering when to consume whey protein for weight loss, it is suggested to do so between meals, wrestling in reduced feelings of hunger and therefore fewer calories consumed within the day. For more weight loss tips, OriGym's article on the types of body fat includes a guide on fat loss tips, plus the benefits and risks of fat.
Protein is vital for the process of building muscle; in order to build muscle and strength, a person needs to consume more protein than the body breaks down naturally when performing resistance/strength training.
Perhaps the most debatable goal of the group when referring to the best time to take protein, many fitness enthusiasts and experts suggest having a whey protein supplement within the “anabolic window” - this is allegedly the 30-minute period after exercise where nutrition can shift the body from a catabolic state to an anabolic one.
Therefore taking a high-protein snack between 15-30 minutes after a workout is highly lauded. However, this is a controversial opinion, and the timeframe in which this remains effective is suggested to be much longer and in fact extends to any time up to two hours after your workout is ideal for building muscle mass.
Preventing Muscle Loss
A factor which becomes increasingly important as we age is maintaining muscle mass. On average, we lose between 3-8% of muscle mass each decade after the age of 30; reduced muscle mass pits us at a higher risk of bone fractures and can even result in a shorter lifespan - therefore maintaining this is important.
For the purpose of maintaining muscle mass and preventing its loss, the time in which we consume whey protein is less technical.it is recommended to spread whey protein supplements equally across the day and ensuring each meal contains between 25-30g of general protein.
Exercise Recovery and Overall Performance
There is substantial research to suggest that combining protein with carbohydrates both during and after a workout can lead to enhanced performance, a better recovery and reduced muscle soreness.
In this instance, the recommendation is to consume whey protein either immediately before or after exercise to benefit most from muscle growth and repair,
Should you take whey protein before bed?
One of the most frequently asked questions surrounding whey protein is whether it is safe to take it before bed and whether doing so carries with it any adverse effects.
The current research indicates that taking whey protein supplements before bed is in fact a key time for optimising your nutrition; particularly in those who engage in exercise regularly.
Depending on the intensity of the training, the recovery period can prolong for up to 48 hours following a workout. By taking whey protein supplements before bed, this can encourage overnight muscle protein synthesis (the process of cells creating proteins which are crucial for muscle mass), as well as prevent your body from shifting into catabolism (the breakdown of muscle to be utilised as energy).
The human body’s muscles are constantly going through a cycle of muscle protein breakdown (MPB) and muscle protein synthesis (MPS), however extensive resistance training enhances the MPB process.
Whey protein supplements before bed can help to maintain a positive protein balance during this breakdown cycle, which is important for muscle building.
Who Benefits From Whey Protein Supplements?
There are many groups who may benefit from a whey protein supplement. Based on the research provided in this article, the following demographics should consider incorporating a whey protein supplement to benefit their health, lifestyle and activity needs;
- Active populations and exercisers
- High level to elite athletes
- Elderly populations
- Those looking to manage their weight / obese and or overweight individuals whose goal is to lose weight
- Individuals interested in preserving overall states of health
- Injured individuals
What to Look For When Buying Whey Supplements
The options for available whey protein powder supplements are endless, so how do you know what type is best for your personal health goals?
Below we have listed three of the primary factors that you should be conscious of when selecting a whey protein supplement that is best for you.
The first consideration when purchasing whey protein supplements should be a quality check. Reputable brands will typically have third party testing in place to validate quality (in addition to their own inhouse testing).
Look out for those who have the Informed Sports or Informed Choice quality badges. These are tested by each batch (which Informed Sport will usually carry out) or by monthly blind sampling (performed by Informed Choice) to evaluate label claims.
Secondly, a simple litmus test for the quality of the protein product itself is to simply look at the quantity of protein per 100g. This will give a reflection of the percentage of protein in the product (which many manufacturers mislead with serving sizes on the front of the packaging). Generally speaking, a WPC product will be around the 80% mark, WPI will be around the 90% mark and WPH can range from 65 – 85% depending on brand and testing.
This is primarily a notable factor for those who follow low/no-carb diets, however, some whey protein products, especially the likes of whey protein concentrate, which generally contains the highest contents of carbs which come in the form of lactose.
For those looking to consume as few carbs as possible, we would advise opting for whey protein hydrolysed options.
What Are The Side Effects of Whey Protein?
So, good news first: whey protein is generally a very safe supplement and tends to only feature any side effects when taken in exceedingly large dosages.
On the occasion that it is consumed in excess, however, there can be some side effects. Consuming high doses of protein can cause the following reactions:
- Increased bowel movements
- Stomach cramps and pains
- Reduced appetite
- Enhanced feelings of tiredness (fatigue)
Also, if you’re lactose intolerant, we recommend opting for whey protein isolate as opposed to a whey protein concentrate product, as the isolate form does not contain lactose. Alternatively, you may want to check out our shortlist of the best soy protein powders of 2021 which offer the same substancial amount of protein, minus the lactose!
Although these side-effects are unpleasant, they are fairly short term and should ease without treatment.
There are no reported common long-term side effects, despite the thorough testing conducted, which makes this an all-round great supplement.
Can You Have Too Much Whey Protein?
While we have highlighted that there are minimal risks to consuming whey protein at appropriate dosages, having too much whey protein can carry with it some unpleasant side effects as mentioned.
Too much protein can lead to some gastrointestinal (GL) distress, but there are no studies to suggest higher protein diets can lead to kidney damage, bone loss, or dehydration in healthy individuals.
If you want to get systematic about your whey and avoid any digestive unpleasantness, calculate your recommended daily intake of protein, then spread your intake across several doses of 25-30 grams. For many, this is a more sustainable approach than trying to cram as much protein as possible into three meals. Once you have a daily number to aim for, a whey protein supplement and a healthy diet can be sufficient to hit your daily intake goals.
While shifting some of your calorie budget to whey protein can help you lose fat, it's not enough if you want to gain mass. You still need to eat a caloric excess beyond what you burn to build muscle. If your calories are at or below maintenance levels, you won't grow, no matter how many protein shakes you drink.
In addition to getting plenty of whey powder and dietary protein, also make sure you're getting adequate healthy fats and complex carbohydrates so you have enough fuel for growth. If your protein intake is on point but you're still not building muscle, turn some of those whey-and-water protein shakes into smoothies with peanut butter and bananas, or switch to a gainer formula.
What is the Best Type of Whey Protein?
Whey as a whole is an extraordinarily high quality protein that is loaded with benefits, the best form of whey protein depends on the individual; their needs, lifestyle and requirements in their protein supplement. While we cannot confirm which type is the best, we can outline the most attractive points of each commercially available whey protein.
Whey Concentrate Benefits
- Most inexpensive
- Highest in fat and carbs
- May be best for immunity
The most accessible form of whey protein, concentrate is often the cheapest of the three, due to its basic processing requirements. The contents of concentrate features the highest amount of carbohydrates, fat, sugar and cholesterol; though still contain a significant protein contents. In whey protein concentrate, you will generally get 3 or 4g of fat and carbohydrates for every 20 - 25g of protein.
It is important to note that the additional carbs (made up from milk and dairy) make it the least recommended form of whey protein for those with lactose sensitivities.
Whey Isolate Benefits
- Lower in fat and carbs than concentrate
- Maybe better for lactose sensitivities
Whey isolate goes through a more thorough processing method which sees the majority of carbohydrates and fats removed - with some whey isolate supplements claiming to be completely carb and fat-free. For this reason, it is generally more expensive, however you also receive a much higher amount of protein and is typically easier to digest for those with lactose intolerances and sensitivities.
Whey protein isolate is also preferred by those who follow particularly strict, high protein low-carb diets.
Whey Hydrolysate Benefits
- Digests the fastest
- The most expensive
- May be useful for higher level athletes
Also known as hydrolyzed whey, this is the more expensive of the three forms of whey protein.
The process of hydrolysate sees the whey partly broken down by enzymes or acids to the point that it has been labelled “pre-digested.” For this reason whey protein hydrolysate tends to be much easier for some those with digestive issues to consume, and because many of the large proteins and peptide bonds are reduced down to free amino acids (unbound individual amino acid), it can be useful for those with milk intolerances and allergies. (Though, the extra amino acids can make it taste pretty bitter.)
It’s also why it digests very quickly — hydrolyzed whey breaks down fast and sends amino acids to your muscles more rapidly than the other forms of whey.
Fitness Goals Whey Protein Assists
Whey protein is one of the most hailed supplements there is in the fitness industry, with athletes and elite sportspeople deeming it an essential in their everyday diets. But what exactly can whey protein benefit in terms of athletic and exercise performance?
Combined with our thorough guide of the benefits of whey protein, we have explored many of the sporting advantages that whey protein assists with, however let us recap who can benefit from this sports supplement staple:
Encourages greater muscle strength and mass - Combined with resistance training, when compared to other forms of protein, whey ranks the most effective when it comes to greater improvements in muscle strength and mass. A 10-week study found when pairing whey protein with a training programme, it significantly increased gains in strength and lean body mass, as well as a decreased in body fat in subjects when compared to those who supplemented with casein.
Weight Loss - In short, a higher protein intake achieved in the form of whey protein helps by: curbing cravings, reduces snacking, fuels fat burning and promotes feelings of fullness which in turn, leads to reduced calorie intake and over time can lead to weight loss.
Food Sources of Whey Protein
As we know, whey is found in dairy and is one of the two major high-quality proteins found naturally in cow's milk.
Whey protein comes from the cheesemaking process. When special enzymes are added to the milk, it separates into curds (which are used to make cheese) and liquid whey.
While the food sources of whey are limited, luckily the supplement market is vast; however, you can source whey from the following products:
- Cheese - particularly ricotta
- Cow and Goat Milk Whey
- Some salad dressings
Additionally, the market of whey supplements is forever expanding, with a surge of packaged food items containing it now being available to consumers. Our guide of the best proptein popcorn for muscle gain is just one of the many creative ways that whey and other protein offerings has been incorporated into tasty snacks.
Where To Buy Whey Protein?
Whey protein is one of the most accessible protein supplements available on the nutrition market. It can be found in most, if not all, supplement stores, along with supermarkets and large retailers.
This staple supplement, as we know, is available in different forms; concentrate, isolate and hydrolysed. Concentrate is perhaps the most common form of whey and available at the lowest cost , with the other two more likely to be found in specialist nutrition and health names at a slightly higher price point - this roots from the difference in processing methods being more demanding.
As with any supplements, we always recommend sticking to a brand or company that holds a reputable name in the nutrition industry. Our recommendations are: MyProtein, Bulk Powders, Sci-MX, USN and even Amazon. Each of these supply a great variety of the three forms of whey protein, available in a number of flavours at affordable prices.
You can find a full list of quality products in our shortlist of the best cheap whey protein powders.
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Used by Fitness Professionals
Whey protein has been long regarded as a supplement for those interested in gaining muscle and strength. Whilst it certainly can help in this endeavour, whey protein can offer much more than that (in terms of health benefits).
It should be viewed more through the lens of a foodstuff instead of a supplement given its nutritional quality and may be a useful addition to an individual’s diet to help them achieve their protein requirements.
Ingestion in around training may still confer improvements in lean body mass and performance however it can also be consumed at other times of the day as a means of managing weight and or for general health.
Dosage is dependent on the goal, however aiming for between 25 – 40g is a range which will cover virtually all bases. Make sure to look out for third party quality testing when evaluating which manufacturer and product you choose to use to ensure you’re getting your money's worth.
If you’re interested in a career in the fitness industry, look at the different types of personal trainer course packages we have available.
Otherwise, download our free prospectus for more information!
- Li M , Liu F . Effect of whey protein supplementation during resistance training sessions on body mass and muscular strength: a meta-analysis. Food Funct. 2019 May 22;10(5):2766-2773. doi: 10.1039/c9fo00182d. PMID: 31041966.
- Effects of protein supplementation on muscle wasting disorders: A brief update of the evidence. Australas J Ageing. 2020; 39(Suppl.2): 1– 8. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajag.12853., , , .
- Li M , Liu F . Effect of whey protein supplementation during resistance training sessions on body mass and muscular strength: a meta-analysis. Food Funct. 2019 May 22;10(5):2766-2773. doi: 10.1039/c9fo00182d. PMID: 31041966.
- (2018) Whey Protein Supplementation Improves Body Composition and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 37:1, 60-70,