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Whey Protein 101: Everything You Need to Know
By now, most of us know that increased dietary protein intake contributes to improved strength and muscle mass gains when paired with resistance training. If you’re having trouble hitting your daily protein goals through diet alone, it may be a good idea to supplement with a good quality protein powder, such as whey protein powder.
But what is whey protein, and why is it beneficial?
Whey protein is one of the most widely used and researched protein supplementation sources on the market, and for a good reason. Not only is it a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids your body needs to carry out vital functions like muscle growth, but it is also easily accessible to most people and budget-friendly.
Keep reading to learn more about whey protein and how to choose the best supplement for your needs.
- Consuming whey protein powder is a great way to ensure adequate protein intake. Not only is it a high-quality, complete protein, but it’s also highly digestible and can be absorbed from your gut more quickly than other types of protein.
- Whey protein powder provides the protein and amino acids necessary to preserve and rebuild muscle mass after workouts leading to enhanced recovery.
- The FDA doesn't regulate supplements, so consumers must be conscious of the quality of products they purchase for themselves.
WHAT IS WHEY PROTEIN?
Whey protein is a high-quality protein produced as a byproduct of cheese production. Once a coagulant is added to whole milk, it separates into liquids and solids. The liquid portion contains fast-digesting proteins called whey proteins, which are dehydrated into powder and sold as a supplement.
Unlike many plant-based protein options, whey protein is considered a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids vital for protein synthesis, nutrient absorption, and tissue repair.
WHEY PROTEIN ISOLATE VS. CONCENTRATE VS. HYDROLYSATE
The three main types of whey protein are whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, and whey protein hydrolysate.
Whey protein isolate is the purest form of protein on the market. It’s classified as 90% protein by weight and is processed to remove most of the fat and lactose naturally present in whey.
Whey protein isolate provides the most protein per serving and is great for individuals needing a lower-calorie or low-lactose option.
Given the additional processing needed to produce whey protein in its purest form, it can be a pricier option for some people.
Whey protein concentrate is the least processed form of whey and is widely used in food production and supplemental protein products.
It comprises 35-80% protein by weight, depending on quality. Lower concentrations are usually found in food production, while most supplemental varieties are standardized at 80%.
Whey protein concentrate naturally contains some lactose, the carbohydrate (sugar) found in milk, giving it a more palatable flavor. Whey protein concentrates are one of the most widely available types of protein on the market.
Hydrolyzed whey protein contains the same amino acids as other whey protein formulations. However, it has additional enzymes that break down the amino acids into smaller pieces that are easier to digest.
Since whey protein hydrolysate is digested quicker than other formulations, this could result in quicker muscle recovery when consumed after a workout. Hydrolysates can benefit those who do not tolerate whole protein sources well.
Of note, these benefits come with a higher price tag. Hydrolysates are far more expensive than whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate.
WHAT IS WHEY PROTEIN GOOD FOR?
Whey protein has been thoroughly researched over the years and has been found to provide a multitude of health benefits.
Whey protein is your best bet if you’re looking to improve:
- Lean Muscle Mass
- Protein Intake
- Weight Loss
WHEY PROTEIN FOR MUSCLE MASS AND STRENGTH
When many people think of protein supplementation, they believe it is only for bodybuilders in the gym or even professional powerlifters. However, protein supplementation can be very beneficial for the majority of the population.
Whey protein is one of the most used supplements for helping individuals build and preserve muscle mass. Since it contains all the building blocks needed to synthesize muscle, it is used by those looking to preserve muscle mass and improve strength in their everyday lives.
Having higher amounts of muscle mass over a lifetime also provides health benefits beyond aesthetics. For example, studies show that increased muscle mass promotes cardiovascular health, the preservation of bone health, and weight management.
INCREASES PROTEIN INTAKE
While it is recommended to meet most of your protein needs by consuming whole food sources, such as eggs, fatty fish, Greek yogurt, and lean cuts of meat, protein supplementation can be a great way to meet increased protein needs.
Whey protein supplements are quick and easy to prepare as they can be added to virtually any liquid to drink and can even be added to baked goods with minimal taste changes.
SUPPORTS MUSCLE RECOVERY
Whey protein contains all the amino acids needed to support tissue repair and even helps build new muscle after intense workouts.
This is all thanks to the branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs in whey protein. In particular, whey is high in the amino acid leucine, which is primarily responsible for supporting muscle synthesis and preventing muscle breakdown.
Studies show that muscle protein synthesis is better supported with whey protein supplementation when compared to soy protein isolate supplementation.
Furthermore, numerous studies suggest that taking whey protein supplements following exercise can support recovery by reducing muscle damage and enhancing muscle performance and muscle protein synthesis.
AIDS IN WEIGHT LOSS
Protein is the most satiating of all macronutrients, which is excellent for curbing appetite and promoting weight loss.
Increased protein intake can lead to weight loss through an overall calorie reduction. Studies show that increasing dietary protein can result in a 400-600 calorie deficit throughout the day. This is attributed to proteins' effect on increasing feelings of fullness after consumption.
Increased muscle mass contributes to increased resting energy expenditure, which will result in decreased body fat mass, especially in those who use resistance training as an exercise modality. In one study, an increased percentage of protein in the diet, specifically whey protein, led to an almost 3% fat loss. Similar results could not be reproduced in participants consuming primarily plant-based protein.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING WHEY PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS
When purchasing a whey protein supplement, it’s important to consider the following:
As with any supplement, it is essential to know exactly where the product comes from. In the case of protein supplementation, this can make a difference in the nutritional value.
Whey protein from grass-fed cows is optimized for nutrient quality and is generally better for you.
Research shows that whey protein from grass-fed cows contains higher amounts of nutrients compared to grain-fed cows. The increased nutrients include additional vitamins and minerals and omega-3 fatty acids.
When searching for a grass-fed whey protein, it is important to look for labels that say pasture-raised. This means the animal spent all its life in a field consuming grass and forage.
Since whey protein comes from an animal source, it contains all nine essential amino acids. This is important because your body cannot produce these on its own, meaning they must come from your diet.
Whey protein is a great way to make sure you are getting all essential amino acids in a convenient form. With other forms of protein supplements, such as pea and rice protein, it can be challenging to consume all nine essential amino acids as these are considered incomplete proteins. They must be paired with other proteins to be considered complete.
As previously discussed, it is vital to understand exactly where the supplements you purchase come from and what ingredients they contain.
Whey protein is often flavored to improve taste and make it more likely for you to consume. The most common flavors are vanilla or chocolate, which are very versatile. However, whey protein can also be found in a wide variety of other interesting flavors.
Depending on the brand, the flavoring used can be natural or artificial. Natural flavorings are those derived from plant or animal sources, while artificial flavors are compounds reproduced in a lab to contain the same chemical structure as the natural flavor. When given the option, most consumers choose natural flavors as they feel more comfortable knowing exactly where they came from.
Purchasing your whey protein powder from a company that utilizes third-party testing to confirm the product matches the claims and ingredients on its label is also extremely important. Many companies don't bother with this because it is costly. Others choose to keep the results private because they don't want you to see what is in their products.
Whey protein supplementation is a great way to increase your daily protein intake. It is considered superior to other types of protein powder because it is a complete, high-quality protein that is highly digestible and can be absorbed from your gut more quickly than other types of protein.
Additionally, whey protein has been thoroughly researched over the years. It has been proven to provide many health benefits, such as increased lean body mass, weight loss, and quicker muscle recovery.
When purchasing whey protein supplements, it is essential to select a high-quality product to ensure you are receiving a complete amino acid profile, natural ingredients, and all the health benefits whey protein consumption can provide.