What is the whey protein (WP) and where it comes from? If you were ever curious to know this, you are at right place. This article will answer all potential questions you may have about it. We will explain all about whey protein types, health benefits, risks, side effects and more about protein supplements. There are three major types available i.e. whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate and whey protein hydrolysate (WPH). I am sure you must have used or at least heard of the Curd or cheese. Curd is a dairy product that comes from coagulating milk and edible acidic substances. In process of making curd or cheese we get a by-product in the form of light colored liquid (milk plasma) when we strain the curd or cheese. This liquid is called raw whey. WP is the mixture of proteins isolated from this raw whey liquid. Though the whey has several other commercial uses as well but one of the most common use is to produce whey protein (WP).
It is produced from cow’s milk and is a rich source of the body’s essential amino acids. Though few people have complained of problem in digestion of whey protein but mostly it is efficiently digested and absorbed.
It is one of the most nutritious proteins suppements available. It is commonly used as a health supplement, alongside strengthening exercises to help build muscles being a complete protein which contains all 9 essential amino acids and low in lactose content. Though traditionally it is prepared from cow milk but the commercial supplements may consist of goat milk, soy, egg albumin, whey, casein, wheat, hemp, beef, pea or brown rice.
If we talk about chemical composition, the it is the composition of
- Bovine serum albumin
How The Whey Protein is Prepared
There are two types of proteins the milk is made up of i.e. Casein protein and Whey protein. And we can separate the Whey protein from Casein protein as a by-product of cheese making process. All the non-whey ingredients are removed from this whey liquid in a filtration process. It is then further purified in a process i.e. “ion-exchange”. And the last step is to remove water from leftover whey leaving it into powder form. This powder is then dried and packaged as the whey protein.
Whey Protein Types
There are three main types available in market. The differences between these three types lies in the fact that how processed the protein is. This determines the amount of protein present in WP powder and how much the other ingredients of dairy present in it such as fat, lactose (milk sugar), and various immunoglobulin. Here are the three types of whey proteins available in market
1. Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
It contains low level of fats and carbohydrates. The percentage of protein in whey protein concentrate (WPC) depends on the level of protein concentration in it which could be between 30% to 90%. As the protein level decreases, the amount of fat and lactose increases . Whey protein concentrate is generally the cheapest of all three types of whey proteins as it has the lowest amount of protein percentage. The other ingredients are fat, lactose and higher amounts of various immune-enhancing peptides such as alpha-lactalbumin and immunoglobulin.
2. Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
When the whey protein concentrate is further processed to remove almost all the fat and lactose it is called Whey Protein Isolate. It is the most pure form of WP and contains more than 90 percent of protein, generally 95%. WP has very little to no fat, no carbohydrate and no cholesterol. It has the minimal amount of lactose and fat. Preparation of whey protein isolate involves varying methods of filtration that can keep most of the beneficial qualities of the concentrate hence being costlier than whey protein concentrate.
3. Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH)
Some people may take whey protein hydrolysate (WPH) as the solution to their digesting disability to whey protein concentrates. It is considered as the “predigested” form of whey protein as it has already undergone partial digestion process i.e. Hydrolysis. The Hydrolysis is a process which is necessary for body to absorb protein. Whey protein hydrolysate contains about 99% of protein and is considered as degraded protein that digests easily and quickly This is the most expensive of all three whey protein concentrates but some people would feel bad in taste.
When to Take Whey Protein
Generally it is used as a protein supplement to build up muscles in conjunction with strengthening exercises. Some people may consider it taking a normal daily health supplement in small amount who are not getting enough protein from food.
But you must be aware of what are the best times to take it. For that you will have to understand that it is a quickly digesting protein. So it must be taken within 30 to 60 minutes of finishing strengthening exercise.
In case you want to take the WP any other time you should take it along with other foods which should slow down the digestion process of it. For example, in breakfast you can take it with some oats. Alternatively if you want to take at any other time during the day, you can take a WP shake adding fish oil or some nuts to it to slow down the protein digestion.
Whey Protein Health Benefits
Before taking it’s health benefits in account you must have to keep in mind that nothing could replace a diet of whole natural and unprocessed foods. WP supplements can be useful for people who are living a very busy and casual lifestyle where they may not be getting enough protein from normal food.
It is widely used for people who do lots of exercise to help build up their muscles and lose fat. There are many other health benefits associated with consumption of WP and here is a range of them:
1. Whey Protein Helps in Weight Loss
According to a study, published at A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: a randomized human clinical study, it can be helpful is losing fat.
Another research in Minnesota conducted a 12-week study where subject’s daily caloric intake was reduced by 500 calories. Then some of the participants were given WP and rest were given an isocaloric beverage. Results were dramatic; those consuming WP lost a significantly greater amount of body fat i.e. 6.1% and better preserved their muscles.
2. Increase in Glutathione Levels and Fighting HIV
Another huge benefit of it is that glutathione production is increased in the body. Glutathione is considered to be the main water-based anti-oxidant of our body. Benefit from increased production of glutathione assists in fighting HIV and Cancer. It also decreased the recovery time from muscle injury. Most of the benefits of WP are generally attributed to the increase in glutathione production.
3. Whey Protein Assists in Cancer Treatment
According to an anti-cancer research published at whey protein concentrate (WPC) and glutathione modulation in cancer treatment the promising results were found to prove that it is helpful in fighting against cancer cells.
4. Increase in Immunity and Fighting Asthma
It could improve immunity in children and can help them fight asthma.
5. Controlling Blood Pressure
According to a research by NCBI the it can help lowering blood pressure and hence reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease
6. Decrease in Total Cholesterol, Triglycerides While Increase in HDL (Good Cholesterol)
The British Journal of Nutrition has published a research in 2010 which shows the clear effect of WP Isolate to improve not only the cholesterol level but insulin and glucose levels in blood which helps preventing prediabetes and diabetes as well. Though sometimes it raises the level of insulin productions. You can read the research at “there was a significant decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol at week 12 in the whey group”
7. Whey Protein Increases Stamina in Sports and Exercises
Researchers at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, took 19 men doing resistance training. They have given some of them 14 grams of WP and casein protein along with 6 grams of free amino acids over a 10-week period while others were given 20-grams of placebo.
Results show that those who were given the WP had greater increases in fat-free mass and muscle strength. Remember, the key of success of this research is to follow the example of the study and consume WP one hour before and after the exercise.
8. Muscle Growth and Improvement in Muscle Repair and Recover
It has been proven in researches that it is high in Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s), which are among three of the nine essential amino acids required for muscle repair and preservation. So if you’re trying to put on muscle, it is essential to both help preserve the muscle, while also helping to stimulate additional muscle growth.
Whey Protein Risks and Side Effects
If you are an active person, most probably you do not need a protein supplement. If you use any extra protein, it could be a counterproductive thing for you. Remember, 1 gram of protein produces as much calories as from 1 gram of sugar.
Though we have seen above that it has a range of health benefits but every good comes at a cost of something good. Though in moderate intake, it doesn’t generally cause any adverse side effects but there could be some possible risks and side effects of using WP. However these side effects may vary person to person.
- Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) – Protein supplements, like any other supplements, are not regulated by FDA (Food and Drug Administration). In simple words that means that the protein supplement manufacturers do not need to register their products with FDA. So they do not need approval of FDA before they produce or sell such dietary supplements. And unfortunately, this lack of a regulation sometime results in products with harmful contaminants.
- Some people who are allergic to milk may be allergic to whey protein too.
- It sometimes may cause stomach pains and Cramps being resistant to lactose digestion
- Reduced appetite may also occur in some people using it.
- Sometimes Could Gain Weight – Though it is associated with fat loss but sometimes supplements come with added sugar to give it an addictive taste and that may add up extra calories to your diet.
- Nausea, headache and feeling fatigue
- Ketones Buildup in Body – Excessive protein intakes can cause a buildup of ketones bodies. The recommended daily protein intake for healthy adults are .75 gram per 1 kg of body weight. And for an athlete recommended protein intake is around 1.6 gm per 1 kg of body weight. Progressively higher levels of ketone bodies can lower the pH level up to dangerously acidic levels. Though this is a very are condition but this could lead to a state called ketoacidosis.
Whey Protein Digestion Problems
Most human adults are sensitive to lactose to some degree as human body is not made to digest lactose very well. Because the WP is sourced from dairy, it contains lactose. This could give you digestive problems if you are sensitive to lactose. If you notice that you are not able to digest the raw WP, try to go with whey protein concentrate (WPC), which is processed in a way that removes most of the lactose out of it leaving just most of the protein behind.
But as you have read above, the whey protein concentrate still has a little amount of lactose so people more sensitive to lactose may still find problem digesting WP concentrate too. If this is the case, you could go with whey protein isolate (WPI) which has more reduced amount of lactose and more increase amount of protein concentrate.
If that too doesn’t work, you may want to go with whey protein hydrolysate (WPH) which is partially digested already. Alternatively you could go with Rice Protein, Hemp Protein, and Soy Protein all of which are 100% lactose free.
Recommended Best Whey Protein
The most important characteristics of WP are that it contains high amount of protein, all the beneficial components of the immunoglobulin, very little or not at all lactose. no artificial sweeteners/hormones etc. These all are various qualities people will want to look in a typical protein powder.
WP Isolate has high amounts of protein and very less amount of lactose while in WP concentrate the amount of lactose is higher than that of whey protein isolate.
Considering all these characteristics the Whey protein isolate (WPI) comes the best one to choose from all available three types of whey proteins. Whey protein isolate meets all the typical characteristics of ideal protein supplements.