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What Is Whey Protein? (Everything You Need To Know)  

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: March 16, 2022

Are you considering buying gym supplements? Then you’ve probably heard of whey protein.

But you might not know what it is and whether it’s right for you.

I’ve been a fitness trainer for eight years, so it’s safe to say that I know a thing or two about this powerful form of protein.

But I also partnered with a dietitian to bring you the most verified and complete information. Here’s everything you need to know about whey.

Quick Summary

  • Whey protein is a protein extracted from milk.
  • You can choose between three types of whey when buying supplements.
  • Whey protein has many health benefits but also some risks.
  • Stick to the recommended dosage of protein per day.

What Exactly Is Whey Protein?

a scoop of white powder

Whey protein is a type of milk protein. In fact, it’s one of the two most abundant types of proteins found in milk [1]:

When we say whey, we’re actually referring to the watery part of milk. For example, the liquid substance you can sometimes see floating when you open a yogurt is whey [2].

This substance is usually extracted from milk during cheesemaking. Then it undergoes processing so that we can get whey proteins from it.

Whey proteins consist of [3]: 

  • Beta-lactoglobulin
  • Alpha-lactalbumin
  • Bovine serum albumin
  • Immunoglobulins

Whey is also considered a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids.

3 Types Of Whey Protein

different sizes of bottles

There are three main types of whey protein, based on how it’s processed [4]:

  • Whey protein isolate: Isolate is at least 90% protein. It contains fewer carbs, fat, and lactose than whey protein concentrate because it goes through more processing.
  • Whey protein concentrate: Concentrate is 70 - 80% protein and is usually cheaper than isolate.
  • Whey protein hydrolysate: Hydrolysate, or hydrolyzed whey, is the most expensive type of whey protein. It’s pre-digested, which makes it easier to consume.

You’ll find whey protein supplementation that contains all three types of whey.

So, how can you choose the right type for yourself?

In general, we’d say you choose a whey hydrolysate if you have digestion issues.

Otherwise, it’s probably not worth the price because it’s not of higher quality than the other types of whey.\

Regarding quality, isolates are better than whey protein concentrates. Although they are a bit more expensive, the price difference is usually negligible. But isolates contain fewer carbs and fats, so they’re more healthy for you overall [5].

Benefits of Whey Protein

woman using a tape measure on her body, and a man posing with his biceps out

Here are some of the many health benefits of whey protein: 

May reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. We’ve already said that whey lowers cholesterol.

That’s one way in which it decreases the risk of heart problems. But it also does so by reducing elevated blood pressure [9], which offers you double protection against cardiovascular issues.

Risks of Whey Protein

squeezing zit on nose, and a woman in pain

The biggest health risks of whey are related to digestion. It can lead to cramps, gas, bloating, stomach pains, and similar digestion problems.

But this mainly happens when people with lactose intolerance take a whey protein supplement. So, there’s little to no reason to worry about these side effects if you tolerate milk just fine.

However, in rare cases, some individuals might experience other side effects of whey protein supplements, like [10]:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite
  • Acne

Take the right preventive measures to avoid these side effects:

  • Don’t take whey protein without working out. If you take protein without being physically active, you risk damaging your liver [11].
  • Don’t swap meals with supplements. You should still maintain a healthy and diverse diet even if you start taking supplements. No supplement can replace real food.

Be mindful of your body. For example, you might not know that you’re lactose intolerant. Your first symptoms might occur when you start taking whey protein. That’s why you should be mindful of what your body’s telling you at all times.

How Much Whey Protein Do You Need?

shirtless man drinking

An average adult needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram or 0.36 grams per pound of body weight [12].

But you’ll need more if you’re physically active, and especially if you’re practicing strength training to build your muscles.

It’s recommended that you consume 1.2 - 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.5 - 0.8 grams per pound if you’re trying to build muscle [13].

To calculate your ideal daily protein intake, multiply your weight by the recommended amount of protein per pound or kilogram.

For example, if you weigh 170 pounds and you’re trying to build muscle, you need to consume around 119 grams of protein per day:

170 pounds [body weight] x 0.7 grams [recommended protein per pound] = 119 grams of protein [recommended daily intake]

Alternatively, you can follow the general recommendation, which says you should consume 1 - 2 scoops (25 - 50 grams) of whey per day [14].

FAQs

Can I Drink Whey Protein Without Working Out?

You shouldn’t drink whey protein without working out because it may hurt your liver. Without enough physical activity, the protein will go to your liver instead of your muscles. The liver may struggle to flush it out, which can lead to complications.

Should You Try Whey Protein?

Yes, you should try whey protein — especially if you’re trying to build muscle, lose weight, or if you just can’t reach your ideal protein intake solely with food.

Unless you’re lactose intolerant, there are virtually no side effects to worry about.

At the same time, whey can lead to many benefits. Besides improving your looks, it will also improve your health.

In conclusion, try whey, but stick to the recommended dosage. That’s how you’ll reach your goals without endangering yourself.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5149046/
  2. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/whey-protein-101
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263371
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263371#types
  5. https://www.gainful.com/blog/isolate-vs-concentrate/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2289832/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19893505/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22647249/
  9. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095869461000141X
  10. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-833/whey-protein
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32702243/
  12. https://www.sclhealth.org/blog/2019/07/how-much-protein-is-simply-too-much
  13. https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/files-for-resource-library/protein-intake-for-optimal-muscle-maintenance.pdf
  14. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/whey-protein-101#dosage-and-side-effects

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