What is Whey Protein?

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What is Whey Protein

Whey protein is the liquid byproduct of cheese production that used to be discarded by cheese producers as a waste product. Whey makes up approximately 20% of the protein in milk, the other 80% is called casein (the curds in cottage cheese). The liquid whey is separated from the casein and sent through a filtering system to remove all the unwanted ingredients before being purified in a process called ‘ion exchange’. The final step in preparation is removing the water from the whey by turning it into a powder at a drying tower. The whey powder is now ready to be packaged and distributed.

The Composition of Whey Powder

Beta-lactoglobulin is the most copious whey protein component and makes up approximately 50% of the whey protein.  It is a brilliant source of the crucial and branched chanin amino acids (BCAAs) that help avoid the breakdown of muscles and spare glycogen during exercise.

Alpha-lactalbumin is the second largest whey protein constituent making up about 20% of the whey protein. It is high in the essential amino acid tryptophan which has the potential benefit of increasing serotonin levels.

Glycomacropeptide (GMP) is a casein derivative amino acid peptide that makes up approximately 10% of the whey protein. GMP has the ability to help inhibit the forming of dental plague and can also have satiety benefits.

Immunoglobulins make up approximately 10% of the whey protein. These are proteins produced by the immune system to combat antigens.

Bovine Serum Albumin (BSA) is a key protein which is found in blood serum and appears in all body secretions and tissues. BSA makes up approximately 5% of the whey protein.

Lactoferrin is a globular glycoprotein which binds iron and makes up about 2% of the whey protein. Due to its ability to bind to iron it inhibits the growth of fungi and bacteria.

Lactoperoxidase is also a glycoprotein and makes up about 0.5% of the whey protein. It is a natural antiseptic agent.

Lysozyme is an agent that is found in milk and contributes less than 0.1% of the whey protein. It contains immunity boosting properties.

Whey Concentrate vs Whey Isolate

Whey protein is available in 2 varieties, each which has its own advantages.

Whey concentrate

Whey concentrate has a low lactose level and is very economical per gram of protein.  It possesses inconsequential amounts of carbs and fat relative to your overall nutrient intake. This is generally the more popular of the two varieties and is widely considered to be the most efficient and cost-effective type of protein for humans to digest and expend.

Whey protein concentrate is rich in both BCAA’s and Glutamine which makes it the ideal protein to help build muscle size, definition and aid recovery.

Whey isolate

Whey isolate is practically fat-free for those looking to minimize fat intake. It is typically also lactose free which makes it suitable to those individuals who are lactose sensitive or intolerant. Whey isolate generally tastes better than whey concentrate although its consistency is slightly thinner.

Products containing whey protein can be made from whey isolate, whey concentrate, or a mixture of the two. Other types of protein are sometimes combined with whey proteins in products and are known as protein blends.

What is in Your Powder?

The best protein powders generally contain the least amount of ingredients.

The following is a list of the most common whey protein powder ingredients you are likely to come across (apart from the whey concentrate and whey isolate)

 Natural & Artificial Flavours

Natural flavours are merely flavours derived from natural materials.  Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry are three of the more common flavours considered to be more natural than others such as butterscotch and toffee.

 Thickeners & Gums

These are used to thicken the texture.  Xanthum gum is one of the more common additives used in protein powders.

 Soy Lecithin

Lecithin is a form of fat obtained from soy. Its main purpose in a protein shake is to improve texture as it prevents clumping and smoothens the beverage.

 Natural & Artificial Sweeteners

Stevia is a natural sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is a healthy option that will make your drink taste good without dumping in loads of sugar. Beware of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and acesulfame as both carry the risk of breaking down into a potentially dangerous substance when metabolized.

 Vegetable oils and fats

These are often added to many protein supplements to increase richness. These fats are however often derived from hydrogenated sources that contain trans-fats, which are thought to be more harmful than saturated fats.

 Skim Milk Powders & Milk Solids

These ingredients are often used as a low-cost bulking agent in poor quality powders. Skim milk powders and milk solids are very high in lactose sugars, which can cause bloating, gastrointestinal distress, constipation and diarrhea.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Whey Protein


  • Decreases hunger
  • Promotes muscle growth
  • Increased immune system function
  • Decreased time needed for muscle recovery
  • Beneficial to HIV patients as it increases CD4 cell counts
  • May help reduce inflammation
  • May have beneficial effects on blood fats
  • Decreased triglyceride levels – lowtriglycerides levels are important for heart health


  • Gastrointestinal discomfort such as diarrhea, constipation and bloating

Although the advantages of whey protein far outweighs the disadvantages it is recommend to consult with your medical practitioner before adding any nutritional supplements to your diet.

Sensible use of of whey protein supplements is well tolerated by most people, with a few unfortunate exceptions.If you are sensitive to lactose or lactose intolerant, whey protein isolate could be more suitable than concentrate.

In short, whey protein powder is not just a convenient way to increase your protein intake but it could have some powerful health benefits as well.

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