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A Guide to Whey Protein

by Vantage Sports Nutrition November 24, 2014

What is Whey Protein and Where does it Come From?

Whey protein is the ultimate source of protein! It's the highest quality of protein available. Whey protein is a rich source of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), containing the highest known levels of any natural food source.

Whey protein is one of 2 types of protein that comes from milk (the other being casein protein). It's made during the process of cow's milk being turned into cheese. When the milk is being turned into cheese, the whey protein is a by-product.

Do any Foods Contain Whey Protein?

No foods contain actual whey protein. (edit: whey protein can be found in protein powders, protein bars and some drinks) However, many foods do contain high levels of protein. Here are the most common types of high protein foods:

  • Lean red meat (20% protein)
  • Chicken/turkey (20% protein)
  • Fish (20% protein)
  • Eggs (6-8% protein)
  • Cheese (10-30% protein, but high in fat)

What Types of Whey Protein are There?

There are 2 major types of whey protein, whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. Whey protein concentrate is low in fat, has a highest biological value and is typically about 75% pure protein by weight. Whey protein isolate is whey in it's purest form. Isolates are processed to remove fat and lactose. Typically whey protein isolate is about 90%+ pure protein by weight.

Whey protein supplements generally fall into 3 categories. Whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate and whey protein blends. Whey protein concentrate powders are the cheapest, but have the highest levels of fat and lactose. Whey protein isolate powders have the most amount of protein per serving and literally zero carbs, lactose and fat. These are generally priced higher than concentrate. And finally, whey protein blends are the most popular of the whey protein powders. As the name suggests, these products combine whey protein isolate and concentrate to make a high quality product (with an awesome amino acid profile), at an affordable cost to the consumer.

What does Whey Protein do?

Whey protein is far superior to all other forms of protein. It provides the body with the perfect amino acid profile for muscle building, strength and recovery. Bodybuilders and professional athletes all know the importance of using whey protein supplements to help increase size, strength and speed up recovery times.

Whey is also fast ingesting, meaning it gets to where it's needed - fast! Whey protein supplements play a huge roll in post-workout nutrition, when your body is in a catabolic state and needs a fast injection of protein.

On top of the muscle building and recovery benefits, whey protein also works as an antioxidant to boost the body's immune system. Scientific studies have shown that regular supplementation with whey protein promotes a strong immune system.

Effects whey protein has on performance:

  1. Increased lean muscle mass
  2. Decreased recovery times and faster muscle repair
  3. Reduced post-workout muscle breakdown
  4. Increase metabolic rate

Biological Value of Whey vs Other Protein Sources

Biological value, or BV, is the measure of the efficiency of a protein and how it can be absorbed and used by the body for growth -- higher the number, the higher the efficiency. It’s a common term in bodybuilding and one that is used to classify whey protein. With BV, egg protein sets the standard with 100. Beef can be found at around 75, for example. With whey protein, however, BV can be as high as 170.

Whey protein isolate has the biggest bioavailability of the whey sources, generally about 30-60% more than concentrate.

Who Can Benefit from Using Whey Protein Supplements?

Whey protein is traditionally used amongst bodybuilders and athletes for it's ability to promote muscle growth. But as new scientific studies are conducted, whey is being used in other applications. Some of these include: weight loss, cancer treatment, infant health, wound healing and the elderly. Practically everyone can benefit in some way from whey protein supplementation.

People that need increased protein levels will get the most benefit out of supplementing with whey. These include:

  1. Bodybuilders & strength trainers
  2. Endurance athletes
  3. Those on weight loss programs
  4. New to strength/weight training
  5. Vegetarians
  6. Team sports players

Does Whey Protein Have any Side Effects?

There are no documented side effects provided a person does not have an allergy to dairy proteins or does not need to restrict dairy products for medical reasons. If you are allergic to dairy proteins please consult with a physician prior to consuming any type of whey protein.

Choosing the Right Whey Protein Supplement for You

When it comes to choosing a whey protein supplement that's right for you there are two main things you need to take into consideration budget and quality. As stated above, there are 3 main types of whey protein available:

  1. Whey protein isolate - the most pure form of whey protein
  2. Whey protein concentrate - not as pure, slightly higher fat & lactose
  3. Whey protein blend - a mixture of isolate and concentrate

Obviously, the more pure and high quality the product the higher the price tag. This is why whey protein isolate is the most expensive form of whey protein. But you get what you pay for, pure whey protein is literally zero fat, zero carbs and zero lactose. It's the highest quality protein and will give you the most protein per serving with the least amount of calories. So if you have the money to spend, when protein isolate is the best quality protein available.

Pros and Cons of Whey Protein Isolate

Pros of Whey Protein Isolate:

  • Purest form of whey protein available
  • Fat free, lactose free, carb free
  • Excellent amino acid profile
  • More protein per serving
  • Ideal for both muscle building & fat loss

Cons of Whey Protein Isolate:

  • More expensive tha concentrate & blends

When protein concentrate is not as filtered as whey protein isolate, but it still very high quality and rich in amino acids (the building blocks of muscle tissue). Because whey protein concentrate is not as filtered as isolate, this means you will get slightly less protein per scoop of powder and often the calorie count will be higher. This might not matter for someone who is trying to gain weight, but for weight loss or someone who is trying to prepare for a competition this might matter. The difference is usually about 2-5g of protein per scoop. For a 30g scoop whey protein isolate might have 25g of protein and 105 calories, while concentrate may have 21g and 130 calories.

Pros and Cons of Whey Protein Concentrate

Pros of Whey Protein Concentrate:

  • Well priced
  • High in amino acids
  • Great for muscle building

Cons of Whey Protein Concentrate:

  • Higher in fat and carbs than whey protein isolate
  • More calories per serving coming from fat

So by now you're probably thinking the choice is black and white, quality protein for a higher price, or lower quality protein at a low price. BUT, there is some middle ground! Whey protein blends, as the name suggests, is a blend of whey protein isolate and concentrate. By doing this, supplement manufacturers have found a good middle-ground between price and quality.

Not all protein blends are created equal though. Some have more isolate than concentrate, and vice versa. The way to you can tell this is by looking at the ingredients. The protein source listed first in the ingredients is the primary protein source. This is good to know when you're researching on what protein powder to buy.

Of all the protein powder available, whey protein blends are the most popular.

Pros and Cons of Whey Protein Blends

Pros of Whey Protein Blends:

  • Good mix of isolate and concentrate protein sources
  • Great value for money
  • Excellent amino acid profile
  • Less fat/carbs/lactose than whey protein concentrate
  • Loads of brands to choose from

Cons of Whey Protein Blends:

  • More fat/carbs/lactose than whey protein isolate
  • Some blends contain a lot of whey protein concentrate

Whey Protein - Common Questions Answered

  • Can I mix whey protein with other supplements?
    Yes of course. In fact, whey protein blends well with a whole host of supplements! A few examples are creatine, dextrose and glutamine. In fact, the uptake of protein can be improved by combining it with high GI carbohydrates. This produces an insulin spike that delivers nutrients to muscles faster than water or milk.
  • How much protein should I take?
    How much protein you need is completely dependent on your weight, exercise level and goals. No 2 people are the same. Bodybuilders generally consume between 1 and 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day.
  • When is the best time to take whey protein?
    When you take whey protein depends on your goals. Whey protein is fast digesting, so it's ideal for when you need it quickly. The most common times whey is used is first thing in the morning, after sport or training and before exercise. Whey can also be mixed with casein protein and taken between meals as a meal replacement.
  • Will whey protein help me lose weight?
    Adding whey protein to the diet is a great way to jump-start a weight loss program. Whey protein is a key ingredient in numerous weight loss products and whey protein isolate (with no fat or carbohydrates) is often the preferred choice. Studies have found that individuals who combine diets with leucine rich protein foods, like whey protein, and exercise have more lean muscle tissue and they lose more body fat. As they lose fat their metabolic rate increases and they naturally burn more calories each day. Another way that whey protein helps manage weight is by promoting satiety, or a feeling of fullness.
  • What is better, whey or casein protein?
    Whey protein has the highest BV value, and is the richest source of BCAAs of any protein. This means it is far superior to any other type of protein for muscle building, weight loss and general health. Casein protein has its place though. Casein protein is absorbed much slower by the body (up to about 7 hours). This means it's ideal for a "night time" supplement, taken before bed. Bodybuilders and professional athletes have used casein for decades as a slow release protein to repair muscle tissue during sleep.
  • Is whey protein OK for vegetarians?
    Absolutely. Whey protein is an ideal protein source for vegetarians who include dairy products in their diet.
  • Is whey protein easy to digest?
    Whey protein is a soluble, very easy to digest protein. It quickly enters the body to provide the important essential amino acids needed to nourish muscles and other body tissues. This is one of the reasons it is a common ingredient in infant formula and protein supplements for medical use.
  • Can whey protein harm my kidneys?
    Bodybuilders frequently consume up to 500g of protein per day for months - even years. There is no scientific evidence that this high protein intake causes kidney problems. In other studies, animals with high protein intakes for more than half their lifetime showed no kidney damage1. High protein intake may be hazardous only for individuals with abnormal kidney function or kidney disease. For the disease-free individual, the most serious concern with high protein intake is dehydration, because it takes a lot of water to metabolize protein. This is avoided by drinking 8 or more 8 oz. glasses of water a day. A new study just looked at the effects of a high protein intake on markers of safety in 20 healthy resistance-trained males. The subjects were taking 1.3 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight ­ 3.6 times greater amount than that recommended by the RDI. After 28 days the researchers concluded that the daily high protein intake had no untoward or negative effects on the immune system, renal and hepatic function nor did it induce ketosis or dehydration, thus it appears safe for short term daily intake.



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