Last Updated on October 26, 2019
Whey doesn’t sound particularly appealing at first glance. After all, it’s the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production. But as a protein packed with all essential amino acids in addition to other amino acids, it's an excellent source of nutrition for both therapeutic and supplementary foods.
Types of Whey Protein
You’ll find that there are three primary types of whey protein used in supplements.
These are as follows:
- Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) – The percentage of protein available in WPC can vary from 30 to 90 percent; it depends on how concentrated it is. WPC also typically contains low levels of carbohydrates and fat.
- Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) – WPIs contain a higher percentage of protein than WPCs. Indeed, they are almost always at least 90 percent protein. This is because they’ve been further isolated and thus have no fat or lactose.
- Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH) – WPH is a form of whey protein that has already experienced partial hydrolysis, a process needed for the body to absorb protein. Therefore, it’s considered “pre-digested” and is absorbed the fastest. WPH can be either the WPC or the WPI type.
Generally speaking, whey protein concentrate is the most popular (and the least expensive) option. It also retains the largest percentage of beneficial nutrients found in the protein. But some people have an easier time tolerating whey protein isolate and whey protein hydrolysate. Those formulas are also ideal if you’re trying to cut down on carbs and/or fat.
Whey Protein Nitrogen Index (WPNI)
WPNI is a way of quantifying the degree of heat treatment of a milk powder. It is an indirect measure of the amount of whey proteins that are denatured.
High heat (160 degrees F) associated with pasteurization denatures whey proteins. This process destroys some bioactive compounds. Also, the degree of denaturation may correspond to the solubility of a product, and thus the WPNI may be an important factor to buyers of whey powders or milk powders, depending on the characteristics desired.
For a whey supplement, a low heat WPNI would be desired as this would be the most soluble whey, and so would have a WPNI of greater than 6 mg of nitrogen per gram.
On the other hand, a high heat whey will have better heat stability in food products and will have higher viscosity when added to yogurt or other products, as well as a more intense flavor, which might be desired in chocolate, for example. A high heat whey will have a WPNI of less than 1.5 mg nitrogen per gram.
Medium heat whey powders will have between 1.5 mg and 6 mg nitrogen per gram.
The Best Whey for Muscle Building & Health
The best Whey would be in its complete, natural, non-denatured form; full of ‘natural goodies’, and derived from a sweet dairy whey (many whey proteins are derived from acid whey); yielding a complete subfraction of peptides (or bioactives) including: Beta-Lactoglobulin, Alpha-Lactalbumin, Glycomacropeptides, Immunoglobulins, Lactoferrin, and Bovine Serum Albumin.
These protein peptides possess important nutritional and biological properties, particularly with regard to promotion of health and prevention of diseases.
The best method of processing whey is Microfiltration. The popular micro filtration technologies are Cross Flow Micro filtration (CFM®), ultra filtration (UF), reverse osmosis (RO), dynamic membrane filtration (DMF), ion exchange chromatography (IEC), electro-ultrafiltration (EU), radial flow chromatography (RFC) and nano filtration (NF).
The micro filtration techniques allows for the production of powders of high quality (undenatured) protein with very high protein contents (>90%). Micro filtered whey proteins retain important subfractions, and are low in fat & lactose, and higher in calcium, so they are definitely worth their higher price.
Another type of processing whey is the ion-exchange method, which involves the use of chemicals such as hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide. This type of processing has serious drawbacks in that it literally wipes out all the valuable and health promoting subfraction peptides like Alpha-Lactalbumin, Glycomacropeptides, Immunoglobulins, and Lactoferrin, which are naturally found in whey.
Bioactives of Whey Proteins
Here is a general list of some of the supposed functional properties of various Whey Protein components. Research is centered on developing commercial products based on these components.
Beta-Lactoglobulin – It is the most abundant whey protein making up approximately 50-55% of the whey proteins.
- Provides an excellent source of the essential and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs)
- Contains anti–hypertensive peptides, which lower blood pressure
Alpha-Lactalbumin – This is the second most abundant whey protein component, making up approximately 20-25% of the whey protein.
- Alpha-Lactalbumin is also the major protein found in human milk.
- High in tryptophan, an essential amino acid, with potential benefits for increased serotonin production, sleep regulation, and mood improvement under stress.
- Has antimicrobial activity against E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermis, Streptococci, and C. albicans
- May have anti-cancer benefits
Glycomacropeptide (GmP) – It is a casein derived 64-amino acid peptide that is formed in the process of making cheese, and makes up 0-15% of the whey protein, depending on the process of concentrating/isolating the whey protein.
- Has antimicrobial, gastric acid inhibitory, prebiotic, and immune modulatory benefits
- May help prevention of plaque & dental cavities
- Has the ability to bind cholera and E. coli enterotoxins
- Has appetite suppressing properties
Immunoglobulins – Make up approximately 10-15% of the whey protein.
- Support immune function in vulnerable groups such as infants, children, elderly and immunocompromised patients.
- Prevention of intestinal infections of the mouth or GI tract, specifically applied to rotavirus, traveller’s diarrhea, Helicobacter and C. difficule infections.
Bovine Serum Albumin (BSA) – Makes up approximately 5-10% of the whey protein.
- It's a major protein found in blood serum and occurs in all body tissues and secretions.
- Plays a part in the mediation of lipid oxidation.
Lactoferrin – Makes up approximately 1-2% of the whey protein composition.
- Stimulates the immune system
- Promotes beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract
- Has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties
- Regulates iron metabolism & transports iron as needed into the bloodstream and to the cells
- Transports vitamin B12 in the body
- Acts as an antioxidant & anti-aging
Lactoperoxidase – This is the most abundant enzyme in whey and makes up approximately 0.5% of the whey protein.
- A natural antibacterial agent
- Has antioxidant and immuno-enhancing properties
Lysozyme – An enzyme that makes up less than 0.1% of the whey protein.
- Contains immunity enhancing properties
Does Whey contain Glutamine?
Both glutamine and glutamic acid belong to a class of molecules called amino acids. They share some similar chemical characteristics. Both glutamic acid and glutamine are considered non-essential amino acids. Your body can produce these compounds on its own, and does not require that you consume these amino acids as part of your diet. Whey protein contains glutamic acid. The glutamic acid has a number of physiological roles within your cells. One of the primary roles in contributing to new protein synthesizes in your tissues.
Does Whey contain BCAAs?
Whey contains among the highest concentration of branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, valine) available from any natural food protein source. BCAAs help prevent muscle breakdown and spare glycogen during exercise.
BCAAs, most notably leucine, help stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS), an essential anabolic process needed to build lean muscle after bouts of resistance exercise.
Does Whey Contain Lactose?
Lactose is a milk sugar that causes bloating and stomach discomfort in some individuals. Whey is usually low in lactose. Individuals with lactose intolerance should select a pure whey protein isolate, which has less than 0.1 g of lactose per tablespoon (15 g).
How and When Should You Take Whey?
Whey protein is commonly taken either 1-2 hours before your workout or immediately post-workout.
No, you don't have to slug back a shake within a 30-45-minute "anabolic window" after a workout to get the health benefits. Anytime within a couple of hours is probably just fine. But, if the immediate post-workout ritual of having a shake helps you remember to have one, do it!
Delaying your intake of whey can hinder muscle growth and repair, as well as leave you feeling more sore for your next workout.
Isn't Whey Just For Bodybuilders?
Absolutely not, although bodybuilders were the first to recognize the incredible potent benefits of consuming whey, now whey has undoubtedly become the #1 used protein supplement by people from all walks of life:
Whey For Active Teens & Healthy Adults – Whey protein provides the body with a complete amino acid profile that is easily digested and tolerated.
Whey For Elderly Individuals – Whey protein can help prevent bone loss in elderly individuals keeping them strong and healthy as the body ages.
Whey For Expectant Mothers – Expectant mothers protein requirements are increased by as much as 30% so whey protein is an ideal source to obtain the extra protein required.
Whey For a Compromised Immune System – Whey protein enhances the body's immune system by raising gluathione levels. Gluathione is a powerful anti-oxidant with the ability to help the body reduce the risk of infections by improving the responsive ability of the immune system.
In Short, Whey Protein Is For Eveyone!
How Much Protein Should I Consume on a Daily Basis?
As a general rule your daily intake of protein should be at least one gram for every kilogram of bodyweight. However, many studies have shown that active individuals & strength athletes benefit from additional protein.
Please consult below as a quick reference of our recommendations.
Activity Level Daily Protein Intake
- Average/Sedentary – 1 gram per kilogram of bodyweight
- Active – 1.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight
- Athletes/Very Active – 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight
Anything over 2 g per kg of weight is considered excessive.
A typical whey protein shake provides an entire meal’s worth of protein, 20 to 30 grams, in a single serving. However, shakes can’t provide the fiber or antioxidants that many protein-rich whole foods can. So although whey protein shakes are an easy source of high-quality protein, it’s preferable to get most of your protein from whole foods.
So to wrap it all up:
- If you’re lactose intolerant, choose whey protein isolate in its non-denatured form (Microfiltered).
- If you can tolerate small amounts of lactose, choose a whey protein powder that is based on whey protein concentrate (containing at least 80-85% protein). Whey protein concentrates are not only cheaper than whey protein isolates but also contain more bioactive and health promoting substances.
- You can find a mix of whey protein concentrate & isolate and that has some hydrolysates in it. Hydrolysates will increase amino acid availability and insulin to your muscles (and thereby maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis and inhibit muscle protein breakdown.