What is Whey Protein Powder and Benefits it Has to offer

Whey protein is the most common protein supplement in the health industry. We will uncover what whey protein is and the benefits of supplementing with whey in this ultimate guide to whey protein powder.

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    To properly develop muscle, build strength, improve athletic performance and become an overall healthier individual, it’s essential to consume a sufficient amount of protein. This goes for those who live a sedentary lifestyle as well as those who exercise frequently. Of course, the more you exercise, the more critical protein becomes in muscle repair, muscle protein synthesis, and stimulating muscle growth.

    In short, consuming protein is imperative to ensure that you get the most out of your resistance training. How do you know whether you’re consuming enough protein and essential amino acids, you ask?

    Great question!

    While consuming enough protein to build lean muscle can easily be accomplished through diet and nutrition, many will opt for supplementing with whey protein powder. This is not only a means of insurance in consuming adequate amounts of protein, but it also provides convenience to the consumer.

    With that said, not all protein supplements are created equal. In other words, some forms of protein, in this case – whey protein, are better than others. Whey protein is a higher quality protein than its counterparts because of its amino acid contents, which are essential for absorption, including its nutrient profile important for general health.

    Additionally, studies have shown that whey protein can help you increase strength, gain lean muscle mass and lose body fat. It’s important to note that not all studies show similar results with other types of protein.

    So, now that you’ve been brought up to speed with the introduction of whey protein, the remainder of this article will detail essential facts about what is whey protein, how it works, and how whey protein supplements can help you reach your desired goals.

    What is Whey Protein Powder

    At its most basic, whey protein is a protein that combines numerous isolates to form the highest quality of protein. Whey is often a by-product of cheese making and is typically what is found atop yogurt products, cow’s milk products, and more.

    As you can tell, whey is a key component of dairy. To dumb it down, milk is made up of two proteins. One being casein and the second being Whey protein. The ratio stands at about 80%/20%, respectively.

    So, you may be wondering how whey protein powder supplements are made. In short, through various cheesemaking processes, whey protein goes through several steps to become the protein powder consumers know it to be — a powder-formed protein supplement that is added to shakes, meal replacements, and protein bars.

    To complete the question of “what is whey protein and its benefits“, it’s simply a complete protein – meaning it contains the nine amino acids essential to our health. These amino acids include leucine, isoleucine, valine, among others. Why is it important? Essential amino acids are crucial to muscle protein synthesis and the breakdown of energy.

    Benefits of Whey Protein

    Without adequate protein and essential amino acids, our bodies can’t function properly. After all, proteins are the building blocks of our system as a whole. So why is it that so many bodybuilders and athletes alike take whey protein shakes? For that very reason – proteins are the building blocks of what produces muscle growth, manufactures hormones, repairs cellular damage, and build up our immune systems. Without enough food from complete protein sources, our muscles wouldn’t repair properly, which in turn could result in injury and poor health.

    In this section, you’ll learn the advantages of protein, and more specifically, the benefits of whey protein supplementation and why you should consider supplementing with it.

    Boosts ROI During Resistance Training

    While protein is essential whether you exercise or not, it’s even more imperative if you do, especially if you partake in a resistance training regime intending to build lean muscle mass. Studies show that more significant gains in both strength and lean muscle have been the result by supplementing with whey protein in consistent resistance training.

    In fact, A study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism summarized that “those who supplemented with whey protein during resistance training had an almost 5-percent (or 5.5-pound) greater increase in lean tissue mass compared to those who didn’t supplement.”

    Another study that followed an intensive resistance training regimen of 10-weeks in length found that those who supplemented with whey protein isolates noticed more gains in lean muscle mass and strength and a fat reduction than those who supplemented with casein.

    Pretty impressive results if you ask me!

    To get even more specific, the protein sources that were supplemented in these studies, and is essentially the most studied protein source today, was whey protein. In comparison to its counterparts (casein, soy, etc.), whey protein outweighs its competitors in a superior fashion.

    Lean Muscle Mass Gains

    As mentioned previously, protein, and more specifically, amino acids, are the building blocks of our muscular system. Because of whey’s full spectrum of essential amino acids compared to other forms of proteins, more remarkable results are witnessed, muscle mass being one of them. For context, just one scoop of a whey protein powder typically offers 20-25 grams of protein. Of that, 2-2.5 grams of leucine (once of the most important of the 9 essential amino acids) is present. Why is this important to know?

    Leucine is a key amino acid essential to building muscle, preventing muscle breakdown, and stimulating muscle protein synthesis. In part, this is why whey proteins are so effective. Not surprisingly, whey is very rich in this particular amino acid. Go figure!…

    Lastly, because of the fast absorption of whey protein compared to its counterparts, muscle can repair faster, which, in turn, helps the muscles grow larger. So, if you’re consistent with your workout regimen, supplementing with whey protein is a must. By doing so, you reduce the chances of fatigue and injury and increase the chances of muscle repair and muscle growth.

    Supports Weight Loss

    While protein is primarily known for its role in muscle growth and muscle repair, it also has the ability to support one’s weight loss journey. How? Because protein is the most satiating of macronutrients, higher protein diets can reduce caloric intake, improve metabolism, and ultimately aid in long-term weight loss.

    Though it’s possible to reach a healthy diet rich in protein intake, it’s pretty convenient for many to supplement with protein. In short, by increasing your protein intake by supplementing with whey protein powder, you increase overall protein intake. In turn, consuming extra protein increases energy expenditure, thus increasing total weight loss over time.

    Always remember that none of this is possible without a consistent, overall healthy diet and exercise regimen. Supplementation is only one piece of the puzzle.

    Speeds Up Recovery

    When completing a workout, your muscles need immediate attention to repair. This is accomplished through the consumption of essential amino acids from proteins, such as leucine, valine, and isoleucine, and more. By supplementing with such nutrients, you thus help rebuild into a bigger, faster, and stronger individual.

    A study from Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that “whey protein delivers leucine to the muscles faster than casein, stimulating muscle protein synthesis sooner.”

    As you can take from this study, whey protein is the superior protein. While casein has its advantages, it does not provide the benefit of a speedy recovery. Nonetheless, for those with the budget, casein should be your primary protein for pre-bed supplementation. Why? In short, casein offers slower digestive benefits, which is vital when sleeping.

    May Suppress Appetite

    As mentioned earlier, protein, and more specifically whey protein, is a very satiating thing to consume. By consuming it in larger amounts, you will feel full for longer periods of time. As a result, you become relieved of hunger, which will result in not binging on poor food choices.

    In relation to weight loss, whey protein has been shown to increase satiety and reduce short-term food intake. In fact, in a study comparing the effects that different proteins have on hunger and appetite, they found that whey protein has the most significant impact on a reduction in appetite!

    Additional Benefits of Whey Protein

    While the benefits mentioned above are the most common, whey protein offers many benefits.

    • A balanced source of EAA’s
    • High protein efficiency ratio
    • Excellent source of BCAA’s (leucine, isoleucine, valine)
    • Excellent source of glutamine
    • Rapid absorption

    Types of Whey Protein

    There are three types of whey protein powder on the market today: isolate, concentrate, and hydrolysate.

    Each whey protein is different concerning the way it’s processed and its nutrient content. In general, concentrate and isolate are the most popular. With that said, there are advantages and disadvantages for each. Let’s take a closer look:

    Whey protein concentrate

    While many have the preconceived notion that whey protein concentrate is a bad choice to that of isolate, concentrate can, in fact, be the better choice. This, of course, comes down to what your goals are.

    • 70-80 percent protein
    • low amounts of lactose and fat
    • Concentrate is made up of less protein per gram than that of isolate
    • Good concentrates contain higher levels of growth factors, phospholipids, and lipids

    Whey protein isolate

    Whey protein isolate is the most popular choice of protein supplementation, and for good reason. It’s great for those that live with lactose intolerance, it contains the highest amounts of protein, and for other reasons we won’t get into, it’s a safe and practical choice for all.

    • more processed to remove all the fat and lactose
    • at least 90 percent protein
    • Those that have an intolerance to milk and dairy tend to fair better with whey isolate versus whey concentrate

    Whey protein hydrolysate

    The least common form of whey protein, however, is essential in specific scenarios nonetheless. Because of its pre-digestive characteristics, this form of protein doesn’t require as much biological energy to digest. This can be a benefit for a minority of individuals for obvious reasons.

    – Whey hydrolysate is the “pre-digested” version of whey protein

    – doesn’t require as much digestion as the other two types.

    How To Mix Whey Protein Powder

    Now that we have that out of the way, the next question is how to consume this protein powder. In other words, how do you mix it and with what?

    In obvious fashion, you can mix it with just about anything. In short, however, water, milk, coconut water, or smoothie tend to be the most popular choices. If you’re looking to eat it rather than drinking it, the recipes out there today are endless for using whey protein powders in baking.

    Below are the two most common choices for mixing:

    Mixing with Milk

    Cow’s milk has been used for centuries as a means to gain muscle and grow. With that said, if you’re in a muscle-building phase in need of more calories, mixing your shakes with milk is likely your best option. The reason is that milk not only contains extra calories, but it contains extra nutrients. These additional calories, nutrients, and proteins can assist in protein synthesis, and thus, more effective results. Furthermore, cow’s milk contains around 2.8% casein, making it an excellent option for shakes that digest slower than if mixed with water.

    See below for an in-depth view of different kinds of milk to use in your protein shake (per 200ml):

    • Skimmed Milk: Fat: 0.6g Sugar: 10g Protein: 7.2g Carbohydrates: 10g Calories: 74
    • Semi-skimmed Milk: Fat: 3.6g Sugar: 9.6g Protein: 7.2g Carbohydrates: 8.6g Calories: 100
    • Whole Milk: Fat: 7.4g Sugar: 9.4g Protein: 7g Carbohydrates: 9.4g Calories: 122

    Mixing with Water

    Mixing your whey protein powder with water is not only the most hydrating but also the most convenient, the least expensive, and the most accessible way to do so. However, before you decide to use water for these reasons, be sure to become clear on your goals because you may benefit more by mixing with milk. As mentioned, the extra proteins, nutrients, calories, and fats from milk may be just what you need to reach your goals. Water may or may not cut it.

    As for the positives of water, absorption is maximized. This is key to getting the proteins to your muscles for repair.

    As many of you know and understand, there’s a true value in drinking substantial amounts of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and healthy. More so when it comes to partaking in physical activities. Well, what easier way to kill two birds with one stone than to mix your whey protein with water!

    When Should You Consume Whey Protein

    Now that you’ve been informed of all the benefits of whey protein and how you should mix it, it’s time to learn the next important step to the process – when should you take whey protein powder?!

    One of the more apparent times you should consume your whey protein is immediately after a workout. This is the most crucial of times. Why? Because your muscles have just been worked hard, which in turn creates microtears in the tissue that need repair to grow bigger and stronger. By fuelling with whey protein post-workout, you give your body the best chances of growth.

    Also, consider consuming a protein shake before bedtime. Why? This will provide you and your muscles with the protein needed to avoid becoming catabolic overnight and thus eliminate the chance for your body to use muscle as energy. As mentioned already, mixing your whey protein shake with cow’s milk before bed will help reduce absorption time to avoid this.

    Lastly, as we all know, breakfast is an essential meal. Be sure to include some protein in your breakfast, as well as every other meal throughout the day!

    In a rush at breakfast time? no worries, mix a scoop of whey protein powered in with your favorite cereal or oatmeal.

    Protein to Build Muscle

    While protein powder is an effective means to supplement when you’re in a rush or haven’t hit your macros for the day, truth be told, the best protein that you can fuel yourself with is real food.

    While every supplement brand will tell you otherwise, know that this is all a marketing tactic. If you can have protein via whole natural foods vs a protein shake, always opt for the food.

    The food you eat provides you with all of the building blocks, energy resources, and nutrients your body needs to recover and build muscle. If you ever have a meal that doesn’t provide a sufficient amount of protein, or if you’re on the go, then and only then is when you should supplement with whey protein powder.

    Cons of Whey Protein

    As for all supplements, whey protein may cause issues and for some individuals. This is typically due to overconsumption. With that said, whey protein is safe for the majority of people. However, as all supplements go, there are some risks to consider in order to remain on the safe side.

    Digestive Issues

    Whey comes from dairy. Many are lactose intolerant to some degree. Because of this, consuming whey may cause some to have stomach discomfort. If this is you, consider opting for plant-based protein sources instead.

    Untrustworthy Products

    The supplement industry is not approved nor monitored by the FDA. Because of this, there are many sketchy brands and products on the market. This is why it’s important to do your research before investing or consuming any supplement.

    The Clean Label Project, an organization that tests for label transparency protocols and safety measures, tested 134 protein products. What did they find? In part, they found that many of them were contaminated with heavy metals – something that is very dangerous to one’s health. Some were even contaminated with pesticides and carcinogens such as BPA.

    Kidney Damage

    While there is no real evidence that too much protein can damage the kidneys, there are studies that show that high protein diets can put a level of stress and pressure on the kidneys. If you do, however, have a pre-existing kidney function issue, this is something you’re going to want to meek medical advice with and discuss with your doctor.

    In a more extensive reviewed study compiling a total of 74 individual studies, the review showed that the effect that protein has on one’s kidneys showed little to no conclusive evidence that those with a healthy diet should restrict protein intake in any way.

    In short, while kidney damage may be apparent in a small number of cases, there is no evidence to show that the correlation is strong enough to consider it a significant source of stress or concern.

    Wrapping Up

    Whey protein is an incredible tool to have in your toolbox. It’s convenient, and it’s effective. Whey protein is a healthy protein option for any diet and can be absorbed and utilized efficiently.

    Whether you’re an athlete, bodybuilder, or regular joe, everyone can benefit from supplementing with whey protein, not only to gain mass and strength but to build an overall healthier body.

    With respect to muscle gain, fat loss, and weight loss, protein is imperative. Among that, Whey protein is the king of kings.

    Just remember, whey protein is not an alternative to a healthy diet. Only use it as a supplement for training purposes and convenient purposes. Always opt for healthy, whole foods packed with proteins before supplementing with any protein powder.

    About The Author

    Michael Collins

    Michael Collins

    Michael is a gym enthusiast with experience that spans more than 20 years. He started his exhilarating journey of keeping fit in his late teens, and over the years, he has immensely grown to become a resourceful gem in matters of fitness.

    He has been writing for many years, focusing on answering all the questions you may have on nutrition, muscle building and fitness. Keeping fit and staying healthy is his main passion, and this is evidenced in the articles he writes in a simple and understandable language out of intensive reading and real-life experiences.