Whey protein powder is a widely available protein supplement that you can find in every health food chain and just about every grocery store. Whey protein powder can to be added to morning smoothies, oatmeal, pancakes, homemade cookies and is used commercially to make bars and other protein supplements. A sought after high quality protein, whey is one of the two proteins found in cow’s milk.

When milk is coagulated the proteins divide out into semi-solid lumps and a liquid portion. Casein protein is found in the lumps and curds (80% of the milk protein) whereas whey protein is found in the liquid portion (20% of the milk protein).

Whey protein is considered the “fast-acting” dairy protein meaning that your body can absorb the nutrients quickly. This is especially important to support muscle health and performance. Like all proteins from animal sources, whey protein is a complete protein meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids needed by your body. Plant based proteins are not complete proteins and require you to pair it with another plant protein for a complete amino acid profile.

To meet the demands of the consumer, whey protein and it’s many benefits have been processed into 3 different protein powders available as whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate and whey protein hydrolysate.

Whey protein concentrate: Is from the first filtering step in the production of whey protein isolate. It is typically 70-80% protein by weight with small amounts of carbohydrate (lactose) and fat.

Whey protein isolate: Further filtration of the concentrate creates a powder that is approximately 90% protein by weight with negligible amounts of carbohydrate (lactose) and fat. It is a good choice if you are lactose intolerant.

Whey protein hydrolysate: This powder has been further processed into shorter amino acid chains. There is some argument that hydrolysate has quicker digestion and absorption but the research is conflicting on it’s benefits.

Why Do We Need It?

The popularity of including whey protein powder in your diet has been spurred by recent studies showing that athletes, active people and older adults may benefit from whey’s ability to build and maintain lean muscle, help with long-term weight control and prevent age-related muscle loss.

  1. Building Muscles

The amino acids in protein are the building blocks of muscle. Whey protein is particularly effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis because of its high concentration of the branched chain amino acid leucine. While all of the essential amino acids are needed to build muscle, leucine is the key amino acid that turns on your body’s muscle building machinery. Researchers have found that after ingesting isolated soy, casein and whey protein powder, muscle protein synthesis was greatest with whey protein both at rest and following exercise.1

Whether you are an Olympic athlete, weekend warrior or average gym-goer, it’s important to eat plenty of high quality protein throughout the day to build strong muscles. Include good dietary sources of protein such as eggs, chicken, fish or milk and consider the convenience of a whey protein powder when your diet needs an extra boost.

  1. Weight Loss Success

Protein plays an important role when you are cutting back calories to lose weight. Typical calorie restricted diets often lose muscle alongside the shedding of pounds. Whey protein powder has been shown to minimize this muscle loss in both active people and older adults.2,3 If you are looking to lose weight, keeping your muscles strong is especially important to maximize your calorie burning at rest. For continued success, combine the strength benefits of whey protein with emerging research showing that whey protein as well as casein (the milk proteins) may help to manage your appetite long term.

Space your intake of high quality protein equally throughout the day to control your hunger and maintain lean muscle. A minimum of 20g at each meal is a good place to start. Match this good intake of whey protein alongside wise eating and exercise habits for permanent weight loss results.

  1. Stay Strong as You Age

As you get older, the loss of muscle mass, strength and function is common and can result in a disease called sarcopenia. To fight this aging process, your body requires additional whey protein to stimulate muscle building and prevent this decline. Older adults needs 25-30 grams of high quality protein at each meal to stop age-associated muscle mass loss.2,4 While total daily protein intake is important, well-spaced meals high in leucine-rich whey protein is key to staying strong as you age.

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For Further Reading:

  1. Tang et al. (2009). Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. Journal of Applied Physiology. 107, 987-992.
  1. M. Devries, S. Philips. (2015). Supplemental Protein in Support of Muscle Mass and Health: Advantage Whey. Journal of Food Science. 80(suppl 1): A8-15.
  1. Hector AJ et al. (2015). Whey protein supplementation preserves postprandial myofibrillar protein synthesis during short-term energy restriction in overweight and obese adults. Journal of Nutrition, 145(2): 246-252.
  1. Bauer et al. (2013). Evidence-based recommendations for optimal dietary protein intake in older people: a position paper from the PROT-AGE Study Group. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 14: 542-549.