What is Whey Protein? Everything You Need to Know

So you are hitting the gym for fitness, muscle gain, or just staying healthy. You may even be a professional bodybuilder… But, a huge factor that will add leaps and bounds to your gains is your diet, one of the three critical points in the muscle-building triangle. That being rest, diet, and training; as you have probably heard before, most of the growing is done outside of the gym, and lifting weights is the easy part! that diet must contain a lot of protein if you are building muscle; we mean plenty of it. Protein is not just for building muscle, either. A protein is a molecule composed of amino acids that play a vital role in the proper functioning of the body. They form the building blocks of body structures such as skin and hair and other essential substances like enzymes, cytokines, and antibodies. Below we will expand on what else it offers, what whey protein is, its benefits, dosages, side effects, and more.

  • What is Protein?
  • What Are Proteins Made of?
  • What do Proteins do for the body?
  • What is whey protein, and how is it made?
  • The step-by-step process
  • Benefits of whey protein, including evidence
  • How much whey protein do I need to take?
  • Side effects of whey protein
  • Is it safe to take whey protein?
  • Conclusion

What is Protein?

Proteins are composed of many fundamental units called amino acids. Our body needs sufficient dietary protein to provide the necessary amino acids for the growth and upkeep of our cells and tissues. The amount of protein we need can vary depending on our age and stage of life. The European Food Safety Authority recommends that adults consume at least 0.83 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, for example, 58 grams per day for a person weighing 70 kilograms. While proteins from plant and animal sources can differ in their quality and ease of digestion, this is generally not a concern for most people as long as they get enough protein overall. Aiming for diverse protein sources that promote our and the planet’s health is very important.

What Are Proteins Made of?

The types of proteins comprise many different amino acids linked together… Twenty different versions of the amino acid building blocks are found in animal and plant sources. A protein is made up of 300 or more amino acids, and the number and sequence of the amino acids are a tailored fit for each of the proteins; like we have the alphabet and can make words, proteins can do the same with amino acids in millions of different ways, an entire protein language if you will. This all depends on the number and the created formation, which dictates what shape it will form into. The shape is important as it will make the protein fate of what function it will be used for; every single species has its characteristic proteins, including us humans.

The amino acids have been placed into one of two lits, essential or non-essential. The essential ones can not be produced by the body and must come from your diet, and well, you guessed it, non-essential ones are produced by the body and do not need to come from the diet.

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What do Proteins do for the body?

Our bodies comprise many different proteins, thousands for that matter, each with a specific function. They make up the structure of our cells and the tissue and many enzymes, hormones, and proteins that our immune cells secrete. Throughout our lives, they are constantly being replaced, essentially what keeps us alive; this process is known as protein synthesis, which will need a constant supply of amino acids. Some amino acids are recycled from the breakdown of the old body proteins; we can not rely on this, though, as we must eat protein in our diets to keep up with the body’s demands.

Protein is the main character when it comes to tissue and cell growth. Plenty of it is required when the body changes or the demand for it has increased, such as during pregnancy, childhood, adolescence, and when building muscle in the gym or recovering from an injury.

What is whey protein, and how is it made?

In simple terms, whey protein powder is a by-product of the cheese-making industry. Believe it or not, it starts with cow’s milk, which, if you did not know, contains two types of protein called casein and whey, the ratios being roughly eighty per cent and twenty per cent. When cheese is being produced, the milk has to be heated to kill any bad bacteria that are harmful to you. The rise in temperature splits the milk into curds and liquid whey. Once they have been separated, the curds are strained, and what’s left over is liquid whey. It is mainly a water mix with protein, carbs, fat, and lactose. To get it into powder form and the packaging you are after, it will undergo a multi-step filtering system and be dried out to be turned into powder.

The step-by-step process

  • 1. Cows milk:

Whey protein is an animal-based product as it comes from cows, and the milk they freshly produce is collected. In the UK, the milk will contain no antibiotics so that the milk will be pure, and this is very important; cows are regularly grass-fed, too, which will ensure the milk is high quality. Animal welfare standards are higher in Europe, particularly in the UK. The UK is considered to have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the European Union and is one of only three countries in the world to have received a grade A for animal welfare. Milk in its natural state will contain roughly five per cent lactose, four per cent fat, and three-point five per cent protein.

  • 2. Transportation:

Once the milk has been collected, it will be cooled. After cooling, it will be transferred to the closest factory or its required destination and stored in large refrigerated tanks.

  • 3. Pasteurization:

When the milk comes out fresh straight from the cow, it will contain bacteria that are harmful to humans, so drinking it at this point can cause illness. To be safe, it will need to be pasteurized. This is because it will kill any pathogens. To do this, it must be heated briefly at a high temperature (~73°C) and cooled almost instantly. The nutrients that are in milk will withstand this process and be kept. The only thing removed is the harmful bacteria. Once this process has been completed, the milk you are left with has twenty per cent whey and eighty per cent casein.

  • 4. Separation of the milk:

Enzymes are then thrown into the mix, such as Chymosin, Chymosin and proteases, which are like the curdling milk masterminds, using their enzymatic abilities to transform milk from smooth to curdled. They’re like the secret agents of the dairy world, disrupting the casein micelle structure and completing their mission of curdling milk. When the main part is curdled, making it into a solid part that is used as the base product for a variety of different cheeses, what’s remaining is the liquid whey!

  • 5. Micro-filtration:

Now the liquid whey is sent off to be filtered into a high-protein liquid whey. During this stage, the whey is purified even more to remove the carbohydrates, fats, and water. The liquid whey is then filtered through a formation of micro filters. This will take place in a manufacturing plant. A cold environment is needed for this process, and it is natural. Once done, it will remove most of the fat and lactose from the liquid. The end product is the base of whey protein concentrate.

  • 6. Ultra-filtration (WPI only):

The whey that has been concentrated is ultra filtred to make whey protein isolate. This works by size exclusion; the ultra-filtration membrane allows the substance to go through but will keep the larger whey complex. This is the stage all the fat and lactose are removed.

  • 7. Spray drying:

The high-protein whey liquid is then put into a dryer. The liquid is put through hot and cold air, quickly removing the water. This process must also be done correctly to ensure that the whey does not lose all of its nutritional value and the protein does not get denatured when the moisture residue evaporates.

  • 8. Quality control:

The unflavoured powder is tested for quality to ensure it suits the customer. The amount is measured strictly. It must contain at least eighty to ninety per cent protein.

  • 9. Blending:

Once this step has been completed, the whey protein powder is put into packages and transferred to its last facility. This is when it will blend with other ingredients, such as flavourings, sweeteners, etc.

  • 10. Packaging:

And last but not least, the powder is packaged and sealed into its canisters. A sample must be sent to get tested in a lab, using an infrared machine to accurately measure the amount of protein, carbs, fat and amino acids, and all the other nutrients.

Benefits of whey protein, including evidence

  • 1. It promotes muscle growth:

The sad truth is as we age, our muscle mass naturally declines, which can increase body fat and raise the risk of chronic diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes! However, this decline can be slowed or even reversed with a combination of strength training and a healthy diet (1). Strength training and consuming high-protein foods or supplements, particularly whey protein, effectively prevent muscle loss. Whey protein is rich in leucine, a branched-chain amino acid beneficial for muscle growth (2). Some studies suggest that whey protein may be slightly more effective than other types of protein for growing muscle ( 3,4 5,) but supplements may not make a significant difference if your diet lacks protein. Without a good diet, you might as well not start.

  • 2. Whey protein may lower blood pressure:

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is one of many leading risks of heart disease. Many studies have linked dairy product consumption to reducing blood pressure. (6,7). This is because the effect has been linked to a group of bioactive peptides in dairy called angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors (ACE-inhibitors) (8, 9)

The ACE – inhibitors in whey protein are called lactokinins (10). Animal studies have shown the benefits of blood pressure and its effect ( 11, 12). But, consider that a limited number of human studies have investigated the effects of whey proteins on our blood pressure. Many professionals classify the evidence to be inconclusive. One study for overweight individuals showed that taking whey as a supplement, 54 g a day over four weeks, lowered systolic blood pressure by not a huge amount, only 4%. Casein was shown to have the same effect.

  • 3. Whey is an excellent source of high-quality protein:

As discussed in the previous text, whey is the liquid that separates from milk during cheese production. It is a complete high-quality protein that, again, as explained, contains all the essential amino acids. Also, an upside is that it is easily digestible and absorbed in your gut very quickly compared to other types of protein (14). This quality makes it one of the best protein sources you can buy! Make sure to buy the correct one, though. We have a top 10 protein powder list if you are interested…

If you did not know, there are three types of protein powder, called concentrate (WPC), hydrolysate (WPH), and isolate (WPI). You will find that concentrate is the cheapest and the most common.

  • 4. Whey protein may help the body’s antioxidant defences:

Antioxidants are in the body to protect it from damage… which is caused by oxidation. This can reduce the risk of various chronic diseases. One of the most crucial antioxidants in the human body is glutathione. Unlike other antioxidants which we get from our diet, glutathione is produced by our body. However, glutathione production depends on the availability of specific amino acids, like cysteine. Thus, high cysteine foods like whey protein may boost the body’s natural antioxidant defence. Studies have shown that whey protein can reduce oxidative stress and increase glutathione levels in humans and animals ( 16, 17, 18)

  • 5. Whey protein may be helpful for inflammatory bowel disease:

Also known as IBD, it is a condition characterized by chronic inflammation in the lining of the digestive tract. Also, it is a collective term for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. In rodents and humans, the whey protein was shown to have beneficial effects on IBD ( 19, 20 ), But do not take it as a definitive answer as further studies are needed to make any strong claims.

How much whey protein do I need to take?

A recommended dosage of the product is usually 1-2 scoops equating to roughly 25 – 50 grams, this is typically taken after a workout, but as always, you must follow the serving instructions on the package you buy with. Adding whey protein to your diet will waste time if your protein intake is already high. Your body can only process so much.

Side effects of whey protein

  • 1. Formation of kidney stones:

When consuming whey protein, there can be an added risk of kidney stone formation. This is not a direct cause, so don’t think you will suddenly develop one by drinking it. Some experts believe it can worsen the condition if you already suffer. Preventing this is easy, though, by taking in lots of dietary fibre and water.

  • 2. Problems with digestion:

Lactose is in whey protein. If you are lactose sensitive, you may have digestion issues. Not only people who are lactose intolerant suffer from this issue. If you have this issue, we suggest you go for a whey protein concentrate, as it does not contain as much lactose. (WPI) whey protein isolate is more refined and can deplete good bacteria in your stomach, causing problems with digestion such as gas, bloating stomach pain, and constipation.

  • 3. Nausea:

Another side effect of consuming whey protein can be stomach discomfort; sometimes, it may cause vomiting. Decreasing the amount of protein taken is recommended to avoid these unpleasant symptoms. This is rare, so do not overthink.

  • 4. Risk of Gout:

While there is no concrete evidence that whey protein causes gout, it can exacerbate the condition if you already have it. If gout is in the family, it is best to consult a doctor before consuming whey protein.

  • 5. Diarrhea:

A potential side effect of consuming excessive amounts of whey protein is diarrhoea. This is a result of whey protein’s impact on the digestive system. It can even lead to bloody stools, particularly in infants.

  • 6. Fatigue and weakness

Some people may experience difficulty in digesting whey protein, which can lead to various adverse effects such as extreme fatigue, weakness, bloating, gas and cramps. Their body may have trouble processing and breaking down the protein.

  • 7. Blood Acidity Increase:

A potential side effect of consuming whey protein is an increase in the blood’s acidity levels. This is because when there is an excessive protein in the bloodstream, the kidneys may have difficulty metabolizing it. As a result, the pH of the blood rises, leading to an acidic environment. This condition is known as metabolic acidosis, which can negatively affect the body. It is essential to be mindful and think about the amount of protein consumed and to, without a doubt, consult with a healthcare professional before consuming whey protein, particularly if you have any pre-existing kidney or liver conditions.

  • 8. Wheezing:

Some people ( uncommon) may have an allergic reaction to whey protein, particularly those who are lactose intolerant. These reactions can manifest in symptoms such as difficulty breathing and wheezing. If you experience these symptoms or think you are, do not hesitate to seek medical attention immediately! It is essential.

Is it safe to take whey protein?

Based on current research, whey protein is safe for athletes and weight trainers who want to add more protein to their diet. But, the National Institutes of Health advise a caution, at your own risk, as it is trying to say that when consuming high amounts, experts need more data to see the adverse effects of high intake.

Conclusion

Whey protein is a popular and effective supplement for athletes and active individuals looking to increase their protein intake. It is a high-quality protein source quickly digested and absorbed by the body, providing essential amino acids for muscle growth and recovery. However, caution should be exercised (pardon the pun) when consuming high amounts of protein, as excessive intake can lead to digestive problems and other issues over time. Athletes and active individuals can consult with a healthcare professional before increasing their protein intake to ensure it is safe and appropriate for their needs and health status.

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