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The Ultimate Guide to Whey Protein Powder

When it comes to protein powder, whey protein powder happens to be one of the most popular options among not just athletes but those who are simply looking for a convenient way to increase the protein intake in their diet. Whey protein powder has also been shown to carry several health benefits that include weight gain & loss.

Ahead, you’ll find the ultimate guide to whey protein powder, including how to make sure that the whey protein powder you choose is superior quality.

man drinking protein shake

Introduction to Whey Protein Powder 

What is Whey Protein Made of?

Whey is a type of protein found in milk that happens to be considered complete, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids. (1), Whey protein is primarily made of eight different proteins which include Beta-lactoglobulin, Alpha-lactalbumin, Glycomacropeptide (GMP), Immunoglobulins, Bovine Serum Albumin (BSA), Lactoferrin, Lactoperoxidase, & Lysozyme.  You can find whey in the watery part of milk that becomes separated during the cheese-making process. It’s also found in yogurt in the liquid that generally sits at the top of the container when you first open the lid. 

Whey Protein Flavors

vanilla and chocolate Lean Whey Protein Powder

Whey protein on its own generally isn’t associated with a very palatable flavor, which is why you will often find whey protein powders come in different flavors. With that said, always check the ingredient list as you want to steer clear of products that include added sweeteners.

While chocolate, vanilla, & strawberry are the most common flavors, some protein powder companies like to stretch out and offer more unique flavorings like cookie dough or caramel.

 

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Is Whey Protein Good For You?

High-quality whey protein powder is known to offer a number of impressive benefits and may be especially helpful for those who are looking to gain muscle and lose fat. (2) Bodybuilders, athletes, and individuals with nutritional deficiencies have all benefited from using high-quality whey protein to supplement their healthy diets. Like most supplements, whey protein is good for you when taken in correct dosages.

Quality Matters!

While whey protein comes with plenty of benefits, as with any supplement, quality is key. Avoid any product that contains filler ingredients or unnecessary sugars, and if possible, comes from grass-fed beef.

Also, watch out for dangerous ingredients such as artificial food dyes, and soy lecithin, which is commonly used as an emulsifier. Soy happens to be a massively genetically modified crop in the US, so it’s best to steer clear of it.

Clean Label Project logo

It’s also important to note that not all companies may list all the ingredients that are actually in the powder. For example, The Clean Label Project found that a number of tested protein powders had high levels of both toxins and heavy metals. (3) The takeaway here is to stick with a protein powder that comes from a company that offers purity testing and quality standards, while also being completely transparent about what ingredients are used in their product.

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Casein vs. Whey: What’s The Difference?

milk in a bottle and glass

A common point of confusion when talking about whey protein powder has to do with the difference between whey and casein. Both are proteins found in milk; casein makes up 80% and whey makes up 20% of the protein content. Whey is able to be separated from the casein protein. (4) Casein is usually digested slower than whey because it becomes less soluble when it reaches your gut. Whey, on the other hand, is digested quicker because it contains less fat, lactose, sugar, and carbs than casein.

There are also different types of whey protein, including concentrate, isolate, and hydrolyzed. 

Here’s a closer look at each.

Whey Concentrate: This type of whey protein is thought to have the best flavor of all three options, and it does contain some lactose. It’s also made up of about 70-80% protein. 

Whey Isolate: Whey isolate contains more protein, at about 90%, and doesn’t contain as much lactose as whey concentrate. It’s also lower in fat, but it has fewer nutrients than the whey concentrate option. (5)

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Below you’ll find a chart that includes the average nutritional breakdown of the different types of whey protein per 28 grams of whey concentrate and isolate and per 31.3 grams of hydrolyzed whey, which equals out to be roughly one scoop, depending on your protein of choice. (6, 7, 8

Protein Fat Carbs
Whey Concentrate 22.4g 2.8g 0g
Whey Isolate 24.7g 0.3g 0.2g
Hydrolyzed Whey 25g 0g 1g

Other Types of Protein

In addition to whey protein powder, there are a number of other plant-based protein powder options, such as:

Soy: A common plant-based protein powder, but again, not the best choice as soy happens to be a very large GMO crop.

Hemp Protein: Hemp is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids, so it makes a great plant-based option, and it also comes with omega fatty acids.

Brown Rice Protein: A good vegan or vegetarian option that happens to be a more hypoallergenic option for those who are sensitive or allergic to dairy, but tolerate grains ok.

Should You Use Whey Protein Powder?

If you tolerate whey protein powder and you are choosing a high-quality option that’s free from additives and added sugars, whey protein powder can make a great addition to a post-workout shake or even blended into a smoothie for an added boost of protein.

Whey Protein Benefits 

#1 Muscle building

One of the most talked-about benefits of whey protein powder has to do with muscle building. For one, this has to do with the fact that it’s a great source of protein, and protein acts as a building block for muscle growth.

Whey protein is also rich in the amino acid leucine, which research suggests stimulates protein synthesis--the process through which our muscle cells make proteins. (8

The takeaway here is that whey protein makes an excellent post-gym protein powder choice, whether you’re a bodybuilder or are simply looking for a way to help support muscle growth. 

#2 Whey Protein Weight loss

woman mixing protein powder

There’s also been quite a bit of research on the benefits of whey protein powder as it relates to weight loss. One study found that whey protein helped increase fat loss, and since protein is known to be the most satiating macronutrient, it may play a role in curbing appetite too. (9,10

If you are taking whey protein powder to help support weight loss efforts, again, it’s important to keep the quality of your whey protein powder in mind. 

#3 Weight Gain

On the flip side, there’s research that also supports that whey protein powder is beneficial for those dealing with malnutrition, and are looking to either gain weight or keep weight on. (11

#4 Other Health Benefits

  • Rich in Nutrients: A high-quality whey protein powder is also going to provide much more than just protein. Whey protein is also a great source of other beneficial nutrients, including immunoglobulins. 
  • May Help Improve Blood Pressure: A research study found that whey protein powder helped improve blood pressure. (12
  • Wound Healing: Research has also shown whey protein powder to be beneficial for supporting wound healing. (13

Whey Protein Dangers

According to the Mayo Clinic, whey protein is generally safe. However, whey protein powder is not recommended for those who are allergic or sensitive to dairy. When it comes to side effects, consuming too much whey protein might cause digestive discomfort. Whey protein may have negative effects if taken in high doses. Side effects may include upset stomach, nausea, bloating, cramps, reduced appetite, fatigue and headache. If you have kidney or liver-related health issues, it’s best to speak with your doctor first before adding a protein supplement like whey into your current routine. 

Common Myths About Whey Protein Powder

  • Myth #1 Whey Protein Makes You Gain Weight: If you are keeping your calorie intake within a certain budget and fitting whey protein into your healthy and nourishing diet, it’s not something that suddenly causes weight gain. It really comes down to finding a balance and what works best for you and your body.
  • Myth #2 Whey Protein is Only Beneficial Post-Workout: While many bodybuilders and athletes rely on whey protein powder as their post-workout protein source, you can enjoy whey protein at other times of day too. Some enjoy a whey protein shake between meals to help promote satiety, while others enjoy whey protein before bed to help refuel those tired muscles during sleep. 
  • Myth #3 You Can’t Overdo It: Too much of a good thing isn’t good, so yes, there is such a thing as too much whey protein. Not only may excessive amounts actually lead to weight gain, but we don’t want to be overdoing our whey protein intake when we may already be eating a protein-rich diet. The bottom line is that more is not the answer here. 

How to Use Whey Protein

Generally speaking, the average dosage for whey protein powder is 1-2 scoops, depending on the whey protein powder you are using. Follow the instruction on the label, and decide on a dose that works best for you depending on how many grams of protein you already consume in your diet. On average, one scoop of whey protein will provide 25 grams of protein. If two scoops at 50 grams will put your daily protein intake high, then it may only be necessary to add one scoop to your shakes or smoothies. Use an individualized approach, and follow the label instructions. 

Daily Protein Requirements

man flexing holding tub of Lean Whey protein

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8g/kg, which is set by the Institute of Medicine. This is the amount that is required to maintain good health in normal people. 

However, exercise elevates these requirements. In a review of the literature, it was suggested that athletes and weightlifters need between 1.2 and 2.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day. As you can see, that is significantly more than the RDA. It is also important to note that this is still less than the often rumored 1 gram of protein per lb of body weight.

Here’s an example of roughly how much protein this would equate to based on weight and gender.

Daily Protein Requirement
180lb (81kg) male 65 grams
130lb (59kg) female 47 grams
180lb (81kg) male athlete 100-165 grams

As mentioned, follow the label on your whey protein powder, but in general, whey protein can be added to your daily shakes and smoothies or enjoyed in water or your milk of choice, 30 minutes post-workout. 

Bonus hack! Using a blender bottle or an immersion blender can help ensure your whey protein is smoothly mixed into your drink of choice without leaving behind any clumps.

Best Whey Protein Powders

Ideally, you’ll want to look for a whey protein powder that checks off several boxes. 

These things include: 

  • Hydrolyzed Whey 
  • Free of refined sugars
  • Free from artificial sweeteners 
  • Contains minimal ingredients only

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Does Protein Powder Go Bad?

As with most things, whey protein powder does have a shelf-life and can go bad. Plus, the protein content may also decline the older the protein powder is meaning it will be less effective. Protein powder is generally safe to consume past the expiration date indicated on the container if there are no visible signs of mold or bacteria. Be sure to check the expiration date on your whey protein powder container to be sure.

Whey Protein Shake Recipes

Ready to start including some whey protein shakes into your current fitness routine? Here are some delicious and easy to make recipes to get you started. 

Chocolate Almond Butter Whey Protein Shake 

chocolate shake in a glass with almonds

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk 
  • 1 frozen banana 
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder 
  • 1 tbsp almond butter 
  • 1 scoop of whey protein powder 
  • 1 tbsp flax seeds

Directions:

  1. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. 
  2. Enjoy!  

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Oatmeal Cookie Dough Shake 

oatmeal protein shake in a glass

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsweetened oat milk 
  • 1 frozen banana 
  • 1 tbsp dark chocolate chips (preferably unsweetened) 
  • 1 tbsp almond butter 
  • 1 scoop of whey protein powder 
  • 1 tbsp rolled oats 
  • 1 tbsp flax seeds

 Directions:

  1. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. 
  2. Enjoy!

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Final Thoughts

woman sitting on counter with bottle of Lean Whey shake in her hand

Whey protein powder makes an excellent protein supplement that can fit into a healthy and balanced diet. The trick is to keep quality in mind and to use it in moderation, without using it to replace protein-rich wholesome foods in your diet.

In combination with a nutritious diet, whey protein may be exactly what your body needs to help refuel post-workout. Consider switching up your protein powder routine and give whey protein a try!