What is whey protein? Types, Benefits & Side-effects.

What is whey protein? Types, Benefits & Side-effects.

Whey protein is probably one of the greatest creation of 21st century, especially when it comes to bodybuilding and fitness.

Some people think it is a supplement for only body builders, some think it is a necessary supplement for all, and other think it is bad for health.

It is a very versatile supplement, you use whey protein for weight loss and gaining lean muscles.

This article covers everything you should know about whey protein, if you are taking it or someone close to you is planning to take it.

What is whey protein?

When milk is used to make cheese, the remaining liquid content is called “whey”. But, it is not in the powder form, but it is watery whey.

This liquid solution is passed through the micro-filters separating the solid particles from the water. Ultra-filtration is used to separate protein molecules from fats and lactose.

These solid particles are then air dried to get the whey powder you see in the market.

Types of whey protein:

There are various types of whey protein depending upon the content, manufacturing steps and the type of milk used.

None of them is superior to other, each have their own benefits and disadvantages.

A particular type of whey can suit someones need more, which doesn’t mean that other types of whey protein are bad. That is why it is important to know each type of whey protein in order to know which whey protein to buy.

Whey concentrate

It can be considered the purest form of the whey powder. This is what you get when you filter and air-dry the liquid by-product of the cheese.

If you are looking for less calories in whey protein, then it is not the best protein type for you.

Although, the protein in a whey concentrate can lie between 29-80%. Most of the manufactures provide you with a product with 75-80% protein.

The problem with whey concentrate is that it has a good amount of lactose, which prevents lots of lactose intolerant people from taking it.

Plus, it also contains some fat. This won’t be an issue for normal people, but for someone who wants to build muscle while losing weight, it might create trouble.

What makes whey concentrate a good choice is the fact, that it contains lots of vitamins and minerals that are good for health.

Many researches that proved the health benefits of whey protein, used whey concentrate for the experiments.

Who should use whey concentrate?

If your focus is more on health and less on maintaining 10% fat, then you should go with whey concentrate.

Whey isolate

When you remove some more lactose and fat from the whey concentrate in order to increase the protein percentage, you get whey isolate.

Whey isolate contains 90-95% of protein.

It is good if you are on a very strict diet and you are trying to cut your fat and carb intake. Many professional athletes prefer whey isolate as a source of protein.

As the protein is isolated, the process takes important healthy components to make space for more protein. It won’t be a problem if you are getting those vitamins and minerals from some other source.

Whey isolate can be consumed by lactose intolerant people!

Fat in food is responsible for slowing down the rate of digestion. As whey isolate contains very less amount of fat, it gets digested more quickly.

That helps in providing building material to injured muscle fibres faster. Whey isolates generally cost much more compared to whey concentrate.

Who should use whey isolate?

It is mostly for bodybuilder. People who take whey for health purpose and preventing sarcopenia can go with whey concentrate.

But, this doesn’t mean that way isolate is unhealthy. In fact, like concentrate, it contains all the healthy essential amino acids.

Whey Hydrolysate

Whey hydrolysate is most processed form of whey. You get whey hydrolysate by breaking down whey isolate into small constitutents; peptides.

This make absorption of protein fast. But, Hydrolysate has failed to impress not only health enthusiast, but also the body builders.

First of all, the more you process any kind of food the chances of destroying vitals component jumps up. Secondly, whey isolate take less time to be absorbed, lowering the time period even more is not of any use.

The cost of hydrolysate is very high even when comparing it to isolate.

Many people believe, since it has been processed over multiple levels Hydrolysate should be bad when it comes to pure health.

In a study done on Hydrolysate of whey, it was seen that it had more ability to stimulate the production of Glutathione (powerful anti-oxidant).

Increased Glutathione production is one of the main reason why whey is so good for health, but denaturing whey this much leads to loss of important vitamins and minerals which is a negative point.

Benefits of whey protein:

Complete protein source

There are two types of protein. One type can be produced by our body and the other type can’t be produced by the body. The later group is called essential amino acids.

There are total 9 essential amino acids. A food which contains all of them is known to be a complete protein source.

Complete protein source

This is especially beneficial for vegetarians, as most of the food they eat don’t have all the essential amino acids.

So, they have to eat protein from different sources at a single time to synthesis a complete range of essential amino acids.

Vegetarians can use whey protein to fulfil their body’s need of essential amino acids.

Whey protein contains leucine in good quantity, which is one of the primary amino acids for muscle hypertrophy.

Easily Digestible

Whey protein is considered one of the most easily digestible proteins. The fact that whey doesn’t contain fats makes the digestion very quick.

This is especially helpful for bodybuilders who want to utilize the increase protein synthesis rate windows after an intense workout.

As whey protein digest quickly, the amino acids hits your blood quickly, which can be used by your body for muscle building.

Secondly, people with weak digestive systems find it very easy to digest, because of the reason mentioned above.

Although, the digestion speed of a whey protein can differ, depending upon their filtration process used.

Increase production of Glutathione

Increase production of Glutathione

Glutathione is a tripeptide which is made up of cysteine, glutamate, and glycine.

It is the most important antioxidant which your body needs in a great scale.

The job of Glutathione is to eliminated free-radicals floating around in your body. These free radicals are responsible for causing several diseases.

All the amino acids required to produce Glutathione are available in a good quality whey protein.

This makes it essential not only for young people, but for the people who are ageing, as the production of Glutathione decrease with age.

Glutathione also helps boost your immune system by detoxifying your liver. Liver is responsible for removing all the toxins out of your body.

Lots of people prefer taking Glutathione supplements, but they are not as effective. It is seen that body doesn’t have the proper ability to absorbs Glutathione.

The best part about Glutathione, which also makes it important, is the fact that your body can produce it.

So, instead of taking actual supplements it is better to have the building blocks of Glutathione. Whey protein helps with that.

Helps build lean muscles

This is one of the well known whey protein benefits. There are variety of ways in which whey protein can help you build muscles that are also lean. First of all, whey protein contains very little fats.

Plus, as being a source of almost all the amino acids you need to build protein it belongs in the diet of everyone who wants to maintain or build muscle.

People who are trying to gain muscles while losing fats, especially benefits from the lean protein of whey.

In that scenario, you have to keep the calorie intake to the minimum while taking good amount of protein. A good quality whey can easily contain 75-90% protein.

Whey protein is anabolic, which means that it signals your body to start building more muscles. So, consuming whey(even without exercise) will help you with muscle hypertrophy to some level.

Easy to intake

There are many good protein sources which can help you build muscles and remain healthy, but preparation and consumption of them is not easy.

First of all, any food item you eat needs to be washed and cooked before eating. This takes a lot of time.

Secondly, after a while eating things like egg or boiled chicken breast is not an easy thing in itself. There will come many times when you have to shove food down your throat.

And, lastly, there is only so much food you can eat without the risk of puking all of it out.

Well this is not the problem with whey protein, you can easily have 20-24 grams of protein with a single scoop.

Unlike, earlier times, most of the whey are flavoured and some taste really good. You can even take protein shake as a desert.

Depression and mood

Due to the competitive nature of today’s world, it is very common for a person to be stressed.

Contradicting to popular belief stress is not always bad, especially if it is short term.

The chronic stress is the main culprit. It causes various health problems both physical and mental.

Cortisol, which is a stress hormone, is released when you are subjected to stress conditions.

Among many things, prolonged secretion of cortisol effects your body in a negative way.

Whey protein contains an essential amino acid; tryptophan.

Tryptophan is known to decrease the level of Cortisol and increase the level of Serotonin.

Serotonin works in opposite direction of cortisol, for example, people with high Serotonin level are very unlikely to get depressed, they can sleep better and they stay happy in general.

As you can see in the diagram, Serotonin can be converted into Melatonin, which helps in inducing quality sleep.

Can aid treatment of cancer

Whey protein can’t directly treat cancer, but in a study it was seen that whey can help by enhancing the effect of chemotherapy by depleting Glutathione from tumour cells.

It is seen that tumour cells have high level of Glutathione, which was preventing chemo drugs to act upon them.

Reducing Glutathione concentration from cancer cell makes them more susceptible to chemotherapy.

In this particular study, people with different types of cancer were chosen and given 30 mg of a special type of whey; Immunocal.

It was seen that among the 7 selected, 2 showed signs of regression and 2 showed stability of tumour growth. Ironically, whey protein can help prevent cancer in the first place by increasing the production of glutathione.

As we have discussed before, Glutatione takes care of free radical which can cause damage to the cells, causing mutation.

The second reason, why scientist believe that whey can help, is the fact that whey helps in iron-binding and iron can sometimes act as a mutagenic agent which can cause oxidative damage to the cells.

Helps with sarcopenia

Sarcopenia is a condition that causes a person to lose muscle mass and strength. It is a common age related problem, however it can be caused by variety of reasons. Including, poor nutrition, hormonal imbalance, lower physical acitivity, etc.

Whey protein has been very effective in the treatment and the prevention of the Sarcopenia. As it is a complete protein, it contains all the essential amino acids.

Essential amino acids improves the muscle protein synthesis. When compared to casein or soy isolates, whey protein have displayed far better results.

How to make whey at home?

How to make whey at home?

Many people have many misconceptions about whey protein. There are people who avoid it thinking that it is powder filled with artificial chemicals.

Even if someone explains them the simple steps it takes to make whey protein, they still have an element of doubt in their mind.

There is only one solution to discard that doubt once and for all, i.e, by making whey protein at home.

As we have discussed, enzymes are added to milk to separate cheese and whey liquid.

These enzymes can be complex microbial compound or rennet or simple acid.

For sake of simplicity, you can use vinegar or lemon juice for the purpose. First you have to heat the milk until it starts boiling.

Then, you add 4-5 teaspoon of vinegar. After sometime you’ll notice that curd will start getting separated.

All you have to do is stir for a few minutes. Now, you have to use a strainer to separate the solid and the liquid. The solid portion is cheese and the liquid portion is whey.

Although, the percentage of protein in the whey that you make at home is very less. Plus, it contains lots of lactose and fats.

Best time to take whey

Although, taking whey at any point of the day is beneficial for you, but there are times when it can help you the most.

Many people believe it is important to take whey in the morning. They are right to some extent. Eating protein in the morning keeps you energized and full for a long period of time.

But, in the morning there is no urgent need for quick absorption, unless you workout in the morning. So, eating a protein rich food that is slowly digested shouldn’t be a problem.

Now, there are few times when your body’s protein synthesis rate has gone up, it is the perfect time to provide your body a protein that can be absorbed quickly. This happens right after your workout.

An intense workout leaves your body craving for glycogen and protein. Having whey at that time with high glycemic index carbs is very important.

Before going to sleep:

Before going to sleep

A study was conducted on a group of men, analysing the effect of protein ingestion right before sleep. During the experiment, people were given around 30 grams of protein along with some carbs and close to nothing quantity of fats.

It was clearly seen that muscle mass significantly increased in relation to the placebo group. There was also significant increase in the muscle strength of the group that consumed protein.

Thus having whey at night is a good idea especially, when your goal is to build muscles.


The recommended dosage of protein is about 0.8 grams per kg of your body weight. But, if you want to build muscles you’ll probably need more than that. Around 1-1.5 gram PER KG. Notice it is kg and not pounds.

Many trainers recommend 1.5-2 grams per pound. This is way too much and your body might not be able to enough to processes all that.

Secondly, that enormous quantity of protein is only needed when you want to be huge. Like he:

You want to be huge. Like this

But, if you just want a lean body or you want to bulk a little bit. You certainly don’t need that much.

The fact is, due to their intense training and already existing muscles they can synthesis that much protein, which is impossible for common people.

“Possible” Side effects of whey protein:

Notice the word possible, it means that the chances of having these side-effects are bleak, but there are still some chances.

You’ll find several trainers and fitness expert who would preach that consumption of whey protein in any amount is not harmful and it maybe a correct statement for 95% people, but the rest 5% might have to suffer its consequences.

Kidney stones

Kidney stones are tiny stone like substance that are formed when components like calcium and uric acid are increased in your urine.

This shouldn’t be a problem if you don’t have a pre-existing condition, but if you have a pre-existing condition then taking huge quantities of whey can exaggerate it completely.

The first thing you want to do if you are planning to consume a large quantity of whey protein is to consult your physician. Check if you are already suffering from kidney stones.

If you are already in a later stage of a kidney stone problem then the symptoms might be very clear like blood in the urine, back pain, but if you are in an early stage, there might be absolutely no manifestations.

So, in that case, an x-ray or cat scan might help to diagnose kidney stones.

Heavy muscle toxicity

A research was conducted on level of heavy metals present in different types of protein and different brands of protein.

It was found that there were some brands that had a high level of mercury, cadmium and lead. Although, the amount wasn’t large enough to cause a serious health problem if not consumed in high amounts.

But, there were a few products that had enough heavy metal to cause serious health problem on consumption of just 3 servings per day.

The problem with heavy metals is that body takes time to get rid of them completely. By consuming a large amount of protein you are refilling metal before your body get a chance to flush them down.

It is important to do some research before buying any brand of whey protein.

You can take advice from your gym instructor or a person with body building experience, but don’t let your research be limited to verbal conversation.

Many times people readily give advice without having complete knowledge on that particular subject.

Use google and forums. Search for news related to that particular brand of protein you wish to buy.

Excess protein can make you fat

First of all, let us define the definition of excess. Excess is relative. A quantity which is not excess for Arnold might be excess for a thin teenage boy.

The more muscle you have the more whey protein you can take. The reason behind this is, when you have big muscles, working out will proportionately break big amount of muscle fibres.

So, you will need a large quantity of protein for the repair work. So, even if you have 3-4 scoops of whey protein daily, it will be utilised.

But, if you are a slim person, with little muscles, then eating that kind of amount of protein will make you fat, instead of building muscles.

Protein can be converted into fat using two different pathways. The first one is breaking down into glucose and from there it can get converted into fat.

Secondly, it can take Acetyl-coa pathways and get converted into fat directly. The path it takes will depend upon the amount of carbs you take.

If you have good amount of carbs in your diet, then it will take the second pathway, but if you are on very low carb diet, it will take the first path.

Can cause hair loss???

Can cause hair loss?

A study was conducted which suggested that eating whey isolate protein can increase the hair fall by increasing the production of testosterone and DHT.

DHT is made up from testosterone and it is good for you in small amount.

Accumulation of large amount of DHT in your scalp cause male pattern baldness. Although, the study spare whey concentrate. As whey concentrate is very close to natural form it is not harmful.

Although, there is still no hard evidence backing that claim. But, there is also no evidence or data contradicting that claim.

In this case, it is up to individual to analyse on his/her own, whether they see some increase in hair fall after starting with the whey protein.

You can even ask people around you, about their experience with whey protein. Balding can also be genetic things.

Some people end up being bald just by smoking few cigarettes in a day and some might not even after smoking couple of packets in a single day.

Whey protein Alternatives:

Whey protein is the dominant protein in the world of health, fitness and bodybuilding. But, it is not the only type of protein available.

Whey protein vs soy protein

Whey protein vs soy protein

An alternative of whey protein is soy protein. There are many reasons why a person would avoid whey.

First of all, whey protein(especially concentrate) have lactose in it, which makes it inappropriate for people with lactose intolerance.

Secondly, as it is derived from milk, the vegans would like to stay away from it. On the other hand, soy protein is derived from plants and has no lactose in it.

COST: Although the protein content per serving can change from brand to brand. Soy protein powder generally have equal or little more protein per serving. The cost per gram is almost equal.

DIGESTION: Whey protein absorbs and digests better-faster than soy protein. Plus, the amino acid profile is a better than soy protein.

Side-effects: Like, whey protein, there is no such side-effects if taken in adequate amounts. Some believe that consumption of soy protein can lead to increase in estrogen level and breast cancer.

Whey vs pea protein

Whey vs pea protein

A study was conducted on the effect of these two type of protein on the strength and the size of the muscles.

It was seen that both the protein supplementation had almost no effect on the strength of the individual.

But, there was seen significant increase in the muscle size for both the supplementation.

The increase in the size of whey and pea group was almost the same. Whey was a little better.

This is good for people who are allergic to dairy or soy products. Just make sure to check the amino acid profile before purchasing.

A good product will have all the essential amino acids in it.

But, in spite of everything, if you are not a vegan or have any kind of allergy, it is better to stay with whey protein. As, it is good for health in many ways.

Whey protein vs beef protein

Whey protein vs beef protein

There is nothing wrong with beef protein. In fact, it is considered as more anabolic than whey protein, although there is no study that backs that claim.

There is no such advantage of beef protein over whey protein. And, beef protein doesn’t have a diversity such as whey. Plus, the taste of some beef protein product is as bad as burnt tyre.

So, if you have to choose between whey and beef protein. It is better to go with whey.

Whey protein vs. Amino acid supplements

Whey protein vs. Amino acid supplements

Amino acids are the smallest component of protein. That means, you eat protein your body breaks down into small amino acids, these amino acids are used for variety of things, including muscle building and production of hormones.

There are variety of reason why someone would choose amino acid supplements over whey protein or some other protein source.

First of all, since amino acids are in purest form, unlike other whole protein sources, they are not associated with food allergies.

Secondly, as they are pre-digested, it takes very less time for your body to utilize them.

There is one more reason why you might want to buy BCAA’s. BCCA is a group of three amino acids; Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. Leucine is considered one of the most important elements for muscle hypertrophy.

You do get BCAA’s from your protein powder, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are getting them in adequate quantity. You need them more when you are building muscles.

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