The world of whey protein can be overwhelming. As you glance across the selection of whey protein supplements at the grocery store aisle, many questions probably come to mind, such as: “Which type of whey protein should I choose?”, “How much protein do I need?”, or “What about added ingredients?”
For the answers to all these questions—and more—read on to find out what you need to know about using whey protein.
How Do You Take Whey Protein?
According to the directions on the container, add a serving of whey protein powder to the recommended amount of water, milk, or juice and blend for a great protein drink. Some people like adding other foods, like fruit, berries, peanut butter, or sweeteners—just make sure you don’t go too heavy on extra calories!
You can also add whey protein powder to other foods, like oatmeal.
How Much Whey Protein Should You Take (and When)?
How much whey protein you should take depends on how much protein you need. According to WebMD, men need about 56 g protein per day, and women need about 46 g. Of course, this depends on other factors, like age and activity level. And, certain circumstances may call for more protein.
Remember getting protein from healthy foods is crucial, but athletes, dieters, and others seeking additional protein sources will benefit from adding whey protein to their diets.
Athletes typically need more protein than the average person because most sports involve breaking down and repairing muscle, and protein sources are needed to build and repair that muscle. In fact, endurance athletes and bodybuilders need about 50% more protein than a sedentary person. Those undergoing resistance training might need about 1-1.5 g/kg body weight protein.
Dieters could also benefit from the filling nature of additional protein, and it could also help them lose body fat and improve lean muscle mass. Pregnant and nursing women, vegetarians, and others may also be looking for ways to get more protein in their diets.
In short, how much whey protein you take depends on how much protein you need after obtaining the majority from healthy food such as milk, yogurt, ricotta cheese and other cheeses.
As for when to take whey protein, that’s easy – whenever you want!
Athletes often wonder whether they should take whey protein before or after working out. It’s important to get enough protein and nutrients before a workout to enhance performance, and it’s just as important to replenish these nutrients afterwards to encourage muscle repair. Consequently, athletes benefit from taking whey protein around their workout times.
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey is the thin, watery part of milk obtained during cheese production. But there’s nothing “cheesy” about whey protein: it contains almost all the vitamins and minerals of milk, plus high levels of all nine essential amino acids and muscle-building branched-chain amino acids.
Whey protein is often considered superior to other protein sources because it has the highest biological value, meaning we are able to utilize the nutritional components of whey protein at a higher degree than other protein sources.
What Are the Benefits of Whey Protein?
The main reason athletes use whey protein is to provide the necessary amino acids to sustain muscle growth. In one study, whey protein outperformed soy and casein proteins in stimulating muscle protein synthesis and promoting muscle growth.
Whey protein could also help dieters drop some pounds. A higher ratio of protein to carbs has been found to help people lose weight because it promotes fullness, so they are less likely to eat more calories than they need. Whey protein in particular provides important nutrients while satisfying the belly.
Plus, whey protein is good for all ages. When elderly individuals include whey protein in their diets, they preserve muscle mass and prevent muscle wasting.
Whey protein has also created excitement for its positive effect on immunity. It’s thought to reduce stress, lower cortisol, decrease blood pressure, and improve health and well-being.
What Is the Best Type of Whey Protein?
As you glance at the various whey protein supplements in the store, you’ll notice each has a different type (or types) of whey protein. So how do you differentiate? Here’s a quick rundown:
- Whey protein concentrate: contains about 70-80% protein content. It also has plenty of nutritional compounds, such as growth factors, healthy fats, and antibodies. However, it may have higher levels of fat and lactose than whey protein isolate.
- Whey protein isolate: is formulated to contain 90% or more protein. Lactose and fats are removed as well, so it’s ideal for those who are lactose-intolerant or watching fat intake. Whey protein isolate may contain less nutritional components than whey protein concentrate, though, and it might be more expensive, too.
- Ion exchange whey isolate: is a less common form involving running a concentrate through an ion exchange column. Although the protein content is increased, the healthy components of whey protein are typically removed through this process.
- Micro-filtered whey protein isolate: utilizes a variety of processing techniques to produce high protein content and low fat and lactose content, yet still retain important health-promoting contents.
- Hydrolyzed whey protein: involves a process of breaking down the protein into peptides of different lengths, causing it to absorb faster. But, studies on hydrolyzed whey protein are lacking, so it’s hard to say if it’s better than other whey protein forms.
Which form you choose depends on your individual needs and preferences.
Does Whey Protein Cause Side Effects?
Be aware there is a maximal rate of protein synthesis, and taking more protein than you need won’t provide benefits, and may even strain the kidneys.
In some circumstances, whey protein could cause bloating, upset stomach, nausea, or allergic reactions. If you experience side effects, try a different protein supplement, decrease intake, or look into possible allergies you might have. If you’re lactose intolerant, try whey protein isolate.
What Should You Look for in a Whey Protein Supplement?
When choosing a whey protein supplement, look for one that has between 20 and 30 grams protein per serving. Less than that may not be enough to make a difference, and more than that may indicate the protein powder is a mass gainer, formulated for weight gain.
For maximum health benefits, it’s best to choose something low in carbs and fat. Between 1 and 5 g of each is ideal.
Although a pure protein powder may be adequate for your needs, many companies add ingredients to whey protein powders to support health or athletic performance. In a study on 16 male athletes, the athletes performed significantly better when 5 g glutamine and 3 g branched-chain amino acids were added to whey protein supplements.
But, be careful: some companies add unnecessary fillers that could damage rather than support health. Or, hoping to sell products by including popular ingredients, companies may add ingredients in amounts too small to make a difference, often hidden in proprietary blends.
Make sure to examine all the ingredients and dosages before buying a whey protein powder. Look at reviews on sites like Bodybuilding.com or Amazon.com to see what other users thought of the supplement.
-  Marjorie Geiser. “The Wonders of Whey Protein.”
-  “Whey Protein Powder: Complete A-Z Guide For All Types of Whey Supplements.”
-  Jason E. Tang et al. “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. 2009; 107 (3): 987-992.
-  Donald K. Layman et al. “A Reduced Ratio of Dietary Carbohydrate to Protein Improves Body Composition and Blood Lipid Profiles during Weight Loss in Adult Women.” J. Nutr. 2003; 133 (2): 411-417.
-  Alan Hayes and Paul J. Cribb. “Effect of whey protein isolate on strength, body composition and muscle hypertrophy during resistance training.” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care. 2008; 11 (1): 40-44.
-  Will Brink. “The Whey It Is: The Truth About Whey Protein!”
-  Cari Nierenberg. “How Much Protein Do You Need?” WebMD.com.
-  Raymond Zimmer. “Whey Protein – The Role of Protein Supplementation in Resistance Training.” Nutrition Bytes. 2005; 10 (2).
-  Andrew Bennett. “Which Foods Contain Whey Protein?”
-  “How to Use Whey Protein.”
-  Joey Vaillancourt. “5 Ways to Pick a Good Protein Powder.”
-  Carlon M. Colker et al. “Effects of supplemental protein on body composition and muscular strength in healthy athletic male adults.” Current Therapeutic Research. 2000; 61 (1): 19-28.