10 Facts About Whey Protein You Didn’t Know

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Updated December 31, 2020

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In 2015, global whey protein sales were at $8.2 billion. That number is expected to reach $12.4 billion by 2021. Protein powder use, and whey protein, in particular, is on the rise. And with today’s emphasis on health and fitness, it doesn’t look like that momentum will be slowing down anytime soon.

Today, there is a growing body of research centered on the importance of good nutrition and fitness for a disease-free life. The search for better health is driving more women to replace the idea of being skinny with the goal of being strong. Against this backdrop, North America and Europe are key markets for protein powders, though these dietary supplements are gaining traction in the Asia Pacific region, too.

Here’s what you need to know about the whey protein supplement that fitness enthusiasts are raving about.

What is whey protein?

Whey is the watery portion of milk left over after the cheese-making process. Traditionally, whey has been considered a milk byproduct, or waste. But once its protein-rich nature was discovered, it became seen as a fitness powerhouse.

Is whey protein safe?

If you don’t have any kind of dairy allergies, whey protein is a great option—as long as you read labels and don’t overdo it. If you are very active, you definitely need abundant protein to prevent damaging your muscles. But the majority of American’s don’t realize they are eating way too much protein—nearly double the needed amount. This can put a strain on the body, which is hurriedly trying to process it all.

While protein is essential for muscle growth and recovery, too much of any kind of protein can be harmful. Consuming large amounts of protein on a regular basis can zap your body’s calcium levels, putting you at risk for osteoporosis. Too much of it can also work against your fitness goals and turn to fat.

Whey protein is generally considered safe. But it’s important to check with a medical professional to discuss your fitness goals, and how much protein you actually need to reach them.

10 things you didn’t know about whey protein

Whey protein can help you gain weight

Whey protein shakes can contain as many as 300 calories—sometimes more. If you’re looking to bulk up and pack on some extra pounds, having those 300 or so extra calories (along with your regular eating habits and a weight training routine) can set you up for steady muscle growth and weight gain. Boost the protein and calories by adding some peanut butter or almond butter to your shake.

Whey protein can help you shed pounds

While some people use whey protein to gain weight, when used the right way it can also help you lose it. Use a low-calorie whey protein powder and mix it with some fruit or leafy greens for a tasty, filling post-workout drink. Not only does it give you a metabolic boost, but the dense protein keeps you feeling full longer. Thanks to its appetite-suppressing effect, you’ll probably eat 441 fewer calories a day and move steadily toward your weight goals.

Whey protein can improve your immunity

Studies have shown that athletic performance isn’t the only thing that gets a boost from whey protein. It also can improve your immune system by giving you more energy and ability to fight stress. And we all know stress is notorious for tearing down one’s immunity.

Whey alone won’t bulk you up

Protein doesn’t bulk men up. Rather, bulking is a joint effort between protein and high levels of testosterone. Since women generally have lower levels (if any) of the hormone, they can’t bulk up without some serious work.

Timing matters

One study showed that protein consumed during exercise didn’t have any effect on performance. Other studies have shown that whey protein is most effective at building muscle when taken directly before or after a workout, though researchers recommend a high-carb, low-protein snack for your pre-workout fuel.

Whey protein comes in three forms

Whey protein concentrates, isolates and hydrolysates; what’s a savvy fitness-lover to choose? Isolates contain the most protein at 90%, which might make them an obvious first choice. And hydrolysates are already partially digested, making them easier on your digestive system. But both lack the heartiness of whey concentrate, which contains more of the other nutrients from their original source. Although concentrates have a 70-80% protein value, they’ve tended to be more popular both for their friendlier price tag, taste and nutritional value.

Whey is a milk product

Whey may have some amazing benefits for the body and mental focus. But if you’re lactose intolerant, you should avoid it. Even those who don’t have lactose sensitivity can find it difficult to digest concentrated whey protein powders, so many opt for hydrolyzed whey or whey isolates.

Not all whey proteins are created equal

Because whey protein powders and drinks can contain a plethora of artificial ingredients, it’s vital to check the packaging to ensure that your whey is as pure and simple as possible. The large amount of sugar in some can work against your goals. And protein powder fillers can leave you getting less protein than you may have thought. Make sure the whey protein you choose has been honestly reviewed so you can make an insightful decision.

Whey protein isn’t a complete food

Don’t fixate on your whey protein shake as your key to good nutrition and weight loss or gain. Although it’s vital for strong muscles, it should never be your main source of food or nutrition. It is, after all, a supplement. So use it as such to help you fuel and achieve your goals.

Whey protein is better than casein as a pre-or post-workout drink

Unlike the slower digesting casein (another milk protein), whey digests more easily, making it a better source for workout fuel or muscle recovery.

We know you’re excited about whey protein. But before you jump into the protein craze, check out these protein powder reviews to determine the good from the bad, the better from the good and the best for you.