When it comes to choosing the best supplements, whey protein deserves a top spot on your list. It’s well-researched and offers plenty of benefits ranging from weight loss and increased lean mass to reduced blood pressure.
In other words, whey protein is good for you whether you love working out or are looking to meet your body’s protein needs using a quality supplement.
But where does it come from and how much do you need? Also, are there risks or side effects? Here’s everything you should know.
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is one of the proteins derived from milk during cheesemaking. It’s the yellowish liquid produced that is drained off. Meanwhile, the curds are collected and pressed to form cheese.
In the past, whey was considered a waste product of cheese manufacturing. Fast forward to today, it is being consumed by people worldwide for their health and fitness goals (*).
You can find different flavors, such as chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. This makes whey protein more desirable especially since it doesn’t taste good on its own.
The easiest way to take whey is to mix it with water or milk (for an extra boost of flavor, protein, fat, or carbs). If you’re feeling adventurous, turn it into a green or fruity smoothie. Add it to your recipes — pancakes, energy balls, and soups!
Types of Whey Protein
There are three kinds of whey protein to choose from: whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, and whey protein hydrolysate. They vary in their protein, fat, carbohydrate, and lactose content.
Here’s more about each type:
- Whey protein concentrate: As the term implies, this has concentrated protein, although isolate has slightly more protein. Additionally, it contains some lactose and costs cheaper.
- Whey protein isolate: This contains 90% protein by weight while being low in carbs and fat per serving. For example, one scoop has 23g protein, 1g carbs, and 0g fat.
- Whey protein hydrolysate: This type of whey is pre-digested, making it easier to absorb. It has been thought that a combination of hydrolysate plus high-glycemic carbs is good as a post-workout recovery supplement, though this isn’t ideal for those on a low-carb or keto diet (*).
Out of these types, whey protein isolate is best if your goal is to get as much protein as possible without the extra carbs and fat whether for weight loss or muscle growth.
Uses of Whey Protein
As a complete protein source, meaning it provides all essential amino acids, whey has important applications, such as:
- Athletic performance: Whey is popular among athletes and fitness enthusiasts, especially those who do resistance training or lift weights.
- Nutritional supplement: For those who cannot meet their protein requirements from food alone, whey can be added to their diet.
- Meal or snack replacement: Ideally, whey should not be used to replace all your meals and snacks since it’s not enough to supply your vitamins and minerals — but doing it occasionally is fine. It’s a convenient way to boost satiety!
- Therapeutic applications: Research has shown that whey can be beneficial for certain conditions, such as cancer, HIV, hepatitis B, heart disease, and osteoporosis (*).
Health Benefits of Whey Protein
Is whey protein good for you? The answer is yes, there are many reasons to consume whey protein besides enjoying it as a delicious drink during snack or meal times.
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- It’s superior to plant-based protein: Although plant-based protein powders are free from lactose and suitable for vegan diets, whey protein is better in terms of being a complete protein source. Your body needs all 9 essential amino acids to support many processes, from producing energy to absorbing nutrients, and you can enjoy these benefits with whey.
- Effective at building muscle: Muscle mass declines as our bodies age, which makes quality protein extremely important, on top of strength training. Preserving muscle helps balance your blood sugar levels. This can be a preventive strategy to prevent type 2 diabetes (*). Whey protein is particularly high in leucine, which is popular for triggering muscle hypertrophy.
- Helps you lose weight: Drinking whey protein can be part of a weight loss plan. Getting more protein increases weight loss by reducing your appetite and increasing your metabolism. Protein has a thermic effect of 20-30%, which is higher than carbs and fat (*). Combine optimal protein intake with exercise, and you’ll get the best possible results.
- Strengthens the immune system: You may choose whey protein for its weight loss and muscle-building effects, but you’ll be surprised that it’s also needed to prevent and fight illnesses. Threonine and isoleucine are the two essential amino acids in whey that boost your immune response (* , *).
- May lower blood pressure: For people with hypertension (higher than normal blood pressure), whey could significantly reduce their systolic blood pressure, as noted by a randomized controlled study. This is because the peptides in whey have ACE-inhibitory effects similar to the antihypertensive drug captopril (*).
- Helps in cancer therapy: According to a 2018 study, whey protein benefits cancer patients by mitigating cachexia syndrome in which they experience weight loss, anorexia, asthenia (lack of energy and strength), and anemia (* , *).
Whey Protein Nutrition
Whey protein products sold in the market sometimes vary in their number of fat and carbs per serving. Regardless, all of them are high in protein. Moreover, they are available in different forms, such as powders (the most common), bars, and chips.
The USDA provides the following nutritional data for a 24-gram serving of whey protein isolate: (*)
- Calories: 90
- Protein: 20 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Sodium: 270 milligrams
Perfect Keto whey protein powder is a great option for those who are following a keto diet. You’ll love that it’s made from grass-fed dairy and has added medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) to enhance your focus and satiety.
In most cases, people take 1-2 scoops of whey per day, which is around 20-50 grams of protein. Consuming large amounts of whey protein isn’t necessary to experience its weight loss, muscle growth, and health benefits.
When taking whey protein, it’s also important to consider your daily protein needs, which depend on various factors like your age, activity level, health condition (if any), and goal physique.
The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) states that a sedentary person needs 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For a 180-pound person, their daily protein would amount to 65 grams. However, note that this amount of protein is enough only to prevent a deficiency. This isn’t enough for individuals who do resistance training or endurance training.
Other sources recommend an intake of 0.8g of protein per pound of lean body mass for those who don’t exercise often, and 1-1.2g of protein per pound for those who are physically active, athletes, and would like to build muscle.
While whey protein isn’t a must — unless you find it difficult to eat enough protein from your diet — it’s still fine to consume whey daily.
Important reminder: Don’t use only whey to meet your protein requirements. Vary your protein sources. Meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, and seeds are natural and healthy protein-rich foods that supply vitamins and minerals.
People who are allergic to dairy should avoid taking whey protein since it comes from cow’s milk. Symptoms of a dairy allergy include the following: gas, bloating, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, rashes, and wheezing.
The amount of lactose varies per whey protein supplement, but as a general rule, whey concentrate has more lactose than isolate.
Also, be aware that some whey powders contain ingredients you might be sensitive to, such as gluten, artificial sweeteners, fillers, and thickeners. Check the ingredients list on the packaging just to be sure.
For those who are currently taking medications, speak with your healthcare provider if you plan on supplementing with whey.
Whey protein might interact with certain medications, making them less effective. These include anti-coagulant medications (e.g. warfarin), bisphosphonates (e.g. alendronate for osteoporosis), and some antibiotics (*).
You can prevent interactions by taking these medications hours before or after drinking whey protein. Stay on the safe side and consult with your doctor.
Potential Risks & Side Effects
Besides taking note of dairy allergies (in those who are sensitive), it’s best to avoid high doses of whey protein. Possible whey protein side effects due to an excessive intake include acne breakouts, nausea, stomach pain, gas, and diarrhea.
The Best Whey Protein Powders
We’ve selected five whey protein powders for every preference. Whether you’re looking for something that fits into your keto lifestyle or doesn’t have any flavor — check out the options below.
|Best whey protein isolate||Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein||With 24 grams of protein per serving Contains 5.5 grams of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) for muscle growth and recovery after a workout Third-party tested for banned substances and quality Over 17 flavors to choose from||May not dissolve well|
|Best for ketogenic diets||Perfect Keto Whey Protein||Made from grass-fed cows Contains MCTs, which increase brain function, satiety, and athletic performance Sweetened with stevia, a natural sweetener Doctor-formulated and lab-tested||Only 2 flavor options — chocolate and vanilla|
|Best-tasting whey protein||Levels Grass-Fed Whey Protein||Soy-free and gluten-free With 24 grams of protein per serving Contains 4 grams of BCAAs||May not dissolve well|
|Best for building muscle||Naked Mass Weight Gainer||Combines quality protein and complex carbs Has no growth hormones Third-party tested for banned substances and quality||It has 21 grams of sugar per serving, which makes it unsuitable for people with diabetes and pre-diabetes|
|Best unsweetened whey protein||Now Sports Organic Unflavored Powder||Free from growth hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides Suitable for keto diets since it has only 1g of carbs per scoop You can mix it with milk or juice Has no weird aftertaste||May not dissolve well|
Frequently Asked Questions
Learn more about whey protein powders in the FAQs below:
When is the best time to take whey protein?
If you take whey to support your workouts, consume it within 1 hour after exercising. This is referred to as the “anabolic window” in which your muscles are recovering and more receptive to protein.
You can also take whey at any time of the day — in the afternoon when you’re feeling hungry or at night (but not too close to bedtime) to promote recovery as you sleep.
Can whey protein support weight loss?
Yes, it can! Protein plays an important role in weight management, thanks to the fact that it’s satiating — even more satiating than fat and carbs. Moreover, protein boosts your metabolism, which allows you to burn more calories and speed up weight loss.
Can I drink whey protein without working out?
Absolutely. Protein shakes like whey is fine even for non-athletes. It can be your go-to drink when you’re too busy to eat at the office, although note that this should be done only occasionally. Eat whole foods as much as possible.
Does whey protein cause weight gain?
Yes, you can use whey not just to lose weight, but to also gain weight. Underweight individuals, for instance, may take it to increase their calories.
Mass gainer powders that contain whey also promote weight gain and increased muscle mass quickly by blending high amounts of protein and carbs.
What foods contain whey?
Foods that are naturally rich in whey include yogurt, cheese, cow milk, and goat milk. If you would rather consume whole food sources with whey, these are your options.
Which type of whey protein is the healthiest?
Look for whey protein that contains the fewest possible ingredients. When it comes to sweeteners, go for those sweetened using stevia or choose unsweetened whey (so you can combine it with your drink of choice). Keeping carbs as low as possible? The healthiest option, in this case, is whey protein isolate.
The Bottom Line
Whey protein has many impressive benefits, making it an excellent addition to a healthy diet. Unless you have a dairy allergy, whey doesn’t cause issues and will, in fact, support your health goals.
Consuming too much protein from whey is not necessary as it might lead to acne breakouts, stomach pains, and nausea. The recommended dose of 1-2 scoops per day should be fine, and importantly, prioritize whole foods for your protein needs.
Gee T et al. Effectiveness of Whey Protein Hydrolysate and Milk-Based Formulated Drinks on Recovery of Strength and Power Following Acute Resistance Exercise. 2019 August 21
Yang J et al. Effect of whey protein on blood pressure in pre‐ and mildly hypertensive adults: A randomized controlled study. 2019 April 21