When it comes to protein supplements, there are a menagerie of options to choose from—from protein water to pea protein, to soy and more. But there’s one in particular that tends to get a lot of attention: whey protein.
Getting enough protein is super important—and not just for muscle making. Protein is essential to keep your body functioning and forming. It’s made of amino acids, the ‘building blocks’ of tissues like muscles, hair, skin, nails and bones. (So if you’re not getting enough, your body is going to feel it.)
Men’s Health recommends that men get 6 to 8 palm-sized portions of protein rich foods per day, which works out to around 30 grams per meal. If you’re not meeting that mark, it might be a good idea to supplement.
When it comes to choosing the protein supplement that’s best for you, whey protein is often one of the best. Right off the bat, it is a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids your body needs (and doesn’t produce on its own and is needed from other food sources) to continue building proteins (protein synthesis).
“The best protein possible is one that has all the essential amino acids, which allows you to build muscle faster,” says Sandra J. Arevalo, MPH, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
What Is Whey?
“All dairy (milk) products contain whey, one of the main proteins (besides casein) in dairy. During processing into a powder, the liquid milk is separated into solid curds (casein) and liquid (the whey),” says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition.
“I personally love how there is so much research on the bioavailability and bioutility of whey proteins,” says Auslander Moreno. “It’s also incredibly useful for athletes in increasing muscle protein synthesis and usually comes with added bonuses of calcium and vitamin D.”
There are three types of whey protein:
Whey protein concentrate (WPC): “As its name suggests, the protein in here is concentrated. WPC maintains more nutrients than other types of whey because of the processing methods,” says Auslander Moreno.
Whey protein isolate: “It’s quicker to digest than WPC; it also is usually removed of all carbohydrate and therefore the lactose, making it suitable for many folks with lactose intolerance. Since most of the fat has been removed, so are a lot of the fat-soluble vitamins,” says Auslander Moreno. Still, check the label if you have trouble with lactose.
Whey protein hydrolysate: “This process breaks down the little building blocks of proteins, called peptides, and into an almost “pre-digested” state for quickest absorption (but whey on the whole digests pretty quickly). It also can sometimes taste bitter because of processing methods,” says Auslander Moreno.
Are there risks of consuming whey protein?
For starters, it can give you acne. Whey can mess with the production of acne-causing hormones, insulin and androgens, which can overstimulate sebum production and oil glands that cause acne.
It could also give you some stomach issues.”Any dairy susceptible individuals—like those that are lactose intolerant—may experience gas, bloating, and diarrhea from too much whey,” says Auslander Moreno.
In very rare cases, people with pre-existing kidney issues could experience kidney damage and dehydration from taking too much whey protein. But speaking generally, “a one-time large dose of whey is unlikely to cause any immediate life-threatening issue besides gastrointestinal upset,” she says.
By Emily Shiffer