Whey protein is the highest quality protein available on the market today. It's a rich source of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), containing the highest known levels of any natural food source, it's also known as a fast digesting protein which makes it ideal for post workout and morning consumption as well as a good choice for use through-out the day.
Whey protein is one of two types of protein that comes from milk (the other is casein protein, a slower digesting protein and not quite as high quality). Whey protein is a by-product of the process of milk being turned into cheese. Whey contains proteins, peptides ( protein segments), lactose (milk sugar), fat, salt and water. The quality of a protein is derived at by several methods, one of the most common methods is biological value or BV. Biological value is the measure of the efficiency of a protein and how it can be absorbed and used by the body – the higher the number the better. With regards to BV, egg protein has always been the standard with 100, until whey came out in the 90's. Now with whey protein BV can be as high as 170, making it number one on the market. When it was first introduced in the 90's, this was a key selling point as whey had to overcome the then dominance of 100% egg white protein. It didn't take long for whey to basically storm the market and it has retained it's own dominance to this day.
There are three types of whey protein, let's take a look at each one:
Whey protein isolate has the highest bio-availability of the whey sources, generally about 30-60% more than concentrate.
- Whey protein isolate – the most pure form of whey protein
- Whey protein concentrate – not as pure, slightly higher fat & lactose
- Whey protein blend – a mixture of isolate and concentrate
The more pure the product the higher the price will be, in this case whey protein isolate is the most expensive form of whey protein. However, isolate is literally zero fat, zero carbs and zero lactose. It's the highest quality of the whey protein choices but, let's be honest, budget restrictions come into play here as it can be very expensive.
- It's the purest form of whey protein, high in bcaa's with an overall excellent profile of amino acids
- It's fat free, lactose free and carb free
- More protein per serving – this means that you get a higher percentage of usable protein than with other proteins on the market
- Ideal for fat loss, building muscle or any other sport related use.
It is the most expensive protein supplement.
Whey Protein Isolate is a very high quality product rich in amino acids but it is not as filtered as isolate. What this means is that get slightly less usable or absorpable protein per scoop with a slightly higher calorie content which includes small amounts of fat and carbs, usally 2 grams or less of each. While this doesn't matter for someone who needs mass, but for fat loss this may matter. However, slight adjustments to your overall diet can allow you to work around this.
- A good price comparatively
- It has a good amino acid profile
Whey Protein Hydrolysate
Whey protein hydrolysate (or hydrolyzed whey) is a high quality whey protein isolate that has been "predigested" or hydrolyzed, this means that some of it's amino acids have been broken into smaller chains. This results in a very fast digesting protein, making it a great choice for post workout and in the morning. It does, however, have a bitter taste with the taste getting more bitter as it gets more hydrolyzed and for that reason, tends to be less popular than the other two choices. Currently, most products are only approximately 20% hydrolyzed due to cost and taste.
Hydrolyzed Whey Benefits
- fast absorption
There are also whey protein blends which are a blend of the different whey proteins. This is something of a compromise of quality but also allows for a lower price. However, a blend of whey protein is far superior to a blend of different protein sources, such as whey, casein, soy and so on. Blends are actually very common and quite popular and will provide good results.
- Good value for your money, a quality product for a good price with a good blend of the different whey proteins
- Provides a good amino acid profile
- Usually has lower fat, carb and sugar content's than whey protein concentrate alone
The method by which whey is processed is a big part of product advertising, it will help your buying decision to understand these methods:
ION EXCHANGE: Ionic Exchange processing involves separating proteins based on their electrical charge. Two chemicals are used to achieve this: hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide. However, because of the chemical reagents used, pH sensitive fractions are damaged and some amino acids are denatured–the glycomacropeptides, immunoglobins, and alpha lactalbumin. These are valuable fractions lost in the Ion Exchange process. This results in higher concentrations of other fractions such as beta-lactoglobulin.
One advantage of Ion Exchange is that it has the highest protein levels and has less fat/lactose of any whey processing method on a gram-for-gram basis.
MICRO/ULTRAFILTRATION: Microfiltration uses ceramic membranes to filter the whey. No chemical regents are used so the majority of biological fractions are left intact without being damaged. Ultrafiltration is similar to the microfiltration but uses smaller pores with higher pressure. By using membrane filters, fat and lactose are filtered out. The particles are separated based on their molecular size and shape.
The advantage of this process includes:
- Minimal denaturing of protein
- Preserved biological fractions
- Better amino profile
CROSS FLOW MICROFILTRATION (CFM): One of the best processing methods on the market today. CFM is patented and owned by Glanbia (one of the largest in the dairy industry, they recently bought Optimum Nutrition). Therefore, there is an added cost for manufacturers to use this method–resulting in higher price. Once again, very similar to micro-filtration but it's kicked up a notch to produce an isolate that is greater than 90% protein with no fat or lactose, and leaves almost 100% of the protein and the important peptides intact.
CFM includes the advantage of micro/ultra-filtration plus:
- Contains more calcium and less sodium
- Highest level of undenatured protein
The CFM method is currently considered to the best overall processing method. Additionally, there are some whey blends that use all of the processing methods discussed here.
Whey protein is usually available in a powder, but you can get chewable tabs as well. This means your choice is based not only on the quality of the product but also the taste, price and how well the powder mixes. Since many of us use a blender bottle, it has to mix easily. Since many of us use water as our beverage, you want it to taste good. Price comes down to what you're willing to pay but again, for many of us it's a major consideration. You must research before you buy and it pays to include user reviews in your research, which can be very helpful in making your buying decision. Of course, protein intake and timing is critical to your success and you must always be sure you get a protein based meal in every 3 hours! Post workout, first thing in the morning and near bed time are especially important. Whey works great because of it's fast absorption although many users now use the slower digesting casein at night.
As far as intake, you want to take the protein level you plan to use: 1 to 1.5 grams per pound of body weight and divide that by the 6 meals you should be having, and that's your target goal for each protein serving you have through out the day. So if you know how much you need per feeding, you can adjust your dose to fit your needs. Scoop sizes vary per product which in turn controls total protein grams per serving so be sure to check the label for both the scoop size and number of scoops required to get the serving size you need. As always, read the label carefully before buying.