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What Is Whey Protein?

If you’ve ever walked through a health food store, you’ve probably noticed that there are a ton of different protein powders on the market. There are plant proteins, chia or hemp options, pea protein, and perhaps the most well-known, whey protein. But what is whey protein? It turns out, if you eat yogurt, you’ve probably seen whey without even realizing it. You know that liquid that settles on top of yogurt? Yeah, that’s whey. 

What Is Whey Protein?

More scientifically speaking, “whey is the watery portion of milk and is a byproduct of cheese-making,” Ilyse Schaprio, RD, tells Lively. Milk products consist of two proteins: casein and whey, both of which can be dried and powdered (the curds from casein can be added to cottage cheese).

"Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from the whey. It contains all essential amino acids," Schapiro says. There are 20 amino acids needed by your body for optimal function, and nine of those, including the three Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), are known as “essential amino acids." Whey is known as a “complete protein” precisely because it has all nine essential acids. 

Essential amino acids help with muscle synthesis, but the body can’t make them on its own, so they need to be consumed through your diet. Whey is easy for the body to digest, and fast-absorbing so it can be used readily. But do you need whey? Maybe, but ideally you can reach your daily protein goals by incorporating protein-rich foods like eggs, meat, poultry, yogurt, lentils and beans into your diet.

what is whey protein

Is Whey Protein Powder Good For You?

“Consuming whey protein doesn’t have any benefit for healthy adults,” Schapiro tells Lively. “However, if you are having a hard time meeting your protein requirements it can be a good way to increase intake.”

Protein needs vary by person, sex, activity-level and age, but an easy way to get a general idea of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein is to multiply your weight in pounds by .36g per pound. So if you weigh 150 lbs., you likely need about 54g of protein every day.

If you’re training for a marathon or another major physical event, are pregnant or are trying to put on lean muscle, have recently had surgery, or if you’re vegan, there’s a chance you may not be reaching your protein needs. The catch is that whey protein is not vegan, so it won’t be of much help there. “It’s impossible to make whey dairy free,” Schapiro says, though it is naturally low in lactose. 

There’s also a slight difference between whey concentrate and whey isolate; the isolate is more processed so it typically contains a higher protein content than the concentrate, and less carbs, lactose, and fat (the exact nutrition facts will vary by brand). It’s also typically more expensive. 

And if you just want to throw in a scoop of whey to make a filling smoothie post workout? Schapiro says there’s really no drawback to consuming whey in the recommended dose, it just may not be necessary. “Just make sure you are choosing a brand that is transparent about their ingredients as supplements can often be mislabeled in the United States,” she adds.

When it comes to every product in our collection, Vital Proteins® prides itself in satisfying three key pillars: transparent sourcing, quality ingredients and clean labels. If you're looking for a new whey protein powder to add to your routine, reach for our Collagen Whey offerings. Each serving size boasts 25g of protein and 10g of collagen

We recommend discussing your health goals with your licensed healthcare professional. They can best provide you with the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and assist you as well in deciding whether a dietary supplement will be a helpful addition to your regimen.

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