What Is Whey Protein?

Last Update: December 2, 2022

Believe it or not, choosing the right protein can be a very personal decision. Whether you’re hoping to lose weight, gain muscle, or just increase your daily nutrient intake, there are a few factors to consider. Then there’s your diet to think about. Are you vegan or do you follow a plant-based diet? Are animal-based proteins off the menu? Once you make your way through the extensive selection of proteins on the market, you’re likely to come head-to-head with a trusty favorite: whey protein. While it isn’t exactly new to the scene, this milk-based protein continues to gain a following. Perhaps that’s because its benefits, including aiding in muscle growth and weight loss, are well-studied. If you haven’t tried whey yet, it might be time to give it a chance. We’ve compiled everything you should know about this powerful protein staple along with some of our top supplement picks.

What Is Whey Protein?

Not to be confused with plant-based proteins, whey protein is made from cow’s milk. Whey is created when curdled milk separates into the curds (used for cheese or yogurt), leaving behind a watery substance, aka the whey. Whey protein is available in powder and liquid form, and while it is sourced from cows, it’s actually surprisingly low in lactose.

Whey protein is traditionally available in three different forms depending on the processing method used:

  • Whey protein isolate: This process involves the removal of all lactose and fat to create a product that is 90 percent protein. Whey protein isolate is typically the most premium form of whey protein and, therefore, the most expensive.
  • Whey protein concentrate: Whey concentrate is processed to have slightly less protein and slightly more carbohydrates than protein isolate (about 80 percent protein rather than 90).
  • Whey protein hydrolysate: This form of whey protein has undergone hydrolysis in order to make it as easy to digest as possible. Whey protein hydrolysate is used primarily in baby formula and medical supplements.

Whey Protein Benefits

Whey protein contains essential amino acids that are absorbed quickly by our bodies and used to help build muscles. In fact, studies have linked whey protein consumption to increasing strength while decreasing body fat. However, it’s important to read ingredient lists carefully and shop wisely. Protein powders that also contain added refined sugar or are exceptionally high in calories are unlikely to offer any substantial health benefits.

Whey Protein Q&A

Let’s take a closer look at this popular protein pick.

Whey Protein

Is whey protein vegan?

No. Whey protein is sourced from cow’s milk which means it is not vegan diet approved. Thankfully, if you prefer animal-free protein, there are plenty of plant-based options to choose from. You can shop our large catalog of plant-based proteins here.

Is whey protein gluten-free?

100 percent pure whey protein is naturally gluten-free. However, some whey protein products include a peptide bound glutamine that comes from wheat protein and is not safe for those who suffer from a gluten intolerance or sensitivity. Be sure to read labels closely so you can find the protein that works best for your needs.

Is whey protein good for weight loss?

Increasing one’s protein intake typically has a positive effect on weight loss. In fact, studies show that overweight or obese people who supplemented with whey protein lost more weight and gained more muscle mass than those who didn’t. However, be sure that your protein consumption isn’t coupled with a high sugar or caloric intake if you’re aiming to shed a few pounds.

When should I take whey protein?

While it doesn’t hurt to fuel up with whey protein before a workout, you are likely to maximize results when downing a whey protein shake after your sweat session. That’s because the amino acids in whey protein absorb quickly so they are exceptionally beneficial in muscle recovery, repair, and growth.

Best Whey Protein Products

Here are some of the best whey protein powders on the market.

Thrive Market Organic Vanilla Whey Protein

Our very own whey protein comes from the milk of pasture-raised cows that graze year-round without added hormones, antibiotics, or exposure to pesticides. Each serving delivers a mighty 20 grams of protein, amino acids, and 0 grams of sugar.

Natural Force Organic Coffee Whey Protein

Sometimes you need to use the force to get your day started, and this coffee flavored whey protein is just what you need to perk you up. The 100% USDA Organic, grass-fed protein is completely free from artificial ingredients and the nutty coffee flavor will get you moving.

BioChem Natural Whey Protein Isolate Powder

Crafting whey protein for over 15 years, BioChem continues to up their game. Sourced from grass-fed cows, this 100% whey formula is made by using a cold process, chemical-free, micro-filtration/ultra-filtration method that removes most of the unwanted lactose, cholesterol, and unwanted fat, thereby creating a pure whey protein isolate.

Tera’s Whey Organic Plain Whey Protein

This unsweetened, unflavored whey protein blends seamlessly into smoothies, beverages, yogurts and more. Plus, each serving delivers a whopping 22 grams of protein per serving.

Ways to Enjoy Whey Protein

Get your protein fix with these genius whey recipes and smart nutrition tips.

Protein Powder Pudding Pops

If you grew up on pudding pops, these frozen treats might make you feel a little nostalgic, but we assure you that this version is packed with good-for-you ingredients like coconut milk, cacao powder, and whey protein.

How to Build the Best Smoothie Bowl

Start the day right with a bowl brimming with superfoods. We’ve rounded up our favorite smoothie bowl recipes and also included a few key tips for beautiful blending.

Pre-Workout Meals

Ready to kick your workout into high gear? Set the tone and fuel up right with these protein-packed pre-workout meals.

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