The Complete Guide to Whey Protein: Everything You Need to Know

Whey protein powder is synonymous with bodybuilders and strength workouts. If you are looking to maximize your muscle gains or to boost your weight loss efforts, a whey protein supplement is exactly what you need.

Whey protein helps optimize your workout performance by boosting your muscle growth, supporting post-workout muscle recovery, helps increase endurance, stamina, and many more.

Anything that you look for in a protein powder, whey has it. Whey is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids that our body needs. It is the highest source of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) which are the most effective amino acids for muscle synthesis. Whey is highly affordable and easily digestible.

It’s no wonder that whey protein is the most popular dietary supplement in the fitness world!

Read on to understand this king of the supplement, how it works, when is the right time to have it, benefits, dosage, its different forms, and how it performs in comparison to its competitors. 

guide to whey protein

What is Whey Protein?

Whey is the liquid part of milk that is left behind after milk is curdled (1). It was an accidental discovery made thousands of years ago, by a farmer in Poland while he checked on his goat’s milk that he had preserved. He was the first one who noticed the liquid that had separated from the curds.

Though what happened next is not known, that incident marked the beginning of whey’s long journey from being a mere dairy by-product to becoming the world’s most coveted protein powder.

Bovine milk or cow’s milk is primarily made up of two kinds of protein. Casein protein constitutes 80 percent of the milk protein and whey protein which is the rest 20 percent (2).

Whey was a byproduct produced while manufacturing cheese (3). Initially, this whey was discarded as was thought to be of no use. In the U.S. these were thrown in the rivers and streams. However, it started becoming a problem, as this led to the growth of large amounts of algae in these waters hazarding the whole ecosystem.

Trying to find a solution for this extra whey, manufacturers started to use them as fillers which eventually found its way to the health and food industry and ultimately became a popular nutritional supplement. Whey is now marketed in its powdered form and is a primary ingredient in most of the protein powders specifically built for athletes and bodybuilders.

Whey protein powder is a complete protein which apart from containing all the essential amino acids, also contains a mixture of bioactive compounds such as beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, serum albumin, and immunoglobulins which has its own health benefits (4), (5).

Summary: Whey is a milk protein that contains all the essential amino acids as well as several bioactive compounds that have innumerable health benefits. They are complete proteins and are a popular supplement for muscle building.

Nutritional Value of Whey

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein which in different combinations make different proteins that play many critical roles in our body (6). There are 20 such amino acids amongst which nine of them can’t be produced by the body and have to be obtained from food or supplement. These are known as essential amino acids (7).

Whey proteins are one such supplement that contains all these amino acids and many more making it a complete protein. Whey proteins are a reservoir of important macro and micronutrients that are highly beneficial to the body.

They are high in calcium, potassium, and certain vitamins such as cobalamin which plays a crucial role in our body.

Summary: Whey protein being a milk protein contains all the goodness of milk. It is rich in protein, calcium, vitamin D, and potassium.

The Science-Backed Benefits of Whey Protein

Whey Protein Promotes Muscle Growth and Maintenance

Whey is believed to be one of the best protein supplements in the market.

It helps in muscle growth by the following mechanisms:

  • Whey contains high levels of BCAAs which have a unique capacity to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. This is especially true for leucine. Each serving of whey contains around 1.8-2.0g of leucine that is sufficient for the body to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS) to its maximum (8).
  • Whey contains a high amount of lysine and arginine that stimulates anabolic hormones and promotes muscle growth (9), (10), (11), (12).
  • Whey helps support the extra protein need while undergoing resistance exercise training (RET) (13). As the training stimulates a significant increase in MPS, whey helps suffice the protein need thus supporting muscle growth (14).
  • Whey protein can be absorbed very fast in the body thereby allowing its instant utilization while working out as compared to most other protein supplements. Whey also has a high potency bioavailability when compared to any other protein supplement (15).

Summary: Whey contains a high amount of MPS promoting amino acids such as BCAAs, lysine, and arginine. Being easily digestible, whey gives instant energy and its high bioavailability ensures total support of muscle growth.

Whey Protein May Reduce Muscle Fatigue and Muscle Soreness

Muscle fatigue plays an inhibitory role and limits your exercise performance. As you exercise, the muscles get exhausted and the ability to perform reduces. Your muscles start feeling tired and weak (16).

The muscles utilize the BCAAs and their level in the body starts declining with exercise. This in turn increases the tryptophan level that gets converted to serotonin, which is a brain chemical that is responsible for causing fatigue. Whey proteins with its high amount of BCAAs help reduce this process thereby decreasing fatigue during exercise (17).

Muscle soreness is another common occurrence amongst athletes which happens due to the microscopic damage that our muscles undergo after vigorous exercise.

Whey has shown to effectively increase muscle synthesis and reduce muscle breakdown thereby promoting fast recovery (18), (19), (20). This not only helps you in recovering faster but also provides you energy to delay muscle fatigue (21).

In a study conducted in 2017 in Toronto, Canada, it was observed that whey protein supplementation enhanced muscle protein synthesis and helped increase performance and muscle recovery (22).

Summary: BCAAs present in whey can help reduce muscle fatigue by inhibiting serotonin formation that causes it. Whey also effectively promotes muscle synthesis and prevents muscle breakdown thereby decreasing soreness that is caused by muscle damage while exercising.

Whey Protein May Help you Lose Weight by Improving your Satiety

Protein is known to be the most satiating macronutrient which can help you support weight loss. It not only makes you feel full but also can help you burn more calories (23).

In fact, in studies, with a high-protein and carbohydrate-free diet, there has been a 42 percent increase in energy-burning, putting the body into a calorie deficit state, leading to weight loss (24).

A high protein, low-fat diet also increases thermogenesis, a process by which the body produces heat (25). It does so by increasing the fat-burning in your body eventually leading to reduced weight. 

Studies have confirmed this with whey protein (26), (27). In fact, whey intake combined with weight lifting has shown to promote weight loss by 8 pounds.

The good news is that, even though whey helps you lose fat, it simultaneously aids in increasing your lean muscle mass which is exactly what is coveted by the fitness enthusiasts.

Summary: Whey can help lose weight by increasing your metabolic rate and the process of thermogenesis in your body, leading to weight loss.

Other Health Benefits of Whey Protein

Whey  Protein May Help Lower your Cholesterol Level and Reduce Blood Pressure: Whey contains bioactive peptides known as lactokinins that have shown to lower blood pressure in people who are suffering from high blood pressure or are prone to high pressure (28).

Whey helps lower the LDL cholesterol also called bad cholesterol in the body and improves your heart health. This was proved in a 2010 study conducted in Perth, Australia (29).

70 men and women when taken whey for 12 weeks showed a significant decrease in diastolic blood pressure and showed to improve the vascular functions in overweight individuals resulting in better blood flow.

Whey help Reduce Asthmatic Attacks: Whey protein can improve immune response especially in children with atopic asthma (30).

Whey Protein may Reduce Oxidative Stress: Whey contains the amino acid, cysteine that boosts glutathione production in the body, which is one of the most important antioxidants in humans (31). Studies have also confirmed that dietary whey protein decreases oxidative stress, a phenomenon which damages cells and contributes to aging (32).

Whey has Been Known to Have Anti-Cancer Properties: Experiments have confirmed that whey proteins show anticarcinogenic activity. Whey proteins may strengthen your immunity by stimulating the glutathione pathway (33).

Whey Protein may Help Reduce Inflammation: C-reactive protein (CRP) is one of the markers of inflammation. Your liver produces it in response to inflammation. Whey has shown to reduce the circulating CRP indicating reduced inflammation (34).

Summary: Whey proteins can boost your immunity by stimulating the glutathione pathway and have shown to have anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory properties.

The 3 Different Types of Whey Protein

Whey undergoes processing, filtration, and dehydration and is developed into whey protein powder. Depending upon the filtration process, whey can be developed into three forms: Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC), Whey  Protein Isolate (WPI), and Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH). Let’s read on to understand more about them.

Whey Protein Concentrate: Whey Protein Concentrate comprises 35-80% protein, contains some macro and micronutrients that are normally present in whey, and is the most-calorie dense in comparison to the other two (35).

Whey Protein Isolate: Whey Isolate contains 90% or more protein pertaining to a more vigorous filtration process. It is the purest form of whey and has a very low quantity of other nutrients such as lactose, fat, or carbohydrate. It is also the lowest in calories (36), (37).

Whey Protein Hydrolysate: Whey Hydrolysate is the Whey concentrate or Whey isolate, which is exposed to heat, acids, or enzymes to break some of the peptide bonds and make it into a pre-digested form. This makes it a highly absorbable form that is rapidly absorbed in the gut as it has already undergone partial hydrolysis.

Summary: Whey supplements come in three forms which differ from each other in terms of protein concentration, calorie density, and digestibility. Whey isolates are the purest form of whey, whey concentrate is the most common form and whey hydrolysate has the highest absorbability.

Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) vs Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)

Both WPC and WPI come from the same whey protein, therefore contain a similar amino acid profile. The differences occur because of the processing they undergo. Let’s go through the main ones:

  • Protein content: WPI contains more protein concentration as compared to WPC. In fact, it’s the highest amongst them all.
  • Lactose Content: High processing reduces the lactose percentage in WPI to less than 1% as compared to WPC which has as much as 20 percent lactose. This makes WPI a better option for people with lactose intolerance.
  • Calorie: WPI has very low calories as compared to WPC.
  • Processing: WPI undergoes a high-filtration process and gets most other nutrients removed in order to maximize its protein concentration. In contrast, WPC is processed less often.
  • Absorption: High processing makes WPI highly soluble and easily absorbable as compared to WPC.
  • Price: WPI is more expensive than WPC because of the vigorous filtration process it undergoes.

Both WPI and WPC have high protein content. However, when studied minutely, the differences come down to the other nutrients such as carbohydrates and fats present in it.

Both are great in building lean muscle mass and optimize your workout, but if you are on a calorie-controlled diet, WPI is the right choice. However, if that’s not much of a problem and you are looking for a much reasonably priced option, WPC is the one for you.

Summary: WPI and WPC have different processing methods that make WPI more protein-dense and lower in other macronutrients. WPC is more affordable and easily available while WPI is costlier because of the intense filtration process it undergoes.

What is the Best Time to Take Whey Supplements?

Whey is a complete protein that can support you in your exercise routine whenever you take them. However, your fitness goal also plays an important part in deciding the timings.

For example, if you want to lose weight, having whey throughout the day helps you suppress your appetite by reducing hunger hormones, and stimulates higher metabolism that ensures lesser calorie intake.

Similarly, if you take whey to gain muscle mass, the best time to take it is after your exercise within the time frame known as your “anabolic window”.

Experts recommend taking whey supplements across the day to prevent muscle loss with age (38).

Let’s understand this in a more detailed manner!

Whey Protein in The Morning

Glucose is the primary source of energy in your body and is stored as glycogen reserves in your muscles. Whenever the body is engaged in an activity and has used up the free glucose in the blood, it resorts to this store.

Usually, night time is a fasting period of the body which ranges from 9-12 hours or more. As glycogen stores run low during this period, the body goes into a catabolic state where it is forced to turn to amino acids for energy. This leads to muscle breakdown.

Whey protein with its fast-digesting, complete array of all the essential amino acids can help you counteract muscle breakdown by delivering the amino acids right on time. Therefore, having a whey protein shake in the morning is recommended by most experts which will get you ready for the day.

Whey Protein as a Pre-workout Supplement

Several studies and researches have confirmed that whey protein as pre-workout initiates protein synthesis when taken right before resistance training. 25-35 grams of whey as a pre-workout shake can provide you enough power in your workout and help you perform better.

It can help increase endurance, stamina, and reduce your exhaustion time.

Whey Protein as a Post Workout Supplement

Even though consuming whey any time of the day has its own benefits, whey as a post-workout is believed to be the most popular and effective. Post-workout, your muscles are stressed and need nutrients for muscle repair and re-growth.

Muscles are starved and like a sponge can absorb the protein post-workout. This particular time is referred to as the “anabolic window” that starts from 15 minus post-workout and continues up to two hours.

A large serving of whey protein can do the trick and help you kick start your recovery.

Whey Protein Before Going to Bed

As mentioned earlier, overnight starvation can exhaust your energy source and force your body to revert to protein breakdown.

A generous amount of whey protein shake taken before going to bed can stop your body from going into this state (catabolic state) (39).

This ensures that the body has enough nutrients for the body to feed in. The recommended intake of whey for this purpose is 40 grams prior to bed (40).

Summary: When is the right time to take your whey is completely dependent on your final goal. If you are taking whey for weight loss, or to prevent old age-related muscle loss, it is best to take them throughout the day. For an increase in muscle synthesis, post-workout intake is most effective.

How Much to Take: Dosage of Whey Protein Supplements

As already explained whey dosage also depends on your goal.

  • To prevent muscle loss, 25-30 grams of protein per meal is suggested.
  • To maximize muscle growth, 40 grams of protein before sleep is recommended.
  • To build and maintain muscle mass, and have a positive protein balance in the body, intake of 1.4-2.0g/kg body weight of the protein is believed to be sufficient for optimizing your exercise-performance.
  • Whey can simultaneously help gain muscles, as well as help, lose weight. A dosage of 1.2 to 1.6 grams per kg body weight which comes to 25-30 grams per meal is advised. 

Summary: Just like protein, taking whey protein at a dose of 1.4-2 g/kg body weight has shown to be effective in meeting your protein goals. However, it may vary a little depending on your final objective.

The Side Effects of Whey Protein Supplements

Even though whey protein is quite a safe nutritional supplement to consume, it may cause side effects because:

  • It contains lactose, which may cause discomfort in people who are lactose intolerant. However, whey protein isolate (WPI) with a negligible amount of lactose can be easily taken (41).
  • Even though it is rare, people may be allergic to milk protein (42), (43). In fact, people have been able to outgrow these allergies by the age of three. Some of the symptoms include a stuffy nose, swelling of the tongue and face, hives, rashes, etc (44).
  • Being a protein, excess consumption may cause side effects. Moderate amounts are shown to be pretty safe.

Very high doses can cause:

  • Stomach pains and cramps
  • Reduced appetite
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea

Scientists believe that nutritionally refined foods such as protein supplements can alter the balance in the body and heavily tip it towards protein which can risk people with kidney and liver problems.

Summary: Whey protein is generally safe for both young and old alike. However, excess intake may cause digestive issues like most protein and can be harmful to people who have liver or kidney problems.

Whey Protein vs Casein: Which is Better?

Casein is a slow-digesting milk protein that constitutes 80 percent of the bovine protein content. Like whey, casein protein is also a complete protein that contains all the essential amino acids that are crucial for muscle growth and repair (45).

It also contains bioactive compounds such as immunopeptides, lactoferrin, casoplatelin, and some more that have antioxidant and antifungal properties (46).

Casein is a highly popular protein supplement because of its “time-release” protein that is specifically preferred to keep your body in an anabolic state at night (47).

Let’s explore the salient points on whey and casein and understand how they are different from each other.

Whey Protein vs Casein Protein

Both whey and casein protein are milk protein, however, they have certain significant differences (48).

Absorbability: Casein is a dietary supplement that digests slowly as compared to the whey protein. Studies have shown that the amino acid levels stay elevated even after 4-5 hours after consumption of casein and can last up to seven hours. However, for whey, the blood amino acid reaches its peak in just 60-90 minutes and sustains for 2-3 hours max (49).

Function: Whey provides you a faster supply of amino acids and is the right supplement that supports muscle repair and rebuilding post-workout (50), (51).  It is best to consume it right after your exercise. Casein on the other hand pertaining to its slow and steady release of amino acids can be the ideal supplement to be taken before a fasting situation such as sleep (52).

Amino acid profile: Whey has a highly impressionable amino acid profile with a high amount of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) such as leucine, isoleucine, and valine (53).  Leucine is known to be one of the biggest players in stimulating muscle protein synthesis (54). Even though casein also contains BCAAs, whey has 25% more leucine than casein protein. However, casein has a higher proportion of amino acids such as histidine, methionine, and phenylalanine.

Bioactive Compounds: Casein contains bioactive peptides that aid in digestion and strengthens your immune system (55), (56). Some are extremely beneficial for your heart as they lower blood pressure. 

These active compounds also help carry minerals such as phosphorus and calcium resulting in better metabolism. Whey on the other hand is a powerful antioxidant as it successfully increases the level of glutathione which helps protect skeletal muscles and other body tissues from oxygen damage.

The immunoglobulins present in whey have strong antimicrobial and antiviral properties that can slow down or kill harmful microbes (57), (58). They also help transport nutrients such as vitamin A and support the absorption of iron (59).

Price: Casein supplements are generally costlier than whey.

Mixability: Whey protein mixes better than casein. Casein tends to form paste instantly therefore can be great as fillings or making pudding. However, as a shake, whey is a far better option.

Taste: Whey protein powder has a better taste and consistency than casein.

Whey or Casein: The Winner

Protein powders have commonly become popular because of their increased usage amongst gym-goers and bodybuilders. Therefore, when comparing whey with casein, whey takes more importance as it contains a higher amount of BCAA than casein.

However, the bioactive peptides in casein help improve immunity and digestion and work wonders in reducing blood pressure. Therefore, if possible, a combination of the two together can very well complement each other and support you in every way possible.

Summary: Whey and casein both are milk proteins with a similar amino acid profile. However, whey digests faster, contains more BCAA and is better in taste and consistency. However, casein is a slow-digesting protein supplement that continues to support your protein needs long after the intake.

Whey Protein vs BCAA: Which is Better?

BCAAs are branched-chain amino acids consisting of the three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. All of them have a branched-chain on one side giving them their name. This unique molecular structure makes them easily digestible by the body.

In fact, they have a unique property. Unlike all other amino acids, they can surpass the liver completely and directly broken in the muscle. Therefore, BCAAs can give you instant energy and start protein synthesis right away.

BCAA vs Whey Protein

BCAAs, mainly leucine, increases muscle protein synthesis and help boost muscle building whilst significantly increasing your stamina and endurance. It helps you deal with DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) and supports muscle recovery. This makes it one of the most coveted nutritional supplements.

However, whey is the biggest supplier of BCAA and is not limited only to them but also contains all other essential amino acids that the body needs. Whey contains around 20 percent of BCAA which comes to 5-5.5 grams. Since 5 grams of BCAA are needed for muscle synthesis, this is sufficient.

Whey Protein vs BCAA: The Winner

Do keep in mind that BCAAs have lower calories than whey, therefore if weight loss is your primary goal, BCAA with its low-calorie content will be a better option. Also for a person who is allergic to milk protein or is lactose intolerant, BCAA being 100% lactose-free can be a better choice.

Therefore, it depends upon your requirements that can help you decide the right supplement for you. In case you want more, you can always take both. They can go very well with each other and provide fitness enthusiasts with greater results.

Summary: BCAAs are three amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine which are most beneficial for muscle synthesis and lowering muscle breakdown following an intense workout. However, whey also contains BCAAs as well as all other essential amino acids.

Whey Protein vs EAA: Which is Better?

The nine amino acids that your body can’t produce are called the essential amino acids (EAA). They are histidine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, and valine. The best natural source of these EAAs is meat, eggs, and poultry.

EAAs stimulate muscle growth, produce neurotransmitters, enzymes, and hormones, are a principal part of structural protein such as collagen and elastin, regulates important functions like sleep, appetite, and mood, regulate your blood sugar, help in the healing process, boosts your immune system and many many more (60).

Whey Protein vs EAA

Since whey also contains all the EAA, it will be interesting to see how whey fairs in comparison to the EAA supplement.

  • As understood by the name, EAA supplements provide all the essential amino acids required for several important body functions including muscle protein synthesis. However, whey supplements are complete proteins and contain all the essential amino acids too, making it as good as the former.
  • The muscle protein synthesis following the consumption of EAA supplement is more than twice the response to the consumption of a comparable dose of whey protein isolate. Studies have shown that 15g of whey gives the same anabolic effect as 6.72g of EAA (61).
  • This greater effect is largely due to the rapid absorption of EAA in the body. It instantly increases free amino acids to be used by the body (62). It also reaches its peak pretty faster than whey. However, whey has its own potential advantages as well. Because of its slower absorption, it stays in the body for a longer time making itself available for a prolonged duration.
  • EAA is lower in calories as compared to whey and does not cause an insulin spike. Whey in comparison is higher in calories because of the other macronutrients such as lactose present in them. They also cause insulin spikes which may not be preferable to people who are trying to lose weight (63).
  • Whey contains a wide array of bioactive peptides that enhance recovery (64). They have antioxidant properties and can promote immunity as well. They positively affect the adaptive process to exercise. Whey produces several peptides during the digestion process which have their own unique nutritional advantages.
  • EAA is non-inflammatory while whey can cause inflammation.
  • Whey is a much cheaper option than EAA making it more affordable to the wider population.
  • Whey is much tastier than EAA supplements. It comes in different flavors such as chocolate, strawberry, etc.
  • EAA is easily digestible and does not cause any digestive problems, unlike whey.

Whey or EAA: The Winner

The answer to this question depends on your goal. If you want to get leaner and want to go for a calorie-restricted diet without compromising on your protein intake, EAA is the right choice for you.

However, if you want to get bigger and build muscles, you need the extra nutrients and calories in addition to the protein that whey can provide. The extra energy is needed for the building process. In that case, whey is the one for you.

If you are a sports person and need to increase your power, strength, and speed that improves your performance, whey, and EAA both can work efficiently for the purpose. But, for an endurance athlete who undergoes more muscle wastage, high energy loss, and excess cortisol release, EAA is the better option.

Can I Take Whey Protein and EAA Together?

Studies have concluded that a balanced intake of both whey and EAA supplement is highly beneficial for protein synthesis in the body and increases the protein-based recovery process (65).

Summary: EAA supplements absorb better in the body, do not spike insulin levels, and are non-inflammatory, unlike whey. However, whey can win the game as it contains EAA plus other beneficial compounds.

Whey Protein vs Creatine: Which is Better?

Creatine is an organic compound that is naturally produced by our body using the three amino acids: methionine, arginine, and glycine (66).

Creatine helps produce instant energy that enables longer and more intense workouts. It increases the phosphocreatine store in the muscles that help regenerate ATP (adenosine triphosphate) also known as the energy molecule of our body (67). Supplementing your body with creatine helps increase muscle mass, strength, endurance, and exercise performance.

Whey Protein vs Creatine

Whey protein and creatine have different molecular structures and work differently in the body. Let’s go through the main differences and see which one is better than the other.

  • Whey is the primary milk protein that contains all the essential amino acids including branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) that are required by our body (68). Therefore, whey is considered one of the top listed supplements used by athletes and bodybuilders. Creatine is produced naturally in the body by three amino acids (69).
  • Whey and creatine, both promote muscle gain when taken in combination with resistance training (70). Creatine supplementation helps increase your exercise-capacity increasing your muscle mass while whey provides you with high-quality protein that enhances muscle protein synthesis (71), (72).
  • By increasing the ATP stores of your body, creatine delivers instant fuel to the muscles to grow while whey induces an anabolic reaction in the body that stimulates muscle protein synthesis (73).
  • Even though irrespective of time, whey benefits your workout performance, but it is best as a post-workout supplement because equipped with all the essential amino acids, whey helps repair muscle tissues and quicker recovery (74). Creatine, on the other hand, is best taken before a workout especially 30 minutes before the start to give that surge of energy for better exercise performance (75).

Can You Take Whey and Creatine Together?

Studies have confirmed that there is no harm in taking whey and creatine supplements together (76), (77). As a matter of fact, together they show greater muscle gain and more strength compared to taken separately.

Together whey and creatine can support your exercise goals better.

Summary: Whey and creatine both increase your workout capacity and help boost muscle growth. Creatine helps you boost your energy level increasing your ability to exercise whilst whey promotes muscle protein synthesis and improves the recovery process.

Whey Protein vs Plant Protein: Which is Better?

With time, more and more people are getting interested in plant-based protein. Earlier dismissed because of its lack of one or more amino acids, the popularity of plant protein is surging. They are nutrient-dense, vegan-friendly, easier on the stomach, and a great option for people with lactose intolerance.

Plant-proteins are much lower in calories and fat, and high in vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibers. As the name suggests, plant proteins are proteins from plant sources. They are rice, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp, nuts, peas, soy, chia, and many more.

Whey Protein vs Plant Protein

  • Whey protein is a complete protein with all the essential amino acids while plant proteins are deficient in one or more (78), (79). Therefore, taking a combination of two plant proteins help complement each other and provides a complete amino acid profile (80). One such example is brown rice protein and pea protein. When taken together they are as good as whey.
  • Plant proteins are lower in calories as compared to whey.
  • Whey is one of the cheapest protein powder in the market and highly affordable as compared to plant proteins which are expensive.
  • Whey proteins are the highest source of BCAAs which are most effective in promoting muscle building (81). Plant protein is somewhat lacking in this regard. Whey has nearly 20-30% more BCAA than the plant proteins.
  • Plant proteins are vegan friendly, unlike whey. They also can be a great way of incorporating protein in people who are allergic to milk or are lactose-intolerant (82).
  • Plant proteins are a great hypo-allergenic supplement that is available as soy, nut, and gluten-free. They are ideal for people who have digestive problems (83).
  • Whey contains amino acids cysteine, a precursor of glutathione which is a powerful antioxidant. In comparison, plant proteins are short on them. However, plant proteins are nutritionally more dense than whey protein containing much more micronutrients than whey (84).

Whey And Plant-based Protein: The Winner

Whey protein has always been the best in the market and is widely used for building muscles, improving muscle recovery, promoting endurance, stamina, and strength. When compared with soy protein, whey performed much better during resistance training in increasing lean body mass (85).

However, they also come with their own share of digestive problems, allergies, and not a good choice for vegans. Plant proteins combined together can help give an alternative option which is easier on the stomach and lower in calories.

Therefore, even if whey is the best option, research confirms that plant proteins are a great non-dairy option which can be equally effective.

Summary: Whey proteins have all the essential amino acids and have the highest concentration of BCAA that promote muscle synthesis. However, plant proteins taken in combination can come up with a similar amino profile. They are also vegan-friendly, easily digestible, low in calories, and nutritionally dense.

Whey Protein vs Mass Gainer: Which is Better?

Mass gainers are supplements that help you gain muscle mass. It is high in calories and contains protein, carbohydrates, and sometimes fats. They help you increase your calorie intake thereby gaining weight.

This calorie mainly comes from carbohydrates such as glucose and maltose. The major difference between whey protein and mass gainer is the number of calories it provides. Whey protein contains 100-150 calories per serving while mass gainers provide 1250-1500 calories per serving.

Whey Protein vs Mass Gainer

The key differences between whey protein and mass gainers are:

  • Whey protein helps build lean muscle without gaining weight. Mass gainers are specifically formulated to rapidly increase body mass as well as gain weight (86). Whey supplements contain whey protein only. However, they have been found to contain certain additives for improving the taste and flavor. 
  • Mass gainers not only contain proteins but an equal amount of carbohydrates and often fat (87). They also contain high amounts of caffeine and creatine (88).
  • Whey protein helps in reducing the risks of diabetes and blood pressure whereas mass gainers can spike your insulin pretty high because of the extra calories (89).
  • Mass gainers are for the skinny people who just can’t gain weight however hard they try. For them, mass trainers are a great way to put in the extra calories in the body and help gain weight. Whey is for people who want to increase their muscle protein synthesis without gaining weight. Whey is for the athletes and bodybuilders who are looking to improve their performance not weight (90).
  • Whey has also been shown to reduce weight by increasing your satiety. Mass gainers on the other hand are made to increase weight gain.

Mass Gainer or Whey: The Winner

Between mass gainer and whey protein, you should choose the one that helps you reach your end goal.  If your goal is to be lean and athletic, whey is the one you should go for. However, if you are keen to build your body and achieve a lot of bulk, mass gainer would be the right option.

Summary: Whey supplements are whey proteins while mass gainers are high-calorie supplements that have protein plus carbohydrates, a little number of fats, and stimulants specially formulated to gain weight. Whey helps in increasing muscle mass while supporting weight loss whilst mass gainer increases both.

Whey Protein for Women

Contrary to all the myths related to whey protein used only by males, it has been proved beyond doubt that whey protein is one of the best and purest sources of protein. It can help them stay fit and energetic.

However, some brands in the market do add certain specific vitamins and minerals which are believed to benefit women. They are folic acids, vitamin B6, and many more.

For women, the lower limit of protein intake is around 56 grams per day. A whey shake of 25 grams of protein can conveniently meet that when taken once or twice a day. It can very well be a replacement for your daily protein food intake (91).

In addition, to assist in improving your performance, whey has shown to reduce body fat in women and lower your cholesterol level. Whey also boosts your immunity.

Summary: Whey is an equally good supplement for women like in men. It helps increase energy and endurance, helping them to perform better. In fact, whey helps reduce body fat as well as blood triglyceride levels.

Whey Protein for Diabetics

Over the years, many studies have confirmed whey’s positive effect on diabetes. The properties of whey that are responsible are:

Whey promotes increased insulin production: Whey can increase the production of insulin in the body that plays a crucial role in maintaining your blood sugar level (92), (93), (94). It mainly works on your post-prandial blood glucose that is your sugar level after a meal.

Whey is high in L-Cysteine: The L-cysteine in whey helps synthesize glutathione that has a strong antioxidant effect (95), (96). This helps scavenge off free radicals and help prevent the complications that are normally associated with diabetes.

Whey has anti-inflammatory effects: Most diabetics are prone to inflammation because of the high blood sugar level (97). Studies have also observed that by reducing inflammation, it is possible to prevent its progression and complications of diabetes (98). Whey with its strong anti-inflammatory properties helps combat them successfully.

Whey helps increase satiety: Whey can very well help you control your blood sugar. It slows the digestion process thereby preventing insulin spikes. Whey also makes you feel full and prevents overeating (99).

Whey induces fat loss: Whey proteins can promote fat loss by increasing metabolism and fat burning process. This results in weight loss which in turn helps keep a tight rein on your blood sugar levels (100).

Whey can lower post-meal glycemia: Around 10-15 minutes after your meal, your blood sugar starts to increase. However, it only reaches its peak only after 1 hour. The sugar level in the blood during this time is known as postprandial blood glucose or post-meal glycemia. In diabetics, this seems to be very high and continues to remain that way due to a lack of insulin that helps uptake this blood sugar by the organs. Whey has shown to lower this when taken just before the meal (101), (102), (103).

Summary: Whey can actively lower blood sugar levels by increasing insulin production. It has also shown to lower post-meal glycemia which is great for people suffering from diabetes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you Drink Whey Protein During Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is defined as an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It has several popular methods and the most common being 16/8 methods.

Studies have observed that intermittent fasting doesn’t help you gain muscle. Therefore, a protein supplement that contains a sufficient proportion of BCAAs taken during the eating window or eating phase may help in that respect (104).

Whey supplements can be the right choice for that purpose. However, you shouldn’t take them during the fasting window as it contains calories and will break your fast.

Can I Have Whey Protein on a Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet is a high fat, low carb, and a moderate amount of protein diet. The aim is to force the body to make the transition from burning carbohydrates for energy to burning fat for the same. In a typical keto-diet, you get to consume only 25-50 grams of carbohydrate a day.

Whey is keto-friendly, especially the whey protein isolate. It has a negligible amount of sugar but provides a high amount of protein to support your activities (105), (106). With any weight loss program, there is muscle wasting and whey help preserve the muscle. Some keto-friendly products also contain whey concentrate in a ratio that doesn’t exceed the overall carb amount.

Can Athletes Take Whey Protein?

Athletes can very well take whey protein to help optimize their performance. For any athlete, protein is very important especially those who are actively training. If the body does not contain sufficient protein or if the adequate protein is not provided under these circumstances, your muscles start breaking, making you falter in your stamina and endurance.

Whey protein powders containing all the essential amino acids including the BCAAs are a great meal replacement that can support your routine. It also contains glutamine which helps boost muscle recovery and increases your overall immunity.

Is Whey Protein Good for Shredding?

In the world of bodybuilders, bulking, cutting, and shredding are the three common words that are often used while building your physique.

Shredding means reducing your body fat to 6% or lower while retaining the lean muscle mass. Whey protein is considered as one of the best supplements for shredding that can help rebuild muscle while supporting fat loss (107).

Should I Drink Whey Protein if I’m Bulking and Cutting?

Bulking and cutting phases are followed by bodybuilders in order to maximize their muscle size. In the bulking phase, they have a very high-calorie intake combined with training and focus on maximizing their muscle size. 

As the name suggests, they bulk up. This is followed by the cutting stage where they are focussed on reducing body fat without compromising on muscle size. This helps them develop a well-defined physique.

Whey protein is one of the easiest ways to consume enough protein and is great during bulking. This will also help you to sustain the gradual increase in the training intensity. Whey protein is equally good to take while cutting as you need that extra protein to maintain that muscle mass you got while bulking.

What is the Basic Difference Between Whey and Pea Protein?

Whey protein is sourced from milk and contains more BCAAs in comparison to pea protein (108). Even though both pea protein and whey both are complete proteins, pea proteins have three times more arginine than whey. Arginine is an essential amino acid that promotes muscle growth.

Whey digests faster than pea protein and can easily be a dietary replacement which isn’t quite true for pea proteins. However, If you are allergic to milk or are lactose intolerant, or just want a vegan option that is as efficient as whey, pea protein is ideal for you.

The Final Note

Whey is a milk protein that has all the essential amino acids and bioactive peptides that makes it one of the healthiest ways to incorporate protein into your diet. It is absorbed quickly and utilized efficiently.

Whey comes in three forms giving you enough options to choose. The isolate form has very low sugar or calories and is very high in protein, rendering itself useful to lactose-intolerant people as well.

Athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts who want to make physique and gain muscle mass whilst not gaining weight can go for whey without any hesitation.

What more! It’s good for diabetics, helps reduce blood pressure, keeps your immunity strong, and is highly affordable. It helps in hair growth, keeps your skin healthy, helps you in losing weight, and provides you with the energy and endurance that you need to perform.

It is for a good reason that whey is called the king of supplements. Read all the details and decide for yourself!

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