Whey protein powder is undoubtedly one of the most common dietary supplements used by athletes. They are popular both in aerobic and anaerobic sports.
In spite of their widespread use, many still believe it's a product based on artificial ingredients.
In this blog, we'll look at whey protein, how it's obtained, and the difference between whey protein isolate, concentrate, and hydrolysate.
From milk to whey protein powder
Cow milk contains two types of protein.
- 80% are caseins,
- and 20% is whey protein.
When casein is added to milk in order to produce cheese, the milk curdles. After coagulation, casein gives a hard consistency to cheese, cottage cheese, and other dairy products, but a side product of this process is whey.
The nutritional composition of whey is extremely rich and contains several different nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other biologically-active ingredients.
Roughly, 100 ml of whey contains:
- 0.6-0.9 g of protein
- 0.7-1.2 g of carbohydrates (mainly lactose)
- 0.1-0.3 g of dietary fats
- Calcium (80-100 mg/100 ml)
- Potassium (140-150 mg/ml)
- Small amounts of sodium, phosphorous, and magnesium
- Vitamins B12 and B6
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
Furthermore, whey has other biologically-active ingredients, such as immunoglobulins, which play a role in the immune system, and lactoferrin, which boosts iron absorption.
Glutathione, another nutrient found in whey, is a powerful antioxidant that protects your cells from the damage caused by free radicals.
The composition of whey varies based on its type, manufacturer, and production process.
The most important component of whey are protein, which are composed by different amino acids (building blocks of protein), including essential amino acids, a type of amino acid that the body is not able to synthesize by itself and must be ingested with food.
Unlike caseins, whey protein is easily digestible, which means the body can quickly use them to build and regenerate muscles, which is called muscle recovery. Whey protein contains all amino acids your body needs, including significant amounts of lysine.
Where is whey used?
Not long ago, whey was a merely a side product in milk production. It was considered a biological waste and an expense for the milk industry.
But new scientific discoveries regarding the benefits of whey made it an appreciated resource in many areas, including sports nutrition.
Some common areas where whey is used:
- dietary supplements: whey can be processed and included in many dietary supplements, such as whey protein powder, which is extremely popular among people who wish to increase their protein intake;
- baby food: whey can be used to produce certain types of baby food, such as adapted milk formulas;
- fermented products: whey can be included in further processing of fermented dairy product, such as probiotic yogurts and drinks;
- cosmetic products: due to the nutritional and moisturizing properties of whey, it is also used in some cosmetic products, such as shampoos and skincare creams;
- pharmaceutical industry: a significant user of whey is the pharmaceutical industry, which uses whey to produce certain medicines and dietary supplements;
- food industry: whey can be used to produce various substances, such as stabilizers, emulsifiers, and colors;
- biofuel production: in some cases, whey is used to produce biofuels through the process of fermentation;
- fertilizers: fertilizers that include whey can be used to fertilize agricultural areas and composting.
Whey protein production
Whey protein powder used in sports nutrition is composed of concentrated and dehydrated whey.
Whey is concentrated with membrane techniques. The liquid is filtered through a semi-permeable membrane which allows protein through but blocks other substances (fats and part of lactose). Concentrated whey, which is still a fluid, is then dehydrated (dried), which results in a protein powder. This is the basis of whey protein powder.
Concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate
Concentrate is the least processed whey powder. It contains 80% protein and some fat and lactose.
Isolate is acquired by further cleaning the whey protein concentrate. The process isolation almost entirely removes all fat and lactose. The end result is a 'pure' source of whey protein with more than 90% protein content. Since the isolate contains zero or very little lactose, it is suitable for people who are lactose intolerant.
Hydrolysate is whey protein concentrate further processed with acid or enzymes. This process breaks down the bonds between amino acids that form protein. Long protein chains are transformed into shorter chains that contain only a few or individual amino acids. The hydrolysis process reduces the allergenicity of milk proteins. A complete whey protein hydrolysate is suitable even for people who are allergic to milk protein. Since the protein is broken down into smaller peptides, the absorption and digestion are faster, which can be very useful for people with digestive disorders.
The choice between the concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate depends mainly on your goals, dietary needs, and potential health issues.
If we sum up the properties of all three (see chart below), we can see that each of the three types of whey protein has its unique properties, which also affects its use.
The whey protein concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate are the basis of protein powder that you find in sports nutrition stores. They can be further processed to modify their taste by adding various additives (e.g., cocoa, sweeteners) and aromas (e.g., vanillin) and their consistency by adding thickeners (e.g., carrageenan, xanthan), which provides a wide variety of different whey protein powders.
Check out our vast selection of protein and choose the one most suitable for your taste and needs.
The use of whey protein
You can use whey protein for much more than simply protein shakes. There are several ways to include it in your diet.
- morning porridge: add protein to your oat porridge by adding a scoop of whey protein powder;
- pastry: replace a part of flour with whey protein powder;
- smoothies: a considerable source of carbohydrates, but with some protein powder in the mix, also a great source of protein;
- yogurt: increase the protein content and nutritional value of your yogurt by adding a scoop of protein powder;
- meal replacement: when you are pressed for time, a protein drink is a simple, fast, and nutritious solution;
- flavor enrichment: since whey protein powders are available in combination with different aromas and sweeteners, they can improve the taste of porridge, smoothies, yogurt, etc.
Whey protein powder is a completely natural food obtained from whey, which is a by-product in the production of dairy products.
Whey allows you to enrichen your meals with protein in a simple and efficient way.
Whey protein powder is available in different forms, including whey protein concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate. Compared to the concentrate, the isolate and hydrolysate are a purer source of protein, while the hydrolysate is further broken down into individual peptides, which reduces the allergenicity of protein.
The choice of whey protein powder depends on your goals, dietary needs, and potential health issues.