What Is Whey & Why Does It Matter?

03/05/2022 | 5 min. read

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If you have read or watched anything about gaining weight or building muscle, you have probably heard of whey.

Simply put, whey is a protein supplement that can be added to different types of food or drinks. When used safely, whey can have many benefits.

But because it differs from other protein sources, it is important to fully understand what it is and incorporate it into your diet.

What is Whey

Whey protein is a type of protein supplement that is derived from milk.

During the cheese-making process, manufacturers add certain enzymes to milk. This separates the milk into curdles and liquid whey. The curdles, which are comprised of fat, become cheese. The remaining liquid is pasteurized and dried, creating protein-rich whey powder.

There are two different types of whey protein.

Whey Concentrate

Whey protein concentrate is the direct result of pasteurizing and drying the whey liquid that remains during the cheese-making process. Because milk is high in fat and carbohydrates, whey concentrate is typically only 80 percent protein, with fat and carbohydrates making up the remaining 20 percent.

Although high in protein, this type of whey may not be suitable for those trying to avoid consuming excessive fat or carbohydrates.

Whey Isolate

Whey protein isolate is produced when whey concentrate is further processed, reducing the amount of fat and carbohydrates in the powder and increasing protein content. Whey isolate is typically made up of at least 90 percent protein.

Protein Intake

While each form of whey protein can differ in actual protein content, the type of protein they are made up of is the same.

On average, a serving of whey concentration delivers 18 grams of protein, while the same amount of whey isolate has 23 grams of protein.

The average man should consume about 56 grams of protein per day, and the average woman should consume about 46 grams. These values can differ based on weight, height, and activity level.

Benefits of Whey Protein

Protein is one of the essential nutrients our bodies need to function efficiently. Besides providing a protein source, whey protein supplementation can have many benefits if made part of a healthy diet.

Muscle Strength and Recovery

Protein is one of the most important nutrients we need in order to build lean muscle mass. Because our muscles are made up of proteins, whey protein powder can help muscle protein synthesis as well as promote the repair of tissues after injury.

Weight Gain

Those who suffer from malnutrition or are underweight can benefit from adding whey to their diets to increase fat mass or lean body mass.

Depending on the type, whey protein hydrolysate can help individuals load up on essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that they need for energy.

This is especially true for the elderly or those with illnesses that decrease appetite.

Wound Healing

Protein contains amino acids that help promote cell and tissue regrowth. Regular consumption of whey protein can help wounds or other damage to body tissue heal faster and healthier.

Although the full benefits of whey are still being studied, it has also been associated with the following health concerns and functions:

  • Immune Support
  • Improved Cardiovascular Health
  • Bone Tissue Growth
  • Improved Mood
  • Weight and Blood Sugar Management
  • Prebiotic and Antioxidant Properties

Results may vary based on each individual and can be impacted by the frequency of use. As always, it is best to consult a doctor before using any supplement.

Precautions to Take

Whey protein is generally considered safe and can be very beneficial. But like many supplements, it can also have harmful side effects.

When purchasing or consuming whey powder, make sure you are aware of the possible risks.

Digestive Stress

People who are allergic to lactose or dairy products should avoid using whey powders or other forms of whey. While whey contains less lactose than a glass of milk, it can still incite a reaction for those with a milk allergy. Because whey contains a megadose of protein, it may also be hard to digest or cause gastrointestinal discomfort.


Whey powder is a processed supplement that is added to food or drinks for consumption. Many varieties are flavored as vanilla or chocolate, indicating the presence of sugar and sweeteners and chemical additives to improve taste or shelf life. Excessive sugar intake can contribute to diabetes and high cholesterol and may impact kidney or liver health. Whey protein can be a healthy addition to your diet, but not when it is high in calories, sugar, and harmful chemicals. Be sure to read through nutrition labels very carefully when choosing a whey powder.

Long-Term Side Effects

While protein is an essential nutrient that our bodies need, whey contains megadoses of protein. If used regularly, whey can cause long-term health problems. Because whey is a relatively new supplement, scientists are unsure if increased protein intake is dangerous to the human body.

While there may be no side effects, it is always best to be cautious and watch your consumption of protein shakes.

Lack of FDA Approval

Like many dietary supplements, formulas of whey powder are largely not regulated or approved by the FDA. Because of this, you must exercise caution when purchasing any variety of whey powder. Make a note of brand reputation as well as the ingredients used to make the product.

How To Use Whey

Because whey often comes in powder form, it is typically consumed after it is mixed in with other foods. It is a very versatile supplement that can be incorporated into your diet in many ways.

Here are a few ways you can consume whey powder:

  • In smoothies or milkshakes
  • In cakes, cookies, or other baked goods
  • Added to oatmeal or other grains
  • To thicken gravy and different types of sauces
  • As a base for soup or stews

Whey powder is best consumed in the morning or after a workout. It can also be used as a meal replacement when added to drinks. As long as you are using it safely, do what works for you!

Whey is sold in sweet, savory, and plain varieties to accommodate different uses and applications. With enough experimentation, you are sure to find your favorite way to consume it.


Whey powder is a type of protein supplement that is made from milk. Because of its powder formulation and variety in products, it is a versatile supplement that delivers a punch of protein for athletes or those looking for a boost after resistance training.

While whey protein can have many benefits, including muscle growth and weight management, it can also be harmful if not used properly.

When buying whey protein, make sure to read through the ingredient list and nutrition content to avoid additives and sugars. Beware to not over-consume whey protein, and seek medical attention if you experience any side effects.


Whey Protein: Health Benefits and Potential Side Effects | Cleveland Clinic

Whey protein| Mayo Clinic

The hidden dangers of protein powders | Harvard Health Publishing

Healthy Directions Staff Editor