Whey Protein 101: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide

Medically Reviewed on 7/22/2022
Whey Protein 101: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide
Learn about how whey protein can help you in your fitness journey and what precautions to take when using it

Whey protein is the protein isolated from whey, which is the watery part of milk that separates from the curd in the cheesemaking process.

Whey protein is commonly used as a supplement because it contains all nine of the essential amino acids which are required for muscle building and repair. 

Learn about how whey protein can help you in your fitness journey and what precautions to take when using it.

What to know about whey protein

Amino acids

Whey protein is abundant in essential amino acids and is an especially good source of natural branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) such as leucine, isoleucine, and valine. There is a growing body of research suggesting that BCAAs can boost muscle protein synthesis and help minimize muscle breakdown after exercise.

Globular proteins

Whey protein is referred to as a globular protein, meaning that the protein is folded at the molecular level and has a substantial amount of energy that is easily released. Although most protein sources take a long time to digest, whey protein is quickly digested and absorbed by your muscles. In fact, it takes about 30 minutes for amino acids in whey protein to reach your muscles, making it an excellent supplement for muscle recovery after an intense workout.

Biological value (BV)

BV quantifies the quantity of usable protein in a protein supply. Whey protein has a higher BV than egg, milk, chicken, or beef.

What are different types of whey protein?

Popular types of whey protein include concentrated, isolated, and hydrolyzed varieties, which all have slight differences in protein content, taste, digestibility, and price. 

Whey protein concentrate (WPC)

  • Most common protein type of whey and least modified. Whey protein concentrations range from 30%-90%.
  • Low concentration of fats and cholesterol.
  • The type of carbs in this type of protein is lactose.

Whey protein isolate (WPI)

  • Known for its purity because it is processed to eliminate fat and lactose.
  • Provide a high amount of BCAAs and a good balance of other amino acids.  
  • Contains 90% protein and is very low in carbs, suggesting that it contains more real protein per serving than other types of whey protein supplements.
  • A viable option for people who are lactose intolerant since it contains little to no lactose.

Whey protein hydrolysate

  • Contains high-quality proteins with all essential amino acids. Additional enzymes or acids are used to break down the proteins into shorter amino acid strands.
  • More processed and pre-digested than WPC and WPI, making it more easily absorbed
  • Considered less allergic than other whey protein supplements.

Whey protein blend

  • Mix of whey protein concentrate and isolates.
  • Boasts a high-quality protein blend and an excellent BCAA profile.
  • Considered an inexpensive option that offers the benefits of different types of whey protein powders. 

Native whey protein (NWP)

  • Made by filtering raw milk to extract whey protein, instead of during the cheesemaking process, which means more proteins are kept whole and more leucine is contained in the end product.
  • May contribute more to muscle growth than other whey protein formulations, according to early studies. 


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10 potential benefits of whey protein

Because whey protein is a rich source of all essential amino acids, it contains everything needed to maximize protein synthesis in the body. Potential benefits of whey protein include the following:

1. Promotes muscle growth

One of the main uses of whey protein supplements is for building and repairing muscle, making it popular among athletes and other people who want to gain muscle strength and improve exercise performance.

2. Improves athletic performance

Protein from dietary intake is not enough for elite athletes to keep up with the physical energy needed to engage in rigorous training and workouts. Whey protein provides the body with additional protein that is quickly digested and converted to protein required for muscle repair, which is especially important for athletes.

3. Speeds up post-workout recovery

Whey protein can promote the healing of microtears that occur after high-intensity workouts by providing your body with the protein and amino acids it needs to build new muscle tissue and repair damage.

4. Aids in weight management

Whey protein has been shown to help with weight loss, boosting calorie burn by 80-100 calories a day and promoting satiety throughout the day, which leads to lower calorie intake.

5. Lowers blood pressure levels

Natural compounds found in dairy products have been demonstrated in studies to lower blood pressure. As whey protein is created, the molecules are converted into lactokinins, which have been found to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension.

6. May help manage sugar levels

Whey protein has been demonstrated to help control blood sugar and increase natural insulin levels in the blood. This can help combat combats type II diabetes.

7. May help lower cholesterol

High cholesterol levels are a primary contributor to heart disease. Whey protein supplements in the right dosage may help lower blood cholesterol.

8. Promotes synthesis of antioxidants and growth hormones

Whey protein has the potential to increase the synthesis of glutathione, a natural antioxidant that can boost your immune system and protect your cells against damage. Studies have shown that whey protein may also promote growth hormone production, which is why it may be recommended for teens since they can benefit from the extra protein needed for growth and development.

9. Helps in body recomposition

Body recomposition involves simultaneous fat loss and muscle building. Whey protein can help promote body recomposition by reducing hunger, increasing energy levels, and promoting muscle growth.

10. Contains other beneficial nutrients

Whey protein is more than simply a high-quality protein source. It also contains lactoferrin, beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, and immunoglobulin, which have been shown in some studies to help boost immunity, improve bone density, reduce inflammation, and prevent cancer.

What is the optimal dosage of whey protein?

General recommendations for whey protein dosage is about 1-2 scoops per day (about 25 to 50 grams) after a workout. 

Keep in mind that if you already consume a high amount of protein, adding whey protein on top of that may be unnecessary. 

The ideal approach to figuring out the correct dosage is to assess your activity levels and the types of workouts you engage in. Someone who works out for general fitness will require less whey protein than someone who does heavy weight training. General guidelines for whey protein intake are as follows:

  • Active athlete (build muscle and lose excess fat): 1.5 to 2.2 grams per kg of body weight (just under 1 gram per pound)
  • Average person trying to lose weight and preserve muscle mass: 1.5 grams per kg of body weight 
  • Inactive person trying to maintain protein levels: 0.8 grams per kg of body weight 

However, these are general guidelines only. It is best to consult your doctor or trainer to determine how much whey protein you need for your fitness level and goals.

What is the best time to take whey protein?

Whey protein should be consumed within an hour of finishing a workout to aid with muscle repair and recovery. However, studies report that it may take up to 48 hours after a strenuous workout for your body to recover. So you may be able to take it at any time of day.

In the morning

  • Most experts advocate having a high-quality whey protein shake first thing in the morning. This is due to its high biological value and excellent amino acid profile, which ultimately sets you up for the day.
  • Since your glycogen reserves deplete overnight, your body is forced to rely on amino acid stores to power metabolic functions. This causes the muscle to enter a catabolic (or breakdown) condition.
  • Taking whey protein in the morning can therefore be a good idea because it immediately provides amino acids to your muscles and prevents muscular breakdown.


  • According to some studies, protein synthesis is boosted when whey protein is consumed just before resistance training.
  • Taking whey protein before a workout can therefore help with muscle development and improve stamina during exercise.


  • The best time for athletes to take whey protein is soon after a workout. This is because they may have just put muscles through a lot of stress and now require nutrients for repair.
  • Scientists believe that muscles can potentially use more protein as a nutrient source best after a workout. 

What are the possible side effects and precautions for whey protein?

Whey protein is typically well tolerated and does not cause serious side effects. However, everybody is different, and it is better to experiment in lower doses and gradually increase your intake over time. Always talk to your doctor, nutritionist, or dietitian before adding whey protein to your regimen.

Possible side effects of consuming too much whey protein in your diet include:

What precautions should you take when consuming whey protein?

Whey protein, like any supplement, should be consumed with caution.

  • Kidney or liver problems: People with existing kidney or liver problems may want to avoid whey protein or talk to their doctors before consumption.
  • Allergies: People who are sensitive to certain foods or have food allergies should avoid high doses. If you cannot tolerate ordinary whey protein concentrate, isolate or hydrolysate varieties may be more suitable. Alternatively, you can just forgo whey protein and eat protein-rich foods instead. However, the majority of side effects are often caused by lactose intolerance rather than whey protein itself.
  • Read labels: Some whey protein powders on the market may include harmful ingredients such as refined sugar. It is therefore important to read labels before making a purchase.

Whey protein has been extensively researched for its health benefits and potential risks. However, it should not be used to substitute a healthy diet or medications for underlying medical conditions.

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Medically Reviewed on 7/22/2022
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Whey Protein - Uses, Side Effects, and More: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-833/whey-protein

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Whey protein supplementation enhances whole body protein metabolism and performance recovery after resistance exercise: a double-blind crossover study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5537849/

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