What is Whey Protein?

In recent years, a substantial amount of buzz has been generated about whey protein -- and might I add, with good reason.

I know that I have personally fielded many questions in regard to my protein intake regimen at work. Almost every single one of my cohorts has at one time or another been in the office kitchen while I am making my protein shake (using Optimum's 100% Whey, by the way).

Here are the most pertinent questions being asked by the average Joe (or Jane):

1. What is whey protein?
2. Is whey a complete protein?
3. What are the advantages of whey protein?
4. What are the disadvantages of whey protein?

Without getting too deep, let's take a look at the boilerplate answers to each of these questions.

1. What is whey protein?
According to the almighty Wikipedia, whey protein is the collection of globular proteins that can be isolated from whey, a by-product of cheese manufactured from cow's milk. It is typically a mixture of beta-lactoglobulin (~65%), alpha-lactalbumin (~25%), and serum albumin (~8%), which are soluble in their native forms, independent of pH. Whey has the highest biological value (BV) of any known protein.

More simply, whey protein is a high quality protein powder from cow's milk. Milk has two proteins: Casein (approximately 80%) and Whey Protein (approximately 20%). Whey protein is more soluble than casein and also has a higher quality rating. It is often referred to as the "Gold Standard" of protein as considered by some to be the most nutritious protein available.

2. Is whey a complete protein
Yes. Whey protein is a natural, high-quality, and complete protein that contains all the amino acids the body requires for muscle protein synthesis. Whey protein has a higher biological value compared to other proteins meaning the protein is easily absorbed and utilized -- especially in isolate form.

3. What are the advantages of whey protein?
This is a tough one to answer in short, but most notably, emerging research suggests that higher daily intakes of high-quality protein and their amino acid components, especially the higher amounts of leucine found in whey protein, may help people on a reduced-calorie diet preserve lean muscle mass while burning fat more effectively than those who just cut calories while consuming lower amounts of protein.

Preliminary studies show whey protein may offer advantages in lowering blood pressure. There also are some suggestions of protection against infections and viruses.

In addition, whey protein is a high-quality protein. It contains all of the essential amino acids in the proportions that the body requires for good health. Whey protein has the highest biological value of any protein, meaning it is efficiently used by the human body (104 for whey protein vs. 100 for eggs, 74 for soy protein and 54 for wheat).

4. What are the disadvantages of whey protein?
Generally speaking, the best whey products are fairly expensive, essentially rendering them obsolete or inaccessible to most. There are certainly affordable whey products, but these are usually of a much lower quality, and are often full of sugar. These cheaper products are not digested as easily as a quality product.

Overall, however, most of us who are serious about gaining lean muscle mass will do what we need to find a whey protein product that is of high quality, and affordable at the same time. The plethora of advantages make the sacrifice worth it, while the disadvantages typically only involve the cost of the product. Simply put, you can't go wrong with a quality whey protein product when you are serious about protein intake. In light of how beneficial it is, it is ironic that it was once considered a waste product in the process of making milk and cheese.

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To conclude, it should also be stated that while there isn’t a daily recommendation specific for whey protein, the average adult needs approximately 46-56g of total protein each day to maintain a healthy body. (That's according to the Institute of Medicine, Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Protein and Amino Acids.)

Whey protein (and the products that contain it) can help people meet their protein requirements with a high-quality source. And I dig it.

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