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Whey protein is a protein of high quality that comes from milk. It is considered a complete protein that contains all the essential amino acids along with branch chain amino acids. Whey is a complex protein that is made up of smaller protein sub fractions or peptides like immunoglobulins, glycomacropeptides, alpha-lactalbumin, beta-lactoglobulin, and bovine serum albumin. There are also minor peptides like lactoperoxidases, lysozyme and lactoferrin.
When milk coagulates, the left over product is the whey and contains all the soluble components from the milk. After cheese has been processed is when it’s removed and basically consists of lactose in water with minerals and lactalbumin. Once the whey is removed, the fat is removed from it and then it is processed for human consumption. Drying is the simplest way to process it but it can also be done by removing lipids and other non-proteins in order to increase the protein content. Spray drying separates proteins from the whey after the membrane filtration is complete.
Whey protein concentrate is made up of 70-80% protein and the rest is fat, lactose and other types of proteins. Whey isolate is made up of 90-96% protein. In the process to make whey isolate, more of the fat and lactose is removed, so better quality protein remains. Certain products contain a combination of both whey protein concentrate and isolate. This lowers the price because the isolate is more expensive. There are also products that blend casein protein with whey protein, creating a timed release effect, with whey protein being absorbed faster than the casein. This particular combination is great for consuming at night because the body is typically inactive for about 8 hours, giving time for it to repair itself.
Heat can denature whey protein, usually at higher temps around or above 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Whey protein does not combine at the time of acidification of milk but denaturing it does trigger a hydrophobic interaction with other proteins which can lead to allergies in some people. The protein efficiency ratio, or PER, measures the ability of the protein to encourage growth. Whey is a top scorer with a 3.6. Protein digestibility, or PD, is the fraction of the dietary protein that is absorbed. Whey again is at the top with a measure of 98. The net protein utilization (NPU) is the ratio of amino acids that convert into proteins, in comparison with the ratio of amino acids supplied during a typical day. Again, whey is the highest with a 92. Before whey protein, egg protein had the highest BV score with a 100. Whey scores in a BV range from 102-157.
Whey costs about 25-40% less than other dairy products but due to production issues within the cheese industry, whey is not utilized as often as it could be. It’s recommended that people take in between 1 and 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. If for example, someone takes in 180 grams of protein a day, it should be divided up between five or so meals, at about 35 grams of protein per meal. Consistently taking in protein ever 3 or 4 hours creates an anabolic effect. This is when the meals build muscle and burn fat. Protein can come from poultry, fish and red meat but it’s more expensive and digests at a slower rate. This is where whey protein is beneficial. It’s easier to digest, prepare (it can be mixed with milk or water) and it costs less per gram.