Article by Danielle Hughes
Post Fact Checked by Dr. Jason Cavolina, MS, PharmD
Dr. Jason Cavolina, MS, PharmDConcierge Pharmacist and Fact Checker
- Over 15 years Experience as a Pharmacist, Researcher and University Lecturing.
- Doctorate Degree of Pharmacy
Where Does Your Whey Come From?
Remember the old nursery rhyme, “Little Miss Muffet, sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey?” What exactly was she eating? And where did she get it? These are questions we should all ask ourselves as we gulp down yet another whey protein shake. Of course we want it to taste good, and we want the right ingredients on the label. We also want to know where those ingredients are coming from.
Powders and shaker bottles have taken gyms and lunchbreaks by storm as Americans drink their way to fitter abs and healthier diets. The most common blends are made from a soy, whey or vegetable base, and which one is best is entirely up to your body. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you would be more interested in a healthy plant protein, but for those who consume animal products, whey is the gold standard of protein.
Most of us realize whey is a product made from cow’s milk, but there is a bit more to it than that. There are actually three forms of whey that are produced, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate and hydrolyzed whey protein. This is where Little Miss Muffet returns. When milk is extracted from the cow, it is about 80% casein and only 20% whey. The whole milk is then heated with a little acid, like vinegar or citrus, until it separates into the curdled bits, curds, and the liquid, whey. Curds are the base of cheese and whey was once discarded before we realized it was a complete protein and really useful!
The liquid whey is then sent through several more processes to convert it into the powders that we are all in love with.
Whey was chosen because of it’s high concentrate of amino acids, but within those are many other great benefits for your body. It contains alpha-lactoglobulin, immunoglobulins (IgG1, IgG2, secretory IgA and IgM), lactoferrin, lactoferricin, calcium, potassium, sodium, phosphorous, folic acid, biotin, and vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B3, B5, and B12. That is quite a mouthful! For die-hard body builders, many of those words make sense, but for the weekend warrior, it is good to know that this is more than just protein.
Back to amino acids. These are what the body needs to build and repair tissues like muscles.
Whey is a great source of protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. If you’re trying to bulk up, there are three amino acids that you really need: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These are called BCAAs or branched-chain amino acids and have been proven to promote muscle protein synthesis. This is where whey protein really shines as it has incredibly high levels of BCAAs!
When deciding what type of whey protein to purchase, it’s best to know a little about their final composition. Whey protein concentrate does contain trace amounts of lactose, but it also has the highest level of nutrients. As a concentrate, it is 70-80% protein with a bit of fat, sugar, vitamins and minerals filling out the rest. This combination makes it taste better than other options. An isolate is 90+% protein, and though it has less sugar and fat, it also has less nutrients. Hydrolysate is whey that has been hydrolyzed or pre-digested with enzymes to make the protein molecules smaller so they have a faster rate of absorption into the system. This is only needed for very specific athletic goals and is not commonly used outside of performance demands.
With the above breakdown, the best option is a concentrate and isolate blend to have the highest nutritional availability with the most protein and still taste good.
Now that we know what whey is, we must look at how to choose the right one for your system. This comes down to knowing the source.
It’s not much different than when you check the source of your meats. If your chicken has come from a factory, it’s most likely been treated inhumanely, pumped full of antibiotics and chemicals for faster and unnatural production, colored and washed to make it look attractive, pumped full of water to make it look bigger, wrapped in Styrofoam and plastic and finally shipped all over the world. Or you can buy farm raised chicken that has been fed a healthy diet and allowed to grow naturally, so your body doesn’t absorb all the same antibiotics and chemicals that were put into your food.
Your whey is no different. It may be a powder sold in a container, but it still started out as an animal product.
If you’re going through this much effort to be healthy and fit, then making sure you are not filling your body with unnecessary and potentially harmful ingredients seems to be a natural choice. You always choose grass-fed steak in the market, so that same consciousness should transfer to your protein shake. Choose grass-fed whey protein.Sources like Terra Origin’s grass-fed chocolate whey protein gives you a chemical free choice that is the perfect isolate/concentrate blend with 25 grams of healthy protein in every scoop. Caring for your body is the very best thing you can do for yourself. Let us help you do it right!