Whey Protein: A special kind of protein

Why whey protein is the best form of protein supplement and how to choose the right one for you


Most of us believe that the use of whey protein is a very recent phenomenon. But its use goes back over 2500 years. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, was the first to use it to enhance muscle power and immune system function. Not much was known thereafter about whey, until it was rediscovered in the 16th century by the Swiss, who started using it in health spas in the Alps.

Even then, in most parts of the world, this liquid byproduct of cheese was considered useless and was dumped in lakes and seas after the cheese was separated.

It was only in the early 1990s that Dan Duchaine, also known as the ‘steroid guru’, began extracting pure whey by removing fats, lactose and ash, and made it the phenomenon it is now.

The age old tussle of which protein is better: Vegetarian or non-vegetarian

Typically, the Indian diet is deficient in protein and rich in carbohydrates—one of the main reasons that our country is at the centre of the global diabetic epidemic.

But the bright side of the story is that it does not matter whether you are a pure vegetarian, a lacto-vegetarian, a lacto-ovo vegetarian or a non-vegetarian, you can still get the protein you need from your regular diet without the use of supplements. The pertinent question is whether you are eating the amount and quality of food that gives you your daily intake of protein.

There could be various reasons why you may not be able to have sufficient protein and this is where supplements help. Also, remember that whichever way you measure the quality, animal protein is far better than protein from plant sources. That is why vegetarians have to do a lot of mix-and-match with their ingredients to make sure that they get all the required amino acids.

What’s so special about whey?

Whey protein is a very high quality protein derived from cow’s milk. You may wonder why you shouldn’t just have whole milk instead! The reason is that milk has numerous other components like lactose [sugar] and fat. So whey gives you the benefits of protein without the other ingredients present in milk.

Milk contains two types of proteins—Casein and Whey. Casein forms 80 per cent of milk while whey is only 20 per cent. Whey is derived from the liquid which comes out during the production of cheese. So once cheese is made and the fat is removed, whey is extracted for use.

Whey is presently the highest-quality protein available in the market. It has an extremely high amino acid profile [amino acids are building blocks of protein] and is easily digested by lactose-intolerant individuals too.

The benefits of whey

  1. It increases the natural glutathione levels in the body. For those of you who don’t know, glutathione is one of the most powerful antioxidants and is produced in the body naturally as an enzyme.
  2. It is one of the best supplements that can be used in recovery.
  3. It is known to balance blood sugar levels, thus reducing craving for food and assisting in fat loss.
  4. The biological value is the measure of how efficiently a protein source is absorbed in the body. Egg protein is said to have the best biological value in natural foods with a value of 100. But whey protein is said to have a value as high as 170.
  5. Whey protein is a thermogenic fuel i.e. its storage and digestion in the body requires the body to spend large amount of energy, thus increasing calories burnt.

Which whey protein to choose?

If you set out to buy a protein supplement, it can be very intimidating especially if you’re not prepared for the wide range of options you’ll meet at the store. One has a choice of egg, soy, casein, pea, beef, and whey proteins to buy from. What adds to the confusion is that each of the above has various types. Here’s some help with the homework.

Whey is simply the best form of protein available in the market and it is available as three types:

  • Whey concentrate – These are generally the cheapest. They contain 70 – 80 per cent protein with 5 per cent lactose. The rest is fat. The problem with concentrate is that it may be unacceptable to people who are extremely lactose intolerant.
  • Whey isolate – These are over 90 per cent protein. These are purer and costlier than whey concentrate. Lactose intolerant people are generally comfortable with isolates.
  • Whey hydrolysates – This is the costliest and purest form of whey available and is over 95 per cent protein. It is used in baby milk for infants who are highly lactose-intolerant and is also used by people who are undergoing digestive surgery.

There is no doubt about it, by using whey, you’ll soon be on your way to a fitter and healthier body.

3 BIG protein myths busted

  1. Excess protein damages the kidney
    Numerous studies prove that protein intake in no way causes kidney disease. It has to be restricted for a person who already has a kidney disease. But for a normal person it is absolutely safe at any age.
  2. Excess protein leaches out calcium from the bones
    Again there is no evidence backing this myth. Protein makes up 50 per cent of the bone by volume and it has been proven that high-protein diets are associated with greater bone mass.
  3. Planning your protein intake as per RDA recommendations
    The daily protein intake suggested accodring to the recommended dietary allowance [RDA] is just enough to prevent a deficiency. It is not the optimum intake for an individual. RDA recommended value is 0.8g/kg body wt/day which is grossly inadequate. The protein requirements vary from person to person depending on factors like lifestyle, stress, gender, health status and body type. Research has shown that elderly people require 1.14 – 1.5g/kg of body weight/day to avoid brittle bones.

This was first published in the August 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Akshay Chopra
Akshay is one of the most qualified and experienced health, fitness and nutrition consultants in the field. An athlete, coach, nutritionist, author and over all a defence forces officer and a former pilot - all rolled in one. A transformation expert, he is known for taking over those cases which most professionals have given up. He is the co-founder and Fitness Chief of one of the most research based gyms in the country "Body Mechanics" and just launched the Human Design School.


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