Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
4 Feb

A Primal Primer: Whey Protein

Whey Protein PowderWe’re long overdue for a good, solid post on whey protein. I include it in my Primal Fuel shake mix, a number of readers asked about it after last week’s dairy post, and it’s one of the more commonly used nutritional supplements around, so it’s a no-brainer of a post.

What is Whey?

Whey is a byproduct of cheese production. It’s that pseudo-clear liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained that used to be tossed aside as waste material. Today, we know that it houses an impressive array of proteins: beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, and serum albumin. These are complete proteins, comprised of the essential amino acids central to protein synthesis and increased muscular hypertrophy. Our bodies can produce non-essential amino acids from lesser amino acids, but we cannot produce the essentials ourselves; we must eat quality protein sources. Whey is a naturally occurring, essential protein that satisfies the body’s protein requirements – hence its popularity.

Can Dairy-Sensitive People Use Whey Protein?

Whey contains trace elements of lactose, so the extremely intolerant may have problems digesting it properly. Because whey is, by definition, the stuff that separates from the casein when it curdles, it has even less casein (save for trace amounts), rarely enough to be noticeable to anyone but the most casein-intolerant. But that’s pure whey; whey protein powder has even less of both.

Lactose may pose a problem, but casein almost certainly will not.

Isolate vs. Concentrate vs. Hydrolysate

As for whey protein powder, you’ve got a couple options. Whey protein concentrate contains some fat and lactose, while whey protein isolate is pretty much pure protein with very little of the other dairy elements remaining. Concentrate is less processed and more whole, but has less protein. Isolate is about 90-94% protein, but it’s subjected to a more rigorous refinement process. Bodybuilders are drawn to the “purity” of whey isolate, lured by the moderately higher protein counts. Isolate is also considerably more expensive than concentrate, and the purported boost in beneficial effects on protein synthesis are overstated; drinking any kind of whey protein shake will have a beneficial effect on your muscle recovery and protein synthesis. If cost is not an issue, or you’re mildly sensitive to dairy, then isolate is your best choice. Otherwise, it’s probably fine to go with concentrate for most applications (or otherwise further you could just eat a steak instead).

Whey hydrolysate is predigested whey protein that’s easily absorbed and virtually free of any potential allergens, but it’s (in my opinion) horribly overpriced. Whey in general is already highly bioavailable and easily absorbed by our bodies, so absorption is rarely an issue with whey. Hydrolysate is great marketing. That’s about it. The elite of the elite – those hulking magazine cover superheros with tanned, smiling faces atop straining, veiny necks – may have actual cause to maximize protein absorption, but you guys definitely don’t need to fuss over that stuff.

Is it Primal?

Whey protein falls into the 80/20 category. It isn’t strictly Primal (and certainly not paleo) in that it wasn’t available to Grok, but it can be an effective, occasional high-protein meal replacement with most – if not all – of the potential allergens mitigated or negated. It’s an analog, a bit like dairy itself. If you can’t handle any dairy, skip it (or try whey isolate) and take the time to prepare a meal. If you can handle dairy without a problem, a whey protein powder is a pretty good way to shuttle nutrients into your body, especially if you’ve chosen to go the post-workout nutrition route  – which I usually don’t.

Going Primal means acknowledging both the limitations and the advantages of modern life. I wish I could laze around on the savannah for days following a successful kill. I wish I had ten hours of leisure time every day. The reality is that we’re a busy bunch of people, and if we’re truly serious about maximizing our quality of life, slamming down a quick protein shake so we can get to the office a little earlier might mean we can leave earlier, too, and get home in time for a date with the significant other, a hike at dusk, or an extra couple chapters on that great book we’ve been meaning to read. If that isn’t a feature of modern life that can help us follow the Primal ways more easily, I’m not sure what qualifies.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Every time I try having Whey protein Isolate I feel sick to my stomach and have the same type of hypoglycemia attack that I experience when I eat unrefined grains. Why is that? Does anybody know?

    Ailu wrote on February 5th, 2010
    • Oops, I meant “refined grains”.

      Ailu wrote on February 5th, 2010
  2. What about beef protein isolate?

    Lima wrote on February 5th, 2010

    Just take a look at this, this whey protein things is confusing me.

    Whey protein concentrate (WPC):
    Is the cheapest whey protein
    Is denatured – the beneficial protein structures are destroyed
    Contains higher amounts of cholesterol, oxidized to a large degree

    Hydrolyzed whey protein:
    Has hypoallergenic properties
    Is partially predigested – the degrees of predigestion vary
    Its amino acids are more readily available, one of them is known to have excitotoxic properties (glutamate)
    May play a role in excitotoxin-induced brain damage

    Ion-exchange whey protein isolate:
    Has low if any amounts of lactose, fats and cholesterol
    Many of the native whey protein structures are destroyed
    It is denatured to a large degree
    Beta-lactoglobulin globulin is present in higher quantities, which may lead to allergies

    Microfiltered whey protein isolate:
    Has low if any amounts of lactose, fats and cholesterol
    Retains its native proteins intact
    Is twice as expensive as WPC and ion-exchange protein
    Promotes muscle repair and growth
    Strengthens the immune function
    Has detoxifying and antioxidant properties

    Robert wrote on February 5th, 2010
  4. Dr Mercola sells whey that is from raw milk, from grass fed, organic cows.

    zach wrote on February 5th, 2010
  5. I use a whey protein drink for breakfast most days, it lets me “eat” in class without being overly distracting to others.

    I *have* run afoul of a whey protein shake that had wheat gluten in it — no idea why that would be necessary — so keep an eye open for that when buying if you’re intolerant.

    Kim wrote on February 5th, 2010
  6. I am still wondering why the responsibly slim contains sucralose instead of a natural sweetener-stevia.

    Natalie wrote on February 7th, 2010
  7. I’m also wondering about possible oxidation of cholesterol in whey protein. Can we be sure of avoiding that if it’s whey protein isolate? And is there anything to “microfiltered”? It’s hard to tell what is meaningful and what is marketing hype (and therefore meaningless). I used to use whey protein sometimes until I read about the oxidation of cholesterol in milk powder, etc., and the WAPF cautions against it.

    I, too, wonder why your whey protein contains sucralose and soy. And fructose? It seems there are better options. I wouldn’t trust sucralose, personally. I use some stevia, erythritol, and xylitol, but the latter two are quite expensive. Also, if artificial sweeteners are bad partly because they prime the body for sugar intake and therefore cause an insulin surge, wouldn’t the same thing be true for stevia? Xylitol and erythritol are not zero calories, so that wouldn’t apply, and they are the least distressing to the digestive system of all the sugar alcohols, according to my research. Plus xylitol fights tooth decay.

    Jeanmarie wrote on February 7th, 2010
  8. What about the umbiqutious use of Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) in all US milk (except organic). I am Canadian and BGH is banned here (as well as Europe). I specifically chose whey protien sourced from Canadian or European sources for this reason. Unless you are using a “boutique” whey protien in the US, the milk it is derived from almost certainly was produced with BGH. To me this is a much more serious issue to consider than if it is concentrate or isolate, sweetened with stevia or sucralose etc.

    Paolo S. wrote on February 8th, 2010
  9. What do you think to Will Brinks advocation of mixing Whey and Soy protein?

    ps. Will’s no dork

    Craig wrote on February 10th, 2010
  10. I agree with mark, go with the protein concentrate and save money (aside from those lactose intolerant). Most people will not see a difference between the concentrate and the whey protein isolate. If you don’t mind spending the extra money, in my opinion it would be alright to experiment using it (sometimes you can catch a sale and snag some for under $35 for 5lbs) to see how you feel even if it is a placebo effect the cost may be worth it.

    Wayne wrote on March 12th, 2010
  11. For those looking for a grass-fed whey protein powder, check out Ori Hofmekler’s Vanilla Whey Protein Powder. It just has whey protein concentrate from grassfed, hormone free cows, vanilla flavor, and xanthan gum. Only 1 gram of sugar per serving.

    Alicia wrote on March 18th, 2010
  12. Roger wrote on June 4th, 2010
  13. Just stumbled upon this post – a great one, and what a great resource!

    I’d like to answer a question posed by an earlier poster; can you cook with whey protein?

    Absolutely you can. However, you need to keep in mind that heat denatures protein, so if you intend to cook with it, buy a cheaper concentrate, and not an isolate (these whey proteins are manufactured with a cold-filtered ultrafiltration process that leaves vital fractions intact. Cooking will damage these).

    On other point; whey protein increases the production of glutathione, a critical antioxidant compound.

    For more, see…

    Paul wrote on August 9th, 2010
  14. I lived in NZ for a bit and used these protein powders without issue.
    Nothing added to them…plain and natural and from grass fed cows in NZ.

    Frank Sabia wrote on January 3rd, 2011
  15. I often replace meals with a whey shake – added coconut oil or milk and berries – one problem I have experienced .. is .. *embarrassed look*, is severe constipation. I believe the whey is extremely hydrophilic, but even drinking in excess of 2 litres of water a day doesn’t help. Anyone else have this problem?

    Jennifer wrote on March 1st, 2011
    • Hi Jennifer. Which whey are you using and do you have problems with other dairy products? The reason why I ask this is because I also react this way to other dairy products and found that I could not tolerate whey concentrate, but I manage to handle the occasional whey isolate. I make sure that it is 100% pure and processed cold and from pasture-fed cows in New Zealand. I also have mine with coconut milk.

      Kitty wrote on March 1st, 2011
      • I use only whey isolate .. and the brand I buy here in Canada has splenda. I only have this problem with whey, and not with any other dairy. Such a pain in the … you know what! LOL

        Jennifer wrote on March 2nd, 2011
  16. I try the protein from Primal Fuel and I found it excellent. It will be great to taste other flavour than chocolate or vanilla. Could berries be the next one?

    juan wrote on May 28th, 2011
  17. Mark, are there certain quality levels of whey protein?
    I’ve been asking around and some told me to beware of those that come in a big tub that cost around 20-40 bucks. Are there certain levels of protein quality to look for when choosing which to go with?

    Brandon wrote on July 25th, 2011
  18. Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and I’m impressed! Extremely helpful information particularly the last part :) I care for such info much. I was seeking this particular info for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

    citrix xenapp wrote on August 28th, 2011
    • Stick your citrix up your ass. Starting to feel like MDA spam police here 😉

      Grok wrote on August 28th, 2011
  19. What is the difference between brown rice protein and whey protein. I am lactose int. I just don’t know if the brown rice protein has the same benefit as whey protein.

    Christine wrote on August 30th, 2011
  20. Some genuinely wonderful posts on this site, appreciate it for contribution.

    charelfriendly wrote on September 4th, 2011
  21. Whey kills! Unless you need easy, digestible protein; then it’s ok… maybe even great. I think most people subscribing to a epoch framework for their dietary needs would do well to incorporate some of this industrial revolution miracle powder into their lives. Hell, they may even break 180lbs!

    Doug wrote on September 24th, 2011
  22. I was surprised at how well this mix tastes. I use a hand blender, and mix it with ice (4 or 5 cubes) and water. Tastes even better with milk, and once in a while I’ll throw in a banana and/or a shot of chocolate syrup. Just replacing 1 meal a day, I lost about 8 lbs. in a month, but of course I was also watching what I was eating.

    Brasil wrote on October 20th, 2011

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