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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. Hi Mark,

    I have your excellent book, and am now catching up on your web posts. My question is about whey protein in regards to concentrate/ isolate/ hydrolysate. Do you think that if somebody has an allergy to lactose, but still wants to get the fat from the whey into their system, that hydrosylate would be a good choice? that way you get the protein and fat, but not the carbs and lactose?

    Mike wrote on December 28th, 2011
  2. Dear Sir,

    I am using whey powder but inever doing workout, so any problem it rise

    rashu wrote on February 1st, 2012
  3. Do you offer a newsletter one could subscribe to?

    types of whey protein wrote on February 13th, 2012
  4. To Whey or not to Whey that is the question?

    Irene wrote on April 4th, 2012
  5. Hi, just a quick question, Is the following a healthy breakfast????, water, full fat greek yogurt, frozen berries, ground flaxseed, and a scoop of whey protein, all blended and consumed on an empty stomach (i read it is better to consume this on any empty stomach) many thanxs, irene

    Irene wrote on April 5th, 2012
  6. I am allergic to Whey. I recently even tried Organic Grass Fed Non-pastuerized (processed) Whey hoping that I would be able to tolerate it, it was a no go! I am wondering if I could tolerate the Whey Protein Hydrolysate… I see that Mark stated that, “Whey hydrolysate is predigested whey protein that’s easily absorbed and virtually free of any potential allergens.” I wonder if I would be able to tolerate it. I tried egg protein, but if I take it in the morning after my work out, I will have cramps ALL DAY! Any advise?

    Benjamin wrote on September 20th, 2012
  7. If you want to get serious about health ,and you’d like to go as primal as possible in regards to whey ,then you need to make un-denatered whey , I make it my self.Just aquire raw milk keep it between 22 and 26 degree’s Celsius for a few days, and then strain the whey threw a t towel or cheese cloth .congratulations you now have free cheese and the best whey protein on the planet.The liquid part is the whey by the way lol

    trent wrote on October 22nd, 2012
  8. raw milk turns itself into whey and curds during the right temperatures between 21 and 26 degrees ,I think it is reasonably safe to say that mankind was smart enough to figure out that the milk of an animal other than a human could be somewhat nutritious, wouldn’t you? I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in saying people would have consumed whey upwards of a 50 000 years if not more infact I imagine that in a case of a hunter going on a long journey he might squeeze some of his mistress milk into a cup of some sought. When the milk fermented he would have Whey and curds.Organic Raw milk doe’s not smell like inorganic pasteurised milk when it goes off, infact it generally does go off it just turns into Maas or curds and whey. I don’t see how some one could argue the probability of this happening in times of need ,it’s a no brainer .

    trent wrote on October 22nd, 2012
  9. What is your take on Progenex Brand Protein?

    Todd wrote on February 11th, 2013
  10. I’ve recently learned about whey protein, but the country where I reside now I couldn’t find any protein powder.In the market they would offer me to buy commercial energy drinks instead :)
    Anyway after doing some research I was happy to find out that I can have homemade whey from regular raw milk of cow or buffalo. But the question is how many calories are in one glass of milk whey? And if I take it should i take it right after my workouts or with meals?
    PS it’s my first question on Primal website!!! Yahoo!
    I’ve lost 15 lb since 2012, but I was stuck on 120 lb and constantly was struggling not gain it back, which was becoming constant counting of calories, instead of just enjoying my meals! By the end of 2012 i was introdused to Primal and I started eating primal and I love it, loosing weight became enjoyable, my 3 lb welted away without any hard work. I’ve started to work out with heavy weights, hopefully will get that perfectly toned body! Besides my seasonal allergies are GONE! Hard to believe, but that is reality. It is sad that people have such a poor knowledge of nutrition , basically majority live for eating, instead of eating for living .

    Hilola wrote on May 11th, 2013
  11. I have difficulties digesting the Primal Protein powder. The strange thing is I drank protein powders for years and they never bothered me. It’s only recently that I’ve found that they do.

    Is it possible for my digestive area to build up a tolerance to it? The strange this is I don’t have problems with cheese, yogurt, or ice cream. But I have a huge issue with milk and frozen yogurt.

    Anyone have an idea why all dairy is not created equal according to my tract?

    I want to continue drinking the Primal Protein. It is hands down the best I’ve ever tasted to the point where I want more of it, but my rumbling stomach that kept me up last night can’t be sustainable.


    Parson wrote on September 4th, 2013
  12. I am truly delighted to read this weƅ site ρosts which includes plenty of valuɑble facts,
    thanks foг рrovidiոɡ such statistics.

    Barry wrote on April 3rd, 2014

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