What is whey protein? Everything you need to know about protein powder

A man is reaching towards a shaker with whey protein after a workout.

We all know that protein is important but most athletes struggle with getting enough through their diet. Many use protein supplements to solve this and whey protein is by far the most popular. But what exactly is whey, is it safe, which kind is the best, and what are the benefits? Let’s find out.

What is whey protein powder?

Whey protein is one of the most popular supplements amongst bodybuilders and other athletes to reach their protein target. It consists of high levels of quality protein and is considered a complete protein as it contains all 9 essential amino acids. The amino acids that the body can’t produce themselves.

There are three types of whey proteins, concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate. More about that further down.

What is it made from?

Milk consists of two types of protein. Casein, which takes a long time to digest, and whey, which digests more rapidly. Both are being used as protein supplements but whey is the most common.

The whey can either be separated from the milk through complicated processes or as a by-product from cheese production.

The side effects of whey protein?

There’s a lot of myths surrounding whey protein and its side effects, especially about damage to the kidneys or intestines. Luckily, we don’t see any long-term side effects on healthy people.

There aren’t any side effects for most normal, healthy adults if taken in reasonable doses. It’s far more common seeing the benefits of a high protein diet instead. Especially in trained people.

People with allergies such as lactose intolerance or if taken in excessive amounts might lead to the following side effects:

  • Increased bowel movement
  • Nausea
  • Thirst
  • Bloating
  • Reduced appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Headache

As mentioned, these side effects are rare and will only affect people with allergies or if taken in excessive amounts.

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Does whey protein cause acne?

Studies have shown a significant link between acne and dairy products, but they haven’t been able to prove that the consumption of dairy alone leads to acne.

This has led to a common belief that whey protein will increase the risk of acne. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been studied much yet. A couple of minor studies found a correlation between the two while another study could conclude that it only causes acne if it’s already in your genes.

The benefits

Protein is an essential macronutrient and we simply can’t function without it. It’s key for restoring, repairing, and building new cells. This makes it indispensable when it comes to gaining or maintaining muscle mass.

While it’s not a problem for most non-trained/non-active people to reach their daily protein target, it is for most athletes. This is where whey becomes useful.

Whey protein doesn’t have a direct effect as we see it with creatine. It doesn’t give you energy like caffeine. It isn’t supposed to either. The only benefit you’ll receive from whey is an easy source of protein, which by itself is a huge benefit.

What whey protein powder is the best for you?

There are three types of whey. While they’re all made from the same product, they’re very different in taste and price. Yet, they’re all a great way to reach your protein target.

Whey protein concentrate (WPC)

The Whey concentrate (WPC) is the most common of the three.

It consists of around 80% quality protein, as well as some fat and sugar. The fat is full of healthy nutrients which is why you’ll get more benefits than just a protein boost.

The whey concentrate has the best flavor and is usually the cheapest. It’s best suited for everyone who isn’t on a strict diet or suffering from allergies.

Whey protein isolate (WPI)

The whey isolate (WPI) is popular, especially amongst people on a strict diet.

It consists of around 90% protein, as it has been processed to remove the fat and sugar. While this leaves us with fewer calories we’re losing out on some of the nutrients and it’s harder to digest too.

The whey isolate usually has a worse taste and is more expensive than the concentrate. It’s best suited for people on a strict diet, who can’t afford to cut down calories anywhere else.

whey protein hydrolysate (WPH)

The whey hydrolysate (WPH) is the least known of the three.

It typically consists of around 85% protein. It’s processed to be easier to digest and might be less allergenic.

Whey concentrate are already easy to digest and the benefits from the hydrolysate is usually small compared to the increase in price.

Whey hydrolysate has the worst taste and is often the most expensive leaving you with many, better options.


Whey protein is a product for everyone who needs a protein boost. Especially good for athletes as they often struggle with getting enough protein.

There are three different types of whey. The concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate. While all three have their benefits, the whey concentrate is best suited for most as it’s the cheapest with the best flavor, all without compromising the concentration of protein.