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What is Whey Protein and Why It Matters

by Mara Welty January 26, 2024 7 min read

 What is Whey Protein and Why It Matters

When you drink a protein shake or smoothie, do you ever wonder what’s in it? In most cases, it contains a product called whey protein. 

The dairy derivative has rich nutritional content, and it’s most effective in building lean muscle mass, as well as increasing strength and overall athletic performance, particularly when combined with a resistance exercise routine.

While more research is needed before the scientific community comes to a consensus about its potential benefits, current research does suggest that whey protein can support overall health and wellness, beyond just fitness. 

Understanding Whey Protein

Milk contains two types of protein: whey and casein. While casein is a time-release protein, meaning the body metabolizes it slowly, whey protein is extremely bioavailable. This is why it’s so popular as a pre- and post-workout protein supplement.

Whey protein provides an immediate source of amino acids to muscles in recovery. These compounds help to support muscle growth through hormone regulation, triggering satellite cells to repair torn muscle tissues. 

What is whey protein exactly? Whey protein itself is separated from casein during the cheese-making process. The byproduct is a watery and white liquid that’s not very tasty. This is why many companies infuse their whey protein supplements with more desirable flavors like:

  • Strawberry
  • Chocolate
  • Caramel
  • Vanilla

Nutritional Profile of Whey Protein

Whey itself has a low lactose content and is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids, which must come from your diet. These include:

  • Histidine – Involved in immune response and acts as a neurotransmitter
  • Isoleucine – Plays a role in muscle metabolism, immune function and hemoglobin production
  • Leucine – Supports protein synthesis, muscle repair and muscle growth as well as regulates blood sugar levels and provides energy to the muscles during exercise
  • Lysine – Enhances protein synthesis, collagen formation and calcium absorption
  • Methionine – Involved in cellular health and protein synthesis
  • Phenylalanine – Supports the synthesis of neurotransmitters
  • Threonine – Exists as a key component of collagen, elastin and enamel proteins
  • Tryptophan – Helps to regulate mood and sleep through melatonin and serotonin synthesis
  • Valine – Essential to muscle metabolism, tissue repair and energy production during workouts

When speaking to the nutritional content of whey protein, it’s important to understand the differences between the three types of whey protein:

  • Whey protein concentrate – This form of whey protein has a low-fat and low-carb content. In terms of protein content, these concentrates can range anywhere from 30 to 90 percent protein. 
  • Whey protein isolate – The isolate form of whey protein is absent of fat and lactose entirely and has a very high protein content — typically 90 percent.
  • Whey protein hydrolysate – Whey protein hydrolysate undergoes a process that breaks the proteins into smaller compounds that the body can more easily digest. It’s also high in terms of protein content and contains low levels of fat and carbs.

The Benefits of Whey Protein

When it comes to the potential advantages of whey protein, the benefits are vast. Let’s explore. 

#1 Muscle Building and Repair

Whey protein is known for its rapid digestion and absorption rates. This makes it an ideal protein source for post-workout nutrition, as it quickly delivers amino acids to the muscles, promoting a swift recovery process and increased muscle mass.

It’s also particularly rich in the amino acid leucine, a key trigger for muscle protein synthesis. Leucine activates pathways in the body that stimulate the creation of new muscle proteins, making it a valuable component for muscle growth and repair.

That said, the most significant factor in muscle building is the amount of protein consumed, rather than the type of protein. If you already eat a fair amount of protein through whole foods, supplementing with whey protein powder is unlikely to produce significant changes in your muscle mass. That being said, if you’re trying to figure out how to increase protein intake, one of things you can do is explore the different types of protein powder and choose what works best for your body and fitness goals.

#2 Weight Management

When protein enters your gastrointestinal tract, it influences two hormones: ghrelin and peptide YY. Protein reduces levels of the former, also called the “hunger hormone,” helping to reduce your appetite and curb cravings throughout the day. 

Conversely, it increases levels of peptide YY, a hormone that plays a role in feelings of fullness. 

Accordingly, increasing your overall protein intake to 30 percent of your daily calories, such as by adding a whey protein shake to your mornings, may help to reduce the number of calories you eat throughout the day and support your weight loss journey as a result. Studies have also found that increased protein intake can reduce a person’s desire to snack at night.

If you’re still curious and want to dive deeper into how to lose weight naturally, check out our other detailed guide. We've gathered some well-researched tips that can really help you along on your fitness journey. Additionally, our appetite control support formula can also be a valuable resource to assist you in managing your cravings and achieving your goals.

#3 Exercise Performance and Recovery

When engaging in resistance exercise, it’s very common for your muscles to experience some type of trauma. They stretch and contract under pressure and tension, causing small microtears in the tissues of the muscles and potential muscle breakdown. 

Fortunately, adding a whey protein shake to your pre- or post-workout routine can supply much-needed amino acids to your muscles to facilitate their recovery and prevent muscle loss. Whey protein intake may also help to ease exercise-induced muscle soreness following a vigorous workout and restore muscle function to help you feel better prepared for your next workout. 

#4 Cardiovascular Health

Studies have shown that an increased whey protein intake may help to support heart health. More specifically, a high-protein diet can help maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels. In effect, this may reduce the likelihood of developing heart issues and kidney problems down the line. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories from a protein source, like whey protein. Generally, this comes out to be 46 grams of daily protein for women and 56 grams of daily protein for men. If possible, choose whey protein supplements that also incorporate other nutrients, vitamins and minerals to ensure you’re eating a well-balanced diet. 

#5 Satiety

As touched on briefly, consuming protein triggers the hormone peptide YY. In effect, you may feel fuller after eating a whey protein shake. But that’s not the only factor that contributes to satiety.

Protein also has a high thermic effect of food (TEF), meaning your body uses a large amount of energy (calories) to metabolize and absorb the whey. As a result, digestion time can increase and protein may stay in your stomach for a longer period of time, helping you to feel full longer. 

#6 Bone Health

A consensus on the effect of whey protein on bone health is still under debate. Some research suggests that a high protein intake may increase the amount of acid in the body, thus causing the degradation of the bones through a process called calcium leaching.

However, other studies, conducted over a long-term period have found that eating a high-protein diet may actually benefit bone health, particularly in people who are at a higher risk of bone fractures and decreases in bone mass.

#7 Metabolic Health 

Protein’s high TEF may also boost your metabolism by increasing the number of calories burned throughout the day. In fact, studies suggest that a high-protein diet can help the body burn 80 to 100 more calories a day. 

#8 Muscle Mass Maintenance

For those looking to build and maintain lean muscle mass, adding a helping of whey protein powder can increase muscular hypertrophy and reduce the risk of muscle loss.

Whey protein's ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis is particularly important in situations where there is a risk of muscular atrophy, such as during periods of illness, recovery from injury or prolonged inactivity.

Additionally, as individuals age, they may experience a decline in muscle mass. Taking a whey protein supplement, with its rich amino acid profile, can be beneficial for older adults in preserving muscle mass and function.

#9 Safety

Some people believe that a high-protein intake can harm the kidneys, but this just isn’t true, unless you’ve already developed a kidney-related health issue.

For people who are healthy, a high-protein diet has no harmful effects on the kidneys. 

Further, whey protein has very few side effects, particularly when following the daily recommendations on the label. 

While whey protein contains very little lactose, it may still negatively impact those who are lactose-intolerant and disrupt digestion, causing such symptoms as:

  • Upset stomach
  • Flatulence
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Cramping

#10 Nutrition

Incorporating a whey protein powder that’s fortified with additional nutrients can play a significant role in a well-balanced diet. Particularly, look for a protein powder like the INVIGOR8 Superfood Shake, an all-in-one protein powder that contains 20 grams of whey protein in addition to probiotics, prebiotics, green veggie complex, digestive enzymes and more. 

These types of protein powders can help to support full-body health and wellness.

Incorporate Whey Protein With INVIGOR8

As a milk-derived protein powder, whey can be significantly beneficial for those looking to bolster their daily protein intake and facilitate muscle growth and metabolic health. Specifically, whey is a complete protein, meaning it supplies your body with all nine essential amino acids.

For a delicious and beneficial whey protein powder, choose INVIGOR8. This Superfoods Powder comes in four different flavors: Triple Chocolate Brownie, Himalayan Salted Caramel, Natural Strawberry and French Vanilla. Plus, it’s packed with nutrients to help support your weight loss, muscle building and fat loss goals. You can check out all of our protein powder ingredients to see how this versatile shake has been formulated with a wellness-first approach.

 

Sources:

  1. Healthline. Whey Protein 101: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide
  2. Medical News Today. What are the benefits of protein powder?
  3. Eating Well. What Is Whey Protein? Here's What You Need to Know 
  4. Healthline. 10 Science-Backed Reasons to Eat More Protein
  5. AHA. Protein and Heart Health
  6. ACSM. Protein Intake For Optimal Muscle Maintenance 

About the Author

 Mara Welty
Mara Welty

Mara Welty is a copywriter who specializes in health, wellness and CBD topics. With a background in journalism, she aims to deliver engaging, research-based content that builds trust and engages readers through informative storytelling.

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