Whey does everything for you, it seems, short of unracking the barbell and bagging that gorgeous cardio-bunny's phone number.
So how does it work? How much is enough? And should you be using it?
Yes, is the simple answer to the third question. The first two, however, will require some explaining. So let's unscrew the cap on everyone's favorite supplement and take a closer look at the wonders of whey protein.
What The Whey?
Whey itself is extremely common. In fact, you've probably been using whey protein since childhood. Don't worry, nobody spiked your Cheerios. Whey is actually one of the two proteins found in cow's milk. Casein accounts for about 80 percent of milk protein, and whey accounts for the remaining 20 percent.
Ever opened a yogurt container and found a clear liquid floating on top? Yup, that's whey. Don't go slurping yogurt-juice by the spoonful. This whey isn't the protein you've heard so much about. Not yet, anyway.
To make whey protein powder, the good stuff, whey first needs to be extracted from milk. Ever eaten a chunk of cheddar? Cheese manufacturers do the same thing as supplement makers: they separate whey from milk solids. In fact, long before anyone understood the benefits of whey, cheese manufacturers considered it useless and dumped tons down the drain.
Once whey has been extracted and isolated, it's filtered to remove fat and carbohydrates. What's left is the protein you love. Then, the more the whey is filtered, the purer the protein becomes. As filtering and protein content increase, carbs and fat decrease. While this sounds simple, I wouldn't start pouring yogurt run-off into your Brita. The processing required to make whey protein is a bit more advanced.
The Wonderful Types of Whey
There are basically three major types of whey protein. Each reflects a different degree of filtering and processing. From the least processed to the most processed, the types of whey are: whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, and whey protein hydrolysate.
Whey protein concentrate goes through minimal processing. As a result, it's often much cheaper than other forms of whey, making it a good choice for those on a budget.
Whey protein concentrate is made with gentle filtration processes known as micro- and ultrafiltration. These processes create a supplement that is around 70-80 percent protein, with the remainder being carbs and fat.