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Whey Protein: Choose Your Whey Wisely

All whey proteins are not created equal. That bargain basement priced tub you found for a screaming deal at the local gas station (is there anywhere that doesn’t sell some form of whey protein these days?) may not be the whey you’re looking for. Sure, it’s whey… but what kind? There’s a virtual island nation of whey protein brands and types out there– some quality, others… less so.

Here’s how to sift through the powder:

Whey Protein Defined

Whey is a super-easy, mega-portable way to hit your protein goals if you’re rolling with a macro-nutrient focus on your nutrition, which is part of the reason it’s so widely used. Whey protein also supports muscle growth as you build through supplying fuel and the building blocks needed when muscle is broken down through lifting/exercise– but is not, in and of itself, a magic powder that builds muscle on its own any more than other sources of protein.

At its basic level, whey is protein sourced from cow’s milk (it’s the byproduct of cheese production) and is, by far, the most widely available and distributed protein type out there– and for good reason. Whey has a very high biological value, which means whey contains virtually all the essential amino acids(building blocks of protein) in amounts needed by the human body.  Whey is also absorbed by the body pretty quickly, which has made it the go-to for quick nutrition in the muscle building world for any time nutrition supplementation– particularly in focused, post-workout nutrition (IE- Recovery Formula).

Types of Whey Protein

Whey Isolate

Whey Isolate is the most pure form of whey protein available thanks to a processing cycle which removes fat and lactose. Of course, that also means Whey Isolate does cost more than other forms of whey protein. It’s roughly 90% pure protein by weight, which shows it’s pretty devoid of anything BUT quality protein. This means that for most people with an allergy to dairy, Isolate may be a good option as it’s virtually lactose free and doesn’t offer the discomfort associated with other dairy-based proteins that retain nutritional co-factors (IE- other items such as fat, lactose, etc.)

From a sheer “nutritional protein intake” perspective, isolate is the way to go.

There’s a few different ways isolate is processed with the big ones being acid processed (harsh and strips bio-available nutrients) or a cold-process (mild- retains the nutrients without destroying them in the processing method). The isolate protein in Shakeology uses a cold-process method.

Whey Concentrate

Whey Concentrate is a “less processed” form of whey which means it’s a more nutritionally varied protein– the fancy way of saying it has more enzymes, vitamins and a bit more fat and carbs than iseolate. This makes it a pretty good option for targeted muscle recovery as it provides a wider range of nutrition. Concentrate is also the least expensive form of protein.

Whey Protein Blends

Some proteins (including one of the whey proteins I use: Optimum Nutrition 100% Natural Whey) are a blend of both whey isolate and concentrates. This basically means a higher protein content with the added benefits of the less processed concentrate (though it may not be the best option for dairy-intolerant). They’re also a middle ground on pricing.

Whey Hydrolysate (Hydrolized)

Hydrolized whey is basically a method of preparing whey where enzymes are used to “slice” the proteins into smaller pieces for faster and more readily available digestion. Think “quick oats” vs. “whole oats” in the form of whey iseolate, concentrate or both (a blend). The idea is you’ll get more protein per smaller serving but personally, I don’t use it.


Not necessarily a whey, but a component of it– casein is a slower-digesting protein many people use at night before bed to stay “anabolic” (in a state of muscle repair and growth). Casein has its uses but can cause allergies or gastrointestinal distress in larger doses.

Milk Protein

In short, Milk Protein is… wait for it… the protein profile found in milk. Milk Protein is a combination of both whey and casein (roughly 20/80), which is why I include it here. It’s not super common but you may find it on labels (like the highly recommended Quest Bars).

What Whey To Go? (See what I did there…)

As I’m always fond of saying, it all depends on your goals and your fondness for reading labels. I’d avoid anything that doesn’t list Whey Protein Isolates or Whey Protein Concentrate as the first ingredient on the label. I’d also avoid whey they uses Soy Lecithin. That said, Both whey iseolate and concentrate are a great way to go. I use Optimum Nutrition 100% Natural Whey but have been migrating to Blue Bonnet, which is sourced from grass fed cows and contains only whey and flavor. Check out the links below to get an idea of what they’re about:

  1. Optimum Nutrition 100% Natural Whey
  2. Bluebonnet Whey

As for choosing, it’s up to your budget and your care for purity and calorie load. I do tend to pay more for my whey protein to get higher quality, better processing and less filler. A blend will get you the best of both worlds but the most important aspect is finding a whey protein supplement that you can justify with your budget and one that doesn’t have high amounts of sugar and carbs. I prefer no artificial sweeteners but that’s a call you can make for yourself.

In the mean time, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have. And if you’re looking for free, knowledgeable, real-world coaching on P90X, Insanity or any other Beachbody program, sign up right here

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