Have you ever wondered how your favourite brand of whey protein is made? In this article we provide a crash course explanation of the standard process. It could stand you in good stead in a pub quiz, and may also empower you to make more informed purchase decisions – as some commercial supplements are better than others.

What is Whey Protein?

Whey protein comes from milk, either directly or through the by-products of cheese. Let’s explain. Milk contains two valuable proteins: whey and casein. To make a whey protein supplement, the whey must be isolated from the casein. This happens naturally in the cheese making process, hence the common use of by-products for commercial whey protein supplements. This isn’t always ideal, however, as the risk exists of unwanted additives from the cheese plant ending up in the protein powder…

The whey protein molecule itself is an extremely effective, complete protein that is ideal for sports nutrition.

  • It contains all the nine essential amino acids required for muscular health
  • It has a low lactose content, making it a low-risk supplement for people with a mild or un diagnosed lactose intolerance (people of non-European descent).
  • It has a range of supplementary health benefits apart from muscle growth and better recovery. These include assisted weight loss1 and reduced cholesterol2.

Casein protein powder is also commonly extracted for use in health supplements.

Types Of Whey Protein

Whey protein is commercially available in three main types:

1) Whey Protein Isolate (WPI):

WPI products are made by further refining whey protein molecules isolated through the cheese making process. Microfiltration and heat treatment are used to remove most of the lactose, cholesterol and residual fats. The majority of commercial sports protein drinks use WPI, as the process can achieve up to 90% protein by volume.

2) Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC):

WPC uses a cheap and effective process to achieve a readily usable protein supplement. WPC begins life as a liquid solution left over from cheese making – containing whey protein, casein, dissolved carbohydrates and fats. The protein molecules are extracted, or concentrated from this mixture through a series of ultra-filters. Heat treatment is not normally used, leaving the valuable protein molecules intact. Some carbohydrates and fats remain, making the powder easy to mix into commercial products. WPC is cheap and is a good muscle building supplement for athletes who don’t mind putting on a bit of weight. The protein content itself is lower than that of WPI. Cheap WPC brands contain as little as 30% protein, although this is unusual. Premium products contain 80% protein as standard.

Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH):

WPH uses Whey Protein Isolate and adds additional enzymes to partially digest the protein molecules before concentrating it into powdered form. This makes the protein more bioavailable to people with digestive problems and allergies. WPH isn’t commonly used in sports nutrition powders but it can be found in some fast acting sports drinks. Most commercially produced WPH is used in baby food and medical protein products.

The Manufacturing Process

The journey from cow to gym is achieved in 8 steps. For a WPI supplement these are summarised below:

  • Milk is collected, refrigerated to 4°C and taken to a cheese making plant.
  • Pasteurisation heats the milk to 73°C, followed by re-cooling.
  • Enzymes are added to the milk and heat is applied to make cheese. This is an interesting process in itself but is beyond the scope of this article.
  • Liquid by-products are drained away from the cheese: a solution containing whey, casein, carbs and suspended fats. This fluid is taken to a whey manufacturing plant, which is often part of the same cheese making facility.
  • Ultrafiltration separates the whey protein from the solution, making Whey Protein Concentrate.
  • Cross current microfiltration is used to transform the WPC into whey protein isolate.
  • Heat treatment – usually spray drying – drives off any remaining moisture and forms WPI or WPC powder. (WPC products exclude the additional microfiltration stage.)
  • The protein powder is blended with flavours, colours and additional additives, such as sweeteners, added vitamins etc., before being measured and packaged in containers.

The Native Whey

If you want to improve your recovery rate and optimise your sports performance, then it pays to research the best quality whey protein supplement. We believe we have found a winning formula in The Native Whey, which can be purchased from our online store by clicking here. The Native Whey is an affordable, high purity supplement that can make a real difference to your fitness when used in conjunction with a healthy balanced diet. The difference comes from the way the supplement is made. For a start, the whey protein comes directly from milk, rather than cheese. This reduces the volume of unwanted hormones and antibodies that find their way to the protein powder. Microfiltration is used to separate the whey protein molecules directly from casein and other milk products, followed by low-temperature drying that preserves many of the delicate digestive enzymes that would otherwise be broken down.

Find out more in our new guide: The Problem With Whey Protein: Why You Deserve Better From Your Whey Protein Supplements. Claim a free copy today by visiting our Health Hub.