What Is Whey Protein and How Does It Help You Build Muscle?

Whey is a by-product from the production of cheese and consists of four proteins:

  • Beta-lactoglobulin
  • Alpha-lactalbumin
  • Bovine serum albumin
  • Immunoglobins


Because it contains all nine amino acids, it is considered a complete protein.

Types of Whey Protein


If you go to buy whey protein, you’ll find it comes in three different types. From the least to the most processed they are:

  • Concentrate – Cheaper than the other two types, it is a good choice for people on a budget. After the filtration process, the supplement is usually around 70 to 80 percent pure protein with the remainder fat and carbohydrates.
  • Isolate – Concentrate that is further processed to remove all the fat and lactose. Isolate usually has at least 90% protein.
  • Hydrolysate – This type of protein is partially digested through a process known as hydrolysis. The advantage? It is easier to digest that the other two types and has less potential for triggering an allergen attack.


Many of the protein powders contain a combination of whey protein concentrate and soy protein isolate and typically provide around 30% of the daily required protein.



Building Muscle Mass with Whey Protein


The International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism published a study that concluded males who supplemented whey protein with resistance training had a greater gain of lean muscle mass than those who used resistance training alone. Because whey is a protein that breaks down through digestion quickly, it is great for both pre- and post-workouts.


As whey is digested, the bloodstream carries it to the muscles where it stimulates a molecular process known as protein synthesis, resulting in more muscle mass. Research has shown that protein synthesis increases by 70% once the digested whey protein reaches the muscles. And since whey protein increases blood flow to muscle tissue, it in turn brings more digested protein to the muscles resulting in even greater protein synthesis.


Taken one hour before a workout, it provides a fairly quick source of energy for the muscles to use while working out. Taken after a workout, it helps replace the depleted glycogen that was used during the workout so muscles can repair and grow, creating more lean muscle mass. And of course creating more lean muscle mass not only gives you a more toned look, but you’ll burn more calories at rest. Its cousin casein is also a protein, but it is slower to digest making it a better choice if you want to keep protein in your digestive track longer, such as overnight.


In addition to building muscle mass, researchers have found that whey protein can also:

  • Help with weight loss by reducing body fat percentage
  • Stave off hunger by reducing the hormone ghrelin that tells your brain you are hungry
  • Fight cancer including colon and prostrate
  • Reduce stress by increasing the secretion of serotonin
  • Improve the immune system by maintaining the levels of glutathione in the body – an antioxidant that prevents cell damage


Ingesting whey protein is one half of the equation to building lean muscle mass. When coupled with adequate resistance training, it is a recipe for success.