Whey Protein vs. Chicken Protein

Roasted whole chicken and potatoes
Both chicken and whey offer high-quality protein. (Image: Vladislav Nosick/iStock/Getty Images)

Whey and chicken both serve as a protein source in your diet. While they share similarities, they offer important differences in terms of nutrition, preparation, digestion and absorption. Including one, the other or both in your diet may depend on your fitness goals, your lifestyle, your specific physiology and your personal preferences. Ask a dietitian for advice on adding these protein sources to your nutrition plan.

Nutrition

As animal-derived proteins, both whey and chicken contain all the essential amino acids, the protein building blocks your body cannot synthesize and you must include in your diet. In addition to protein, whey can supply energy-rich lactose, or milk sugar, to your diet, and it contains almost no fat. In contrast, the protein associated with chicken offers no carbohydrate but does provide fat. Although you require fat calories for good health, too much fat in your diet may lead to obesity.

Preparation

Whey protein is more convenient than chicken to prepare, as you simply mix whey simply into a shake or smoothie, or incorporate it into cereal, yogurt or baked goods, to benefit from its protein. Chicken, on the other hand, requires cooking. Whey protein needs no refrigeration, while raw and cooked chicken do. Both sources of protein offer versatility in how you can eat them, with whey readily mixed into a variety of foods and chicken eaten baked, fried or grilled as is or added to soups or salads.

Digestion and Absorption

Whey has the highest biological value of any food protein, according to the University of Illinois McKinley Health Center. In other words, your body digests whey protein and absorbs it for use more efficiently than all other sources of protein. This feature provides your body with a rapid influx of amino acids to help repair and rebuild muscle after a strenuous physical workout. Conversely, your body digests and absorbs chicken protein more slowly than whey, allowing a gradual infusion of amino acids into your system to provide your body with a steady supply of amino acids over time.

Cautions

As a milk protein, whey can contain enough lactose to cause gastrointestinal upset if you are lactose intolerant. In this condition, your body lacks the enzyme lactase, resulting in a buildup of undigested lactose in your intestines, causing gas and abdominal pain. Chicken protein may also be hazardous to health if you do not cook it thoroughly, as undercooked chicken can harbor dangerous levels of salmonella bacteria. Salmonella can lead to fever, diarrhea, headache, or possibly death in immunocompromised people.

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