Whether you're trying to add more muscle to your frame or simply need to up your protein intake, you may be searching for the best way to mix whey protein powder. This versatile protein powder can be mixed with many liquids, blended in a smoothie and even added to soft foods like mashed potatoes.
What Is Whey Protein?
From muscle-building to immunity, whey protein has garnered a reputation as being the go-to protein for athletes, health care professionals and everyone in between. While whey has certainly earned its place as a high-quality source of protein, you may be surprised to learn that it's a by-product of the cheese making process.
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Cow's milk contains a mix of water, fat, carbohydrates (lactose), protein and minerals. The primary sources of protein in milk include casein and whey, with casein supplying 80 percent of the protein and whey 20 percent. When milk coagulates during the cheese-making process, the insoluble casein separates from the soluble whey.
Both casein and whey are complete proteins, which means they contain all the essential amino acids your body needs to create cells, tissue and muscle. However, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), whey protein is a better source of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), glutamine and leucine than casein.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) position stand on protein and exercise published in the June 2017 issue of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, BCAAs digest quickly, making them more readily available for muscle protein synthesis. Additionally, leucine is believed to be the driving force behind muscle anabolism, notes NASM.
For the record, casein is an excellent source of muscle-building protein too. However, when the insoluble protein hits your acidic stomach it coagulates, which slows down the digestive process, so the amino acids aren't as readily available. But as your body digests the casein, it provides a slow, steady release of amino acids into your bloodstream to support muscle recovery.
Whey Protein Isolate Versus Concentrate
When perusing the aisles of your health food store, you may find a number of different types of whey protein, including whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate, and you may wonder which would make the best post workout protein shake.
Both types of whey proteins are excellent sources of protein. However, whey protein concentrate is less processed than whey protein isolate and contains carbohydrates, fat and other nutrients. According to the United States Agency for International Development, whey protein concentrate is also available with varying amounts of protein and carbohydrates.
Based on information provided by the U.S. Dairy Export Council in its Reference Manual for Whey and Lactose Products, a 29-gram (1 ounce) scoop of whey protein concentrate contains:
- 100 to 120 calories
- 10 to 23 grams of protein
- 1.5 to 14.5 grams of carbohydrates
- Up to 1 gram of fat
Whey protein concentrate is also a good source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.
By comparison, a 29-gram (1 ounce) scoop of whey protein isolate contains:
- 100 calories
- 25 grams of protein
- No carbohydrates or fat
Whey protein isolate is also not a significant source of calcium or other health-promoting nutrients, according to the USDA.
Read more: Whey Protein vs. Whey Isolate
The Many Benefits of Whey
As noted by NASM, whey protein offers many benefits to gym-goers looking to build muscle, as well as athletes who want to improve muscle strength and endurance. But this versatile, easily digested and assimilated protein can benefit other health needs too.
Supplementation with whey protein may help improve malnutrition, according to the Mayo Clinic. A small study (42 participants) published in the June 2018 issue of the Journal of Medicinal Food, found that supplementing with a whey protein powder improved nutritional status and immune health in a group of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
A whey protein supplement was also noted to improve recovery from acute malnutrition and growth in children better than a soy-protein supplement, according to a March 2016 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The 2017 nutrition position stand from ISSN also reports there's evidence that milk-based proteins like whey improve immune health, sleep, cognitive function and wound healing. The proteins have also been demonstrated to have antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Read more: Is Whey Protein Good or Bad?
Your Protein Needs
For the general population, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine has determined that most healthy people need 0.36 gram of protein per pound of body weight. However, if you're working out or have increased protein needs due to an underlying health condition, this may not be enough. Talk to your doctor to help you determine the amount of protein you need for your specific health needs and goals.
The ISSN says athletes and bodybuilders need 0.54 to 0.9 gram of protein per pound of body weight a day. The ISSN goes on to say that you may even benefit from as much as 1.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight if you're trying to prevent loss of muscle mass during serious resistance training. If you weigh 180 pounds, you would need about 97 to 162 grams of protein a day, or even as much as 245 grams.
Protein needs during an illness depend on many factors, including your age, your health condition and the treatment you're undergoing, and should be determined by your doctor or a registered dietitian. In general, you may need about 0.45 to 0.68 gram of protein per pound of body weight. A 180-pound person would need 81 to 122 grams of protein a day.
Read more: How to Lose Weight With Whey Protein Shakes
Mixing Whey Protein
In addition to its health benefits and digestibility, whey protein mixes well with many liquids, as well as soft foods. The best way to mix whey protein powder may depend on your brand of whey protein, which should provide specific instructions.
For example, Nestle Health Science Beneprotein, a medical grade of whey protein powder, suggests mixing one packet or one unpacked level scoop (7 grams) with 2 to 4 ounces of water. GNC's Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey, a popular health food store brand, suggests adding one rounded scoop to 6 to 8 ounces of water and stirring for about 30 seconds until the powder dissolves. This brand also suggests using a shaker cup or blender to mix your whey protein powder into your liquid.
Many store brand whey protein powders are flavored and may contain additional ingredients and nutrients along with the whey protein. Read the label carefully so you know what you're getting.
According to nutrition information from the USDA, calories in whey protein shakes mixed with water may range from 72 to 113 calories with 16 to 25 grams of protein, depending on the brand and scoop size.
The best way to mix whey protein powder may also depend on your taste buds. The soluble protein mixes well with water, but you can also mix it into your morning coffee or juice for an early protein boost or add it to your post-workout fruit smoothie to give your muscles the protein they crave to repair and rebuild. You can even mix whey protein powder into soup, yogurt, hot cereal, applesauce and mashed potatoes.
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: "The Latest Scoop - Protein Supplementation"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise"
- U.S. Dairy Expert Council: "Reference Manual for Whey and Lactose Products
- USDA FoodData Central: "Whey Protein Isolate"
- Mayo Clinic: "Whey Protein"
- Journal of Medicinal Food: "Whey Protein Supplementation Improves Nutritional Status, Glutathione Levels and Immune Function in Cancer Patients: A Randomized, Double-Blind Controlled Trial"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Including Whey Protein and Whey Permeate in Ready-to-Use Supplementary Food Improves Recovery Rates in Children With Moderate Acute Malnutrition: A Randomized, Double-Blind Clinical Trial"
- Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine: "Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Total Water and Macronutrients"
- Nutrients: "Protein Requirements in Critically Ill Older Adults"
- Clinical Nutrition: "ESPEN Guidelines on Nutrition in Cancer Patients"
- Nestle Health Science: "Beneprotein"
- FoodData Central: "Protein Powder, Whey Based, NSF"
- GNC: "Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey"