The Gymgoer’s Guide to Whey Protein

Here's what you need to know about this flagship supplement.

The nutritional supplement market will promise every benefit under the sun to make sales. Many companies cite pre-workouts as the key to unlocking the best parts of your workout regimen, while supplements like mass gainers are hailed as tickets to rapid muscle growth. Your task is to separate the pretenders from the contenders and differentiate between promises and results. 

When it comes to quality supplements, whey proteins — a staple of many a nutrition plan — are no different from their contemporaries. Whey protein can be one of the more convenient ways to add a massive influx of protein to a diet. For this reason, it can seem like the fitness world makes whey out as its own food group. 

protein powder scoop
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Before making an informed purchase, you should understand what whey protein is and how effective it can be. Here’s what you should review before making a whey protein a foundation of your nutritional plan

Guide to Whey Protein

What Is Whey Protein?

Whey protein is a dairy-based powder supplement typically used to inject a boost of protein into your daily nutrition and, in turn, assist with strength and muscle growth. Whey protein supplements are naturally robust thanks to a mix of proteins isolated from the whey — a byproduct separated from milk during cheese production. 

For the most part, whey protein has no taste (though, if you prefer a distinct taste, you’ll face no issues), and many people add it to any variety of products like bars, shakes, and even cereals. Let’s diagram what whey proteins have to offer upon closer examination and determine whether adding one to your diet is the right idea. 

Formulation and Nutritional Value

Whey protein shares similarities with its supplement cousins like casein because both come from milk, but whey protein has considerable structural and nutritional differences

Not only does whey generally have more protein content, but it is also absorbed faster by the body because of a distinct amino acid profile. Whey is a “complete” protein source that offers all nine essential amino acids — histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. These amino acids are considered essential because they aren’t produced by your body and must be ingested via food or supplementation. 

It’s a vital difference to note, given how important it is to time and consume protein post-workout.

Types of Whey Protein

Whey protein is desirable because of its high volume of protein — a major building block in muscle-building. A balanced diet is essential to any quality nutrition. But no gymgoer, lifter, or athlete will progress far without consuming a marked supply of protein, which your body needs in spades for recovery and growth. 

Any protein supplement worth its salt should provide at least 20 grams of protein per serving to reach an appreciable fraction of your total daily intake. That said, larger individuals will generally require more total protein per day, making products with higher grams per serving a bit more valuable. 

Protein content alone isn’t enough to make one type of whey worthwhile to integrate into a diet. There’s a fine line to walk, depending on the style.

Whey Concentrate

Concentrate whey protein supplements are what you’ll most likely run into first when searching for a whey. Popular because of its flavors, up to 80 percent of an average concentrate is pure protein, and it has a higher mix of lactose in comparison to its counterparts. 

A concentrate will often have more fat, carbohydrates, and calories as well. You can think of whey concentrate as similar to a protein-packed glass of whole milk. 

Whey Isolate

Whey isolate is highly refined during its creation, leaving behind little dairy content. If you’re lactose intolerant but still need to get your protein fix in, you’ll likely rejoice at picking up a whey isolate product. Up to 90 percent of most common whey isolates are nothing but protein.

Additionally, there’s demonstrably less overall fat and thus calories in most whey isolates, making them an excellent option if you’re happy with your diet plan in general and just need to kick your protein up a notch. 

Whey Hydrolysate

A slightly more refined version of an isolate whey, a hydrolysate whey protein has been hydrolyzed, or pre-digested, so the body can absorb its proteins faster. Common hydrolysates might consist of up to 95 percent protein while also holding valuable low-fat and low-calorie marks. 

How Much Protein Do You Need? 

While whey proteins are a celebrated means of injecting more protein into a diet, it’s crucial to understand that they’re intended as a supplement. You shouldn’t see this as a replacement for a significant macronutrient in balanced nutrition that buoys an entire workout plan. Your approach should outline where protein fits into your diet and your needs.

While whey protein is a rightfully-celebrated means of injecting more dietary protein into a nutritional plan, it’s crucial to understand that it is still a supplement. You shouldn’t see whey as a replacement for a significant portion of your overall nutrient intake

Protein is one of three macronutrients — the other two being carbohydrate and fat — that all have a caloric value. As such, your fitness goals and activity level contribute to how much protein you should consume

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Formulas like these come with some nuance, but the basic idea is simple enough — the more you weigh, the more calories, and thus protein, you’ll need to consume. Since hitting a high daily protein target can be a challenge, whey protein supplements can come in clutch. 

But as correlation does not always mean causation. More does not always equate to better in every scenario. Putting some protein into your body post-workout is an absolute must for progression and bulking. However, if you’re overeating protein (yes, it’s possible) and, say, already have unhealthy kidneys, you’re placing your body at risk of further kidney damage or even failure. (1)

Now, that doesn’t mean you should stray away from a whey protein because it might prove to be difficult for your body to filter through. It’s simply crucial to dose whey protein, like any supplement, in the proper proportion to serve your needs. 

Benefits of Whey Protein

Whey protein supplements have one benefit everyone understands — they are an accessible means of increasing overall protein consumption. A whey protein is practical for anyone following a diligent nutrition plan who may be struggling to build size and muscle, but also earns top marks for convenience and potentially even shedding fat as well. 


While there is no shortage of choices when it comes to consuming dietary protein, it can take a lot of effort (and time) to consume a requisite amount for your desired gains over an entire day. Whey protein, in that way, is a natural bridge to help push you along. Since whey requires little to no preparation, all you need is a good shaker bottle or blender to get a protein-packed meal in. 

Aids in Fat Loss

If you’re someone looking to lose weight and burn fat, it’s hard to go wrong with the addition of whey protein, too. Making protein a larger proportion of your total caloric intake naturally means you’ll feel more full throughout the day, which can help curve cravings and keep you on track with your diet.


There should be little concern over the diversification of your protein consumption and what kind of toll that has on your body. Some literature has shown that a high-protein diet of varying sources can be just as, if not more effective than any high-protein diet that comes from a singular source. (2)

What to Consider Before Buying Whey Protein

A whey protein is a welcome boon for your diet, but you have to evaluate every bit of information. Whey protein alone won’t make you gain strength or mass or lose weight and burn fat. It has to work in tandem with well-designed training and nutrition. There are some situations that may make it less desirable to pick up a tub of whey. 

Current Diet

If your diet itself is already in picture-perfect shape, you may have no need for a whey supplement in the first place. Although they deserve praise for nutritional density and protein purity, whey powders don’t generally provide any mystical quality that you can’t get from whole-food sources. 

Lactose Intolerance

If you have some form of lactose intolerance, most whey products are likely to produce some unwanted side effects such as stomach cramps, nausea, or constipation. Since your nutritional supplements are supposed to help you feel better, not worse, you may want to opt for another supplemental protein source.

whole milk oats
Credit: Dima Sobko / Shutterstock

Some whey products do contain digestive enzymes to help mitigate their lactose-related effects, but it’s still worth noting. 

Supplement Purity

Many concentrates and their fancy flavors have a lot of processed, artificial ingredients such as synthetic sugars and dyes. If you’re the kind of athlete who strictly avoids processing as much as possible, or who has a dietary contraindication that requires you limit your sugar intake, many whey supplements should be off the table. 


Like most supplements, whey protein varies highly in cost. Although the gram-for-gram price of protein from a tub of whey is usually vastly cheaper than fresh poultry, you must purchase the entire tub at once. If you’re on the fence about whether you need a whey supplement, having to fork out a bunch of cash for a large stockpile you may not use is a valid concern. 

Whey Protein Recommendations

You can find a wide variety of whey proteins in the inventory of any garden variety supplement supplier. If you want the most bang for your buck, these specific choices stand tall above the rest.

For Newcomers — Huge Supplements Whey Protein

If you’re testing the waters when it comes to whey protein with what suits you best, Huge Supplements Whey Protein is a great initial purchase. Not only does this whey pack a generous 23 grams of protein per serving, (at around $1.50 per serving for those on a budget) it possesses few other extraneous nutrients, allowing you more flexibility with the rest of your diet.

Huge Supplements Whey Protein
Huge Supplements Whey Protein
Huge Supplements Whey Protein

A blend of whey isolate and whey concentrate, Huge Supplements Whey Protein packs 23 grams of protein into each serving. It also contains 5g of BCAAs with only 2g of fat and 2.5g of carbs per serving.

The macros are fairly lean with only 2g of fat and 2.5g of carbs per serving. Plus, the tasty flavors from Huge Supplements Whey Protein (like Strawberry Cheesecake) can help keep you consistent with your protein intake. In our opinion, you can’t go wrong with this affordable, high-protein blend when you’re just starting out.

For Weight Loss — Xwerks Grow

If you want to work more on weight loss, a whey isolate will offer the best helping hand as, again, it’s almost entirely protein.

Disclaimer: Please note that none of these products describe themselves as weight loss supplements and should not be taken as such. Consult with a medical professional before beginning any weight loss protocol.

Xwerks Grow is low in calories and has a lot of protein per serving — 110 calories and 25 grams of protein — and has no additional carbs, fats, or sugars. There are also no artificial flavors or sweeteners, and it has easy dissolution in water for consumption — a natural, pure whey for those trying to get a slimmer body.

Xwerks Grow
Xwerks Grow
Xwerks Grow

One of the very few protein powders with no carbs or fat whatsoever, this product contains 25 grams of whey protein isolate and is great for anyone looking for a leaner protein option.

A unique benefit of this whey protein is near twice the amount of calcium other wheys provide. You’ll get 20 percent of your daily calcium from one serving, on average. Since calcium helps maintain your bone density, this is a fantastic whey to roll with.

For Muscle Growth — Transparent Labs Grass-Fed Whey Isolate

Say you primarily want to build muscle. If that’s the case, Transparent Labs Grass-Fed Whey Isolate is the perfect complement to that vision. One serving has a whopping 28 grams of protein and very little else in the way of carbs or fat. 

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Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Isolate
Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Isolate
Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Isolate

This transparent ingredient list includes a dose of calcium, iron, and potassium with 28 grams of protein, all from a company that goes out of its way to provide clear sourcing.

This will be one of your more expensive whey protein options because of that high protein content and a grass-fed composition — which can help improve iron levels, among other benefits. But while it is pricier due to its quality formulation, you have a healthy selection of seven flavors to choose from. 

Related: When Is The Best Time to Drink a Protein Shake?

Putting It All Together

In a nutshell, whey protein powders are efficient delivery devices for a moderate-to-high influx of high-quality protein with noteworthy pluses and minor drawbacks. What whey protein is best for you will come down to what you want out of your nutritional plan. 

Adding extra protein into your diet doesn’t have to be daunting. Regardless of whether you’re using it for recovery from conditioning or strength training, or just trying to move the needle with your weight, a whey protein has a viable place as an accessory to your fitness, provided you’ve done your research. 


  1. William Martin, Lawrence E. Armstrong, and Nancy R. Rodriguez. Dietary protein intake and renal function. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2005; 2: 25. Published online 2005 Sep 20. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-2-25 PMCID: PMC1262767 PMID: 16174292
  2. Sharp, H.M.., Lowery, P.R., Shields, A.K., Lane, R.J., Gray, L.J., Partl, M.J., Hayes, W.D., Wilson, J.G., Hollmer, A.C., Minivich, R.J., Wilson, M.J. The Effects of Beef, Chicken, or Whey Protein After Workout on Body Composition and Muscle Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 2018, Vol. 32 – Issue 8 – p 2233-2242 doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001936

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