Whey: What is it good for?

Here’s everything you need to know about this all-natural, health-promoting, muscle-rejuvenating miracle worker.

What is whey?

“Whey is a natural source of high-quality protein,” says Upbeat nutritionist Sophie Enever. It’s a common ingredient found in lots of food and drink including milk, cheese and yogurt — ricotta cheese contains the most whey of any whole food at around 11g per 100g. Whey can be filtered and concentrated, leaving much of the sugar behind. It’s often dried into protein powder to be mixed into bars or drinks, while Upbeat Active is made directly from fresh whey, with 20g of protein per 330ml serving.

Quickly people recognised the potential of whey for health. 

Where does it come from?

Cows, usually. Technically, it’s a byproduct of the cheese-making process so can also come from goats. It’s a liquid left over from milk after it’s been curdled and strained. In wasteful years gone by it used to be thrown away but quickly people recognised its potential for health and fitness and now it’s a common ingredient in lots of food and drink.

Why is it special?

“It’s considered ‘complete’, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids that you need daily for many bodily functions including muscle maintenance and growth,” says Enever. “They’re essential because they cannot be produced by the body alone, you can only get them from what you eat or drink.” Other sources of complete proteins are meat, fish, eggs and even quinoa. Incomplete sources include nuts, seeds, grains and some vegetables and are mostly plant based sources so if you’re vegetarian or vegan be sure to get a lot of variety in your herbivorous diet.

Everyone needs protein every day.

What is it good for?

In a word: life. “Everyone needs protein every day for the maintenance of our muscles, bones and much more and whey is a readily available, low-cost source,” says Enever. Whether you exercise regularly or not, some studies (though the research is in its infancy) have even shown whey protein can promote lean muscle growth and fat loss, support cardiovascular health and bolster a good metabolism. And if you are active, it’s a good way to top up your protein intake before your next meal because it’s quickly digested and absorbed meaning it gets to work fast.

Is whey for everyone?

Whey contains lactose, a sugar that’s also in milk. “Some people have an intolerance to it because their body doesn’t produce enough of the enzyme lactase,” says Enever. “However, lactose intolerance is low in the UK.” According to The Dairy Council, only 4.7% of the British population are lactose intolerant and, because it’s an intolerance rather than an allergen, some people can tolerate it more than others — it’s pretty individual.
To get the many benefits be sure to consume it regularly throughout the day.

To get the many benefits be sure to consume it regularly throughout the day.

How much do I need?

Think in terms of how much overall protein, rather than just whey protein, you need per day. At the low end we need roughly 1g of protein for every kg of bodyweight — so if you weigh 60kg you need about 60g of protein each day. That’s the same for men and women. If you’re quite active, you’ll need to up the number to around 1.2–1.5g per kg body weight (72–90g of protein for a 60kg person). “Extremely active individuals, or those trying to lose fat while maintaining muscle mass, might want to bump it up further to 2g of protein per kg bodyweight (120g of protein for a 60kg person),” Enever says.

“Timing is as important as quantity,” says Enever. “We don’t store protein for later use like we do with carbohydrates and fat, so to get the many benefits be sure to consume it regularly throughout the day.” Try to include a portion of protein with every meal and as a snack once or twice a day.