Whey protein is one of the two proteins found in milk. It's found in the watery portion of milk, with the other being casein. Whey is the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production. We’ve all seen the liquid floating on the top of yogurt in a yogurt container before. What you’re seeing is whey protein.
Whey protein is a rich source of essential amino acids; it contains all nine essential amino acids the body needs to function properly. Whey is particularly rich in important branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) like leucine; the most anabolic (growth-promoting) amino acid, and also contains a high quantity of cysteine; which can help boost levels of the cellular antioxidant glutathione.
Whey protein comes in three different types: Concentrate, Isolate, and Hydrolysate. The difference between concentrate and isolate is found in the content of protein in each one. Isolate offers a higher percentage of protein and has less lactose making it more suitable for people who suffer from lactose intolerance. On the other hand, concentrate delivers a higher number of beneficial nutrients, which are more palatable to the consumer and often cheaper as well. Hydrolysate gets absorbed faster than both concentrate and isolates as it's a pre-digested form.
What evidence do we have of Whey protein’s benefits?
Whey protein is best-known in the body-building industry. It's popular among athletes, bodybuilders, fitness models, as well as people looking to improve their performance in the gym. It has a triple effect in this sense as it provides the building blocks for protein and amino acids, which serve to increase muscle growth, and increases the release of anabolic hormones that can stimulate muscle growth, such as insulin. Whey is high in leucine which stimulates muscle protein synthesis very efficiently.
The bottom line is this: Whey protein is a healthy and convenient way to have more protein in your diet but if you are eating meat, fish, eggs, and dairy; all considered high-quality proteins; no extra advantage will come from supplementing with whey protein.
The European journal of clinical nutrition published an often-cited study designed to investigate whether whey protein supplementation results in greater increases in lean body mass, muscle strength and physical function in elderly individuals during 12 weeks of resistance exercise when compared to isocaloric carbohydrate supplementation.
Results showed that no greater gains in lean body mass, strength and physical function in elderly people with sufficient energy and protein intake as compared to isocaloric carbohydrate. The explanation of the study explained that "When consumption of protein and dietary status is adequate, extra protein supplementation is unlikely to have a measurable effect on the efficacy of resistance training" (1).
How do collagen peptides compare to whey protein?
On the other hand, what about collagen protein in the form of collagen peptides? Does it compare to whey protein and can it function as an alternative?
Collagen is the most common protein in the human body. It makes up roughly 30% of all protein in our body and plays a massive role in the construction of skin, bones, muscles, nails, hair, cartilage, tendons and other forms of connective tissue.
"Collagen keeps skin resilient and joints working smoothly, and provides structure in the tissues that connect our organs. However, after the the ripe old age of 30, everyone's collagen production declines. If you lose the collagen structure in your bones, that's osteoporosis. The loss of collagen in the skin results in lines and wrinkles”—Steffen Oesser, founder of the Collagen Research Institute in Kiel, Germany.