Protein Powder… Just For Meatheads or A Must Have?

Protein powder can be a dirty word. For some, images of a tattooed gym rat flexing between sets comes to mind. You then see them drinking some strange liquid in a shaker and wonder how legal it is…  For a long time, sports supplements such as these have been reserved for the meathead fringe, as powder companies pushed their ‘mega – mass gain 2000’ products to this small demographic, all in the hope to cash in on their needz for gainz.

More recently though, whey protein powder has emerged into the mainstream as more and more studies have verified it’s efficacy for muscle building and other health markers. Many use it in their smoothies, many use it as a sports supplement, and some make super delicious protein balls like these:


But what is whey protein powder?

So milk contains two types of protein, casein (80%) and whey (20%). In production, whey is separated from the fatty parts of cheese production, and forms as a by – product. It can be seen if you open a fresh batch of yoghurt and see some liquid on the top – that’s your whey. After being separated, whey goes through a series of processes to form a protein powder.


From this we can get a few types of powder:

Whey Protein Concentrate (70-80% protein):

The more ‘whole’ version. It contains some lactose (milk sugar), fat, for this reason has some flavour.

Whey Protein Isolate: (90% protein):

More processed than concentrate, and many of the lactose, sugars, and beneficial nutrients found in WPC are omitted. Favoured by the “egg whites community.”

Whey Protein Hydrolysate:

The most processed, and the fastest absorbing type of protein. It causes a rapid insulin spike that bodybuilders lurvvve.

The Benefits:

Muscle Building:

Whey protein provides all the essential amino acids which are important for muscle growth and development. Think of amino acids like beads on a string, and these beads form a protein. Some of these beads we can make ourselves, while some must be attained from food – these are regarded as “essential amino acids.” The cool thing about whey protein is that it contains ALL essential amino acids, including leucine, a powerful muscle builder. It also raises the profile of anabolic (gasp!) hormones such as insulin, which can stimulate muscle growth.


Fat Loss:

As well as being effective for muscle growth, protein is just as effective for fat loss – how good is protein?! The reasons for this is that protein is very satiating and metabolism boosting. One study found that metabolism can be boosted by 80 – 100 calories per day, and make people eat up to 441 less calories per day.

Health Benefits:

Whey protein contains high levels of cystine, an amino acid that acts as a precursor to glutathione production; a powerful antioxidant that protects us against free radical damage, which is why it’s trending as a supplement in the anti – hangover scene.

Side Affects:

Some report abdominal discomfort or bloating from whey protein, but this is often associated with the dodgy chemicals used as fillers and sweeteners. Those who are lactose intolerant should be more careful, as they may feel bloating, flatulence, and stomach cramps from whey concentrate and isolate, and should opt for a hydrolysate.

Choosing a protein powder:

Many protein powders are full of cheap fillers, artificial sweeteners, and ingredients you can’t pronounce. Check out this experiment I found from a popular protein powder:


There’s like 6 different words for sugar in there.

When choosing a powder, go for as simple as possible. Look for something with ingredients you can pronounce, and without the added sugars. If you’re looking to cut all of your fats out, then go for a whey protein hydrolysate, whereas if you’re not afraid of fats and want something more whole with more bioactive compounds, then look for a concentrate. The many studies that have been done on whey proteins have shown very little difference between in performance markers.

Final Thoughts:

It’s important to know that protein powder is not an “essential” part of our diet, and shouldn’t be considered in the same league as a grass fed steak with veggies. It IS a convenient and nutritious source of protein that is highly beneficial to training and overall health.

*** Disclaimer. I sell a protein powder. It contains all the good stuff without the nasties, and people love it.

It’s here at


Hoffman, J. & Falvo, M. (2006) Protein, Which is Best?

Kent, K., Harper, W., & Bomser, J. (2006) Effect of whey protein isolate on intracellular glutathione and oxidant-induced cell death in human prostate epithelial cells.

Kimball, S. & Jefferson, L. (2006) Signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms through which branched-chain amino acids mediate translational control of protein synthesis.

Veldhorst, M., Westerterp-Plantenga, M, Westerterp, K. (2009) Gluconeogenesis and energy expenditure after a high-protein, carbohydrate-free diet.


Steve is a Personal Trainer, Health Coach, and owner of Barefoot Health.

He’s currently studying Functional Diagnostic Nutrition and Chiropractic at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia.