Undenatured whey for health, muscle, and cancer prevention

What is whey, and what’s it good for?

Whey is the fraction of protein from milk that remains liquid when milk is curdled. The curdled portion mostly represents casein – which has its uses, but that’s for another time. Hence whey has traditionally been a byproduct of cheese making, since only the curds are useful for that.

Whey is especially useful in bodybuilding and weightlifting, for a number of reasons. One is that it has a high content of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and these are important as signals that tell muscle to grow. It’s also high in essential amino acids (EAAs), which are the kind the body cannot make for itself. Whey is about 25% BCAAs, and about 50% EAAs. Along the same lines, whey is a “fast” protein, so a whey shake delivers an abundant amount of the right kind of amino acids quickly into the bloodstream, and this is a crucial determinant of the amount of muscle protein synthesis one gets from a workout. Even absent a workout, a dose of protein can help overcome sarcopenia (muscle wasting) in older people, which I wrote about here.

Whey can help cure chronic illnesses

There’s another aspect to whey, which is that properly made, it contains a number of biologically active peptides, that is, short-chain strings of amino acids. Among these are alpha-lactalbumin, beta-lactoglobulin, and immunoglobulins. The caveat here is “properly made”, since ordinary processing destroys these peptides, breaking them down into their constituent amino acids.

These biologically active peptides can be useful in other contexts besides weightlifting. They promote higher glutathione levels and a better immune response. As such, whey may be useful in cancer prevention. There’s even been a clinical trial on patients with metastatic breast cancer. There’s some evidence that this type of whey can improve cognition. They also may increase endurance performance.

The best whey options

One catch here is that the specific kind of whey used in many of the studies linked above is called Immunocal, and it’s quite expensive at over $130 for a pack of 30 10 gram packets. A serious weightlifter would burn through that in no time.

Another catch is that most whey of the kind sold in nutrition stores and the like is not undenatured. It’s manufactured using whey left from cheese manufaturing and by acid processing, which means that no biologically active peptides remain. This kind will definitely still build muscle, but if you want all the health benefits of whey, you need to look elsewhere.

So the kind I like and use myself is a cold-processed, undenatured whey made by NutraBio. It’s got the biologically active peptides, but at around the same price as garden-variety whey. Be sure to get the concentrate, or the isolate, but not the hydrolyzed version, as this will not have those peptides.

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15 comments
Anonymous says September 5, 2014

The most pure whey protein power I’ve come across is Protein 17:

http://www.grass-fedwhey.com/

It has one ingredient: whey protein from organically raised cows that graze on organic grass (whey concentrate). It’s not denatured – heck, they don’t even instantize it. I’ve yet to read a bad review of this product and it’s frequently backordered. The problem is the price. It’s about 4X your average protein powder. I continue to debate whether it’s worth it for me personally. But if you’ve got the cash it appears to be pretty good.

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Firehouse Harris says September 7, 2014

I’m allergic to milk. Is there an alternative vitamin or supplement that performs the same function as whey that is diary-free?

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    Mangan says September 7, 2014

    You might try hydrolyzed egg protein. It doesn’t give all the health benefits of whey, but it should be relatively “fast” and build muscle.

    Reply
Amino acids lower infection rate in the elderly - Rogue Health and Fitness says September 8, 2015

[…] the diet. The type of protein that has the highest concentration of essential amino acids (EAA) is whey, which is about 50% EAA. Therefore, a smallish, 20 gram whey shake would give you, or your elderly […]

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Rob H says January 20, 2016

Hi Dennis, to date I have been taking whey protein isolate immediately following my fasted ‘body by science’ style strength workouts, 3 times a week, just before eating my lunch. On the other 4 days, in terms of protein intake, I have 4 boiled eggs for breakfast, a can of oily fish (such as salmon or mackerel) for lunch and then usually some serving of white or red meat for dinner, served with lentils. Other than the whey protein isolate (and grass-fed butter), I don’t usually consume any dairy. I am considering adjusting my approach to also add in the whey protein isolate just prior to having my breakfast at 8am on my 4 non-fasted days, followed by the 4 x eggs for breakfast (I usually don’t eat anything after 7pm in the evenings, so even on non-fasted days, I have not eaten for 11 or 12 hours prior to eating my breakfast). My reasoning here is that even on my ‘fed’ days, beginning my ‘eating window’ with a burst of fast protein from the whey should aid anabolism, as well as providing extra cysteine to my daily diet (as a precursor for glutathione). On top of that, I will probably start adding 3 grams of glycine to the whey protein as a methionine restriction mimic (based on previous advice you gave me). I was just wondering what you think of my strategy (ie increasing whey protein isolate from 3 days to 7 days a week, together with the glycine)- do you think it will help increase anabolism/ glutathione or am I overdoing it? Do you consume whey protein each day immediately after breaking your fast? Many thanks!

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    P. D. Mangan says January 20, 2016

    Hi Rob, these days I tend to consume whey protein only around workouts. But, breaking a fast, especially a long one, with it isn’t a bad idea. I figure that if I get my ~1.2 g/kg protein daily, I’m good, and I think normally I do that without the whey.

    I like the idea of the glycine. I’m more and more thinking that this is a solid, cheap, painless, and effective anti-aging strategy.

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Rob H says January 20, 2016

Thanks for coming back to me on that: I’ve just ordered the whey protein isolate 97 and also the glycine powder from Bulk Powders. You are absolutely right – I had no idea that glycine was so cheap – sounds like a bit of a no-brainer to me – and hopefully will complement the cysteine contained in the whey. Saves me having to buy additional NAC anyway!

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    Rob H says February 2, 2016

    Update on my comment above. I was very pleased with my ‘Pure Whey Protein Isolate 97’ powder from Bulk Powders which clearly states as the only ingredient:
    “Undenatured Whey Protein Isolate 97%.”. Perfect for my needs I thought. Not so fast.. When I emailed them to double-check that this whey was non-heat processed, they said that whilst that was indeed the case, it was actually ion-exchange processed, as opposed to purely being micro-filtered. From googling ion-processing, it appears that leads to significant denaturing of the whey. The only processing you want is the micro or ultra filtration techniques. So, in other words, whilst products may claim to be ‘undenatured’ they often aren’t…

    To quote Chris Masterjohn: “First, the word “undenatured” is deceptive because when a whey protein denatures, it associates with the casein fraction and is not included in a whey protein isolate. All whey protein, no matter how awfully it is processed, is mostly undenatured. What you want to find out is whether it is processed at low temperatures or without heat, what type of pasteurization it underwent and at how many points during the process, and so on. If it is cold-processed using modern filtration techniques rather than spray-drying and if it underwent a single classical or HTST pasteurization rather than multiple pasteurizations or UHT, this is good. However, it is obviously better if you can find one made from raw milk. – See more at:
    http://www.westonaprice.org/our-blogs/cmasterjohn/the-biochemical-magic-of-raw-milk-and-other-raw-foods-glutathione/#sthash.8lsjvTWZ.dpuf

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Nick says February 16, 2016

First off, thanks for all your hard work helping the rest of us out.

A technical question not really related to whey, if you don’t mind: When you talk about how much protein to eat in a day, do you mean the amount of pure protein, or the amount of meat to eat? Say meat is about 20% protein. Do you mean 1.2g of meat per kg bodyweight per day, or do you mean 6g / kg of meat per day, which would deliver 1.2g of pure protein per kg? (1.2g / 20% = 6g) If the latter, it would mean over a pound a day for me at 185#.

Now on something I’ve found which I THINK might be a cheese alternative to whey powder.

Living in Germany (Mrs & I are civilian ex-pats), I’ve discovered “sour milk cheese”, which doesn’t seem to be made outside the German & Czech speaking world. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harzer shows the kind I buy. It caught my eye because it’s high in protein (30%) and low in fat (0.7%), and then I read that it’s popular among athletes and bodybuilders here because it helps minimise lactic acid build-up after training and of course, build up muscle mass.

I looked up its nutritional value and compared its amino acids to that of the NutraBio 100% Whey Isolate powder, which I’ve shown here:
http://oi65.tinypic.com/hthimx.jpg
(graph showing numbers from http://www.nutrabio.com/product/WPI2/)
(N.b. that 25g represents pure protein, not 25g of cheese, as the cheese is 70% water.)

It’s loaded with the amino acids that I think we want in our training protein supplements, and it’s *cheap*. And it really does seem to help me with lactic acid. I eat 25 g of it before and 75 g after a heavy session, and I no longer get stiffness and real pain in my “white” muscle mass, just nice soreness in the bulk of the muscles. It’s a bit odd – sort of translucent and gummy. It tastes fine, but then I like stinky cheese.

Not knowing much about cheese-making, I thought maybe it was a cheese made from whey, but it turns out that it’s made from quark, which is also a thing that seems pretty rare outside the German-speaking world.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quark_(dairy_product)

Then I see here that you warn about de-natured whey. From what I can tell by googling, in my cheese-making ignorance, active peptides are indeed found in cheese and sour milk, so maybe this stuff is covered there. Anyway, I’d just be curious of what you make of this.

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    P. D. Mangan says February 16, 2016

    Hi Nick. Protein requirements are just that, it’s for pure protein. So if a source (say, meat) is 20% protein, you need 5 times the weight of that. In reality, say for someone like me at ~74 kilos, I would need ~90 grams protein a day, and that’s not hard to do.

    That sour milk cheese looks like a decent alternative to whey: lots of branched-chain aminos, which is what you want to boost muscle growth.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    Reply
Nick says May 18, 2016

UPDATE. Turns out quark and sour milk cheese (Handkase is another common name for it) that’s made from quark are huge, cheap, effective casein delivery vehicles, but not whey. They’re So, great for breakfast and before bed, owing to their slow absorption, but nut so great for post-workout protein. So, not a good substitute for whey powder. Don’t know why I didn’t catch that until very recently.

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Branched-chain amino acids for fat loss, lean mass, and greater lifespan - Rogue Health and Fitness says June 13, 2016

[…] amino acids in whey protein are approximately 25% BCAAs. Tons of research has been done on whey as a potent stimulant of muscle protein synthesis both with […]

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Branched-Chain Amino Acids for Fat Loss, Muscle Gains, and Longer Life - Rogue Health and Fitness says June 13, 2016

[…] amino acids in whey protein are approximately 25% BCAAs. Tons of research has been done on whey as a potent stimulant of muscle protein synthesis both with […]

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JP says August 3, 2016

I just started using NutraBio 100% Whey Protein Isolate.

It doesn’t seem to dissolve as nicely as the other whey powder I was using before, and doesn’t taste as good.

Do you find it unpalatable? Suggestions?

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    P. D. Mangan says August 3, 2016

    No, I haven’t found that, except that I use the concentrate not the isolate. You could adulterate with stevia, chocolate, etc.

    Reply
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