Whey protein is a great way to promote muscle development and to lose weight. It’s even a better protein source than most other options, including plant-based proteins.
But, what is it that makes whey so good for you? What about grass fed whey protein benefits?
In this post, we’re taking a look at exactly what grass fed whey provides – and how you can take get the most out of it.
What is Whey Protein?
There are two different types of protein in milk, casein and whey. Roughly 80% of the protein is casein (which is used in cheesemaking). The remaining 20% or so is whey. Whey protein powder is created by separating out the whey (1).
Of course, whey is a simplistic term. It refers to a substance that includes protein, minerals, immunoglobins, some lactose and a small amount of fat (2).
Whey is often considered the most powerful type of protein for health.
- It is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.
- Whey offers various branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). These are important in muscle building and for sports nutrition.
- Whey is also nutritious and includes many vitamins and minerals.
- It contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of fatty acid. CLA has been linked to various health benefits (3,4,5) and may improve body composition as well (6). More research is needed but current study outcomes look promising (7,8). The site Built Lean offers more details about CLA.
There are plant-based proteins out there too, including some high-quality plant-based protein brands. But, these sources of protein aren’t complete. They typically miss one or more amino acids.
Whey is a complete source of protein and offers various nutrients as well
The Benefits of Grass Fed Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein has been the subject of many different studies. In some cases, researchers know which compounds and mechanisms are involved. Other times it’s clear that whey offers benefits, but the exact processes are not obvious.
The biggest advantage is simply that whey protein is a source of quality protein.
Protein is essential for building muscle and for ensuring the body works effectively. It also helps prevent age-related muscle loss. Other benefits include:
- Helps maintain body composition. This plays a key role in health. Even if you’re slim, too little muscle can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes (9,10,11).
- Acts as a healthy and sustainable source of energy. In contrast, carbs provide fast energy that does not last long.
- Improves muscle recovery (12) and performance (13,14).
- Can promote weight loss. Protein helps you to feel satisfied, reducing cravings and appetite between meals (15,16,17). Some research has even shown a direct relationship between a high protein diet and weight loss (18).
- Decreases blood pressure (19,20).
- Promotes bone health. What’s more, protein deficiency can decrease bone health and increase the risk of bone-related health problems (21,22,23).
- May help to improve the mood and lower stress (24,25).
These effects are true for other types of protein as well. But they may be stronger for whey protein because it is a complete source of protein. The same is true for various types of meat. Even so, whey protein can be a faster and easier way to increase your protein intake.
A Source of Nutrients
Whey protein is also a source of essential and non-essential amino acids, along with vitamins and minerals. These include vitamin B12 and folate (26).
These components all help reduce the risk of deficiencies. Doing so is critical, as nutrient deficiencies have negative implications for health – and they’re not always easy to spot.
Some of the nutrients can also impact health directly.
- One of these is cysteine (an amino acid). It can promote glutathione levels. Glutathione is an antioxidant and can help lower disease risk and decrease oxidative stress (27,28,29).
- Likewise, vitamin B12 offers many different benefits, as the site Self Hacked explains.
- The amino acids can also help promote immunity and decrease inflammation (30).
Can Promote Weight Loss
Protein shakes are often used for weight loss. This is partly just because of their protein content. But, there are other reasons too.
For one thing, protein shakes make an easy meal alternative.
- They can be as satisfying as a meal (or close to it), while containing fewer calories. They’re also fast to prepare and perfect for people in a hurry.
- The style doesn’t work for everyone. But, many people do successfully lose weight with shakes.
Research also shows that whey protein can directly promote weight loss and improve body composition (31,32).
Whey protein also affects the hormones leptin and ghrelin. These play a role in appetite. The impact of whey helps to lower hunger cravings and help people feel satisfied (33,34).
May Help Manage Diabetes
Whey may also play a role in type 2 diabetes management. It can help to stabilize blood sugar and promotes the production of insulin. This effect is most significant when whey is used before a high GI meal (35).
Improves Heart Health
Protein can improve heart health by decreasing blood pressure. Any reduction in weight can also provide benefits in this area.
However, research also shows that whey protein can have this impact directly. It can also help decrease cholesterol levels (36,37).
Grass fed whey offers many benefits, including in the areas of weight loss, muscle development, heart health and diabetes management
Types of Whey Protein Powder
The term whey protein is a common one. But, there are multiple types of powder that you can choose from.
Whey Isolate vs. Whey Concentrate
Whey protein also comes in two forms, isolate and concentrate. Some products use just one of these, while others use a combination.
Both types offer benefits but there are also significant differences.
Whey Protein Concentrate
- This is the most basic form of whey protein. It’s created from milk, with the water and casein removed.
- Whey concentrate is around 80% protein.
- Low in lactose.
- May be absorbed a little slower.
- Is less expensive.
Whey Protein Isolate
- This goes through an additional process called cross-flow micro-filtration. The process separates out the protein from fat, lactose and cholesterol.
- As a result, whey isolate is around 90% protein (sometimes higher).
- The refinement process decreases the lactose further. This makes isolate perfect for anyone with lactose intolerance.
- Whey isolate may be absorbed faster.
- The additional processing adds to the price.
Of the two, whey isolate is more powerful – giving you extra protein and fewer carbs. Even so, the differences aren’t dramatic. Both forms are still high-quality sources of protein and offer the same general benefits.
It’s worth weighing up whether you need the increased purity of whey isolate, or whether whey concentrate will suit your needs.
Whey concentrate has a lower protein percentage and isn’t as powerful. But, it still works well and is a less expensive choice
Whey Protein Powder vs. Meal Replacement Shakes
Whether you choose whey isolate or concentrate, whey protein powder is mostly protein. But, things get a little more complex when you look at the products. Some of these are protein powders, while others are meal replacement shakes.
- Protein powders are mostly just protein. For example, the unflavored version of Naked Whey has whey protein concentrate as the only ingredient. The same is true for the brand Opportuniteas.
- Other versions may include more ingredients but still relatively few. For example, the vanilla version of Wild Whey from Wild Foods has whey concentrate, natural vanilla, gum acacia and stevia. The extra ingredients help improve mixability and create the vanilla flavor.
- Powders are often relatively high in protein. For example, the brand Natural Force offers 20 grams of protein per serving, while ProMix contains 25 grams per serving.
- Many brands have some whey isolate products and some whey concentrate ones. This makes it easier to choose which product you want.
Meal Replacement Shakes
- Meal replacement shakes aim to replace the nutrients from a meal. They’ll typically contain anywhere from 20% to 100% (or more) of the daily intake of many different nutrients. For example, Labrada contains 40% the daily value for folate, 50% for magnesium and 35% for vitamin D.
- Many ingredients are included. Some of these are used to provide the extra nutrients. Brands also add other components, such as enzymes, prebiotics and/or probiotics. But, you’ll often find extra flavorings, additives and fillers as well.
- It’s harder to choose a good brand. The ingredient lists for meal replacement shakes are often long. They also use different combinations of nutrients. As a result, comparing them against each other can be confusing.
- Protein is often lower. Some products are high in protein. But, there are also brands like IdealShape that just offer 11 grams of protein per serving.
- Protein can be mixed. You’ll often find brands using whey isolate and concentrate. Others may combine multiple types of protein, such as whey protein and soy protein.
- They’re often expensive. Many meal replacement shakes come from direct marketing companies (Shakeology is one example). This can lead to higher prices for products that aren’t necessarily any better.
Of the two, protein shakes tend to be better. They give you more protein per serving and are often less expensive. You have fewer additives to worry about too.
If you do want more nutrients, you can add them yourself.
Protein shakes are typically simpler, contain fewer ingredients and are higher in protein
Grass Fed vs. Regular Whey
As the name suggests, grass fed whey protein is produced by cows that primarily eat grass.
Whey without this label typically comes from cows that have been grain fed or grain finished, often in a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation). Hormones and antibiotics may have been used when raising the cows as well.
The difference in processes should mean that grass fed whey is healthier than non-grass fed options. Various claims are also made about grass fed, including the following.
- Increased number of healthy fats, including omega-3 and CLA.
- Contains more immunoglobulins. These help to strengthen the immune system.
- Often tastes better and ‘cleaner’.
There isn’t much research into these claims. And, as writers at Bodybuilding.com and Bar Bend point out, the amino acid composition and structure will be the same either way. Grass fed may have some nutritional benefits, but they’re unlikely to be dramatic.
- After all, grass fed and grain fed milk differ in their fat content. Most of the fat is removed when whey powder is produced. That’s especially true for whey isolate
Even so, grass fed producers often have a strong focus on quality and on producing natural whey powder. This should lead to a better product, one that’s more powerful for health.
If nothing else, grass fed whey is more trustworthy.
Grass fed whey could have slight nutritional advantages. Even if it doesn’t, the powder is more reliable
Choosing Good Whey Protein Powders
Read the labels. You want protein with as few extra additives as possible.
Look for claims and certification. Claims like GMO-free and hormone-free are always appealing and suggest a stronger focus on quality.
Consider unflavored. Unflavored whey will have the fewest additives. It doesn’t taste great on its own. But, if you’re planning to make smoothies, the taste shouldn’t matter.
Check the reviews. Even if you’re buying from a reliable brand, pay attention to the reviews. These give you a good idea of what actual users think. If you’re using Amazon, pay close attention to the three-star reviews. These tend to be more realistic and reliable than the one-star and five-star options.
Does it Need to be Organic?
In most cases, organic products are better for health. And, organic is a good choice if you’re worried about CAFOs or if you want to support small farms. But, there aren’t many nutritional differences.
This is because of the processing (especially for whey isolate). As Jim Stoppani explains, the processing removes most or all the advantages of organic milk. You’ll get just as many health benefits from non-organic whey. You might save yourself some money too.
Whey protein doesn’t need to be organic. But, you do need to pay attention to the ingredients, the labels and the reviews
How to Use Grass Fed Whey
One final topic is how to use the whey. There are multiple options and the best is going to depend on your needs.
The simplest method is to mix the protein powder with water or milk. Many brands will mix well and will taste fine this way. You can also add powder into coffee, as odd as that sounds.
Alternatively, you could make your own smoothie. This allows you to choose other powerful ingredients as well. For example, cacao powder, cinnamon, spirulina, wheatgrass powder, honey, vanilla, kale, bananas and berries are all popular additions. You can even add frozen bananas or berries instead of fresh ones to change the texture of your smoothie.
There are many good recipes to try as well. Most can be made with any type of protein powder. Some may require a specific flavor but you can still choose whichever brand you like.
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Apple Protein Shake – from Jennifer Meyering
- Almond Butter, Chocolate & Coffee Bean Protein Shake – from A Sweet Pea Chef
- Brownie Batter Protein Shake – from Wicked Spatula
- Dark Chocolate Peppermint Protein Shake – from Fit Foodie Finds
You can also use protein powder in recipes. This is common as a way to increase your protein intake. However, many of the recipes are for desserts, snacks or protein bars. This may make them a poor choice if you want to lose weight.
Regardless of the technique, it’s important to keep your goals in mind. For example, the site Daily Burn offers a useful guide for using protein powder.
So, what’s your favorite way to use whey?
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