Whey protein is one of the primary proteins found in dairy products. A byproduct of the cheese-making process, whey protein provides substantial amounts of the essential amino acids that are needed to carry out the functions that proteins perform in the body.
Whey protein — typically in the form of a powder — can be added to liquids or soft foods, such as applesauce, or blended with ice and fresh fruit to make a smoothie.
People commonly take whey protein to improve athletic performance and address nutritional deficiencies or problems.
Research on the use of whey protein for specific conditions and activities shows:
- Exercise training. While some evidence suggests that taking whey protein as part of a strength training program increases muscle mass and strength, other studies show no benefits. Whey protein might help speed muscle recovery after intense exercise.
- Malnutrition. Whey protein might help with weight gain in people who have trouble gaining and keeping on weight, such as older adults or those with HIV/AIDS.
- Wound healing. Whey protein has been shown to benefit people recovering from burns and those with chronic wounds.
- Allergies. Hydrolyzed formula contains protein that’s been broken down into smaller sizes than are those in cow’s milk and soy-based formulas. Research shows that infants given a hydrolyzed form of whey protein have a lower risk of developing atopic dermatitis (eczema) than do infants who consume standard formula. Giving an infant formula containing whey hydrolysate appears to reduce the risk of allergic reactions in infants at risk of developing an allergy.
Most people can get enough protein from a healthy, varied diet. However, if you’re having trouble meeting your daily protein needs due to a medical condition, ask your doctor if whey protein might be helpful. Don’t use whey protein if you have a dairy allergy.
Safety and side effects
When taken in appropriate amounts, whey protein appears to be safe. Some research suggests that whey protein might cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
However, there’s limited data on the possible side effects of high protein intake from a combination of food and supplements.
Don’t use whey protein if you have an allergy or sensitivity to dairy products.
Possible interactions include:
- Albendazole (Albenza). Avoid using whey protein if you are taking this parasite-killing drug. The supplement might delay or hinder the drug’s effects.
- Alendronate (Fosamax). Use of whey protein with this drug used to prevent or treat osteoporosis might decrease absorption of the drug.
- Certain antibiotics. Use of whey protein with quinolone or tetracycline antibiotics might decrease your absorption of the drug.
Nov. 13, 2020
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- Dietary supplements for exercise and athletic performance. Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-HealthProfessional/. Accessed Aug. 28, 2017.
- Jager R, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2017;14:20.