Whey and Muscle Growth


Once considered a product to be used only by body builders, whey protein now graces the shelves of grocery stores and features in mainstream magazine recipes. Whey protein, a derivative of milk, is sold pulverized and powdered or as an additive in meal replacement bars. Whey provides all the amino acids that the body does not produce, making it a complete protein.

Types of Whey

Due to its processing, whey protein contains little lactose or fat. Whey protein isolate, the purest and most refined form of whey protein contains about 90 percent protein. Whey protein concentrate contains anywhere from 30 to 85 percent protein, but also comes with a cheaper price tag. Many name-brand whey protein powders combine both isolate and concentrate in one product, in order to provide benefits of purity without excessive cost. Nutrition bars–specifically those touting high protein content–often contain pure whey protein, or a blend or whey and soy.


Flavored protein powder can be mixed into smoothies, oatmeal or a drink of choice to consume post workout. It is recommended to consume about 30 g of whey protein within 90 minutes of a strength training routine to help with muscle growth and synthesis, advocates the National Dairy Council.


Whey protein offers benefit for muscle growth because it is digested quickly and thus made available to the muscles sooner than other sources of protein. Often, after an intense workout session, solid food is hard to tolerate. Whey protein drinks and smoothies are easy to get down and convenient to carry to the gym.

Expert Insight

Ohio State University researchers published a study in “Nutrition Journal” in 2004 showing that subjects who combined a whey protein bar with resistance training experienced significant increases in lean muscle mass after nine weeks. Another study, published in the “International Journal of Sports, Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” in 2001, found that young men who consumed whey supplements following a strength routine for six weeks gained more lean muscle mass than those consuming a placebo.


Consuming whey protein alone will not elicit growth in muscle mass. Only when coupled with a consistent high weight, low rep weight training program can whey help build muscles. Many whey protein mixes contain additional carbohydrates, calories and supplements. Pure whey contains about 80 to 100 calories per serving and no additives apart from possibly flavoring and a non-caking agent.

About this Author

Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.