Whey protein powder comes from two different dairy products, milk, or cheese. Manufacturers can choose either milk or cheese, depending on their capabilities. When a manufacturer decides to produce whey protein powder from milk, it is called native whey protein. When a manufacturer decides to produce whey protein from cheese, it is just called whey protein. Native whey protein is made directly from milk, not cheese. Factually this makes it a better product than whey protein from cheese. This article will discuss all the aspects of native whey protein powders and the companies that sell them.
Understanding The Terminology
What Is Native Whey Protein Powder?
The definition of the word “native” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “found in nature, especially in an unadulterated form.” In this case of whey protein, manufacturers of native whey are using the word “native” to describe it as to be derived from milk, not cheese. Believe it, or not there are two types of whey protein. Whey protein can come from two sources, milk or cheese. And the two types of cheeses are mozzarella and cheddar. Cheese whey protein that has a color of more white in appearance is from mozzarella, and cheese whey protein that has an appearance of more yellowish-orange color is from cheddar cheese. Being derived from milk or cheese is the most important characteristic when comparing the two types of whey protein. Technically all whey protein comes from milk, but cheese is from milk, then whey is created from the production of the cheese.
Manufacturing Flow Chart Of Native Whey Powder
Native whey protein will have pretty much the same macronutrient profile as cheese whey protein. The protein grams, carbs, and fats will be the same. Native and cheese whey protein isolates will be 90% protein, and native whey and cheese whey protein concentrate will be 80% protein. Depending on the density of the powder, 1/3 cup of native whey protein isolate will yield about 25 grams of protein. Native whey isolate will not have the lactose that the concentrate does. This would be ideal for people that are lactose intolerant.
The most up to date method to determine protein quality is the DIAA or digestible indispensable amino acid score. It has replaced the testing method of the biological value, PER, and PDCAA. The DIAA method is what is accepted by food research scientists to rank the overall quality of a protein that a human can utilize and help increase protein synthesis. It is important to know the protein quality of foods when it comes to helping feed starving countries and communities that are in need of quality nutrition. My research has to lead me to believe that native whey protein has not been analyzed. Cheese whey protein has. Therefore from a food technology standpoint, I cannot make an opinion on whether native whey protein scores higher on the DIAA chart over cheese whey protein. Hopefully, one-day native whey protein will be analyzed.
Cheese Whey Terminology
Whey protein from cheese is labeled “whey protein” on most protein powders. I have yet to see a protein powder called “cheese whey.” Whey protein should be labeled native whey if it comes from milk, not cheese. Your packaging label should list native whey.
Here are some examples of how whey protein is often labeled.
Microfiltration whey protein concentrate
Ion-exchange whey protein isolate
Protein Blend (whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, whey peptides)
The first word before the word “whey” typically defines the filtration method used to manufacture the whey protein. There are two standard processes. The first is microfiltration, which the most popular and the second is ion exchange. Ion-exchange is a patented process in which a company called Agropour has the right to; therefore, ion exchange protein powders are rare to find. Many people claim ion-exchange whey protein is low quality, but this is not the case. Ion-exchange contains about 10% more protein than microfiltration, which means more vital BCAA’s, which are essential for muscle growth.
On a side note, I have only discovered native whey proteins made using the microfiltration method. I have never seen an ion-exchange native whey protein.
Another word that can be used BEFORE “whey protein” is hydrolyzed. The word “hydrolyzed” refers to a whey protein powder that is processed to break down the large peptide chains into smaller ones. It is not a filtration method, but an added step after filtration. The purpose of hydrolyzing a whey protein powder is to increase it’s assimilation in the human body or improve its functionality when used as a food ingredient. Therefore it can be written as such: hydrolyzed whey protein isolate or whey protein hydrolysate. Hydrolyzed whey protein is a high-end protein powder meant to be used by advanced bodybuilders and athletes. Hydrolyzed protein powders have a very bitter taste.
Protein Concentration Terminology
The word after “whey protein” refers to the concentration of protein in the powder. Whey protein powder in itself is not 100% protein. Meaning out of 100 grams of whey protein powder, it will not be 100 grams of protein.
When whey protein has the word “concentrate” after it, that means the protein powder has a concentration of 80% protein or lower. Therefore out of 100 grams of whey protein concentrate powder, 80 grams or lower will be actual protein. When whey protein has the word “isolate” after it, that means the protein powder has an isolation of 90% protein or higher. Therefore out of 100 grams of whey protein isolate powder, 90 grams will be actual protein.
native whey protein isolate
native whey protein concentrate
These are two different protein powders that can be purchased by companies wishing to start their own protein powder company to sell to consumers. The “isolate” powder is the higher quality because it contains more protein. Some supplement companies that sell whey protein concentrate claim it is higher quality than an isolate because it is less processed. This is not true, because I have never seen any data or scientific analysis that proves a concentrate protein yields more protein subfractions, amino acids, or peptides over an isolate.
Consumers must be aware of and understand the terminology when buying a protein powder. If consumers do not, then they are purchasing a whey protein in which could be coming from cheese or milk. Having the two words, “whey protein” is not enough information to know what type of protein powder one is buying. The whey protein label should have the manufacturing process and concentration listed.
Supplement Fact Vs. Nutrition Facts
Reading a whey protein powder label and trying to determine what type of whey protein one is buying is not very easy. To make matters worse, the macronutrients listed on the protein jar or bag can read either “supplement facts” or “nutrition facts.” The supplement or nutrition facts creates more confusion for the consumer. The trouble caused when the company selling the whey protein to the consumer has the choice to label their protein as a dietary supplement or food. As a dietary supplement manufacturing expert, I have yet to get a clear answer from the FDA on why this is the case. The FDA has yet to decide whether whey protein falls under the CFR 111’s for dietary supplements or the CFR 110s for food manufacturing. One of the largest whey protein manufacturers in the world, Glanbia Nutritionals, which owns the biggest seller of whey protein, Optimum Nutrition, labels their whey protein powder as a food. Therefore it has a nutrition facts panel. Another huge manufacturer of whey protein Agropour sells a whey protein called Bipro, and they label it a dietary supplement with a supplement facts label. To date, there is no clear answer as to why this is the case. Both Glanbia’s product and Agropure product is a whey protein. But why is one considered a supplement and the other a food? Does it matter which one the consumer should buy? No, either one is perfectly fine.
Native Whey Protein Powder Vs. Cheese Whey
At the beginning of this article, I stated that native whey protein was factually better than regular whey protein (whey protein made from cheese). The main reason is that native whey protein contains more protein subfractions and slightly more amino acids than whey protein from cheese due to the manufacturing process. I also theorize that native whey protein has a higher digestible indispensable amino acid score over cheese whey.
Native Whey Protein Powder Is More Anabolic because it contains more leucine (The anabolic amino)
Native whey contains about 10% to 15% more of the amino acid leucine than regular whey protein. Leucine is responsible for helping increase muscle protein synthesis. One of the reasons whey protein powder works so well for weightlifters looking to increase muscle mass is because whey protein is naturally high in BCAA’s. Therefore more leucine, in theory, could produce better results. On a side note, I never recommend supplementing with L-Leucine. I also recommend staying away from protein powders that add additional free form amino acids such as BCAA’s’ or L-Leucine. Free form amino acids are a waste and I have written about it extensively. Instead, use leucine in peptide form sourced from hydrolyzed whey protein isolate.
Less Denatured Because of Less Pasteurization
According to my research, I have found that native whey protein is pasteurized once or twice. Which is a good reason to buy native whey protein over cheese whey protein. Pasteurization is a denaturing step; therefore, it downgrades the quality of the whey protein. Cheese whey protein is always pasteurized twice.
Currently, I have found four manufacturers in the world that manufacturer their whey protein from milk and not cheese. One, I found pasteurizes their protein one time, and another one pasteurizes it twice while manufacturing. The other two I have yet to determine, but I am going to assume they pasteurize it twice. Because if they did only pasteurize it one time, they would highlight it in their marketing.
Does Native Whey Protein Powder Build Muscle Better Than Cheese Whey?
Native whey protein is a higher quality protein powder than whey protein made from cheese. But does that necessarily mean it will produce more muscle?
I found two studies that looked at native whey protein.
The first one determined that native whey did not increase muscle protein synthesis any better than cheese whey protein concentrate. That study was done in 2017.
Then after that, in 2018, another study was done, which resulted in Native whey, possibly improving recovery time over cheese whey protein.
More research is obviously needed if one wants to factual state native whey protein increases muscle mass over cheese whey protein. Because at this point, one cannot. But one fact that is truthful and passes the litmus test is that native whey is higher quality than cheese whey. Now let me be clear, I’m not saying that native whey blows away cheese whey by a mile because I’m not. Native whey is only “slightly” better than cheese whey as far as a food product. Yes, it has more leucine, yes it is less processed, yes one can consider it more natural and pure, but big whoop-de-doo! My goal is to increase muscle mass by recommending the best protein powders for that. Whether or not native whey results in better recovery or increased muscle mass is yet to be determined. But if one wants the best native whey is the choice. I personally use native whey or cheese whey. I have no reason to use cheese whey over native.
Buying Native Whey Protein
Companies selling whey protein powder can choose between selling a native whey protein or cheese whey protein. As of January 2020, the cost of cheese whey protein concentrate is around $2.50 per pound. The cost of a native whey protein is around $4.50 per pound. Therefore, the cost difference is quite drastic.
Buying native whey protein is pretty simple to do. A Google search will show a handful of supplement companies that sell native whey protein isolate and native whey protein concentrate.
Other than my company, a handful of other companies sell native whey protein. The first company that sells native whey protein powder is Designer Whey Protein. They sell a native whey protein isolate that is made with Pronativ whey protein, which is manufactured by Lactalis. Lactalis is a large dairy company. On their website, they sell 1.85lbs for $49.99. The product sells as a food product, which means it has a nutrition facts panel. Listed in the ingredients are the free form amino acids, L-leucine, and L-Glutamine. In my opinion, I feel L-Glutamine is completely worthless. I have never seen one study with compelling evidence that it can help increase muscle mass or improve recovery.
The next company is Leprino Foods and its Ascent protein powder. Leprino Foods is one of the largest mozzarella cheese producers in the world. This company sells directly to consumers. They sell their native whey protein powder under the brand name Ascent Protein powder. On their website, they sell 2 lbs for $39.99. It is sold as a food product because it has a nutrition facts panel. The problem I have with this protein powder is that it is not 100% native whey protein. It is a combination of native whey isolate, cheese whey isolate, and cheese whey concentrate. In my opinion, this makes absolutely no sense. Native whey protein is just not that powerful include it with cheese whey to make it a better protein powder. Leprino Foods have a big advantage over other native whey protein sellers because they actually make the powder while the other companies have to buy it. This cuts out the middle man. One would think this would increase their profit margins. Therefore I cannot understand why they would dilute the native whey protein with cheese whey protein.
The next company is Rivalus Native Whey Protein. They use Pronativ whey protein. From what I can see, it looks like it is 100% native whey protein isolate. It is sold as a dietary supplement with a supplement facts panel. It sells on their website for $49.99.
Take note here. Rivalus sells Pronativ whey protein isolate as a dietary supplement, and Designer sells the exact same Pronativ whey protein isolate but sells it as a food product.
The next native whey protein is sold as Proserum and is manufactured by Well Wisdom. It is a concentrate, not an isolate. Therefore it does contain lactose and carbs. However, this is the one native whey protein powder that has only been pasteurized one time. What is unique about Well Wisdom protein is that they do not actually manufacturer their native whey protein like Leprino Foods, nor do they buy it from a manufacturer like with the Pronativ. What they do is contract out a manufacturer to make their native whey protein to their specifications. Then they branded it with the name Proserum.
In conclusion, most people are buying whey protein powder because they want to increase muscle mass or use it for some sort of sports nutrition use. Native whey protein powder is a more expensive, higher quality whey protein powder because it is less processed. The higher quality native whey protein does not necessarily mean that it will equate to more muscle growth or it is of more benefit for an athlete. However, native whey protein powder does contain more leucine, which is the amino acid that is the dominant player to help increase muscle protein synthesis in the body. This slight edge that native whey protein has over cheese whey protein might just be enough for some athletes and bodybuilders to break through a plateau. And that reason alone may be enough reason to try native whey protein powder for a few months over cheese whey protein.
Alex Rogers is a supplement manufacturing expert. He has been formulating, consulting, and manufacturing dietary supplements since 1998. Alex invented protein customization in 1998 and was the first company to allow supplement consumers to create their own protein blends. Alex helped create the first supplement to contain natural follistatin.