In the last few years, native whey has made a splash in the protein and supplement scene, marketed as a cleaner and more effective option to help improve strength, muscle mass, and overall health. But is native whey any better than traditional whey concentrate or whey isolate? We’re going to look at the what the science says, to find out if native whey lives up to the hype.
What Is Whey Protein
Milk contains two protein fractions, the readily digestible and so called “fast” whey fraction, and the slowly digestible and so called “slow” casein fraction. Although both fractions are considered to be of high quality, containing all essential amino acids (EAA), the difference is in digestion rate. Given its superior ability to rapidly increase blood leucine concentrations to high levels, whey is often considered the most effective protein source to stimulate muscle protein synthesis [R].
Whey protein is a by-product of the cheese manufacturing process. Dairy, or cow’s milk is heated then treated with acid, called acidification, denaturing the protein to some extent. This process separates the solid protein (aka the curds) or casein, from the liquid protein, otherwise known as whey. Whey is then further filtered to remove any lactose, carbohydrates, and fat, resulting in whey protein isolate.
What Is Native Whey
Unlike whey, native whey is not a by-product of the cheese manufacturing process but derived directly from milk protein. Raw milk is filtered, goes through a treatment process similar to how whey is created. Therefore, despite the claim’s, native whey, is not “native” at all, but very similar to whey protein, or whey protein isolate, and denatured to some degree.
"The milk protein manufacturing process starts at skim milk. Skim milk is then broken down into milk protein and milk permeate", says Alec Heersink from Idaho Milk Products.
The milk protein is 80% casein, 20% whey. Native Whey is then isolated down by being that 20% in the milk protein (kicking off the Micellar Casein component).
Whey Protein vs Native Whey: What’s The Difference
Most whey protein concentrates are composed of 70-80% pure protein and contain over 50% lactose, with a higher content of fat and carbohydrates, as compared to whey protein isolate. Whey protein isolate is a highly purified form of Whey protein. Whey protein isolate goes through a rigorous filtration process, known as a crossflow micro-filtration as compared to whey protein concentrate. Through this filtration process, protein content is separated from any additional fat, carbohydrates, cholesterol, and lactose, resulting in a more purified form of protein. Most whey protein isolate, is around 90% pure protein, as compared to 70-80% in whey concentrate.
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Native whey is derived from raw milk protein and also undergoes a filtration and treatment process. Therefore, native whey is denatured and not truly, “native”.
But what about efficacy. Is native whey superior to whey or whey isolate when it comes to muscle protein synthesis and optimizing workout recovery?
A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition compared native whey to traditional whey protein, to investigate the effects on muscle protein synthesis and anabolic response. A total of 24 young resistance trained men and women took part in this double blind, randomized, partial crossover, controlled study.
Participants either received whey protein concentrate, native whey, or milk. Results showed that native whey resulted in higher levels of leucine concentration, however despite this result, native whey was not superior in its effect on muscle protein synthesis than traditional whey protein [R].
Studies show that higher leucine concentration alone, does not facilitate greater changes in muscle protein synthesis. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted at Baylor University, 30 were administered BCAA, Leucine, or placebo. The supplements were consumed in three equal doses pre, immediately before resistance training, and post workout. The results indicated that both leucine and BCAA supplementation led to greater levels of phosphorylated 4E-BP1 and cell signaling of the mTOR pathway, a serine/threonine kinase which stimulates protein synthesis through amino acid activation. These findings suggest that the other two BCAAs [isoleucine and valine] may contribute to greater activation rates than leucine alone [R]. Furthermore, the study concluded that supplementing BCAAs had greater effects on mTOR than taking greater amounts of leucine alone.
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If native whey is derived from raw milk, then how then is it different than milk protein concentrate or milk protein isolate? Milk protein concentrate contains all the proteins found in raw milk, at the same ratios. Therefore, milk protein concentrate will contain 80% casein and 20% whey. Native whey is produced by the filtration of unprocessed milk, therefore, it is still considered whey, yet is found to have more intact protein and amino acids than traditional whey protein. Unlike whey concentrate or isolate, it comes from the raw milk, not the manufacturing of cheese.
"MPC is both the casein and whey, while the Native Whey is just the whey protein from the MPC. If a consumer wants an unadulterated whey protein that is not produced from a cheese making process, then they’d likely go Native Whey. If they want a slow digesting protein and fast digesting within one protein that’s the ratio from milk itself, then MPC is their choice. It comes down to the application (RTD, powder, bar, etc) on how they want it too," says Alec.
"They’d likely choose WPI or WPC than Native Whey based on costs alone however. Grass Fed would be only if the cows themselves that the Native Whey came from were grass fed. Not a lot of MPC/Native Whey is grass fed."
Native Whey Vs. Whey Concentrate: Takeaway
Increasing muscle mass and strength a commonly shared goal amongst athletes and those pursuing a healthy active lifestyle. Resistance training combined with protein ingestion are the two most important stimuli of muscle protein synthesis.
Research suggests that despite the claim’s of native whey’s superiority, native whey is no better than traditional whey or whey isolate when it comes to building muscle, increasing strength, or improving recovery.
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