Whey protein is a very popular supplement – and for good reason. However, not all whey protein formulas may be suitable for those who are lactose intolerant.
This article will explain what whey protein is, and its benefits, as well as explain if you can consume whey protein if you’re intolerant to lactose.
What is Whey Protein, Exactly?
Whey protein comes from cow’s milk when it goes through the cheesemaking process. After the milk is pasteurized to remove any harmful bacteria, it’s treated with enzymes to separate the whey from the casein. Casein is the main, solid product in milk and is used to make all kinds of cheeses.
The liquid part that remains contains whey, along with fats and carbohydrates. Then, the fats and much of the lactose are removed to yield a whey protein liquid. Lastly, the whey protein liquid goes through its final stage of processing in which it’s dried and turned into a powder.
It’s important to note that processing can differ slightly to yield two different types of whey products: whey concentrate and whey isolate.
If more of the carbohydrates and fats are left in the product, a whey concentrate powder is created. Whey concentrate is typically 80% protein by weight.
On the other hand, further processing can reduce the carbohydrate and fat content to yield a product called whey protein isolate. Whey protein isolate is a more concentrated protein source compared to whey concentrate, as it contains 90% or more protein by weight.
Whey protein in all forms is a high-quality protein source. Although there are many steps to get from milk to whey protein powder, it’s definitely a valuable and necessary process as it’s a widely consumed supplement and helps many people meet their protein needs.
Does Whey Protein Contain Lactose?
Most whey protein powders do in fact contain some lactose. However, the amount of lactose in whey protein varies depending on the type of whey and how it was made.
Therefore, some people who have some lactose intolerance may be able to tolerate whey protein without any issues.
Others who are more severely lactose intolerant may not be able to tolerate it. The next section will explain just how much lactose is present in whey, to help you get a better understanding if whey protein might be right for you.
How Much Lactose is in Whey?
The majority of whey protein powders contain approximately 0.1 grams of lactose per tablespoon. That means that in a normal serving of whey protein powder, you’re only getting about 0.64 g of lactose.
Some whey isolate formulas may contain up to 1 gram of lactose per serving. On the other hand, whey concentrate formulas may contain up to 3.5 grams of lactose per serving.
What are the Benefits of Whey Protein?
Whey protein is a widely studied protein supplement, and many researchers have shared many findings when it comes to how whey protein can benefit our health.
Firstly, whey protein is a complete protein, meaning it has all necessary amino acids needed by your body. Plus, the body can easily digest and absorb this protein much quicker than many other forms of protein.
Whey protein is especially beneficial to build and repair muscles after both endurance and resistance exercise. When taken within 30-60 minutes after a workout, whey protein specifically benefits muscle recovery and repair, as well as muscle fiber growth (1).
While whey protein has been historically targeted towards bodybuilders and athletes, it can actually be beneficial for anyone looking to add more high-quality protein to their diet. If your diet is lacking in protein, your metabolic rate may be lower, and the body may have an increased tendency to gain fat. Therefore, adding whey protein supplements can be helpful to improve metabolism and perhaps help manage a healthy weight.
What’s more, whey protein may also be beneficial for those looking to improve their blood sugar regulation. Studies show that consuming whey protein with meals may help improve insulin sensitivity, therefore helping to moderate the rise in blood sugar after a meal (2).
Can I Take Whey Protein if I'm Lactose Intolerant?
Research suggests that people who are lactose intolerant can actually typically tolerate up to 12 grams of lactose at one sitting, or up to 24 grams of lactose spread out throughout the day, without experiencing any symptoms (3).
This means that even if you’re someone who is typically sensitive to lactose, the amount of lactose you’re getting in whey protein is actually so small that you probably would be able to tolerate it totally symptom-free. However, if you’re concerned that even having a little lactose may upset your system, your better bet would be to opt for a product that contains 100% whey isolate.
If you choose a whey protein supplement with a higher lactose content, it would also be an option to consume a lactase enzyme to help your body break down the lactose sugar to prevent any disruptive digestive side effects from occurring. If you’re unsure if you are lactose intolerant, and you’re experiencing digestive upset, it’s always best to check with your doctor or registered dietitian.
What are the Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance from Whey Protein?
Symptoms of lactose intolerance from whey protein are no different from lactose intolerance from other lactose-containing foods. If you are lactose-intolerant you may experience gastrointestinal discomfort and symptoms such as stomach cramping, bloating, and diarrhea (4).
Lactose-Free Whey Protein
Most whey protein supplements contain small amounts of lactose. While whey concentrate supplements will contain more lactose, many whey isolate supplements will contain small amounts of lactose. If you’re highly sensitive to lactose, there’s a good chance you’ll experience some symptoms of lactose intolerance.
However, our whey protein isolate powder, Clear Naked Whey, is specially formulated to be 100% whey protein isolate, and completely lactose-free. You can consume Clear Naked Whey with full confidence that your body will readily be able to digest and absorb this high-quality protein, while allowing you to feel your best.
Just because you’re lactose intolerant doesn’t mean you don’t get to reap the benefits that whey protein has to offer.
Other Protein Options for Lactose Intolerance
If you’re lactose intolerant, there are luckily many protein powder options to help you meet your body’s protein needs and achieve your health and wellness goals.
While protein powders can be a convenient and tasty way to meet your body’s protein needs, there are several non-lactose foods that can provide a great source of high-quality protein. Here’s a list of high-protein foods that are non-lactose:
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, duck
- Meats: beef, lamb, pork, veal
- Fish and seafood: salmon, tuna, cod, halibut, shellfish
- Eggs: eggs, egg whites
- Dairy: lactose-free milk, yogurt, cheese
- Beans and legumes: black beans, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashews, walnuts, pumpkin seeds
- Soy products: tofu, tempeh
Bottom Line: Whey Protein and Lactose
Most whey protein supplements contain some lactose. Whey concentrate supplements contain more lactose, while whey isolate supplements contain very little lactose. In fact, there are even some supplements such as Naked Clear that do not contain any lactose at all.
However, most whey supplements in general contain very small amounts of lactose, so even if you are lactose intolerant, it’s likely you would be able to tolerate them. However, if you’re someone who is super sensitive to lactose, your best bet might be going for a lactose-free whey supplement, such as Naked Clear, Naked Shake, or Naked Pea protein.