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Protein plays a crucial role in your diet and research shows that consuming a high-protein diet can have multiple benefits for your health. In addition to supporting the functions of your organs and muscles, it’s also critical when it comes to your skin and hair health.
However, the fact of the matter is that many people don’t consume enough protein in their diets, which can make it difficult to feel and look your best.
That’s why many nutritionists and health professionals recommend protein supplements to their clients — they’re easy to consume and can make reaching your daily protein goals much easier.
When it comes to protein powders, whey is hands down the most highly recommended protein on the market. But all whey products are not the same. Different products can come from either grain-fed or grass-fed cows and may also go through different kinds of processing.
Before we get too far into the discussion, however, let’s first discuss what whey protein actually is and how it’s made.
What is Whey Protein
Whey protein is a fast-digesting protein that makes up about 20% of all the protein found in cow’s milk, with the other 80% coming in the form of casein. It contains all 9 essential amino acids and has a well-balanced amino acid profile.
In addition to being found in dairy products, whey also comes in powder form and is one of the most popular dietary supplements in the world. During processing, much of the lactose found in milk is removed, making it a viable option for those with less severe lactose intolerances.
It’s also amongst the most thoroughly researched dietary supplements, with numerous studies demonstrating positive effects on everything from weight loss to athletics.
As a supplement, whey protein comes in multiple forms. First, it can come as an isolate or concentrate, which each have slightly different nutritional profiles.
Whey isolate is usually 90+% pure protein, meaning that it contains fewer carbohydrates and fat in comparison to whey concentrate, which can be anywhere between 30 and 80% protein. Whey isolate also has a slightly higher biological value, which is a measurement of how much protein actually gets used by your body.
Grass-fed vs. Grain-Fed Whey Protein
On top of coming in different forms, whey protein powders can also come from different sources. The typical whey protein supplement is derived from grain-fed cows, however, some whey products are also produced from grass-fed cow’s milk.
Just like with grass-fed meat, what the cow eats ultimately affects the nutritional makeup of their milk as well. Compared to whey from grain-fed cow’s milk, grass-fed whey has a more favorable fatty acid profile and also contains higher concentrations of important nutrients.
For instance, grass-fed whey isolate on average has about 4% more protein per gram compared to a traditional isolate derived from grain-fed cows. On top of that, grass-fed cow’s milk has higher concentrations of vitamins A and E as well as CLA and omega-3, which can help to support your health in multiple ways.
Grass-Fed Protein Benefits
Whey protein is perhaps best known for its association with the muscle-building process. That’s because numerous studies have demonstrated that whey helps to trigger a physiological process known as muscle protein synthesis (MPS) to a greater degree than any other form of protein.
Your body is always in a state of flux, with proteins constantly being broken down and replaced by new ones. Your muscles only grow when the amount of protein synthesized by your body eclipses the amount that is broken down. MPS is triggered when you eat quick digesting foods like whey that contain lots of BCAAs and other important amino acids.
Because grass-fed whey isolate has a higher protein concentration, it’s may be even more effective at triggering MPS than regular whey isolate, which is perfect for maximizing your muscle-building potential.
Because grass-fed whey is higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), it may also help you to burn more fat. CLA is an Omega-6 essential fatty acid and is categorized as a polyunsaturated fat.
Studies show that it can increase your body’s utilization of adipocytes, which are fat cells within your stored body fat. Burning off more adipocyte ultimately leads to more weight loss over time.(1)(2)
Researchers have also found that CLA can help to improve muscle gains and increase metabolism, which along with exercise, can help you to develop a leaner body composition.
Another benefit associated with grass-fed whey is that it’s higher in omega 3’s. Omega-3’s are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids that can benefit your health in a number of different ways.
EPA and DHA (2 different types of omega 3’s) in particular play an important role in everything from cardiovascular and bone health to supporting the functions of your brain and immune system.(3)(4)
Omega 3’s may also help when it comes to weight loss. Several studies have demonstrated that they can increase your metabolic rate, which in turn can force your body to burn more calories.
Compared to traditional whey products, grass-fed whey also contains higher concentrations of antibodies known as immunoglobulins, which can help to keep you feeling healthy.
Immunoglobulins are mainly used by your immune system, where they help to protect against things like bacteria and viruses. (5)
More particularly, the immunoglobulins in grass-fed whey help to boost your body’s production of glutathione, which helps to prevent cellular damage caused by heavy metals and unstable molecules known as free radicals.(6)
Grass-fed whey also has a higher concentration of bioactive peptides. Bioactive peptides play a number of critical roles in your body’s different systems, including the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, immune and nervous systems.
They have a number of health benefits including helping to reduce high blood pressure, preventing the growth of microorganisms and bacteria, as well as improving the overall response of your immune system.(7)
Some research shows that they may also help to stymie food cravings, support mental function, and promote healthy bone metabolism.(8)
Vitamins A and E
Another benefit to be had from switching over to grass-fed whey protein is that it’s higher in vitamins A and E. Vitamins A and E are essential micronutrients that your body needs in order to maintain its normal functions.
Vitamin A plays an important role in supporting bone health and also aids in the function of your immune system as well. (9) On top of that, several studies have also shown that it helps to protect your eyesight.
Like vitamin A, vitamin E has also been linked with supporting eye health. In addition, it plays an important role in your immune system as an antioxidant, helping to stave off infection by protecting against free radicals.(10)
Grass-fed whey protein may offer several benefits that traditional grain-fed whey does not.
Because it has a higher protein concentration, grass-fed whey isolate may help to trigger muscle protein synthesis to an even greater degree than regular whey isolate.
In addition, grass-fed protein is higher in nutrients like CLA and omega-3 as well as vitamins A and E, which may help with everything from muscle gain and weight loss to fighting off harmful bacteria and viruses.
- “Efficacy of conjugated linoleic acid for reducing fat mass: a meta-analysis in humans” Whigham, L.D., Watras, A.C., Schoeller, D.A. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. May. 2007.
- “Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), Body Fat, and Apoptosis” Miner, J.L., Cederberg, C.A., Nielsen, M.K., Chen, X., Baile, C.A. Obesity Research. Sep. 2012.
- “Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease: New Recommendations From the American Health Association” Kris-Etherton, P.M., Harris, W.S., Appel, L.J. Journal of The American Heart Association. Apr. 2014.
- “Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammation” Mori, T.A., Beilin, L.J. Current Atherosclerosis Reports. Nov. 2004.
- “Structure and function of immunoglobulins” Schroeder, H.W., Cavacini, L. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Nov. 2004.
- “Mitochondrial Glutathione, a Key Survival Antioxidant” Mari, M., Morales, A., Colell, A., Garcia-Ruiz, C., Fernandez-Checa, J.C. Antioxidants and Redox Signaling. Oct. 2009.
- “Bioactive Peptides in Milk and Dairy Products: A Review” Young, W.P., Myoung, S.N. Korean Journal of Food Science and Animal Resources. Dec. 2015.
- “Bioactive Peptides from Whey Proteins” Mann, B., Athira, S., Sharma, R., Kumar, R., Sarkar, P. National Dairy Research Institute. Sep. 2018.
- “Vitamin A Deficiency” Sommer, A. eLS. Apr. 2001.
- “Direct observation of a free radical interaction between vitamin E and vitamin C” Packer, J.E., Slater, T.F., Willson, R.L. International Journal of Science. Apr. 1979.