What Is Whey Protein Made Of? - Milk To Powder
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What Is Whey Protein Made Of? – Milk To Powder

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Milk To Powder

Everyone loves a good protein shake. Whether you take one right when you wake up, right before a workout, after a strong workout, or even right before bed. They provide us with added protein for our bodies to use in building muscle and staying lean. But have you ever stopped to wonder, what is whey protein made of? There’s always an ingredient list on the side of every packaging, of course, but how exactly are they used? This question is asked by many people, but the answer takes a lot of research to find. No need to fear, in today’s article, I’m taking you through the whole process. Starting from the milk on the farm, to the tub of protein in your pantry!

It Starts With The Cows

What Is Whey Protein Made Of? - Milk To Powder

To begin our long journey, we must head out to the farm. Why? Well, whey protein, and casein protein, for that matter, are made from cows milk. They are categorized as dairy products, foods, or items that have any cow’s milk. Now, it can’t just be any ordinary cow, companies want high-quality dairy cattle for their protein.

Farmers on dairy farms say that happy and healthy cows produce the highest quality milk. That’s exactly what companies want, to have excellent whey protein powder, there most be even better milk. To keep cows happy, dairy farms treat cows with loving care, raising them from birth.

The cows are given proper diets and water to produce excellent milk. Some farmers personally name their cows in order to form a stronger bond between human and cow. When you give your dog or cat a name, doesn’t your care for them grow fonder? That’s what farmers are trying to achieve, treating the cows with love and respect, as if they were their pets.

Once the fresh milk is gotten from their cows, the milk is loaded onto a truck to be exported to the local cheese-making factory. It’s important for the milk to be fresh, obviously. You wouldn’t drink expired milk, so why would you drink a protein shake made from expired milk? That’s the first step of the whey process, the farm. On to the next step.

On To The Factory

You read from the first step that the milk is transported to a local cheese-making factory for processing. You may be wondering why a cheese-making factory? Well, most people don’t know that whey protein is actually a byproduct of making cheese. To make cheese, milk must be separated into two substances, curds and whey.

As a matter of fact, casein protein is also made from this process, it takes the form of the curds in the cheese-making process. But the process of making casein is for another article on another day. The curds can either be made into cheese or casein, but the whey in a liquid state is what we want to continue with.

This step is rather short because all that needs to be done is separate the whey from the curds. The whey protein is immediately loaded onto another truck to get transported to a protein powder manufacturing facility. The milk, now turned whey, waves goodbye to the cheese-making factory as it moves on to the third step.

Powder Manufacturing

We’re almost to the end of the journey of making out favorite protein supplements. This step tends to differ depending on what company you’re looking at. Optimum Nutrition’s whey protein-making process may be different from PEScience’s process. It doesn’t mean one is better than the other. They’re just different, that’s all.

The main goal of this step is to separate most of the remaining nutrients in the way besides the protein, of course. The type of whey protein that we’re looking for at the end of this is whey protein isolate, the highest concentration of protein in whey. To get to that point, a couple of things need to be removed and filtered.

What Is Whey Protein Made Of? - Milk To Powder

Before separation, however, the whey liquid protein must be pasteurized. Pasteurization is the addition of heat and coldness to sterilize milk or wine in other cases. The point is to make a safe to consume for people. The pasteurization kills any harvesting bacteria the whey may have once had. There are two ways in which the whey can get separated from the sugars and fats that are unwanted, through ion exchange or membrane filtration.


Ion exchange is the process of using a shift in pH to achieve protein separation. Yup, this is a chemical process, brings you back chemistry in high-school. Chemicals are used to change certain pHs and electrical chargers on proteins, which allows them to detach from other nutrients.

It’s a complicated process that’s looked down upon and questioned by many. The main reason is due to the addition of harsh chemicals like hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide. Keep in mind that your stomach uses hydrochloric acid to break down food, and it’s being used in making protein powders.

These harsh chemical agents taking forms of extreme acids and bases puts off many consumers. Hearing about dangerous chemicals being added to your food is something nobody wants to hear. Ion-exchange is a pretty interesting process. If you’d like more information on it, I’ll leave a link for more on the process.

Membrane Filtration 

The other process of separating whey protein from the other substances is called membrane filtration. Instead of the harsh chemicals, the whey protein filters through tubings and membranes to achieve separation. However, the ending whey here is different from the ion-exchange ending whey.

What Is Whey Protein Made Of? - Milk To Powder

The membrane filtration whey becomes undenatured, while the ion-exchange whey is denatured. Denature means the natural qualities of something is removed, which is bad. For this reason of non-denaturation, membrane filtration is the superior method. So why is ion-exchange still around?

Well, membrane filtration is quite an expensive process which not every company has the luxury of using. Ion-exchange is a cheaper and quicker alternative. The rest of the process, we’ll be basing it off membrane filtration, since there is still unfinished business.

“Quality Check”

From here, a lot of things can branch off, depending on the company. Quality checks often occur during this step before mixing the whey to make protein powder. Note that I say “often” because not every protein powder company is true to their word, and quality checks their protein. I bet you’re thinking, “wait, aren’t they forced to check the standard of their protein powder?” Well, not really.

Ever since the FDA, Food and Drug Administration, passed an act putting dietary supplements into their own separate category, they haven’t really been checked. I mean, the FDA can’t check the quality unless it’s causing harm to the consumer. The odds of that happening are low, so companies get away with putting crazy things in their supplements. Some groups have found traces of lead in protein powders, that’s outrageous, the same substance that’s used to make bullets and belts.

Protein powders can lie about their ingredients and get away with it. How does a consumer know if he/she is drinking something like lead if it’s masked by the artificial sweeteners/flavoring? They can’t. If you’d like to know more about the deal with the FDA and protein powders, check out the article I wrote here that goes in-depth.

Seal It In A Tub

What Is Whey Protein Made Of? - Milk To Powder

Where on the home stretch for whey protein powder, there’s not much left to do. After membrane filtration, the whey protein is thrown into a massive dryer. The whey is hit by warm and cold air for separating the liquids from the solids, much like our 2nd step. The solid part is a powdery substance, and what we have is our whey protein isolate.

The whey protein isolate at this point can be mixed with all types of things. Once again, it depends on what company you’re talking about. Some companies throw in a boatload of artificial sweeteners and additives to complete their powders. Others take a more natural approach and add as little amounts of additives to their supplements. The way the powder tastes is also crafted here.

The protein packaging label is made, and the powder is poured into the tub, commonly by a machine. The tub is weighed, the label is put on, and a seal is put on for freshness, boom, and protein powder. All that’s left is loading them on to a truck and sending it off to the sellers like supplements shops or just stores around the country.

There are also legal and financial steps taken, but that also should be left for another article, as that can make an article in itself. There you have, the process of making a whey protein powder.


In conclusion, what is whey protein made of? Well, to put it simply, whey protein is made of cow’s milk. Cow’s milk that is taken from a farm, and put through a series of other processes to form what we know as whey protein powder. Whether it’s going through a cheese-making factory, or to the protein powder facility, it will get to its final destination; you, the consumer. After buying from the seller, it finally ends up in your pantry, the process finally ending.

Got any questions? Leave them down below, along with any comments you may have!