Hundreds of questions are asked every week about protein powders, especially whey protein, on social media and question and answer sites. The answers given to these questions can be quite ridiculous. They tend to present two extremes.
See also: Is Expired Whey Protein Still Good?
On one hand, whey protein is like a magic bullet for muscle gain, akin to anabolic steroids. And, on the other, whey protein is pretty much like ingesting strychnine. One comment I’ve come across, lately, about protein powders is that they are synthetic and made from chemicals. And as a result, they are poison.
To put it as succinctly as possible: This is just ignorant. Synthetic is a word that is bandied about with abandon, with little regard to the actual definition of the term. And synthetic is seen as almost synonymous with the word toxin, another word that is used out of ignorance and fear, and toxin is seen as synonymous with poison. All this not only shows ignorance about protein powders but about food and dietary supplements in general.
As for chemicals, you already know that everything is made from chemicals. We just don’t make it all with our own hands.
Synthetic Whey Protein?
So, protein powders are NOT synthetic and there is no such thing as synthetic whey protein. The word synthetic, in regards to any sort of chemical substance, would refer to something that was made by chemical or biological synthesis. So, for protein powders to be synthetic, they would have to be manufactured or assembled in a lab, or at least in lab-like conditions, probably from single amino acids or di- or tripeptides. Can you imagine how difficult this would be? How expensive? How impossible?
Whey protein comes from milk. Casein protein also comes from milk. Soy protein comes from soybeans. They’re all naturally occurring proteins. Now, they’re processed in various ways to make different grades of protein powders. Whey is processed to make concentrates or isolates. As well, whey powders are made with all sorts of different properties to fit the needs of the food industry. This is not synthesis. It’s just a process of taking out certain components, or certain protein fractions through a filtering process or some other process. The proteins that are left are still just proteins.
I really don’t know what people imagine when they make these types of statements. There is no mad scientist in a lab making Frankenstein soybeans and injecting them with electricity and poison, and then isolating the protein from it, and making powders from it. It just doesn’t work that way.
Whey and casein of course, is not the only sources of protein powders. There are many other plant-based sources, mostly legumes, such as soybean, pea, and hemp, as well as other animal sources such as egg whites and beef. If you are looking for a synthetic protein powder, the closest you are going to get is powders which consist of a mix of single amino acids.
Most popular whey protein powders consist of a blend of whey concentrates and isolates with added ingredients for flavoring and sweetening. Sometimes, as well, creatine and additional amino acids, especially glutamine and taurine, are added. Here are some of the bestselling whey proteins on Amazon, most of which are blends.
If you would like to learn more about how whey protein powders are processed, I’ve written a huge resource that should tell you everything you ever wanted to know about whey protein, and also, it will define all the various terms that you encounter about whey protein powder supplements.