Since last year I have been supplementing my workouts with protein powder. I believe that the gains I have obtained while supplementing my workouts with protein powder were achieved at a faster rate than when I worked out and received all my nutrients from the food I ingested. Getting my protein powder at first was really difficult because my father was seriously against me putting “unnatural” supplements into my body. It took a little convincing but I manage to buy my first protein powder 1 year and a half ago. Without truly looking into the details of protein powders, I based my purchase off of the supplement store manager’s recommendation, and bought myself an “All Natural Whey Isolate” Protein Powder! This protein powder was more expensive than all of the other powders in the store (should have rang some bells), but the manager assured me that it’s because this protein powder is all “natural”. I know from a light research done in the past that whey protein powder is derived from milk, therefore I wonder if the production of protein powder involved anyother materials (other than milk) , and if so are they also naturally occurring or manufactured in some lab.

Whey is a bi-product of cheese and casein manufacture. When 100 L of milk is used to produce cheese and casein, generally 12 kg of cheese is made, along with 3kg of casein, and 87 L of whey. This bi product named whey is definitely not the same Whey protein powder, which I put in my protein shake. This whey is 6% solid, and is a greenish liquid, which looks and tastes unimaginably horrible. This is why in the past whey was used as pig food and fertilizer and sometimes the whey was simply discarded into the ocean.

Whey Protein Concentrate is produced using ultrafiltration. Ultrafiltration keeps in a liquid product retentate, which consists of any insoluble material or solutes greater than 20000 Da molecular weight. The rest of the whey (greenish liquid) passes through the membrane and is called the permeate. The permeate consists of most of the lactose and H2O originally found in the whey. The retentate, which consists of only 1-4% of the original whey inserted into the ultrafiltration, is then spray dried into a powder that consists of 35-85% protein depending on the intending customer.

Digestive enzymes in a controlled environment manufacture whey Protein Hydrolysates, where the temperature and pH levels are controlled. Raw materials from Whey Protein Concentrate are used. The WPC raw materials are filtered and spray dried in the same way regular WPC are made, after which they are subjected to the digestive enzymes. A regular protein is a chain of amino acids in which the amine group of one amino acid is bound to the carboxylic group of a neighboring amino acid via a amide bond. Proteolytic enzymes catalyst the hydrolysis of these bonds. Chains of 2 to 5 amino acids are called peptides. In a hydrolysate, all the proteins are broken up into peptides and free amino acids no greater than the peptides.

Peptide Hydrolysis

Figure 1 Protein Hydrolysis

The research I performed has shed a new light on the substance I drink almost three times a day. This research has not only proven to me that chemistry is truly everywhere but has also shed some light onto the economical side of protein powder production. In conclusion the production of whey protein concentrate is “all natural” by that I mean that it involves only milk, which has been ultrafiltrated. The production of protein powder hydrolysate in my opinion is also “natural” because large amino acid chains are broken up using digestive enzymes, which are naturally occurring. The economical perspective of protein production comes from the fact that from 87 liters 3.48 liters of protein powder.

Protein Powder

“The Chemistry of Whey Protein –” N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Oct. 2013. <>.

“Minimal whey protein with carbohydra… [Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2007] – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Oct. 2013. <>.

One thought on “Brotein

  1. The 2014 Winter Olympics are underway and I’ve been watching the figure skating events on Youtube non-stop as a way to take a break from my challenging organic chemistry homework. I notice that the competitors are robust and athletic, and I assume that they probably use protein powder to gain muscles, which would make them stronger. And then I thought, just like how they can use protein powder to bulk up, athletes can also use drugs to enhance their performance. Using drugs to gain the upper hand is unfair however, and I remind myself of the fact that major sporting events test athletes for these banned substances… But how do they do that? I realized that I had been taking these drug tests for granted, and I wanted understand more about them. What different methods are used for drug testing in the Olympics, and how do these methods detect banned substances?

    I found that drug presence in athletes is mostly tested through a blood or urine sample (Freudenrich & Allen, 2000). One common method of analysis is gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, which as the name suggests, combines features of gas-liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry.

    The first step, gas chromatography, separates the chemicals based on their volatility into its pure forms. To begin, the sample is injected into the gas chromatograph and an inert gas, usually helium, carries the sample through the column. The sample is then vaporized by heating it to 300ºC. The heat also makes the molecules move through the column, a thin tube that is 30 meters long with a layer of polymer on the inside. The substances in the sample are separated based on volatility. Substances with higher volatility and smaller size travel through the column faster than substances with lower volatility and larger size. (Oregon State University, 2013)

    The next step is the mass spectrometry. This step is used to identify the separated substances. First, the gaseous substances are bombarded with an electron beam that causes them to break into pieces and become cations, which is important because the particles must be charged to pass through the electromagnetic field. They are then accelerated down a long magnetized tube, which deflect or “filter” the ions based on their mass-charge ratio. (Oregon State University, 2013) The scientist conducting the experiment will choose a range of masses to be allowed through the filter, to avoid detecting unwanted substances. Then, the ions reach the detector, which counts the number of ions with a specific mass. Every substance has a unique identification based on their mass-charge ratio, so they are easily identified. This information is sent to a computer and a mass spectrum is created. Then, control samples are tested to compare their graphs with the graph of the sample, to identify and quantify the drugs in the studied sample. (Wallace, 2009)

    A use of this method, for example, is the case of Floyd Landis, the 2007 Tour de France winner, who was suspended for testing positive for testosterone. Through sensitive testing, synthetic and naturally made testosterone can be identified by looking at the carbon atoms in them. (Carter, 2007) Different isotopes of carbon have different molecular weights, based on the number of neutrons in the atom. Naturally occurring testosterone has a specific ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13, but synthetically produced testosterone has little carbon-13. (Mukhopadhyay, 2010) A GC-MS test exposed a skewed ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 in his drug test, and caused his disqualification.

    A technique unique to urine samples is the use of immuno-assays, and the most commonly tested drugs using this method are amphetamines, cannabinoid metabolites, cocaine metabolites, opiate metabolites, and phencyclidine. (Williams, 2007) Antibodies are proteins that bond only to specific structures (antigens) and are how the body recognizes foreign substances. These tests rely on the ability for an antibody to bind to its antigen, which is due to hydrogen bonds, electrostatic bonds, Van der Waals forces, and hydrophobic bonds between the two. (Mayer, 2010) Because antibodies are developed to the specific 3-D structure of the target, they are highly specific. (Immunochemistry Technologies LLC, 2014) The antibody in this test is traced with a fluorescent dye or radioactive substance, and the amount of fluorescence or radioactivity that is given off is measured and correlated to the concentration of the tested substance in the sample. (Freudenrich & Allen, 2000) This method is quick and relatively inexpensive, but can sometimes generate a false-positive test. In contrast a gas chromatography mass spectrometry test is more reliable, however it is more time consuming and expensive. (Williams, 2007)

    At SAS, our mission statement expresses the idea that is the foundation of the drug tests: “a commitment to act with integrity and compassion.” The drug testing of athletes makes sure that the games are fair and accurate, just as they should be. The Olympics are not only a platform for people all over the world to display their skill, but also to display their sportsmanship. I feel comforted and amazed after learning about the process of drug testing. I am amazed by how the chemistry I’m learning in class has direct use in the “real world,” and I’m comforted by the use of it to promote equality.

    Suddenly, organic chemistry doesn’t seem so bad anymore.


    Carter, A. (2007). Drug testing in sports: how it’s done. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 11 Feb 2014].

    Freudenrich, C. & Allen, K. (2000). How performance-enhancing drugs work. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 11 Feb 2014].

    Immunochemistry Technologies LLC. (2014). What is an immunoassay?. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 11 Feb 2014].

    Mayer, G. (2010). Immunology – chapter seven | immunoglobulins- antigen-antibody reactions | and selected tests. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 11 Feb 2014].

    Mukhopadhyay, R. (2010). To catch a cheating athlete. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 11 Feb 2014].

    Oregon State University. (2013). Gcms – how does it work? | unsolved mysteries of human health. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 11 Feb 2014].

    Wallace, E. (2009). Drugs in sport. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 11 Feb 2014].

    Williams, K. (2007). Frequently asked questions. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 11 Feb 2014].

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