Whey protein history & its interesting journey

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Rohit Jadhav Founder - M2PROTEINS

Whey Protein History

Whey Protein History:

​Whey was introduced to humans long back ago, longer than you and I can imagine, the early medicinal practitioners realized the benefits of whey and started using it to treat various elements. Let’s go back in history to follow the amazing journey of discovery of whey to the current status of whey proteins. The first use of liquid whey is recorded by none other than the Father of medicine Hippocrates in 460 BC.

Early beginning of supplements and whey proteins:

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5500 BC: Poland; art of cheese making discovered.

460 BC: Hippocrates, Father of medicine realizing benefits of liquid whey prescribed liquid whey as an immunity booster to his patients.

Greece: Medicinal practitioners prescribed whey dubbed as “Lactoserum” to their patients

130 AD-Rome: Green physician “Galen” used whey as healing tonic

Popularity of Whey:

Once the health benefits of whey became known, many people started using it for various benefits. The growing use of liquid whey resulted in the increasing popularity of whey. People started looking at whey in more detail to discover its components and its possible benefits. It seems though during early 1600 to 1900 it remained accessible to the only elite population through things such as spas and baths. It will take a couple of more decades and significant research to make its way to the general public.

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1665 Samuel Pepys (Administrator of English navy and Member of Parliament) mentions visiting a whey house and drinking Whey in his diary.

1700 England: whey become a fashionable drink, led to opening of numerous whey houses and whey spas

1749: Italians popularized a method to separate liquid whey from dairy, led to discovery of benefits.

1800: Milk protein classified as whey and casein

1838: Jöns Jacob Berzelius coined the term Proteins

1900: Eugene Sandow the godfather of bodybuilding started selling supplements.

1900: Popularity of whey increased, people started taking whey baths

1911: Eugene sandows “Sandow Health and strength cocoa” milk drink introduced.

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Efforts for refining whey Began

The rise in popularity of whey and its newly discovered usage in bodybuilding really got the scientist thinking about refining it. In early days whey was used in its raw form meaning liquid whey. It was not refined in any way, soon after the efforts to refine whey took off, using early filtration and drying methods. The refining of whey had a significant impact on the way it was used, although the practice of whey baths continued, the early refining efforts helped it to gain status of nutrient rich food than just a fashion drink.

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1920: Early attempts of drying whey began.

Late 1930: Researchers discovered various fractions of whey.

1933: A new type of drying method was introduced for drying whey, with this method whey upto 45% purity was obtained.

1936: Pharmacist Eugene Schiff developed a method for separating whey from milk.

1937: A popular drying method known as spray drying used for drying whey resulting in higher whey purity.

Until 1940: Whey houses and whey spas sprung across Europe, Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland

1945: During WWII interest in nutrient rich extracts grew considerably.

Whey Entered Bodybuilding Scene

The increase in purity achieved by early refining and research around proteins helped whey make its introduction as bodybuilding supplement. Role of proteins in muscle building and the higher purity was mainly responsible for securing its place in the world of bodybuilding. It did not take long for notable bodybuilders to launch protein products for the bodybuilding community.

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1951: Irvin Johnson, a bodybuilder, introduced “Hi-Protein” the first bodybuilding protein powder

1950: Bob Hofffman launched a brand named “Hi Proteen”. It was available in different flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, coconut and black almond.

1960: Irvin Johnson launched “Blair Protein powder”, first protein to contain milk proteins and egg white protein.

1970: unsweetened version of protein was introduced by Irvin Johnson

Advancements in filtration methods led to better quality:

Although the whey had made its way into the world of bodybuilding and was popular than ever, it was nothing like the whey we know today. The early whey had a bad taste, wasn’t much soluble and just wasn’t appealing to general consumer. Still many bodybuilders may have gulped down thousands of shakes of bland tasting protein only due to its health benefits. Introduction of new drying methods and their advancements made whey better in terms of not only quality but also improved its physical characteristics.

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Until 1970: Due to use of inferior filtration and drying methods Whey Protein powders were insoluble, yellowish brown in color and had poor taste.

Until 1970: ion-exchange resin promised high concentration of proteins up to 90-96%.

1970: A notable brand of protein powder “Hot Stuff” was introduced.

1971: Membrane filtration was developed for the food industry.

1971: Whey was separated via ultrafiltration, resulting in better taste, texture and quality.

1980: Irvin Johnson’s supplements remained popular until his death.

1982: First pre-workout drink “Ultimate Orange” containing whey protein, caffeine, and ephedrine was launched.

1986: Optimum nutrition was launched by athlete brothers Mike and Tony Costello.

1990: Academic research and product innovation around whey protein increased significantly.

Whey supplements as we know today

The discovery of benefits of whey and increased research to obtain better quality whey made big companies take whey seriously. In early days only smaller companies were trying to make and sell protein supplements. But the increased research around whey and the proven benefits got large players interested in the product.

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1991: Metabolic Prescription launched Met Rx

1992: Experimental and Applied Sciences (EAS) launched first creatine supplement

1997: Glanbia was formed.

1999: Glanbia became the fourth biggest cheese producer in the world.

2001: Cytosport a popular ready to drink protein launched.

2008: Glanbia purchased Optimum Nutrition


After 1990 the world saw the advent of major nutritional brands and vertical integration of dairy companies by purchasing leading nutritional supplement brands. The growth of today’s market is fueled by constant product innovations and new understanding of human nutrition. We have a wealth of research at hands to verify the marketing claims made by companies.

Today the goal of major whey and performance nutrition companies is to offer better nutrition products to help achieve better health and level of nutrition. Whey protein now can be found in infant nutrition formulas to supplements for elderly. Whey protein has been a part of human nutrition from 460 BC till now and it will be for the foreseeable future.