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Is Whey Protein Useless Without Digestive Enzymes?

Digestive enzymes are a critical part of the whey protein absorption process. Without these enzymes, your body would not be able to convert protein into the body’s usable form of protein, which are amino acids. While whey protein features the highest biological value, or BV, of any protein, that doesn’t mean your body will absorb 100 percent of the protein you consume. The BV of a protein is a measure of how well it is absorbed and utilized by your body.

Whey Protein BV

Whey protein isolate formulas can have a maximum BV of 157, and whey protein concentrates can have a BV of up to 104. Compare this to the BV of meat and milk at 80 and 91, respectively, and you can see that whey protein digests and is absorbed relatively efficiently compared to other proteins. However, this cannot occur without the proper digestive enzymes, many of which are released by the pancreas.

How it Works

Kefir Enzymes

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According to Colorado State University, some of the protein you consume is digested within the stomach itself, but most of the digestion process takes place in the intestines. The pancreas releases several enzymes into the small intestine called proteases, which then begin to digest the protein. Two of the most prevalent digestive enzymes are trypsin and chymotrypsin. These proteases convert the protein to peptides, and then other proteases convert these peptides into amino acids. The amino acids are then absorbed into your bloodstream, where they are distributed to your muscle tissue and other cells and tissues.


Whey protein is considered a fast-absorbing protein. According to Helen Kollias, Ph.D., an expert in muscle development, whey protein passes through your intestines within about 1.5 hours. The protein that is not absorbed during that time is either stored as fat, converted to energy or excreted from the body. Kollias also states the body can absorb whey protein at a rate of 8 g to 10 g per hour, so the maximum amount you can absorb per sitting is about 15 g of whey protein. This can be influenced by your levels of digestive enzymes, so it can vary from person to person.


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Kollias says that you can improve whey protein absorption in your body by supplementing certain digestive enzymes to make the digestion process more efficient. She mentions two digestive enzymes in particular, Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus oryzae, which when consumed alongside whey protein showed a much higher absorption rate. Ingesting 5 g of these digestive enzymes with whey protein resulted in nearly a 100 percent improved absorption rate compared to if you were to ingest 2.5 g of the same digestive enzymes with whey protein. Although these results are significant, never take any nutritional supplement, such as whey protein or digestive enzymes, without first consulting your doctor.