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April 23, 2022
Why can’t buying protein just be simple? You think it is, but then you get to the store and see a wall full of protein powder, protein bars, whey protein, casein, concentrate, premium ultra matrix (a catchy word that means nothing) protein deluxe. What one are you going to buy? Or does it even matter? It might, and that’s what we’re going to discuss here. However, we’re going to stick to just two proteins and compare them thoroughly; your basic whey concentrate vs whey isolate protein.
In this article, some of the topics we’re going to go over are:
We will also discuss some more nuances to help you decide.
If you have been confused with all the different types of protein, you’re about to get clarity. Without further ado, let’s find out the difference between whey isolate and whey concentrate.
To begin, we need to clarify what whey protein is and its relation to whey isolate and whey concentrate. In a very basic explanation, isolate and concentrate are just processed versions of whey protein at the end of the day. This can get confusing as we generally refer to whey protein concentrate simply as “whey protein” leading some to assume it’s basically the same thing. It’s not.
Whey protein is a milk-based protein that can actually be derived from just about any mammal but is most commonly associated with cows. At the time that milk is produced by a cow straight out of the udder, it’s made up of approximately 80% casein and 20% whey. In comparison, human breast milk is composed of 70% whey and 30% casein.
Tip: Casein protein actually makes an awesome pre-sleep protein source!
During cheese production, a compound known as rennet is added to heated milk which causes the milk to curdle. This will separate the milk into curds and a liquidity water-type substance. The curds formed are actually the casein protein, while the leftover liquid is the whey protein. And that, my friends, is whey protein, straight from the cow’s udder.
That being said, whey protein is such a popular choice among lifters and the athletic community as it has an awesome amino acid profile and is relatively cheap. However, what really makes it shine is its high leucine profile. Leucine is one of the three branch chain amino acids and is actually the most essential amino acid for its role in muscle protein synthesis. In fact, leucine is the amino acid that triggers mTOR to initiate MPS, making it vital for muscle recovery and repair. Therefore, studies have shown that after the ingestion of whey protein, a greater increase in muscle protein synthesis is seen when compared to other protein sources and attributes this to the higher BCAA and leucine content.
There’s a lot more in common between whey concentrate and isolate then there are differences. Actually, there aren’t even really any absolute differences between the two. For example, both are cheaper than real food, but whey concentrate is cheaper. We’ll get into that below but first, let’s look at why both forms of protein are fantastic rather than make such a huge deal over a couple factors that make them different.
1) Both Support Muscle Growth And Improve Performance:
Even though you probably know, we like to keep saying it…whey protein powder works! As you saw above, whey protein is really real food that has been processed into a convenient and efficient source of protein. In that aspect, it definitely helps fill in your daily protein needs. As protein is the literal building blocks of muscle, it’s vital that you consume enough on a daily basis. Studies on protein and athletic performance (not the sedentary population) have shown that a daily dose of 1.6-2.2g per kilogram of weight is optimal for muscle growth and strength.
2) Both Have The Same Amino Acid Profile:
As mentioned above, whey is such an effective protein source as it’s a complete protein with a very high BCAA content. While sometimes misunderstood, whey concentrate and whey isolate come from the same exact source, whey protein, so they have the same amino acid profile (assuming your brand hasn’t added amino acids). Therefore, the difference between whey concentrate and whey isolate isn’t between the quality of their protein but rather the concentration. In other words, the actual protein you get is the same; it’s just that whey concentrate (contrary to how the name sounds) comes with some extra lactose and fat.
3) Both Support Weight Loss:
We’ll discuss this further below, but both whey concentrate and whey isolate can help support weight loss. In reality, any protein can. Multiple studies have shown that high protein can be an extremely successful tool for weight loss and is often the go-to diet for nutritionists. The weight-loss benefits of protein can come from both concentrate and isolate and include:
Either whey (get it? It’s like a play on words ‘cause we’re funny), isolate and concentrate will help you if cutting weight is your goal.
4) Both Taste Good:
Both whey isolate and whey concentrate taste delicious. However, isolate tastes a little smoother and may mix better due to it being more refined, whereas concentrate can have a somewhat chalky texture. That said, most would say concentrate actually taste a little better due to the naturally sweet flavor that lactose provides.
In any case, if we did a blind taste test with a whey isolate and whey concentrate protein shake, you may not being able to even notice a difference and we guarantee both will taste great.
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So, companies obviously aren’t just going to package up the liquidity protein water and ship it off for consumption. Therefore, from here, the whey protein liquid will be shipped off for some more processing. This is a multi-step process that includes:
At this point, the protein is going to generally be around 80-85% protein, depending on the manufacturer. To be clear, some other products on the market have much lower protein content, but when talking about protein powders, they’re going to be above 80%. That being said, whey protein concentrate is the most general type of protein powder on the market and the cheapest. And by cheapest, I simply mean it costs less. Whey protein concentrate is an excellent protein source that is more than sufficient for the majority of people.
Whey protein isolate is going to take the whey protein concentrate and take it one step further in the filtration process. From here, any leftover over byproducts, and casein from the leftover byproducts, and casein the first time, are further stripped away. What’s leftover is a more refined protein powder with an even higher concentration of protein. When turned into a powder, most protein isolates will be 90% protein or a bit higher. This means no more than 10% will be from fat and carbs. You can see some great whey isolate protein powders in our full rundown.
While most people would say a whey isolate is better, we don’t necessarily agree with that. As cliche as it sounds, there really is no “better” protein when it comes to choosing between whey concentrate and whey isolate. To begin, there aren’t any long-term studies to show this to be the case. Further, this conclusion is based on assumptions that some of the benefits of whey isolate are actually superior. We’ll get into that below, but we believe that the right protein will depend on your specific needs and what you’re looking for.
Let’s look at some of the different variables.
When trying to decide what protein to buy, one of the main components is going to be the price. While still generally cheaper than consuming all of your protein from real food, whey isolate will be more expensive than concentrate. This is simply due to the added filtration process and the extra time it takes to produce.
To give you an example of the price differences, we’ll give you the prices for a whey concentrate and isolate from the brand Dymatize. Note that these prices are also from Amazon:
So as you can see, the isolate costs about 35% more than the concentrate. Keep in mind that this is specific to Dymatize, but this will be about the norm. However, we also need to consider that $1.10 is still less and more convenient than getting the same protein serving from real food. To be clear, we are not suggesting that you get all your daily protein from powder but it’s something to keep in mind.
Choosing either whey concentrate or whey isolate for weight loss is tough as high protein diets are among the most effective “diets”. As mentioned above, these diets are becoming increasingly popular yet the source of protein doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.
Therefore, both concentrate and isolate are able to be used to help support weight loss. That being said, if we were in a position where we needed to choose, we would pick the whey protein isolate for weight loss or times when cutting. This is simply due to the fact that it has fewer calories. On the other hand, if you’re gaining weight for a bulk, we’d choose whey concentrate as it has more calories.
Still, keep in mind that the average between an isolate and concentrate will only be around 20-40 calories, at most. We’re sure you could go find an ultra-high calorie whey concentrate and compare it to an ultra-premium isolate and come up with a greater difference, but on average, that’s what you’re dealing with. Every calorie counts, but you need to consider those calories saved and the extra money you’re spending for them to decide if it’s worth it.
Because whey isolate has been stripped of most other compounds, such as lactose, there are fewer steps it must go through during the digestive process. This means that your body is going to be able to absorb it faster for utilization. The real question that exists is; does this even matter? Do you really need to be able to instantly utilize your protein? Will a wee bit slower absorption hurt your gains? Probably not for most people. You’ll be able to put on muscle just as easily using whey concentrate or isolate.
As mentioned above, this is one of the “benefits” that your average trainee would assume makes a big difference, and understandably so. However, this likely just isn’t the case except for under some specific situations.
Lactose intolerance is relatively common, which makes this a fairly important issue. As whey is derived from milk, there is always the chance that it will contain some lactose. However, there is going to be a greater chance with whey concentrate than with whey isolate. As mentioned, whey concentrate goes through less filtration than whey isolate, meaning extra lactose is likely hanging around. It’s pretty apparent why this is not good if lactose makes your stomach explode. However, the amount of lactose in either is still pretty low. You’re looking at around 1-2 grams for isolate versus 3-4 grams for concentrate. Still, this can affect some who are highly sensitive. Therefore, there are a couple factors to consider though when deciding what to buy:
Experiment with some to see what is suitable for you but whey protein isolate and lactose intolerance seem to be the best combination.
You can also check out this list of our favorite lactose-free protein powders if you need more help!
Pros of Whey Concentrate:
Pros of Whey Isolate:
Unless you are really concerned about counting calories or are lactose intolerant, we’re not sure who we would suggest whey isolate to. Whey concentrate is fantastic and is more than enough for most people. Still, compared to protein powders back in the day, today’s whey protein concentrates are actually very high-quality.
The marketing industry likes to use a lot of buzz words like “clean protein source” to describe whey isolate. We’re just interested in what “dirty” looks like. We’re also assuming that just drinking milk is ultra dirty? The point being is don’t get too caught up in the hype. A good whey protein concentrate is awesome, but the industry will try to market anything that costs more money. While there may technically be some “better” qualities with whey isolate, it’s questionable if these even make a difference in the long run. The bottom line, concentrate is fine.
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