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Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate: Which one is Better?

Whey protein is one of the most popular and effective exercise and performance supplements on the market. Serious athletes and people who engage in intense workouts know the benefits of whey protein. But there has been a question regarding the best supplement: whey protein isolate vs whey protein isolate. 

Both whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate offers the benefits of full proteins and essential amino acids. Both are widely available and widely used. But the benefits of whey protein isolate vs concentrate remain an open question.

Since the use of whey as a protein supplement for exercise, building muscle, and even for losing weight are so well-known, we decided to evaluate which is better: whey protein isolate vs concentrate. 

What Is Whey Protein?

Put simply, whey protein is the mixture of proteins isolated during the separation of whey in the process of making cheese. Whey was once considered a waste product until cheese producers learned that the liquid portion of the cheese-making process they were discarding was rich with proteins and had real value. In fact, the waste in the form of whey was once something of an environmental hazard until it was found that there were health benefits that could be derived from whey. 

During cheese production, some of the liquid parts of milk coagulate and this becomes cheese. Other liquid parts are separated and this contains whey. Look at the liquid on top of your yogurt. That is whey. 

Once the whey is separated during cheese production, it is processed further to make a powder that is dense with proteins. This can be used in protein supplements in the form of shakes and protein bars. 

On its own, whey does not taste very good. That is why it is usually mixed with flavorings like chocolate and strawberry to make it palatable. Even some whey protein supplements can have chalky consistency and must be mixed into a shake to make them palatable. The market and technology have driven the development of whey protein supplements that taste better. 

The whey protein powders are used in shakes and smoothies and provide a great source of available proteins and amino acids, including essential amino acids. This accounts for its popularity among athletes and people who are driven to be physically fit. 

What Does Whey Protein Do In The Body?

Proteins are the primary elements of our bodies. They make up muscle tissue, tendons, organs and skin, neurotransmitters, and hormones and enzymes. Obviously, proteins are essential for life. 

Protein supplements like whey protein provide a huge supply of the necessary components of these biological systems. Most importantly, they provide the building blocks for muscles. Besides protein, whey protein also contains essential amino acids. These amino acids are strung together by our bodies to build proteins in the body in the form of muscle tissue. 

Of the essential amino acids, those amino acids we cannot synthesize ourselves and must get from dietary sources, there are what are called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Whey contains high levels of BCAAs. These amino acids are immediately available for building muscle. When we take whey protein supplements, we give our bodies a blast of BCAAs and these are instantly convertible into muscle tissue. This is not only good for building lean muscle it is also beneficial for recovery post-workout. BCAAs provide the material for worn-out muscle to rebuild. 

What makes whey protein so useful is that it is easily digestible. This means that all those proteins and amino acids become readily accessible to your body to make muscles. Once ingested, whey protein breaks down into its accessible forms: available proteins and essential amino acids. 

Dietary protein derived from meat, fish, and dairy are great sources of protein. But these sources of protein must be digested and metabolized before they are available for muscle development. Whey protein supplements make the necessary proteins available immediately. For people who are engaged in intense training and exercise, this can be an important consideration. 

Of the many metabolic processes that whey proteins undergo in our bodies, one of the most significant is to reduce the amount of fats our bodies store in relation to the amount of muscle our bodies produce. This metabolic process is what is most significant for athletes since it is the primary reason whey proteins help build muscle. The reduction in fats and an increase in lean muscle also contributes to a more fit and toned body, and this is one of the benefits of whey protein for people who exercise primarily to stay fit. 

Another important process that whey proteins contribute to is muscle protein synthesis. This helps with re-building muscles during and after a workout. Because whey proteins tend to contain large amounts of branched-chain amino acids, the essential amino acids most useful to muscle protein synthesis, these amino acids provide the building blocks that allow our metabolism to produce cellular muscle proteins. 

In addition to building muscle, whey proteins also make you feel fuller. The chemical nature of whey proteins naturally reduces your appetite and enhances metabolism to burn fats. The collateral benefit of whey proteins is weight loss. 

Effectively, what whey proteins do in your body is slow the accumulation of fat and accelerate the production of proteins that form skeletal muscle. Whey proteins consist almost entirely of the readily accessible proteins and essential amino acids that contribute strength, muscle repair muscle, and regeneration. The net results are increased muscle mass, increased strength and stamina, shorter recovery time after workouts, and a reduction in body fat. 

What's the Difference Between Whey Isolate and Whey Concentrate?

Since whey protein supplements come in different forms, it makes sense to understand exactly how they differ. The two primary forms of whey protein are whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. Both offer the benefits of readily available proteins and amino acids, but they differ in some key areas. 

Whey Protein Concentrate

Whey protein concentrate is made through a filtration process that allows low molecular weight components like lactose and minerals to pass through the filter while retaining the high molecular weight proteins. 

The filtered whey proteins are then further concentrated by evaporation. This gives a final concentration of proteins that can range from 30-75 percent. To obtain a higher percentage, the filtered and dried whey proteins are put through a washing process that removes more of the remaining lactose and minerals. 

Whey protein concentrate is essentially just filtered whey from the cheesemaking process. 

Whey Protein Isolate

Whey protein isolate begins with the same source as concentrate but goes through a process of chemical separation. Manufacturers of whey protein isolate use specific complex binding agents that bind with the proteins in whey. These can then be removed from the whey. 

The process of chemical separation provides whey proteins that can be combined with other food products like soy protein that significantly increase the protein content. Products such as these are often referred to as protein flours or protein isolates. 

Both whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate have similar benefits. Whey protein, in general, helps increase lean muscle and strength. In studies that compared both forms of whey protein, both were shown to produce significant gains in skeletal muscle mass and strength. 

Which Is The Best Type Of Whey Protein?

Both whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate provide real benefits for athletes and those seeking to stay fit. Many of the benefits of whey protein are found in both.

Common Benefits

Muscle Growth

Both supplements contribute to muscle growth. They both release anabolic hormones that stimulate muscle protein synthesis while providing the basic building blocks of muscle production. These are essentially the benefits we all get from eating a diet that includes protein-rich foods like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. 

Whey protein supplements just provide the added proteins necessary for intense workouts and training. Combined with resistance exercise, whey protein supplements are ideal for strength and muscle. 

Blood Pressure

Whey has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure. Whey proteins contain what are called angiotensin-converting enzymes that are similar to many medications prescribed to lower blood pressure. 

Weight Loss

Not only do whey proteins make you feel fuller, but these proteins also suppress appetite as they provide nutrients without the added fats and carbohydrates. Whey proteins also boost your metabolism, and this burns excess fats. A healthy diet combined with whey protein supplements and exercise will help you lose weight. 

Inflammation

Whey proteins may also help reduce chronic inflammation. Studies have shown that whey protein supplements reduce the presence of a specific protein that causes the inflammation associated with diabetes. In addition to this benefit, whey proteins also tend to lower cholesterol and maintain insulin levels. 

These are benefits common to both whey protein concentrate and isolate.

Some crucial differences can throw the balance toward one or the other. 

  • Whey protein isolate has more protein. While both forms of whey protein contain significant amounts of protein, whey protein isolate has a higher concentration of available protein. Whey protein isolate is about 90 percent protein while concentrate hovers at an average of 35 percent. The chemical extraction process is simply more effective in concentrating the protein levels in isolate that filtration is for concentrate. 
  • Whey protein concentrate contains higher levels of carbs, lactose, and fats. Because whey protein concentrate cannot reach the levels of purity as whey protein isolate, it necessarily retains high levels of carbs, lactose, and fats. For this reason, whey protein isolate is used over concentrate for scientific studies. Whey protein isolate is also the preferred supplement for professional athletes. People with lactose intolerance will likely prefer the whey protein isolate. 
  • Whey protein concentrate is more inexpensive. While this is definitely a positive factor for nearly all of us, we need to ask if it counts where your health is concerned. What is more, if you are an athlete at a highly competitive level, the difference between first and second place is often slim. Cutting pennies may not be the best motivation for your protein supplement. 
  • Whey protein isolate tastes better. Again, this may seem a trifling consideration, but stacked with everything else, it may matter. Whey protein concentrate tends to have a chalky flavor and an unpleasant aftertaste. Whey protein isolate just tastes smoother and has no aftertaste. 

In the final analysis, whey protein isolate is the better form of protein supplement.

While both forms of whey protein provide significant benefits, whey protein isolate provides the most protein with far fewer other ingredients that may have negative effects. 

The lactose levels in whey protein concentrate can be highly problematic for many people. Those with lactose intolerance, for example, may find it difficult or impossible to take whey protein concentrates.

Some people may even consider taking a plant-based protein supplement if lactose intolerance is a serious problem. 

For those who want to build serious muscle, and for those who seek to lose weight and maintain all-around fitness, whey protein isolate is the superior supplement. 

Wrapping things up

We know whey protein supplements are ideal for competitive athletes and even for people who are involved with all-around physical fitness. Many of us also know the whey protein supplements can help people lose weight. The difficulty is choosing between whey protein isolate vs concentrate. 

It is certainly true that both whey protein isolate and concentrate offer ideal sources of the kinds of proteins and amino acids that will help build serious muscle. The available proteins and branched-chain amino acids contained in both protein supplements will produce results.

However, when we take a close look at the chemical make-up of both whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate, we can see some crucial differences. Whey protein isolate contains much higher concentrations of available protein. It is significantly lower in lactose, carbs, and fats, and it tastes better. 

A supplement like NF Sports Whey Protein Powder provides the proteins and amino acids necessary for better performance, serious muscle, and better recovery. While it is true that whey protein supplements are generally beneficial, a solid whey protein isolate is your best bet. 

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