Whey protein is one of the most powerful supplements out there, but which form is better?
For building muscle and increasing performance, whey protein has risen above the rest as a source of fuel and recovery for athletes everywhere. It is one of the most highly researched and tested protein supplements on the market and continues to provide growth for all its users. As a highly consumed supplement, it is quite lucrative for supplement and other nutrition companies out there, so it is fair to say the market is heavily saturated with different blends and formulas to enhance your overall health and performance. Choosing a brand can be hard enough, but when faced with the decision of whey concentrate or whey isolate, your choice becomes just that much more difficult.
Whey concentrate and whey isolate are the two major types of whey protein supplements to take. While they are largely the same in terms of benefits, some differences do exist and may sway your decision. Both have been shown to increase muscle growth, promote weight loss (1), and keep you feeling full so those cravings and unwanted calories do not sneak in. For these reasons, whey protein has been a much sought after supplement for hard-core fitness fans, bodybuilders, competitive athletes, and everyday gym-goers to improve their health and fitness goals, as well as their overall physique.
You will find that the overall benefits are very similar, but the differences are what makes these two types of whey protein vary in terms of popularity. From price point, to protein’s rate of ingestion, the differences of whey concentrate versus whey isolate are important to understand in order to make the decision at least manageable. From there, its all about choosing your desired brand.
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey is a by-product of cow’s milk that is isolated during the cheese-making process. Although flavorless after being isolated, natural flavoring agents will be added to plain whey to give it those delightful flavors including vanilla, chocolate, and fruit. Whey provides substantial amounts of essential amino acids (EAAs) and helps the body carry out functions that proteins perform. The most common form of whey protein is in powder form and can be added to a liquid, smoothie, or soft foods to enhance athletic performance and strength (2), or nutritional deficiencies. Whey protein contains the building blocks for muscle growth and with nine amino acids included, whey protein is perfect for maintaining and building muscle, along with a host of other benefits.
One type of whey protein for consumers to consider when faced with the choice of which whey supplements to buy is whey concentrate. It is high in protein and does contain some fats and carbs, as well as other vitamins and minerals to aid in performance and overall health. It contains a variety of bioactive compounds that give whey immune-boosting benefits (3) along with antioxidants. A downside to whey concentrate is that due to the amount of lactose and carbs included, it can cause bloating. If you aren’t worried about calorie consumption, whey concentrate is a solid choice for your whey supplement.
The other type of whey protein is whey isolate, a more filtered form of whey. Whey isolate undergoes more of a manufacturing process that is more intense than whey concentrate. As a result, the protein content of whey isolate is higher and many of the excess carbs and fats are filtered out, making this a solid choice for those more calorie conscious about their supplement. As a pure source of protein, whey isolate offers a leaner source of protein for those looking to see muscle growth while also seeking weight loss or management. It can also significantly aid in recovery from exercise-induced muscle pain and injury (4).
Which Is Better?
The main difference between whey concentrate and whey isolate is the amount of protein as a result of the filtering process. Many people choose whey isolate because it offers lower calories per serving due to the lower fat and carb content. Also, those who are lactose intolerant will gravitate towards whey isolate as well. For those looking towards a bodybuilding competition, or simply looking to lose weight, the isolate form is a better supplement to keep you on track and looking great.
To build muscle, your body relies on quality protein to fuel, restore, and build those much sought after gains. It is important to give your body the proper protein right after a workout to ensure that minimal loss is felt, and while eating a piece of meat is a great source of protein, it can take a while to digest and break down, leaving you with nothing for your muscles to absorb. Whey isolate is absorbed much faster (5) than whey concentrate, meaning it can hit your muscles much faster and the regeneration process can start quicker. For a more effective workout and recovery, whey isolate is a better choice than concentrate, but in the end, it is all personal preference on your individual goals and what you want to see in your training and in your daily life.
Whey protein is a popular and well-researched protein supplement designed to increase muscle growth and aid in weight loss that athletes of all kinds gravitate towards. It can be a challenge to find the right type and brand of whey protein given the immense amount of options that line the shelves of stores. But do not let that overwhelm you. The two types of whey protein are whey isolate and whey concentrate and while they provide very similar benefits, the differences are what sets whey isolate apart.
Although whey isolate tends to be slightly more expensive, for those looking for a lean, fast-absorbing source of protein to aid in their weight loss, whey isolate is the choice for you. While whey isolate appears to the better option, it is personal preference on what you desire for your fitness and weight management goals. Regardless of your decision surrounding whey isolate or whey concentrate, whey protein should be in your dietary regimen to see those big gains come to life.
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- Smith, Gordon, I.; Commean, Paul K.; Reeds, Dominic N.; Klein, Samuel; Mittendorfer, Bettina (2018). “Effect of Protein Supplementation During Diet-Induced Weight Loss on Muscle Mass and Strength: A Randomized Controlled Study”. (source)
- Sugihara Jr., Paulo; Ribeiro, Alex S.; Nabuco, Hellen C. G.; Fernandes, Rodrigo R.; Tomeleri, Crisieli M.; Cunha, Paolo M.; Venturini, Danielle; Barbosa, Decio S.; Schoenfeld, Brad J.; Cyrino, Edilson S. (2018). “Effects of Whey Protein Supplementation Associated With Resistance Training on Muscular Strength, Hypertrophy, and Muscle Quality in Preconditioned Older Women”. (source)
- Cribb, Paul (2004). “Whey Proteins And Immunity”. (source)
- Cooke, Matthew B.; Rybalka, Emma; Stathis, Christos G.; Cribb, Paul J.; Hayes, Alan (2010). “Whey protein isolate attenuates strength decline after eccentrically-induced muscle damage in healthy individuals”. (source)
- Tang, Jason E.; Moore, Daniel R.; Kujbida, Gregory W.; Tarnopolsky, Mark A.; Philips, Stuart M. (2009). “Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men”. (source)