Whey protein is one of the most recommended and regularly consumed supplements in today’s sports and fitness industry. Many athletes consume protein powder and recommend it to meet the daily protein intake needed to increase muscle growth and recovery.
Whey protein is one of the two main proteins found in milk. The macro components of milk are composed of fat, sugar, and protein (whey and casein).
What is Whey Protein? & Where Did it Come From?
Whey is made from milk. This milk contains two types of protein: 80% casein and 20% whey. To separate these two from the milk, first heat and add enzymes that separate the protein from the liquid. This actually happens naturally when dairy producers make cheese.
When separated, the protein dries to form a powder in the ideal ratio for the base of an excellent whey protein shake. Both proteins are known as complete proteins because they contain all nine essential amino acids, which are necessary for all important leucines that strengthen muscles.
However, when there are so many different proteins on the market, how do you know the difference between them? The three most popular protein powders available today are Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Isolate, and Hydrolyzed Whey.
What is Whey Protein Concentrate?
Whey protein is derived from milk. After the whey protein has been removed, it is filtered rather than heated. Providing your muscles with an ultra-pure, ultra-refined, and powerful high-protein blend. Whey Protein Concentrate is often considered the most popular, most effective, and economical protein on the market today.
The reason Whey Protein Concentrate is filtered rather than heated is simply because its amino acid profile remains as pure and strong as possible. This also means that when mixed with water or milk, it retains its silky smooth texture. Although you will only find this with high-quality whey protein shakes.
Whey Protein Concentrate Nutritional Facts
When whey protein is removed from milk and microfiltered, it retains a very high percentage of protein, and depending on which protein concentrate you buy, the percentage can range from 30% at the bottom of the quality spectrum to 80% at the top quality end.
Most companies usually use 80%, so you know you are getting the most out of every sip. Although it maintains a very high protein content, it is also very low in carbohydrates and low in fat. As an example, see below for nutrients for the flavored Chocolate Whey Protein.
- Serving 25 g (1 Scoop)
- Protein: 19.2g
- Carbohydrates: 2.4g
- Fats: 1.6g
- Calories: 101
What is Whey Protein Isolate?
Whey Protein Isolate is often overlooked in the sports nutrition world, but don’t let it underestimate you because Whey Protein Isolate contains a heck of a healthy amount of protein, even more so than a concentrate. As stated, whey protein concentrate contains about 80% protein, while isolate contains about 90%.
Just because Whey Protein Isolate is processed, it is incredibly pure and non-greasy. Whey protein isolate goes through a process called cross-flow microfiltration. It simply separates protein from fat, cholesterol and lactose, resulting in an exceptionally pure end product.
Whey Protein Isolate is much lower in fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates, lactose, and calories than any other protein shake on the market. Although not 100% lactose-free, it is very low in lactose, so it is often recommended for athletes struggling with dairy products.
Whey Protein Isolate Nutritional Facts
Like Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Isolate has an extremely low-calorie label. You can find whey protein isolates on the market in different percentages of protein. It is intensely filtered, which means that your body can absorb and assimilate it quickly. See below for a description of Whey Chocolate Flavored Isolate Protein.
- Per 25g Serving (1 Scoop)
- Protein: 21.9g
- Carbohydrates: 0.2g
- Fats: 0.2g
- Calories: 91
What is Hydrolyzed Whey Protein?
Hydrolyzed whey undergoes an additional process in which the protein is exposed to heat, acid, or enzymes that break the bonds that hold amino acids together. Protein manufacturers usually state that this process “pre-metabolizes” the protein, which improves its bioavailability, makes it more digestible, and increases protein synthesis.
Whey Protein Hydrolyzed Nutritional Facts
Hydrolyzed Whey Protein is one of the highest quality proteins on the market, which is reflected in its price. It is found in baby food and in many sports and health supplements. Recommended for those who want to quickly gain muscle mass. It is the perfect choice for weight-gaining diets, and you can use it as a quick source of protein in the morning after waking up, before and after your workout.
- Per 25g Serving (1 Scoop)
- Protein: 23g
- Carbohydrates: 1g
- Fats: 0.5g
- Calories: 100
What’s the Difference Between Each Type of Whey Protein Powder?
Whey Protein Concentrate
The liquid sweet whey leftover from the release of casein goes through a process called microfiltration. The result is a whey protein concentrate.
Whey concentrate has a protein concentration of 70-80% and is low in lactose, sugar and fat. A food supplement that is high in calories and takes a long time, sometimes hours, to be absorbed by the muscles. This means slower recovery time and sub-optimal results over time.
Some supplement manufacturers stop there, add flavorings, and sell whey protein concentrate as a finished product.
Whey Protein Isolate
The next step to getting a great type of whey protein is ultrafiltration of the whey protein concentrate. This is another cleanse that minimizes carbs and fats while increasing protein content. Typically, ultrafiltration removes the non-protein components and “isolates” the whey protein. Hence the name: Whey Protein Isolate.
This type of whey contains 90% protein with less lactose, sugar and fat is a more refined form of protein.
This is another form of whey protein that you’ll find on the market from companies that stop production here and add flavors. However, there is one more step that only a few companies actually take.
Hydrolyzed Whey Protein Isolate
ON, Dymatize and Labrada are some of the companies that continue this process even further, which means whey protein isolate is converted to whey protein hydrolyzate. This occurs as a result of enzymes acting on whey protein isolate that break the bonds that hold amino acids together. Basically, this means that amino acids are cut into smaller pieces, shorter chains of di- and tripeptides, which causes the hydrolyzed whey protein to release the fastest and easiest protein to digest.
Basically, it is a pre-digestion process that causes hydrolyzed proteins to be absorbed faster in the intestines and at a much faster rate, followed by whey protein isolates and concentrates. Plus, it’s easier to digest than people with sensitive stomachs.
Whey Concentrate vs Isolate vs Hydrolyzed
Whey protein starts with a watery mess leftover from cheese making. The liquid is refined and eventually converted into a whey protein supplement. The more processing, the higher the protein content. Whey concentrate contains 29–89% protein, while isolate, a more refined product, contains more than 90% protein.
Hydrolyzed proteins are broken down into smaller chains to aid in faster assimilation by the body. The protein content of hydrolyzed whey depends on how the amino acid chains are broken down.
This processing is not free; more refined products are more expensive. Does this additional cost translate into additional benefits? Let’s see if the study can answer that question.
Meta-Analysis: Concentrate vs Isolate vs Hydrolyzed Whey
This meta-analysis analyzed 8 randomized clinical trials that compared the effects of different types of whey protein on body composition. This analysis included 288 people. The researchers made two main findings:
There was no difference in muscle gain between the three whey proteins tested. The subjects taking whey protein concentrate experienced the most significant reduction in body fat.
Effects of Whey Concentrate and Hydrolyzed Whey on Strength Training
In this study, researchers compared the effects of whey concentrate (80% protein) and hydrolyzed whey (also 80% protein) on body composition. Participants were divided into concentrated, hydrolyzed, and placebo groups.
Both whey groups took 30 grams of protein twice a day. All participants participate in strength training four times a week.
There were no difference in muscle gain between the two types of whey protein but hydrolyzed whey protein supplementation leads to greater fat loss.
What to Expect When Choosing Whey Protein Isolate?
- More protein per serving than whey concentrate;
- Faster absorption of whey concentrate in the body, but still much slower than hydrolyzed whey protein isolate.
- More expensive than concentrate;
- Some contamination, traces of lactose, carbohydrates and fats;
- If you have a sensitive stomach, there is a chance of bloating.
What Does the Study Say About Recovery with Different Types of Whey?
A study published in the Journal of Science in Medicine and Sports found that subjects who consumed hydrolyzed whey isolate after exercise recovered faster and performed better after an intense muscle-damaging session than athletes who took whey isolate. The study was based on 28 subjects performing 100 eccentric focused repetitions of leg extensions. Eccentric focus causes significantly more muscle damage than conventional concentric movements.
Immediately after training, subjects took either 25 grams of whey hydrolysate, 25 grams of whey isolate, or a placebo without protein. Recovery is assessed using blood markers, subjective assessment, and performance testing. Measurements were completed 1, 2, 6 and 24 hours after testing.
The whey hydrolysate group was able to recover their effectiveness after 6 hours, while the placebo and whey isolate group had not yet fully recovered even after 24 hours. This proves that there is a major difference in the choice of whey.
What Type of Whey Protein Should I Use?
Whey protein is made up of several fast-digesting proteins and is a common ingredient in nutritional supplements. Whey Isolate is processed differently from Whey Concentrate, resulting in the isolate being higher in protein with fewer carbohydrates and less fat per serving.
However, these dietary differences are small, and the different effects of these two types of whey protein are largely unsupported. Whey isolate and hydrolysis can be a good choice for those who are careful to limit their intake of fat, carbohydrates, or lactose, although this form of whey is usually more expensive. Taking a slightly higher dose of whey concentrate can result in the same amount of protein as in a whey isolate product, often at a lower cost.
Whey concentrate is lower in protein and slightly higher in fat/carbohydrates than other options. If you are lactose intolerant or have other dietary restrictions, isolate maybe your best option. Otherwise, most people benefit from some whey protein foods; the added value of a better product does not necessarily lead to better results.
Regardless of the type you use, whey protein is a high-quality protein that can help you reach your daily protein intake goals.