What is the difference between whey protein isolate vs whey protein concentrate?
Finding a good protein powder supplement can seem like a simple thing, but if you look at all the offerings available in the health food stores and online, there are literally hundreds of products to choose from!
When you look at the various powders, two of the most common ingredients you will see are “whey protein concentrate” and “whey protein isolate”. I will explain the difference in this article.
Also see Lactose free protein powders for protein products that have little to no lactose, or if you are vegetarian or vegan, see this post: Best Vegan Protein Powders.
All whey protein starts out as milk, which is transported to a cheese factory. Enzymes are added to the milk enabling the “curds” to be separated from the “liquid whey”. The curds (casein part of the milk) are then matured, and through various processes, become cheese. The liquid whey is then sent to be filtered to remove the fat, lactose, water and minerals to form whey protein concentrate. It can be further filtered and processed to form whey isolate or whey hydrolyste.
Whey Protein Concentrate
- Cheaper to make.
- Lower concentration of protein per gram.
- 70-80% protein content.
- Higher levels of milk fat and lactose.
- Lower retail price per pound.
Whey Protein Isolate
- More expensive to manufacture.
- Higher concentration or protein per gram.
- 90-96% protein content.
- Virtually no fat or lactose.
- Higher retail price per pound, but more potent also.
The difference between whey protein powder concentrate and whey protein isolate is simply that isolate is more pure than the concentrate. A good analogy is automobile gasoline. A gallon of regular gas and a gallon of premium are both a gallon of gas, but the premium has a higher octane, meaning it has less filler in it and the engine will go a bit further with less byproducts. The higher octane, or purity, works better, but also comes at a higher cost.
What is Whey protein isolate?
Whey protein isolate powder is a more expensive, and more pure form of protein powder. Whey isolate contains 90% or more protein and very little fat compared to whey concentrate. The difference between the two types is that isolate comes from a longer and more complicated filtering process which removes more of the lactose, carbs and fats, leaving a purer protein product. Isolate is a better mass builder than concentrate, but will cost considerably more money. Whey protein Isolate is also a lactose free protein powder. This makes it a great choice for those that are lactose intolerant.
What is Whey protein concentrate?
Whey concentrate is a less expensive and less potent version of whey. Concentrate will usually contain less than 80% protein, and can go as low as 30%, depending upon the manufacturer. A high-quality concentrate is perfect for a bodybuilder who is on a limited budget. Look at the label to determine the percentage of protein in each serving.
You will see these ingredients on whey protein product labels. Whey concentrate will typically be the first ingredient in the cheaper products, as it is less pure and cheaper to make. Look for a blend where the first ingredient is isolate or hydrolysate.
Hydrolysate protein, like isolate also undergoes a higher level of processing than whey concentrate. As a result, it is the highest quality but with this usually comes an increase in retail price. The main benefit is that it is easily absorbed by the body.
How do I find a quality Whey protein product?
An easy way to be sure your protein is decent, you need to look at the label for 2 things:
Ingredients: Be sure the very first ingredient is either Whey protein isolate or whey protein hydrolysate. It is ok if there is also whey concentrate, as long as it is not the first ingredient.
Protein percentage: Divide the grams of protein by the grams in a serving. For example, MyProtein Impact Whey Isolate (contains isolate only) has a 25g serving size containing 23g of protein, for a percentage of 92% whey protein! Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey Protein (has a blend of isolate and concentrate) has a serving size of 32g, and each serving contains 24g protein, giving it a 75% purity.
To sum it up, the difference between whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate is purity. Just be sure you are spending your hard earned money of a quality product and get 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day from whole foods as well as protein powder.