Building muscle isn't easy. Training hard, recovering from sessions and getting enough calories in, especially from protein, takes effort. Supplements, such as a form of whey protein, can make it that bit easier. Benefits of whey protein include lean muscle gains, improved body composition and better recovery after workouts. But with so many protein powders on the market, which should you choose?
What is whey protein isolate and concentrate?
Whey concentrate & isolate are both forms of whey protein supplements which come from dairy products. There are two proteins found in milk: casein and whey. Both of which are used in sport supplements. Within the category of whey proteins, there are several versions available.
Let’s look at the two most popular, concentrate and isolate, in more detail:
What is whey protein concentrate?
Whey protein is a milk product produced in the cheese-making process. Milk contains 80% casein and 20% whey, both of which can be used to supplement protein intake. At the point where the curds have been processed into cheese from, what remains is whey protein in solution. The resultant Whey concentrate yields 80 percent protein content with the remainder made up of carbs and fats. Much of this is sold into the sports nutrition industry and combined with added ingredients such as flavourings, sweeteners to create the protein shakes we know and enjoy.
What is whey protein isolate?
Whey protein isolate is the whey protein with the highest yield of protein per serving (along with hydrolysate). Whey isolate starts out as concentrate, however it then continues to undergo further processing to reduce the carb and fat content further. Isolate also contains almost no lactose. This extended preparation phase to result in an ultra-pure protein is part of the reason why whey isolate can often be more costly than a concentrate.
Whey protein concentrate vs isolate: which is better?
Neither concentrate nor isolate is inherently 'better'. Both have their own set of benefits and drawbacks and both can be useful to help you get more protein in your diet without having to eat endless amounts of meat and eggs. If you are looking to gain lean muscle, a whey protein powder can be imperative for supplying muscle with what they need to repair and grow after resistance training sessions. If fat loss is the goal, increasing protein in the diet can increase satiety and also help preserve muscle mass for a more 'toned' appearance while losing weight overall.
What is the difference between whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate?
The main difference between whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate is in their manufacturing processes making the macronutrient profiles a little different. Scoop for scoop, isolate contains higher protein and lower fats, carbs and lactose.
Whey protein isolate vs whey protein concentrate comparison chart
|Whey Isolate||Whey Concentrate|
|Lactose||Up to 1g||Up to 3.5g|
Both isolate and concentrate have a high protein content, however you can expect an extra couple of grams per scoop from isolate. The higher protein yield also means that carbs and fat are lower for the same amount of powder. For this reason, you might switch to an isolate when the goal in weight loss in order to save yourself a couple of grams of those precious fat and carb macros. Taste and price can also differ.
Thankfully, in 2020, brands do not hold back on protein powder flavours! Whether you want a chocolate, fruit, spiced or pretty much any taste under the sun, you're sure to be able to find it. One thing you may find however is isolate can have a thinner and smoother texture due to the lower fat and carb content. Concentrate, on the other hand, tends to be naturally sweeter because of sugars in it including lactose. Both can be used in the same ways however, whether you prefer to drink in a shake or mix into something like oats or yogurt! There are great (and not so great) tasting whey proteins across the board. Read reviews and go for a flavour that takes your fancy!
Whey protein isolate can be more expensive per serving due to the additional steps of processing that go into preparing it. Whey isolate takes longer to manufacture and, for a 1kg tub of each, the isolate will contain more total grams of protein so has a higher value. With this in mind, a simple whey protein concentrate is probably the best choice for a beginner who can benefit from increasing protein intake through any means, and does not yet have to worry about minutiae. If you are more of a whey connoisseur who doesn't mind paying out a little more for their monthly supplements, the few benefits of an isolate over a concentrate may make it worthwhile for reaching your fitness goals.
Whey protein isolate, thanks to its low fat and lactose content, digests quickly and easily compared to concentrate. This can make isolate the superior choice for those with digestive issues, or for post-workout when a quick dose of amino acids is required to kick start the recovery process.
Similarities between isolate and concentrate
The two types of whey protein are actually more similar than they are different. Both can play a part in a muscle building programme. Both are of high-quality (provided they come from a reputable brand) and contain identical amino acid profiles. Being complete proteins, they each contain a full spectrum of EAAs including the 3 branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), one of which is leucine, arguably the amino acid associated most with muscle protein synthesis, even though all are needed for best effects.
whey protein isolate benefits & side effects
Whey isolate benefits
- low in carbs and fat
- low in lactose
- digests quickly
- contains a full spectrum of amino acids
Whey isolate side effects
Whey concentrate benefits
- enhanced muscle growth and recovery
- digests a little slower than isolate
- often more flavour variations and better consistency
- contains a full spectrum of essential amino acids
Whey concentrate side effects
- possible digestive distress if consumed in high quantities or very soon before training
Whey protein isolate vs concentrate protein powder: Conclusion
Most people probably shouldn't overthink whether they should be buying a protein isolate or concentrate for the general goal of muscle growth. If within budget, there are certain scenarios where an isolate might be preferable, such as when dieting, if highly lactose intolerant or when looking for optimal digestion around the workout window.
In general, we would worry more about buying a high-quality protein from a reputable brand and avoiding products packed with fillers like maltodextrin. For an average 30g scoop, we wouldn't want to see any less than 20g protein. Any of these will help with building muscle and can be a cost-effective and tasty protein source for 1-2 feedings per day.
There are other types of protein, such as blends which may contain both for an extended release of amino acids into the bloodstream, or mass gainers/meal replacements which contain added carbohydrates to make each serving higher in calories - we have reviewed the 10 best for your benefit! For those who cannot consume why at all, there are non-dairy protein options although many vegan powders don't contain amino acid profiles as beneficial as whey.
Recommended Whey Isolates:
Recommended Whey Concentrates
- Predator Nutrition Premium Whey 80
- Scitec Nutrition 100% Whey Protein Professional
- My Protein Impact Whey Protein