Whey Protein Isolate vs. Whey Protein Concentrate

Today I wanted to post an excerpt from Your Naked Nutrition Guide that will clear up a question I commonly get about protein powder – What is the difference between whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate.  At the end of the post I also share with you one of my new favorite protein powders (used it this morning for the first time).

I really think that protein powders are a  must for everyone. Having a protein shake following a workout is something that cannot be duplicated with whole food (chocolate milk does come close though). Liquid protein gets into your system fast because there is no need for mechanical digestion and minimal need for chemical digestion (with certain types of protein powder).

Amino acids get shuttled to your “hungry” muscles much quicker with a protein shake than with whole food protein. The best type of protein powder for this situation is whey protein isolate or whey protein hydrolysate. There are so many brands, types, and flavors of protein powder on the market today that it can be hard to choose which one is best overall and for specific times of the day.

You will generally find the following types of protein powder: whey, casein, egg, and soy. Protein powder also comes in different grades: concentrates, isolates, and hydrolysates. Each of these protein types and grades has unique properties and tastes.

What is Whey?

Milk protein is 20% whey. Whey is by far the most popular protein choice, perhaps because it is so cheap. Whey protein contains large amounts of branched-chain amino acids as well as the full spectrum of amino acids (i.e., every muscle building block you need). Compared to the other proteins on the market, whey is one of the fastest digesting proteins (hydrolysate > isolate > concentrate).

Whey Protein Concentrate vs. Whey Protein Isolate

Protein concentrates. Protein concentrates are created by pushing the protein source (milk, whey, etc.) through a very small filter that allows water, minerals, and other organic materials to pass though. The proteins, which are too big to pass through the filter, are collected, resulting in protein powder. When this process is used to make whey protein concentrate, it yields a protein powder that is 70-80% protein and up to 5% lactose. People with lactose intolerance will have trouble consuming large amounts of whey protein concentrate.

Protein isolates. This is the next step up in purification; the protein is purified again using more filtration or a technique called ion-exchange or cross-flow microfiltration. Protein isolates have very low levels of carbohydrates and fat and are almost exclusively pure protein. People with lactose intolerance usually don’t have trouble with whey protein isolates. Many companies that make whey protein isolates will certify that their product is lactose free or they add lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose) to the protein powder to help with digestion.

A really interesting area of protein research is looking a whey protein peptides (i.e. short chains of amino acids). Studies are showing that these peptide chains have additional benefits independent of the actual amino acids. For example glycomacropeptides are found in whey protein. They have been shown to cause your body to release the hormone CCK which signals your brain that you are full (pretty cool, huh?)

I got my order of a new whey protein in the mail last night – Prograde Protein. This protein powder is different than most in that it is sweetened with stevia and not splenda or aspartame. It is just about all whey protein isolate and contains lactase and aminogen (a compound that helps with protein digestion).

The best part is the taste. I’ve have had enough vanilla whey protein shakes to know what to expect but…I was actually surprised at how good the Prograde Protein tastes. You can get your own tub to try here.

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30 Comments

  1. mikeroussell November 19, 2009 at 6:59 pm #

    I tried Jay Robb's once but didn't like the taste.

  2. Trevor November 19, 2009 at 4:03 pm #

    I know you guys all like to cross-promote, but isn't Jay Robb protein basically the same as the ProGrade at about half the price?

  3. mikeroussell November 19, 2009 at 6:59 pm #

    I tried Jay Robb's once but didn't like the taste.

  4. mikeroussell November 19, 2009 at 6:59 pm #

    I tried Jay Robb's once but didn't like the taste.

  5. Jenn November 19, 2009 at 9:17 pm #

    I noticed that 1 scoop was 120 calories, whereas mine is 140 cal for 2 scoops (mine is a blend of isolate and concentrate, so thank you so much for explaining the difference!). My question: in the WSFL diet, would you still do a scoop of this with Gatorade and 1.5 scoops for the protein shake (those are the amounts suggested for my weight), or modify? Thanks!

    I'm new to the diet/workout plan, and your 'no brainer' and '3x' plans are terrific. I like the "jumpy" adds at the end of each day's weight lifting plan too–a nice break from intervals, though i prefer intervals on cardio day since i'm already on the treadmill. Anyway, thanks!

  6. Jenn November 19, 2009 at 9:17 pm #

    I noticed that 1 scoop was 120 calories, whereas mine is 140 cal for 2 scoops (mine is a blend of isolate and concentrate, so thank you so much for explaining the difference!). My question: in the WSFL diet, would you still do a scoop of this with Gatorade and 1.5 scoops for the protein shake (those are the amounts suggested for my weight), or modify? Thanks!

    I'm new to the diet/workout plan, and your 'no brainer' and '3x' plans are terrific. I like the "jumpy" adds at the end of each day's weight lifting plan too–a nice break from intervals, though i prefer intervals on cardio day since i'm already on the treadmill. Anyway, thanks!

  7. Jack November 19, 2009 at 9:26 pm #

    Mike,

    I was wondering if I could get your expert take on a product called Whey Cool from Designs For Health.

    The price for a typical jug is far steeper than almost any other brand on the market (but still a relatively steal when you consider what you are getting and not getting in it versus the cost of junk from McDonald's or Starbucks). It is a whey concentrate from grass-fed cows, and the company claims that all of the delicate and beneficial microfractions are preserved. And while I am not saying people will keel over from whey derived from non-grass fed cows, it seems like a potentially attractive feature of the product.

    Given that this company is more medically-focused with their nutrition products than aimed at duping the aspiring teenage bodybuilder crowd, I'm inclined to say their ad copy is more accuracy than hyperbole, but not being an industry insider and being privy to just how they truly create their products, I cannot say for sure.

    I'll provide a link to the product, if you'd like to take a look at it. Basically I'd like to get your opinion on if this product is purely a rip-off at the price it sells for or if it does indeed offer the many health-promoting benefits it claims in addition to covering the typical muscle-building bases of your standard whey products.

    I have seen Dr. Jonny Bowden recommend this product, but I also saw a comment Cassandra Forsythe made to a reader question on her blog in which she said she spoke with some researchers who claim the product is likely overrated and that many of the delicate microfractions would likely not be preserved due to the processing whey products undergo. When well-respected folks disagree, it always makes a choice much tougher.

    I would be perfectly happy paying more for a product so long as I have good reason to believe it is as claimed to be and not strictly claims and hype over actual substance.

    http://www.rockwellnutrition.com/Whey-Cool-Powder

    You can see claims and purported features and benefits under the description section.

    As far as I can tell, DFH is not a fly-by-night company that would use the grass-fed label and speak of minimal and delicate processing simply to dupe folks. Any clarity you might be able to offer would be appreciated.

  8. Jack November 19, 2009 at 9:26 pm #

    Mike,

    I was wondering if I could get your expert take on a product called Whey Cool from Designs For Health.

    The price for a typical jug is far steeper than almost any other brand on the market (but still a relatively steal when you consider what you are getting and not getting in it versus the cost of junk from McDonald's or Starbucks). It is a whey concentrate from grass-fed cows, and the company claims that all of the delicate and beneficial microfractions are preserved. And while I am not saying people will keel over from whey derived from non-grass fed cows, it seems like a potentially attractive feature of the product.

    Given that this company is more medically-focused with their nutrition products than aimed at duping the aspiring teenage bodybuilder crowd, I'm inclined to say their ad copy is more accuracy than hyperbole, but not being an industry insider and being privy to just how they truly create their products, I cannot say for sure.

    I'll provide a link to the product, if you'd like to take a look at it. Basically I'd like to get your opinion on if this product is purely a rip-off at the price it sells for or if it does indeed offer the many health-promoting benefits it claims in addition to covering the typical muscle-building bases of your standard whey products.

    I have seen Dr. Jonny Bowden recommend this product, but I also saw a comment Cassandra Forsythe made to a reader question on her blog in which she said she spoke with some researchers who claim the product is likely overrated and that many of the delicate microfractions would likely not be preserved due to the processing whey products undergo. When well-respected folks disagree, it always makes a choice much tougher.

    I would be perfectly happy paying more for a product so long as I have good reason to believe it is as claimed to be and not strictly claims and hype over actual substance.

    http://www.rockwellnutrition.com/Whey-Cool-Powder

    You can see claims and purported features and benefits under the description section.

    As far as I can tell, DFH is not a fly-by-night company that would use the grass-fed label and speak of minimal and delicate processing simply to dupe folks. Any clarity you might be able to offer would be appreciated.

  9. Jack November 19, 2009 at 9:26 pm #

    Mike,

    I was wondering if I could get your expert take on a product called Whey Cool from Designs For Health.

    The price for a typical jug is far steeper than almost any other brand on the market (but still a relatively steal when you consider what you are getting and not getting in it versus the cost of junk from McDonald's or Starbucks). It is a whey concentrate from grass-fed cows, and the company claims that all of the delicate and beneficial microfractions are preserved. And while I am not saying people will keel over from whey derived from non-grass fed cows, it seems like a potentially attractive feature of the product.

    Given that this company is more medically-focused with their nutrition products than aimed at duping the aspiring teenage bodybuilder crowd, I'm inclined to say their ad copy is more accuracy than hyperbole, but not being an industry insider and being privy to just how they truly create their products, I cannot say for sure.

    I'll provide a link to the product, if you'd like to take a look at it. Basically I'd like to get your opinion on if this product is purely a rip-off at the price it sells for or if it does indeed offer the many health-promoting benefits it claims in addition to covering the typical muscle-building bases of your standard whey products.

    I have seen Dr. Jonny Bowden recommend this product, but I also saw a comment Cassandra Forsythe made to a reader question on her blog in which she said she spoke with some researchers who claim the product is likely overrated and that many of the delicate microfractions would likely not be preserved due to the processing whey products undergo. When well-respected folks disagree, it always makes a choice much tougher.

    I would be perfectly happy paying more for a product so long as I have good reason to believe it is as claimed to be and not strictly claims and hype over actual substance.

    As far as I can tell, DFH is not a fly-by-night company that would use the grass-fed label and speak of minimal and delicate processing simply to dupe folks. Any clarity you might be able to offer would be appreciated.

  10. Markus November 19, 2009 at 10:02 pm #

    This Whey Cool product is indeed overpriced and overhyped:

    1. Grass-fed milk products have a benefit only in the greater omega-3 portion of their fat content. With only 2 grams of fat in this product, the grass-fed aspect is largely irrelevant. The other health factors mentioned by Whey Cool are present in all well-processed whey isolates, sometimes to even a greater degree.

    2. Despite the hoopla, Whey Cool still is only a whey concentrate. This is not a "bad" product, but it is not as concentrated in protein as a cross-flow microfiltered whey isolate, which is 90% protein by weight.

    3. With the highest quality CFM whey isolates selling for only $10-11 per pound, why spend 3 times that much on Whey Cool?

    The Prograde product also is partly whey concentrate and 80% protein by weight, although it is even $10 more expensive per pound than the Whey Cool.

  11. Timo November 19, 2009 at 10:07 pm #

    Mike, What do you think of consept called Protein Deprivation? It's idea is to live in a protein deprivated state for a while (I've read something from one day to three weeks). It's supposed to elevate growth hormone and testoteronex10 above normal levels. Here's some discussion about it. (with links to t-nation article about it. Please let me know 'cause this seems really interesting and almost too good to be true.

    http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?p=16

  12. Timo November 19, 2009 at 10:07 pm #

    Mike, What do you think of consept called Protein Deprivation? It's idea is to live in a protein deprivated state for a while (I've read something from one day to three weeks). It's supposed to elevate growth hormone and testoteronex10 above normal levels. Here's some discussion about it. (with links to t-nation article about it. Please let me know 'cause this seems really interesting and almost too good to be true.

    http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?p=16

  13. mikeroussell November 20, 2009 at 1:02 am #

    Jen,
    With the WSFL plan 1.5 scoops is supposed to get your ~30grams of protein. Do as many scoops as you need with the brand you are using. Glad I could clear up the difference between isolate and concentrate for you.

    Thanks for the feedback on the No brainer and 3x plans. Let me know how you do when you finish up WSFL.

    -Mike

  14. alisdair November 20, 2009 at 9:31 am #

    Is this the 1st article in a series. To be honest I expected a bit more in depth article comparing different types of protein powder (ie whey, egg, soy, micellar casien etc) and how they work in the body. This article just seems to be an advert for a particular brand of protein powder.

  15. Lynn February 3, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    Do you know of any organic or grass-fed whey protein products that are "unsweeted" from distributors other than Designs for Health (organic grass-fed 'PaleoMeal' whey & organice grass-fed ' WheyCool') or Source Naturals (organic grass-fed 'Whey To Health' & natural 'The True Whey')? I am on 'The Healing Diet' and attempting to find a cost-appealing alternate source and organic grass-fed and unsweetened are the key words. Thank you.

    • mikeroussell February 4, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

      Lynn,

      Unfortunately no. I think Joe Mercola sells a whey from grass fed feed. I don't know of unsweetened protein powder though. Personally I don't think (or have seen evidence to support) that from a nutrition standpoint you get a greater benefit from grass fed whey protein vs 'regular' whey.

      -Mike

  16. linda March 31, 2010 at 1:18 am #

    One of the important reasons for grass-fed and rGBH-free cows is that the animals are treated better. Even if it doesn't make a difference nutritionally, it makes a difference in the lives of living, feeling creatures. Also, there is less environmental degradation with organic and more naturally raised animals.

    • Tina December 16, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

      Most important reason to consume only grass fed whey products is to make sure that you’re not consuming chemicals along with your whey, as in no pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones, or GMO’s (I like knowing that the cows were not being stuffed with Monsanto roundup ready corn that does much damage). I’m pretty sure that from a nutritional standpoint, you don’t want those things in your body.

  17. Liz April 1, 2010 at 1:31 am #

    Hi, Mike. I was doing a little research on whey protein isolate v. concentrate and came across your site. I would love your opinion on NutriiVeda. I'm a distributor and have seen great results with people who want to lose a lot of weight but have not been marketing it to the body building/fitness crowd (want to learn more first – hence my research). It's different from most products because it contains medicinal herbs to help burn fat, reduce cravings, etc. It is all WPI, no concentrate, no artificial or synthetic ingredients.The company website is http://www.zriiproduct.com.

    Thanks in advance! Now back to reading your articles…

    • Markus May 15, 2010 at 4:26 am #

      FYI: All MLM products are overpriced and underdosed, especially for the stricter needs of the bodybuilding community. The supposed fat-loss ingredients in this product are either not actually proven to aid in lipolysis or included in ineffectively small amounts. Weight loss may occur when using it simply because the directions are to replace two whole-food meals with an 8-oz shake that includes this powder. Only accurate biometric measurement would determine how much of this weight loss would consist of fat, if any. Plus, the product’s protein potency of only about 50% or so by weight is very ineffective from a cost standpoint, when compared to any mainstream protein powder.

  18. peggy May 2, 2010 at 6:59 pm #

    What is your opinion on Miracle Whey from the Mercola website and his reasons for saying concentrate is better that isolates in whey protein?

    • Markus May 15, 2010 at 4:16 am #

      Mercola is once again intentionally misleading and erroneous in his stated preference for whey concentrate. Of course, he wants you to believe that concentrate is better, because that is what he sells. But his main reasons are:

      “All isolates are exposed to acid processing.” This is simply untrue. In fact, the best whey isolates are ceramically cold-filtered, and are much cheaper than Mercola’s products.

      “Your body cannot assimilate proteins in isolated form.” Again, completely untrue. Note how Mercola offers absolutely no proof or explanation for this contention. Besides, in this case the word “isolate” does not mean what Mercola wants you to think it does, since it signifies merely that the whey isolate has no lactose or fat content. Whey concentrate is not as pure, however, which is why it has a lesser amount of protein by weight.

      “Due to over-processing, isolates are deficient in key amino acids and nutritional cofactors.” Demonstrably untrue, as any look at the label of a cross-flow microfiltered whey isolate will prove.

      Whey concentrate is a perfectly OK product in most cases, but Mercola’s attempt to sell you on his version would have you think that isolates are necessarily worse, and this is where he goes off the rails.

  19. Orlen June 13, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    If I were to start using creatine while I’m already using whey protein, bsn syntha 6 to be exact, what creatine would you recommend using? Is there a specific one that you prefer over others?

  20. Gustavo July 25, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    para a hipertrofia eu tomo a whey da Designer, na minha opinião a melhor que tem no mercado. Sempre encontro as melhores proteinas nesse site: http://www.supercorpo.com.br
    o preço é muito bom e a entrega bem rápida tb.
    vale muito!

  21. Nan August 17, 2011 at 6:47 am #

    I will NOT use whey protein isolate, only concentrate:

    “All whey protein isolates are devoid of nutritional co-factors including alkalizing minerals, naturally occurring vitamins, and lipids, which are lost in the processing. This renders them deficient and overly acidifying. Unlike whole protein food concentrates which does not acidify your body due to its alkalinizing minerals, whey protein isolate are over acidifying. I would strongly avoid ALL whey protein isolates just as you would avoid trans fats as they contain putrid proteins that are actually worse than trans fat.

    If chronically consumed in large amounts (such as with bodybuilders or athletes) without alkalizing foods, it can acidify your body and over time may lead to metabolic acidosis with consequences that include waste of muscle and bone tissues, total metabolic shut down, and increased vulnerability to degenerative disease.”

    Whey is the best source of protein there is. Using the real thing, less processed is best.

    • vivian pierson October 10, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

      Can you recommend a good whey concentrate at a good price?

  22. whey protein October 12, 2011 at 7:33 am #

    A few people have suggest opti whey protein to me but not used it myself yet.

  23. annie November 22, 2011 at 3:03 am #

    Swanson Vitamins sells high quality whey products of various kinds including a grass-fed, hormone/antibiotic-free variety. Also, Life Extension sells whey products of reportedly good quality.

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