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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