Whey Protein vs Isolate: Which is Best For You?
We all know that protein is essential for healthy muscle growth. The problem is that taking in enough of it to build your muscles often comes with substantial quantities of carbs and fat in a regular diet.
Whey has emerged as a solution for getting substantial protein intake while bypassing the other types of protein loaded with fat and carbs. It is one of the most popular forms of protein powder.
There are different types of whey. In this guide, we’ll look at whey protein vs isolate and consider the benefits of each. Armed with this knowledge, you should feel comfortable making an informed buying decision when shopping for whey protein.
The Rise of Protein Powder
Of course, nothing wrong with carbs and fat: along with protein, they constitute the three macronutrients that everybody needs.
However, finding a balance that favors protein intake is difficult. Typical sources, such as meat and cheese, can also contain a lot of fat. When consumed with sides such as pasta or potatoes, you can end up taking in substantial quantities of carbs for a relatively small amount of protein.
For this reason, the market for protein supplements has boomed in recent years and will keep growing strongly. Out of these powders, whey has grown in popularity.
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey protein derives from milk. However, don’t stop reading now if you’re lactose intolerant! Some variants are safe for most lactose intolerances, and we’ll cover that later.
In extracting whey, the manufacturers first separate milk into casein and whey by adding enzymes to it. This process happens in cheese production: the casein is the protein you consume when you eat cheese, while whey is the remaining product. This separation is why the largest producers of whey are also some of the world’s biggest cheese manufacturers.
While whey accounts for only 20% of the protein in milk, it’s incredibly healthy when separated — and it means consuming much less fat than you consume by getting your protein from cheese. So what are the different variants?
Whey Protein vs. Isolate: the Different Types
There are three main kinds to consider:
The concentrate is what most people would refer to as ‘whey protein.’ Its production involves less processing than other powders. While this makes it a very popular and inexpensive option, it also means that you’ll find more fat and carbs in this whey protein vs. isolate or hydrolysate. The higher levels of milk-based fat and carbs mean that lactose-intolerant individuals often steer clear of concentrate.
The USDA regulations state that concentrate must contain a minimum of 11g of protein per 100g, which doesn’t sound like a lot. However, most concentrates on the market contain far more than this.
It’s also worth noting that the supplement market is unregulated in the U.S., for which reason we strongly recommend that any vendor you buy concentrate from tests it with a third party.
There have been suggestions that concentrate contains higher immunoglobulins levels, which help boost the immune system. However, research in this area is too limited to make a purchasing decision just on this basis.
If you compare whey protein vs isolate, the latter is preferable for lactose intolerant people and those wishing to avoid extra fats and carbs. Isolate goes through more processing than concentrate, and this process removes fat and carbs, leaving behind a product with a higher proportion of protein.
If you’re on a diet that strictly regulates your intake of carbs or fat, you may find the isolate is the best choice. It’s far more challenging to regulate the amount of these macros when you’re eating regular meals, so using isolate instead of concentrate makes your life easier when preparing food.
Some manufacturers claim their isolates contain 0% fat or carbs, although you should never believe this from a product that hasn’t gone through third-party testing. Unscrupulous vendors tend to make exaggerated claims to boost sales, but without third-party testing, you risk:
- Inaccurate information about its fat and carb content
- Unsafe consumption (containing strange additives)
- Danger for lactose-intolerant people despite its claims
When considering whey protein vs. isolate, you should also consider whey hydrolysate. It is more expensive than concentrate or isolate but preferred by many high-level athletes and people who find powders hard to digest.
In this form, the enzymes break down most of the whey before you consume it — meaning your stomach has to do a lot less work to digest the powder and experience the benefits. Some people refer to hydrolysate as ‘pre-digested’ for this reason.
The enzymes work to break down the dairy elements. It is the same process that lactose intolerant individuals’ digestive systems find difficult. For this reason, hydrolysate may be the best whey protein for lactose-intolerant people.
Also known as hydrolyzed whey, this form contains the highest protein concentration of all the variants mentioned. It can boost recovery after exercise compared to other variants.
Whey Protein vs. Isolate vs. Hydrolysate: Which is Best?
We’ll now consider the benefits and drawbacks of each form of whey and discuss which is best suited to your needs.
Benefits of Whey Concentrate
When it comes to whey protein vs. isolate, advantages of concentrate include:
- This form is far cheaper than more processed supplements, making it an excellent option for amateur athletes or gym-lovers looking to put on some extra muscle while on a budget.
- Effective. Concentrate generally contains high levels of protein, even though it can drop as low as 11%. Always check the macro levels in any concentrate you purchase and verify that it is a third-party tested product.
- Widely available. You won’t have to shop around specialist stores to find concentrate! It’s available everywhere, which makes it easy to stock.
Disadvantages of Whey Concentrate
- Contains more fat & carbs. Compared to isolate and hydrolysate, this powder contains a higher proportion of milk-based fat and carbs. Though relatively low, this isn’t ideal for some athletes.
- Not good for lactose intolerance. Some users may find concentrate harder to digest.
Benefits of Whey Isolate
Whey protein vs. isolate isn’t an easy choice, but isolate has some definite advantages. These include:
- Less fat & carbs. If you’re on a strict diet, isolate is a good choice. It allows you better control over your fat & carb intake.
- A higher proportion of protein. Isolate typically contains more protein per 100g than concentrate, which is preferable for intensive trainers.
- Better for lactose intolerance. As the active element gets ‘isolated’ from other dairy-based elements, this kind of powder is better for lactose intolerant individuals.
- Reasonably priced. While more expensive than concentrate, isolate isn’t too costly and gives you a lot for your money.
Disadvantages of Whey Isolate
- Not always dairy-free. Some isolates claim to contain 0%, but you should ensure testing has verified this.
Benefits of Whey Hydrolysate
- Good for lactose intolerance. As the enzymes used in hydrolyzation break down milk proteins, you don’t need to worry about your stomach struggling to digest them.
- High level of protein. Hydrolysate contains a very high proportion of protein, making it highly effective for building muscle.
- Great for recovery. Athletes find that hydrolysate helps to improve recovery after exercise better than other protein powders.
Disadvantages of Whey Hydrolysate
- Expensive. This powder is far more costly than concentrate. Casual gym-goers may want to steer clear as it won’t represent good value for money.
- Bitter taste. The enzymes used in hydrolyzation can give this powder an unpleasant taste.
Which Whey Protein Should I Use?
When thinking about whey protein vs isolate, which is better depends on what kind of athlete you are. For casual athletes or gym-goers, whey concentrate is an affordable and effective option. For those of us on stricter diets, isolate is an excellent choice because it reduces our fat and carb intake while providing a lot of protein.
More serious athletes who do intensive training and would benefit from higher protein concentrations and better recovery might favor hydrolysate. While it might sound like an exciting investment for casual athletes, you should consider whether your exercise regime justifies splashing out on this superior but more expensive protein powder.
Lactose intolerant athletes may also prefer to use whey isolate or hydrolysate, as they are easier to digest.
Conclusion: Whey Protein vs Isolate
Whey is a fantastic substance, and whey protein supplements are among the best on the market. If you want to skip the fat and carbs of other protein-packed foods, we highly recommend it. Regardless of where you fall on the why protein vs isolate debate, using some type of supplemental protein in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise is a good idea and an important addition to your daily routine.