When it comes to optimizing your fitness results, one of the most debated topics is whether to opt for whey protein isolate vs concentrate.
There is no denying that whatever your fitness goals are, both options promote a positive impact on your performance and health. However, in this article we will take you through what the key differences between whey protein isolate and concentrate are and their individual benefits to help you make an informed decision on the best option for you.
In this article we will cover:
- What is Whey Protein?
- What is Whey Protein Isolate?
- What is Whey Protein Concentrate?
- The Benefits of Whey Isolate?
- The Benefits of Whey Concentrate?
- Whey Protein Concentrate vs Isolate: The Differences?
- Whey Protein Concentrate vs Isolate: The Similarities?
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First off, let’s explore the basics.
What is Whey Protein?
In the simplest terms, whey it is the portion of milk that is left isolated after it’s processed into foods such as cheese or yogurt.
It is a watery substance that is packed with proteins, and this is where the concept of whey protein came around.
Whey protein has gained a reputable name, particularly in the fitness community, as an advantageous addition to the diet. This is owing to the fact that it provides a good source of amino acids and protein.
Two of the most common variations of whey protein are whey isolate or whey concentrate; both play a huge contributing factor in the muscle repair process, and what’s more, increasing the anabolic hormone release to encourage muscle growth.
Nevertheless, there is a main difference between whey isolate vs concentrate which comes directly as a result of the slight differences in the production process and the fact that whey isolate is constructed through a much more vigorous form of processing.
This results in isolate products having a higher protein content, all the while having a reduced carbohydrate, fat, and lactose content when comparing whey protein isolate vs concentrate. For a more in depth report of whey protein in general, our article Whey Protein: Benefits, Risks and Dosage explores whey further.
What Is Whey Protein Isolate?
So, let’s start by taking a look into whey protein isolate.
Isolate is the type of whey which offers the highest amount of protein. It has a high value of branched chain amino acids, also known as, BCAAs. BCAAs are known as essential amino acids, which is the name given to amino acids that the body cannot reduce itself and needs to be sourced from external factors; the key BCAA in this instance is leucine.
Leucine is a dietary amino acid that essentially regulates protein biosynthesis (production of molecules) and cell growth. Whey isolate has a protein content of a massive 90%, this is due to its process of dismissing any non-protein components.
Adding whey protein isolate into your diet can aid weight loss due to its satiety regulating properties. This was supported by the findings of one study which identified that females who added whey into their diet lost more weight than those who didn’t.
The satiety of whey protein isolate can be owing to the fact that the consumption can reduce intensities of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. Meanwhile, boosting the levels of peptide, a hormone that indicates the feeling of fullness. To gain a higher-protein diet with ease, check out the best high protein yogurts here.
What is Whey Protein Concentrate?
Whey concentrate is a particular form of whey that is similar to isolate, however it does not undergo vigorous processing. Instead, it hotels on to the elements that isolate removes; components such as fat and carbs are at a higher level in whey protein concentrate vs isolate.
However, it is beneficial to have these kinds of elements in your diet, so carbs and fats are nothing to be afraid of. Whey concentrate has a plethora of benefits that we will delve into in more depth later, but first let’s explore the question of ‘what is whey concentrate’ and what it consists of.
Whey concentrate protein can be beneficial, but it can also be problematic if consumed in high volumes. It can cause digestive issues such as nausea, flatulence or cramping; this can become uncomfortable, so it’s important to consume the recommended serving size. Find our list of the best protein shakers to buy here to get the silky texture we all enjoy.
Concentrate is a good option for those who are looking for high protein intake, as it carries a content of around 70% - 80% of protein, alongside the contribution of a reasonable fat content. Whey concentrate protein is one of the cheapest forms of whey and, similar to other variations, has a priority goal of muscle growth.
Now you know about whey isolate vs concentrate, let’s explore the benefits of the two.
The Benefits Of Whey Concentrate
Whey isolate protein is known for its positive impact on lean muscle mass, function, and strength. But that isn’t all as whey protein offers benefits for people with a multitude of different fitness goals. When considering whey protein isolate vs concentrate for weight loss; isolate is the go-to, but why?
Let’s find out in the benefits of whey isolate.
#1 Promotes Weight Loss
Whey protein isolate has gained a reputable name as a supplement that offers benefits for those looking to lose weight.
This is thanks to multiple factors, one being the lack of carbohydrate and fat levels present in whey isolate, so if you’re wanting to increase your protein intake whilst you’re on a diet, whey protein isolate is likely to be the best option for you. Although there is not a huge difference in calories, there is still a noticeable reduction, nonetheless.
For instance, using MyProtein’s Impact Whey Isolate as an example; their product sits at 93 calories per 25g, which is the recommended serving size. Compare this to the brand’s concentrate protein, there is a distinct 10 calorie difference with a 25g serving amounting to 103 calories. Though there is not a significant difference, every ounce of leeway you can get on a calorie deficit is worth taking.
So if you’re on a diet, whey isolate, vs concentrate, is for you.
#2 Builds Muscle
If you are looking to build a greater muscle mass, then isolate can be a great option.
Properties presented in whey protein isolate enable it to promote rapid recovery; therefore, building muscle becomes more efficient. This is because the repair and rebuild can develop at a faster rate due to the protein being absorbed soon after a workout - which is certainly beneficial after a hard session.
Whey isolate is home to all nine essential amino acids, these are essential elements that the human body is unable to produce naturally. Therefore, we have to consume via a dietary intake, which can be acquired through consumption of isolate.
The essential amino acids that can all be found in whey protein isolate are:
All of which have a great deal to do with prevention of muscle catabolism (the breakdown of molecules) and muscle growth. With most recommended serving sizes being around the 30g mark, there should be no issue in the process of muscle protein synthesis; the procedure in which new muscle tissue is formed.
#3 Boosts Your Immune System
Amino acids are also a key aspect of the immune system, and with the assistance of isolate protein powder; it can be easy to add these into your diet plan.
Whey isolate provides immune system enhancement by the usage of the amino acids to replenish the element glutathione. This is a kind of antioxidant that seeks out any threats like infections and destroys them before they can cause any potential harm. Further, our body is actually able to make this element, but unfortunately we can become deficient due to other health concerns such as stress or infections.
So, where does whey isolate come in? Whey isolate contains three amino acids that assist glutathione, these are; glutamate, cysteine and glycine. Therefore, by boosting the productivity of glutathione, the immune system is encouraged to work more resourcefully.
The Benefits Of Whey Concentrate
When comparing the benefits of whey isolate vs concentrate, the results can be similar - but concentrate can benefit some more defined areas of health; let’s take a look at what those are.
# 1 Promotes Fat Loss
Whey protein concentrate can encourage fat loss due to its ability in reducing food cravings; the increased value of satiety can promote a feeling of fullness for longer periods of time than you would encounter without it. By reducing calories and appetite, this can encourage a smaller calorie intake and ultimately weight loss.
Whey concentrate protein can also increase metabolism through the presence of high protein levels that use more energy during the digestive breakdown of food, also known as the thermic effect.
Interestingly, 20% - 30% of protein calories are burned whilst we are digesting and metabolising, this is what is known as the thermic effect.
The calories that are burned through the thermic effect can actually incite the same effect around the clock. It has been discovered that a high protein diet can burn a surplus of 80-100 calories per day than the average diet; by incorporating whey concentrate, you could consume the extra protein you need with ease.
#2 Lowers Blood Pressure
Whey concentrate’s role in lowering blood pressure comes from the theory that the ACE-inhibitors (Angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors) in dairy assists in relaxing the veins and arteries, which in turn, lowers blood pressure.
However, it is important to note that a study that has taken place regarding this phenomenon discovered that; the reduction in blood pressure was only in those who had raised blood pressure to begin with, not those with optimal numbers.
Interestingly, a great finding revealed that an increase in protein, and in particular those of plant based, may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as lower blood pressure.
Many studies that have been conducted all present relatively similar results, but one further study measured the blood pressure, body composition and biochemical analysis in plasma between two groups. One control group and one group who consumed 30g of whey for 12 weeks daily.
This found that in overweight participants the systolic blood pressure was lower significantly in those who had consumed whey, comparable to those who didn’t. Even the waist circumference and body fat percentage decreased.
These kinds of results support the role of whey in promoting weight loss, which in turn decreases blood pressure; both of which are notable consistencies to consider when regarding whey as a mechanism for decreasing blood pressure.
#3 Reduces Inflammation
Inflammation is typically a response to any damage the body has encountered and actually protects us. However, whey concentrate protein could potentially reduce the severity of inflammation.
This is because of a C-reactive protein (CRP) – this protein indicates the presence of inflammation and it can be found in the blood and when consuming high doses of whey. After taking whey concentrate, studies have found that CRP have encountered a slight drop; therefore indicating the supplementation of whey could have been a factor as to why.
Additionally, following the prior point regarding the effectiveness of whey protein concentrate on weight loss; the reduction in fat and carb consumption can help in anti-inflammatory properties also. This is because foods such as refined carbs cause inflammation hit the bloodstream rapidly and cause a spike in your blood sugar; this sustains an inflammatory response as your body attempts to isolate the sugar from your blood.
For tips on how to implement protein into your diet when following a plant-based lifestyle, take a look at the following articles for some guidance:
Whey Protein Concentrate vs Isolate: The Differences
The difference between whey protein isolate vs concentrate boils down simply to their processing methods. When comparing the nutritional benefits of both forms of protein, we can see that one of the differences is overall nutritional value. So, for a lower caloric intake, the best choice is whey protein isolate vs concentrate.
To demonstrate this, on average whey protein isolate per every 100-calorie serving contains:
- Protein: 23g
- Fats: 0g
- Lactose: <1g
Comparable to whey protein concentrate per every 100 calories that produces:
- Fats: 1.5g
- Carbohydrates: 3.5g
- Lactose: <3.5g.
Approximately, 90% of protein is contributed to whey protein isolate; vs concentrate which hosts between 70-80% protein content.
Another of the most notable differences between the two forms of whey protein is their price points. Due to the longer process when being produced, isolate more often than not carries a pricier RRP than concentrate. When comparing whey isolate and concentrate in price, there is typically a difference of around £5-£10. However, both can usually be found in the price range of £20-£30 for a product that equates to around 20 servings. For the cheapest whey protein powders, find our shortlist here at OriGym.
When looking at the long-debated comparisons of whey protein isolate vs concentrate; they both display varied strengths and weaknesses on both parts that make one neither better than the other, but each being effective for particular goals.
For example, a diet which is deficient in lactose or particular fats would benefit from whey concentrate. Whereas whey isolate would be a secure option for those looking for higher protein with less fats; further, for anybody with a tolerance to high levels of lactose.
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Whey Protein Concentrate vs Isolate: The Similarities
As we have put whey isolate vs concentrate head to head for their differences, it shouldn't be disregarded that they have numerous similarities.
Both whey isolate vs concentrate have the same end goal - to gain muscle mass; therefore, there are plenty of similarities between ingredients and properties. Infact, the ingredients are almost identical due to the importance of the amino acids that are in both variations. For more information on amino acids, find our informational article on the benefits, structures and foods.
They do however, digest at a very similar speed, therefore absorption is sufficient in both as they’re classed as fast acting proteins. This kind of similarity means that even people with differentiating goals, can achieve the same vital benefits that whey as a whole presents.
Whey isolate vs concentrate both enhance performance in workouts. This is thought to be because the protein intake, whether that be in the form of whey isolate or concentrate, provides a rich energy source. This is one of the most valuable benefits, as it can assist in any form of exercise.
Can Whey Help Build Muscle?
As a result of the nine amino acids that are present in whey, it means that any variation of whey protein is useful when it comes to muscle gain.
Anabolic (the building and growth) effects of weight training are enhanced by whey protein supplementation; the speed in which the acids are sent to the skeletal muscle allows for muscles to get bigger and stronger at a quicker pace.
As we previously explained, whey isolate vs concentrate for bodybuilding is commonly used, this demonstrates the reputable stand whey has in the industry that is dedicated to muscle gains.
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While heavily debated, a generally recommended tip to get the most out of your whey protein is the timing of which you take it. Taking protein after a workout can help blood flow get to your muscles more efficiently which increases oxygen flow and supports the nutrients needed to build muscle, such as various hormones.
Hormones are incredibly important to remember when considering supplements. Whey protein in any of its variations can increase the release of the likes of insulin, a hormone that can stimulate muscle growth. Not only this, but the speed in which whey is absorbed is beneficial as the stimulants can be utilised rapidly to ensure fast muscle recovery and growth.
Where Does Whey Come From?
Whey protein is a substance that is derived from milk and is a by-product of cheese, for this reason, before its nutritional value was explored it was completely disregarded as having any use.
No matter the variation of whey, the origin remains the same, however the process following being gathered can be more vigorous to create products such as isolate. If this doesn’t interest you too much, check out the best soy protein powders here.
It’s pretty straight forward as to where whey itself actually comes from and interestingly, whether your whey protein powder is isolate vs concentrate, it is still consumed in the form of shakes and bars the same way. However foods rich in protein will more often than not contain both variations.
The discovery of whey dates back to 5500 BC, when it was discovered that a liquid separated from curds, this led to the whey being used as a form of medicine, or what was then called a ‘serum’. Amazingly, this substance we now use to promote muscle growth, has had plenty of beneficial roles in its lifetime.
What Are The Risks Of Taking Whey?
Although whey comes with heaps of benefits that are widely advertised, there are also some risks that you may want to consider before you start the supplement; you can read more about the risks and side effects of whey protein in our thorough guide we mentioned previously. Some of these include, but are not limited to:
- Not evaluated by the FDA (food and drug administration)
- Hidden sugars
- Encourages nausea
- Inducement of stomach cramps
- Encourages headaches
- Increased fatigue
Another useful supplement you may be interested in finding a little more information about is Casein Protein Powders.
What are Some Sources of Whey Protein
There are different sources if protein that provide individuals with a variety of products, many of which include whey protein specifically; here are some of the accessible sources of whey protein that you can incorporate:
- Salad dressings
- Goat milk
- Protein bars
You may be thinking, what about other diets such as vegetarian and vegan diets? Vegetarians can consume whey protein, however vegans cannot. This is due to the process of how the whey is produced, but there is the option for vegan protein powders as the base ingredient is pea protein. Find all about pea protein here, regarding benefits, nutrition and side effects.
Before You Go!
When it comes to the difference between whey protein and whey isolate, it is important to recognise their specificities for particular people. Instead of choosing if whey isolate or concentrate is one better than the latter, it's recommended that you make an informed decision based on your lifestyle and fitness goals - if any.
So, we hope by now you have a better understanding of the differences and similarities of whey isolate vs concentrate, and you’re able to kick off a new diet regime with a whey supplementation that compliments you most.
But just before you leave us, are you a fitness enthusiast? If so, you might see your career in the fitness sector, get there by taking part in one of our personal training diplomas. Otherwise, you can view all of the fitness courses on offer by downloading our course prospectus.
Written by Professional S & C Coaches
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Written by Professional S & C Coaches
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- Hayes, A. and Cribb, P.J., 2008. Effect of whey protein isolate on strength, body composition and muscle hypertrophy during resistance training. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 11(1), pp.40-44.
- Hoffman, J.R. and Falvo, M.J., 2004. Protein–which is best?. Journal of sports science & medicine, 3(3), p.118.
- Hulmi, J.J., Lockwood, C.M. and Stout, J.R., 2010. Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein. Nutrition & metabolism, 7(1), p.51.
- Kilara, A. and Vaghela, M.N., 2018. Whey proteins. In Proteins in food processing (pp. 93-126). Woodhead Publishing.
- Krešic, G., Lelas, V., Herceg, Z. and Režek, A., 2006. Effects of high pressure on functionality of whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. Le Lait, 86(4), pp.303-315.