Whey protein is one of the best supplements to build muscle mass. We all know that! But which form of whey is the best? Who will provide the most optimum results – whey concentrate vs. isolate vs. hydrolyzed whey?
Do you know the differences?
To shed some light, all forms of whey come from the same whey protein found in milk. Also, they have the same number of amino acids to build muscles effectively. The difference lies in the way whey protein goes through processing to produce these forms. Based on that, there might be subtle considerations based on your fitness goals and nutritional needs.
We are going to give you a full takedown on whey concentrate vs. isolate vs. hydrolyzed whey. In the end, you will have all the information needed to choose the best whey protein for you.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is Whey Concentrate
Whey concentrate is the purest and closest to whey protein. It’s the product we get after separating the cheese from the milk. The liquid whey goes through a series of drying and evaporating processes to create whey concentrate powder used in supplements.
How is Whey Concentrate Made
The whey protein is in liquid form when it is separated from milk. Manufacturers or dairy processors use reverse osmosis and a combination of nanofiltration techniques to dry the liquid. The concentrate undergoes further drying and evaporating in drum driers or spray whey driers. Then you get whey concentrate powder (WPC), or sweet whey.
The Contents of Whey Concentrate
Whey concentrate contains 80% to 85% protein by weight. The rest of 15% to 20% consists of fats, sugar, and carbohydrates. The carbohydrates in whey concentrate are present in the form of lactose. It also contains a certain percentage of sugar (from lactose), and cholesterol. Whey concentrate may also contain some vitamins and minerals found in milk.
Whey concentrate even has the antibody immunoglobulin that might have beneficial effects on immunity.
The whey concentrate supplements in the market have varying levels of protein content. You can get anything from 40% to 90% protein per serving based on the supplement you buy.
Who Should Have Whey Concentrate
Whey concentrate is suitable for most of us. It’s the cheapest of the lot and ideal for having every day. Also, the added nutrients and carbs can help you gain size if your goal is muscle-building. Don’t expect too much of a difference, though!
Now let’s come to the immunoglobulins. Whey protein contains immunoglobulins, but it’s hard to say if they are active in the supplement. They may have turned non-functional by the time you scoop it out from the pack.
Who Shouldn’t Have Whey Concentrate
People who are too sensitive to lactose or milk might have some problems with whey concentrate. It contains very low amounts of lactose (around 4.8%), so you can first get medical advice.
Also, if you are looking to lose weight, the extra fat in whey concentrate may be an issue. The difference won’t be much as total fat content in 100 KGs of ordinary whey is around 0.03%.
Now let’s take up our next contender in whey concentrate vs. isolate vs. hydrolyzed whey debate.
What is Whey Isolate
Whey concentrate undergoes further processing to extract the protein content. The result is whey isolate with up to 90% protein content by weight. Whey isolate also eliminates the additional carbs and fats present in whey concentrate.
How is Whey Isolate Made
Manufacturers use various processes to isolate protein from the whey. The specific techniques applied to extract protein from whey include-
- Fractionation (membrane separation)
- Chromatographic processes
Manufacturers also use diafiltration to remove the excess fat and lactose. Unfortunately, that also removes the additional nutrients and minerals present is the former concentrate form.
The Contents of Whey Isolate
Whey isolate, as we already said, contains 90% protein by weight. It doesn’t contain almost any carbs, sugar, fat, cholesterol, or lactose. This makes some people claim that our bodies can digest whey isolate faster than whey concentrate. (more on that later)
Whey isolate is also devoid of the bioactive compounds found in the concentrated form. The bioactive compounds do play a role in cell life but are not essential nutrients. So we can function without them without any problems.
Who Should Have Whey Isolate
Whey isolate is expensive than whey concentrate. You can go for isolate whey protein if you have lactose intolerance. You may also find completely lactose-free whey isolate supplements sold by various companies.
Whey isolate also provides more protein per serving. However, the money you save is too insignificant, considering the high price of whey isolate. You can just have more of whey concentrate and still save up!
Some people claim our bodies can digest the isolate form better and quicker than concentrate because it’s just protein. However, there is not any significant evidence to back up the claim.
Also, whey protein is a fast-absorbing protein. We can experience a boost in amino acids within just 40 to 60-minutes of consuming whey protein. The protein absorption rate is also 100% in the first 10 minutes.
So even if our bodies absorb protein isolate faster, it can only make a small difference.
You can consider whey isolate if you are only training for gaining muscle size. It can also have some benefits in facilitating muscle recovery after working out.
Note: You shouldn’t take more than 50-grams of whey protein in any form in a single day. Divide the doses into 25-grams and have it two times per day. (You can click here to know the best ways and time to take whey protein)
Pro tip: Certain processes of filtration are best as they retain the originality of whey protein. Look for products that mention “microfiltration.” Stay away from whey isolates that use processes like “ion exchange.”
Who Shouldn’t Have Whey Isolate
Whey isolate may contain insignificant levels of lactose. If you are allergic to milk, ask your doctor before consuming whey isolate. Else, go for lactose-free versions.
That being said, the lactose in whey concentrate and whey isolate is too low to have any adverse effects even for lactose-intolerant people.
Now, let’s move on to our last candidate.
What is Hydrolyzed Whey
Hydrolyzed whey is the whey protein obtained after hydrolysis.
How is Hydrolyzed Whey Made
Hydrolysis is a process that uses a medium to unbind or remove any particles.
In the case of whey protein, the process breaks downs the bonds of the amino acids to make the protein easily-digestible. Manufacturers use heat, acids, or enzymes for “pre-digesting” whey protein through hydrolysis for faster absorption by our bodies.
The process of hydrolysis converts amino acids to free amino acids. As a result, hydrolyzed whey tastes bitter.
Who Should Have Hydrolyzed Whey
Hydrolyzed whey is the most expensive of the lot because of the amount of processing. It doesn’t contain any fat or lactose. So people with milk allergy and lactose hypersensitivity can try out hydrolyzed whey.
Now, let’ see what science has to say about the fast-absorbing capabilities of hydrolyzed whey.
As far as research is concerned, no conclusive evidence exists to conclude hydrolyzed whey digests faster than whey isolate. Even if it did, the differences wouldn’t be too significant to make up for the price.
We should mention one thing, though! We discovered a single study that found hydrolyzed whey to quicken the recovery of power after fatiguing eccentric exercise. But the study uses a very small sample (28 sedentary males), and we need more research to confirm the conclusion.
Who Shouldn’t Have Hydrolyzed Whey
Hydrolyzed whey may be helpful only for people with a milk allergy or very low tolerance to lactose. Otherwise, it’s much more affordable to go for whey isolate or whey concentrate.
Few Words on Tri-Blend Whey Protein Supplements
Some manufacturers sell a combination of concentrate, isolate, and hydrolyzed whey. The products claim to offer the best qualities of each form for muscle gain, digestibility, and quick absorption.
But as we discussed, you are better off with whey isolate and concentrate if you are okay with lactose.
Whey Concentrate Vs. Isolate Vs. Hydrolyzed Whey: The Final Verdict
Before you make your conclusion, consider the following-
- All forms of whey protein provide similar results
- All forms of whey protein have the same profile and number of amino acids needed for muscle-building
- The higher the purity, the more processed is the product (and less active on biological levels)
Now let us tell you what we think. Whey concentrate is the cheapest and most suitable if you aren’t lactose-intolerant. You can go for whey isolate if you are too concerned with allergies or protein content per serving.
Hydrolyzed whey makes sense for people who are hypersensitive to lactose. Now, go ahead and pick the right form of whey protein to meet your needs and fitness goals.