Whey protein is one of the most popular supplements on the planet, but choosing which whey to go isn’t always the easiest choice, especially for those new to training and supplements. We’re here to break down the different types of whey and tell you why whey protein isolate is the true whey to go when searching for the best protein powder available.
So, let’s start by answering a basic question…
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein begins life as ordinary cow’s milk. Every 8 ounce serving of milk contains 8 grams of muscle building protein. Whey accounts for 20% of that protein (1.6 grams), while casein accounts for the remaining 80% (6.4 grams).
So, how do we get the whey protein from the milk?
When milk is heated during the production of cheese, you’re left with curds (yes, the same stuff Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet eating) and a liquid “waste product” (whey), which at one time was simply done away with.
However, after realizing just how packed with protein this so called “waste product” was, food manufacturers begin refining it into the whey protein powder we all know, love, and chug today!
Now, there’s a lot more that goes into creating the powder form of whey that you know so well, which is a topic we’ll save for another day, but suffice it to say that the liquid is filtered out, leaving you with a powder that is then dried and then used to created your favorite protein powder supplements.
But, as you’ve probably come to realize, even if you don’t know a thing about whey protein, not all whey protein powders are created equally, as noted by how your stomach feels shortly after drinking them.
So, let’s now take a look at the different types of whey protein.
The Different Types of Whey Protein
Whey Protein Concentrate
Whey Protein Concentrate is the first refinement in the whey protein production process. As such, many believe it to be the “purest” and most nutrient dense of the various types of whey protein. While whey protein concentrate does retain high amounts of bioactive peptides such as immunoglobulins and lactoferrins, it suffers from a severe lack of standardization.
You see, not all whey protein concentrates are the same. In fact, there is a wide range of possibilities about how “good” your whey protein is in that the protein content can range between 35-80% by weight. [1,2]
That means that one product using whey protein concentrate could be one of the “good” ones using WPC-80 (80% protein by mass) while another could be using WPC-35 (35% protein by mass).
Where the problem occurs, is that companies are not required to list which grade of whey protein concentrate they’re including in their product. So, while you might think you’re getting a product with high protein, in reality, the company could be trying to save a few bucks and make their products on the cheap, opting to use the lower quality WPC-35.
You might be thinking, “So what? I don’t mind a cheap protein powder”
While we’re all for cost effective supplements, oftentimes when it comes to protein powders, you get what you pay for. In exchange for that cheap price tag, you’re really getting less protein per serving and a lot more carbohydrates, calories, and fat. On top of that, cheaper grade concentrates are also chock full of lactose, which tends to give even those with an iron stomach some GI distress.
In other words, if a company is using a concentrate, but doesn’t list which grade they’re using in a product, the only way to know is to ask them and then trust that the answer they give (if they give you one at all) is the truth. But, that doesn’t mean that down the line, the company, in yet another effort to cut corners and maximize profits, won’t change grades of whey protein in subsequent batches and swap in a cheaper concentrate for the more expensive one.
Trust us, this ingredient swapping happens all the time in the supplement industry.
With that said, whey protein concentrate is the simplest form of whey protein, but the most variable. If you’re looking for a more “standard” and better option than concentrate, you’ll be wanting whey protein isolate, which we’ll discuss next!
Whey Protein Isolate
After concentrate, whey protein isolate is the next step in the refinement process of whey protein. While concentrate can vary anywhere between 35-80% protein by weight, the law dictates that whey isolate MUST be 90% or more protein.
In practical terms, that means a scoop of whey isolate (before any flavoring, thickeners, or additives are incorporated) weighing 20 grams will contain a minimum of 18 grams of protein. This is great if you’re looking to maximize your protein per serving, which you should if you’re buying a PROTEIN powder after all.
Now, the next thing you’re probably wondering is -- is whey isolate better than concentrate?
If we’re looking at strictly protein content, then absolutely, YES. Whey isolate is superior to whey protein concentrate.
But, a higher protein content isn’t all that whey isolate has to offer. Due to the high amount of protein in whey isolate, that also means there is a minimum of carbohydrates, fats, and lactose, which is especially good for the dairy-sensitive athletes out there. On top of that, isolates are also lower in calories than concentrates, due to the lower number of carbs and fats. This is especially good for those who are cutting, or just dealing with a lower TDEE.
Plus, using an isolate which is low in calories also gives you more carb and fat calories to save for more indulgent, palate-pleasing treats, such as protein bars, cookies, or the occasional post workout doughnut!
Compared to whey concentrate, whey isolate is digested and absorbed by your muscles faster then concentrate, due to the fact that the additional purification process isolate goes through leaves it with a smaller overall particle size.
Now, isolates do tend to be a bit more expensive than concentrates on a pound for pound basis, but if you’re looking to maximize protein and minimize quality variability, calorie impact, and GI upset, whey isolate is the clear winner.
Whey Protein Hydrolysate
The final form of whey protein you’ll encounter in protein powders is whey protein hydrolysate. This is the most expensive and most refined form of whey protein. It takes the beloved whey isolate and then adds in various chemicals that hydrolyze (break down) the peptide bonds linking the proteins together. This, in essence, pre-digests your whey protein, resulting in ultra-fast digestion.
However, the trade off, aside from the ridiculous increase in price, is a whey protein that is severely lacking in taste, texture, and overall enjoyment. Due to the nature of the chemicals used to partially digest the whey, hydrolysates have a very “chemically” taste to go along with a very thin texture, leaving you with a altogether unsatisfying mouthfeel from your whey protein shake.
In the end, hydrolyzed whey really is only good for those suffer from severe lactose intolerance. And in reality, if you’re one of these individuals, you’re better off opting for a plant-based protein or getting your protein from whole food sources.
While some will argue that the ultra-rapid digestion of hydrolysate makes it superior for muscle growth than whey isolate, research shows otherwise.
Why Whey Protein Isolate is the Best Whey Protein
High in Protein, BCAAs, and EAAs
Whey protein isolate is incredibly high in protein compared to whey whey protein concentrate, and as such, contains a greater amount of the essential amino acids (EAAs) and BCAAs needed to stimulate and sustain muscle protein synthesis (muscle growth). On top of that, whey isolate also contains a higher percentage of leucine than beef (10% for whey compared to 8.6% for beef), a staple food of bodybuilders. In fact, you’re average scoop of whey protein isolate will contain on average around 2.5-3g leucine, the exact amount needed to activate mTOR and kickstart the muscle building process.
Low in Carbohydrates & Lactose
In addition to being high in essential amino acids (EAAs), particularly leucine, whey protein isolate is also considerably lower in carbohydrates and lactose compared to other forms of protein powder, especially when compared side by side to whey concentrate.
Due to the fact that whey concentrates can range anywhere from 35-80% protein by weight, your tub of whey concentrate can easily contain 9-13 grams of carbohydrates along with 5-10 grams of fat, leaving little room for actual protein and negating the whole purpose of purchasing a protein powder in the first place.
By minimizing the amount of carbohydrates, whey protein isolate also limits the amount of lactose present, which is a huge plus for most whey protein consumers as it reduces the amount of gassiness, bloating, and overall GI discomfort that can come from concentrate-heavy protein powders.
Low in Fat
When you’re dieting, calories are at a premium, and the typical advice is to maximize protein while reducing intakes of carbohydrates and fat. Another huge advantage of whey isolate over concentrates is its minimal amount of fat. Remember, whey isolate must contain a minimum of 90% protein which leaves little to no room for fats (or carbs).
In fact, most isolates have AT MOST 2 grams of fat per serving. That’s a far cry from most whey concentrates which average around 5-7 grams of fat per serving. Anyone who’s ever dieted has felt the pangs of “wasting” calories on hidden fats and carbs in protein powders and realized that whey isolate is king during a cut.
While the “anabolic window” has mostly been debunked, at least relating to the length of time it lasts, getting in protein shortly after you finish training is still a priority, all the more so if you train fasted first thing in the morning.
Here again, whey protein isolate stands apart from whey concentrate and just about any other protein powder you would purchase. Due to the enhanced filtration process that whey isolate goes through compared to whey protein concentrate, its particle size is smaller, which means it is digested faster in the body, and ultimately absorbed faster. This means that those essential amino acids naturally present in whey protein isolate are taken up by your body that much faster, hastening muscle repair, recovery, and growth.
What Makes the Best Protein Powder?
What makes any protein powder the “best” ultimately boils down to a few considerations:
It must be affordable, so that you’re willing to purchase it and use it daily.
It must be insanely delicious, so that you actually look forward to drinking it daily.
The protein powder must use a quality source of protein that is highly bioavailable and rich in the BCAAs and EAAs.
As you can see, whey isolate satisfies all of these prerequisites and that’s exactly why we use only whey protein isolate in ISOLIT.
ISOLIT -- The Best Whey Protein Isolate
When it comes to selecting a protein, purity, quality, taste, and protein content are critical. Primeval Labs ISOLIT was specifically developed to exceed the standards for selecting your monthly protein purchase.
ISOLIT utilizes only triple-filtered, cold-pressed, cross-flow microfiltered whey protein isolate, delivering a robust 25 grams of high quality protein per serving while limiting extraneous carbohydrates, fats, and lactose.
On its own, whey protein is highly bioavailable, but to ensure every last gram of protein is absorbed rapidly by your muscles, we’ve also added in our patented DigeSEB Plus blend, providing a stout matrix of digestive enzymes that enhances nutrient breakdown and absorption.
Fans of whey protein concentrates or blends will point to the superior taste and texture of concentrate over isolate, but due to our cutting-edge flavor technology and cold-pressed filtration processing, we’ve retained all of the mouth-coating, palate-pleasing taste and texture of cheaper-grade concentrates while removing all of the unnecessary carbohydrates and fats. This makes ISOLIT stand alone as not only the best tasting whey protein isolate on the market, but the best tasting protein powder period.
Click here to try ISOLIT for yourself and witness first-hand the game changing flavor and quality of a real protein!
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