When it comes to working out and gaining muscle, whey protein hardly ever gets left out of the conversation—and it’s within its rights that it doesn’t! Perhaps the most studied supplement, it helps improve muscle protein synthesis and boosts growth of lean muscle mass.
But what is it exactly? In a nutshell, whey protein is the fast-digesting part of protein found in dairy products. When liquid whey, which makes up 20% of milk, is collected as a by-product from the production of cheese or yogurt, it’s processed even further to improve its protein content. Then, the liquid is dried up to form the whey protein powder we’re accustomed to. This typically consists of 80-90% protein, depending on how it’s processed, with the remainder of it being carbohydrates and fat.
The differences in processing methods leads us to having whey concentrate and whey isolate. As they both come from the same proteins, they both contain the same amino acids and are equally as helpful when it comes to muscle recovery and building lean muscle mass. In general, whey protein lets you hit your required daily protein intake quicker, minus having to consume more calories.
So, to distinguish one over the other, we’ve broken down the basics of each form:
What’s in it: Every 100-calorie serving of whey concentrate contains about 18 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of carbohydrates, 1.5 grams of fat, and up to 3.5 grams of lactose. It undergoes less processing time and steps as compared to whey isolate, yet it still remains a good source of protein, especially for those with difficulty in reaching their daily target.
Who it’s for: It’s a good entry point for those looking to add whey protein into their roster of supplements, primarily because it costs less. This doesn’t mean to say that it isn’t advisable for those who are more advanced. Some athletes and trainers choose concentrate over isolate too, because taking a larger quantity of concentrate can amount to the same dose of protein at (more often than not) a lower cost.
What’s in it: For every 100-calorie serving of whey isolate, one can get around 23 grams of protein, 1 gram of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fat, and up to 1 gram of lactose. It takes longer to process as compared to whey concentrate, hence the higher amount of protein, and the lower carb, fat, and lactose content.
Who it’s for: Because of its lower dose of lactose, it’s a better choice for those who are lactose intolerant. Also, since it has less carbs and no fat, it’s the more ideal option for those religiously tracking their macros.
However, it must also be taken into consideration that the lactose content in both forms of whey protein are likely low enough for them to be safe even for lactose-intolerant people.