If you’ve spent ample time at the gym, you’d know how high of a pedestal gym-goers place nutrition. After all, all that hard work would be for nothing if you just ate like garbage, right? And if there was one macronutrient placed higher than the rest, that would be protein. Protein not only fosters muscle growth but also boosts recovery and fat loss. But not everybody is able to get their daily protein needs from whole foods alone. Instead, most people like to supplement with whey protein. In this article, we’ll be talking about the two primary variations of whey protein: isolates vs. concentrates. Read on to learn more about them and to find out which one is for you.
First things first: What is Whey Protein?
Before we dissect the two types of whey protein, we must first understand what whey protein itself is. Whey protein comes from milk, which is made up of fats, sugar, and protein. An interesting thing about whey protein is that nobody really meant to produce it in the first place. What I mean by that is that it actually started out as a byproduct of another product: cheese. To make cheese, you need to add enzymes to milk in order to separate the curds from the whey. Whey was often discarded before they realized it was jam-packed with protein and amino acids. In fact, whey is considered a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids.
Fast forward nearly a century, and you can find whey protein supplements virtually everywhere. Walk around a gym for five minutes, and you’d be hard-pressed not to find someone with a shaker bottle full of a protein drink. It’s no question that whey protein can significantly improve your performance and physique. Studies have shown it to enhance muscle growth, recovery, and lean muscle mass gains. Not only does whey protein provide all these benefits, but it also comes in a very convenient way to take it.
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
Moving on, we have whey protein concentrate, which is one of the most basic and common variations of whey protein in the market today. It is prepared through processes, such as filtration, dialysis, and precipitation. According to FDA regulations, all WPC must have a protein content of at least 25% of its weight. So, if you had a 100-gram scoop, at least 25 grams of it should be protein. Here are the other requirements to be classified as a whey protein concentrate:
- Fat content: Maximum of 10%
- Ash content: Maximum of 15%
- Lactose content: Maximum of 60%
- Moisture content: Maximum of 6%
The processes involved to make WPC are much less extensive, and it shows on its price. Whey protein concentrates are comparatively less expensive than isolates, but that isn’t to say they’re a bad product. Between the two, concentrates are just less refined. This results in a product not as concentrated (ironic) in protein, along with more fats, sugars, and lactose. Consequently, WPC products typically have more calories per serving compared to isolates. The lactose content can also be particularly alarming, especially for those with lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
Whey protein isolate goes through the same initial process as WPC, but it takes it a step further. After this initial process, it is further refined to remove excess fat, lactose, and other undesired trace materials. The end-product is a much more protein-dense and cleaner product in whey protein isolate.
Whereas WPCs typically have a maximum protein content of 80%, WPIs have it slightly higher at 90%. You can expect WPIs to be more expensive than WPCs, and with good reason. WPIs are much purer than WPCs because they filtered out most of the other macronutrients. They’re also easier to digest, as the lactose content is kept to a minimum, generally not exceeding 1%.
Concentrate vs. Isolate: Which One Should I Get?
Both WPCs and WPIs have similar properties, but the amount of which varies. If you’re looking to put on muscle mass, both products will be useful in helping you reach that goal. This is because both products will provide ample amounts of protein and amino acids integral to muscle growth.
The primary difference between the two is their protein content. The actual amount of protein in one serving of WPC will naturally be less than one of WPI. Additionally, with WPIs, you know you’re getting the bulk of your calories from protein. You may need additional servings with WPCs, which could add unnecessary fats, carbohydrates, and sugar to your diet.
If you’re looking to put on weight, WPCs are the more calorie-dense option, helping you achieve that caloric surplus more than WPIs.
Their taste also differs slightly, with WPIs having a much smoother taste and more mixability than WPCs. WPCs will be sweeter because of their higher lactose content, though.
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