Protein is vital for maintaining lean body mass and supporting overall health, including energy levels and immune function. Choosing high-quality protein sources can maximize the benefits you receive from protein-containing foods, and help reduce any worries about getting all of the essential amino acids that you need.
Protein powders may be a good option for increasing your protein intake. They are easy to add to your daily routine, via smoothies, bars, or mixed into other dishes.
Whey concentrate and whey isolate protein are two high-quality protein supplements that are commonly used by bodybuilders, active people, and people looking to meet their daily protein needs. Though they are similar, as they are both made from whey, whey concentrate and whey protein isolate have differences that consumers should take into consideration before making a decision on their purchase.
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is one of the major proteins found in milk, alongside casein. It is a great protein for muscle building because whey protein contains all essential amino acids. It is an excellent source of branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs) including leucine.
To make whey protein powders, liquid whey must be separated from solid curds created during cheesemaking. Once the liquid whey is isolated, it is spray-dried into a powder and filtered to varying degrees.
From this process, manufacturers can create either whey concentrate or isolate protein.
Whey Concentrate vs Isolate
Whey concentrate and whey isolate protein are both valuable protein powder options, but there are some important differences to note when making the choice for the whey protein that works best for you.
Whey concentrate is a form of whey protein that is less refined than whey isolate. It’s made up of approximately 80% protein by weight (but may have anywhere between 25-89% protein) and contains fats and carbohydrates like lactose. Additionally, the reduced processing avoids denaturing all the immune-supporting nutrients that whey can provide.
The higher concentration of lactose and fat makes whey protein concentrate taste better than other types of protein powders. Additionally, because it takes less processing and has a lower protein concentration, whey concentrates tend to be more affordable for most budgets.
However, whey concentrate powders have their drawbacks, it does contain lactose and therefore may not be appropriate for those with severe lactose intolerance. Some brands may include additional fillers to their product, add casein protein or vary in protein content. It is important to look at the label when choosing a whey protein concentrate.
Whey protein isolate undergoes more processing than whey concentrate to get the purest form of whey protein. Whey isolates have 90% or more pure protein and have minimal lactose and milk fat solids. This additional processing reduces the biologically available amounts of protein fractions and non-denatured amino acids more than other wheys.
Whey isolate protein powder is typically more expensive than whey concentrate because of the higher degree of processing and protein content.
Some people prefer whey isolate protein powder because it mixes well in beverages and is better for people with lactose intolerance. For people who are sensitive to protein powders, whey protein isolate is also available in the easily digestible form of whey protein hydrolysate.
Why Use Whey Protein
Whey protein is widely studied for its health benefits – beyond being a source of dietary protein, research shows that whey protein has a number of benefits to the body.
One of the best-known functions of whey protein is its benefits for muscle growth. Studies find that protein supplementation significantly increases muscle strength and size when combined with resistance exercise training.
Exercise recovery is also enhanced by taking whey protein. A 2018 review and meta-analysis of studies found that whey protein supplementation reduced muscle recovery time following resistance training.
Whey protein is a rich source of cysteine, an amino acid necessary for the endogenous antioxidant glutathione. Glutathione reduces inflammatory compounds known as reactive oxygen species and helps regulate the immune system.
Consuming whey protein may also support a healthy heart. Studies find that whey protein helps reduce blood pressure, improves vascular function, and even decreases triglyceride levels.
People looking to feel fuller during the day may benefit from whey protein as well. A 2017 meta-analysis found that whey protein may support satiety by reducing long-term appetite.
Choosing the Best Protein for You
Choosing the right protein powder is based on your individual taste preferences, budget, and sensitivities. Concentrate is less processed, which means it is able to keep many of the natural immune-boosting proteins intact. Protein isolate is more expensive and processed, but has less lactose which may be better for those with lactose intolerance.
Whether you choose a whey concentrate or a protein isolate, it is important to choose a high-quality whey protein powder without unnecessary fillers, artificial ingredients, or other gimmicks that reduce the nutrient content of your purchase.
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