Protein powders, drinks and bars are some of the most popular dietary supplements.
One of the most common types of protein found in these products is whey, which comes from dairy.
There are different types of whey protein, including whey isolate and whey concentrate.
This article explains the differences between these two common forms of whey protein and whether one is better to use.
Much of the protein found in protein bars, drinks and powders is derived from milk. When milk is processed to form cheese or yogurt, the remaining liquid is called whey (1).
This liquid contains the fast-digesting proteins commonly referred to as whey protein.
Before processing, about 20% of the protein in milk is whey and the other 80% is made up of the slower-digesting casein proteins (
Whey and casein are both considered high-quality proteins because they contain all the amino acids needed by your body (
However, whey is considered particularly beneficial for increasing the production of new protein in your muscles (
There are several different types of whey protein used in supplements. Two of the most common forms are whey isolate and whey concentrate.
These forms are produced using different processing techniques and vary slightly in their nutritional content.
Summary Whey protein is the fast-digesting part of dairy protein. Different forms of whey protein supplements are available, with two of the most common being whey isolate and whey concentrate.
There are several nutritional differences between whey isolate and concentrate. These differences are caused by the processing methods.
When the liquid whey is collected as a by-product of cheese or yogurt production, it undergoes several processing steps to increase its protein content (1).
After a sufficient protein concentration is achieved, the liquid can be dried to form whey concentrate powder that consists of up to 80% protein by weight. The remaining 20% of the whey concentrate powder contains carbohydrates and fats.
If different processing steps are used to reduce the fat and carbohydrate content of whey, a whey isolate powder containing 90% or more protein by weight can be produced (1).
Overall, the processing steps used in the production of whey isolate result in higher protein content and lower fat and carbohydrate content per serving.
However, the types of amino acids found in both forms of whey are virtually identical, since they are derived from the same proteins.
The table below shows the key differences between a standard whey isolate and whey concentrate supplement per 100-calorie serving:
|Whey Isolate||Whey Concentrate|
|Protein||23 grams||18 grams|
|Carbs||1 gram||3.5 grams|
|Fat||0 grams||1.5 grams|
|Lactose||Up to 1 gram||Up to 3.5 grams|
In addition to having lower total carbohydrate content, whey isolate also has lower lactose content. This means that it could be a better choice for those who are lactose intolerant.
Nevertheless, the amount of lactose in both forms of whey protein is likely to be low enough for those who are lactose intolerant to use (
In addition to their nutritional differences, there are cost differences between these two types of whey. Generally, whey isolate is more expensive than whey concentrate.
While this makes sense based on the higher purity of whey isolate, taking a larger quantity of whey concentrate can bring you the same dose of protein, often at a lower cost.
Summary The main difference between whey isolate and concentrate is that whey isolate undergoes more processing, which results in a higher protein content with less carbs, lactose and fat. Whey isolate is typically more expensive than whey concentrate.
Many studies support the beneficial effects of whey protein for active people (
One study in 192 exercising individuals found that taking whey protein supplements, including whey isolate or concentrate, led to improvements in lean mass and strength (
However, despite the minor differences in nutritional content, there is not strong evidence to suggest that whey isolate and concentrate have different effects in your body.
In regards to protein, one of the most important factors is your total daily intake. What’s more, it is often recommended that the majority of daily protein intake comes from high-quality sources such as dairy, eggs and poultry (
Both whey isolate and concentrate are high-quality proteins, and it is reasonable to expect that they will produce similar effects if an equivalent dose of protein is taken (
With that said, those who are limiting their fat, carbohydrate or lactose intake may prefer whey isolate since it is lower than whey concentrate in all three of these components.
It is also worth noting that many supplements contain a blend of proteins that includes both whey isolate and whey concentrate.
Summary Although research supports beneficial effects of whey protein for active individuals, there is not clear evidence for differences in the effects of whey isolate and whey concentrate.
Whey protein consists of several fast-digesting proteins and is a common ingredient in dietary supplements. Two common forms are whey isolate and whey concentrate.
Whey isolate undergoes different processing than whey concentrate, which results in the isolate containing more protein with less carbs and fat per serving.
However, these nutritional differences are small, and there is not strong support for different effects of these two types of whey protein.
Whey isolate may be a good choice for those who are carefully limiting their fat, carb or lactose intake, though this form of whey is typically more expensive.
Taking a slightly higher dose of whey concentrate can result in getting the same total amount of protein as you would get from a whey isolate product, often at a lower cost.
Regardless of which type you use, whey is a high-quality protein that can help you reach your daily protein intake goals.