What's the Difference between WPC & WPI and Why Does It Matter?
If you're among the 23.2 percent of adults in the country who exercises regularly, you're probably among those who value health and nutrition. You've probably even heard about whey protein all good things we hope.
As you begin to explore the world of whey protein, you will quickly discover you have more questions than answers.
- What is whey protein?
- What is whey protein isolate (WPI), and what is whey protein concentrate (WPC)?
- Which is better?
What is Whey?
Quick Answer: Whey protein is one of the two primary proteins found in dairy products, more specifically found in milk. If the product doesn't specify animal, it's safe to assume the whey is sourced from bovine milk.
More Details: Milk is made up of a few macro components being fats, sugars, & protein. Of the proteins, the 2 general types are called casein and whey.
How is it made ?
During the initial processes of cheese making, special enzymes (called Rennet) are added to the milk in combination with applied heat which causes the casein in the milk to coagulate, or change to a solid state.
The protease (chymosin enzyme) within the rennet breaks down the surface casein on the micelles which essentially disrupts the emulsion of fat & water in the milk. This causes the casein proteins to aggregate together, trapping fat and water molecules in the developing solids (curds). Further processing of the curd helps remove more water and compress the curd to form a solid cheese.
At the point where all the curds have taken a solid form, we are left with casein & fat globules suspended in a liquid. This watery liquid substance is the whey protein in a water solution. Historically this solution of whey and water has been drained and discarded as a waste product leaving the remaining casein & fat curds to continue the process towards being made into other diary products like cheese.
Note: We discuss emulsions in detail in our What is Sunflower Lecithin ? article which explains how our grassfed whey is easily mixed into a liquid water phase without the need for aggressive agitation.
Is Whey Protein a Byproduct of Cheese Making ?
Quick Answer: It can be, but it depends. The molecular structure and nutritional benefits of whey protein are in no way dependent on how it is extracted from the milk. Being able to utilize 100% of an animal's milk serves incredible benefit to the balance of nature, thus we do like utilizing 100% of the milk no matter what the diary product being made.
More Details: Whether the whey protein is extracted from pasteurized milk by mechanical means (centrifuge technology), or if it is separated out by applying natural enzymes for cheese making, the whey remains unaffected. Some grassfed whey brands market "Native Whey" with a dependence on pragmatic inference to surmise that somehow whey that is mechanically extracted from the milk serving no part in the cheese making process somehow has advantages around being less "denatured". To put this idea to rest, please check out our blog around the marketing terms "Undenatured & Non-denatured". For now though, "Native Whey" is simply a not-so-clever marketing ploy, offering zero realized benefits and designed to separate you from your hard earned money.
Did you know - Milk is 86.5% Water, 4.8% Lactose (milk sugar), 4.5% fat, .7% vitamins & Minerals. This leaves 3.5% remaining to be protein. Of this protein, 80% is made up of various casein, while the remaining 20% is pure whey protein.
Why is Whey Protein Powder better than Casein ?
Quick Answer: It's not, they have slightly different amino acid profiles, but the main difference is that whey is less mechanically sticky, so the applications in food are just different. Whey is more popular and also cheaper because without the casein, a cheese producer can't make cheese as there is nothing to form the sticky sheath around the fat globules. With whey however, a cheese producer can sell the whey without impacting his bread and butter business (pun intended) of cheese making downstream of the curdling separation.
More Details: The body absorbs whey more easily (from the point of ingesting to the blood stream receiving the amino acids) than casein and without the bloat feeling; this is due to casein's natural stickiness. It's glue-like globule tendencies prolong the journey for casein to work it's way mechanically through the stomach into the intestines to be absorbed; this is why casein protein powders may leave you feeling full longer (some would say the fleeing is "bloat") and are more commonly used and marketed as an appetite suppressant than whey protein powder would be.
Nutritionists and dietitians often give casein the label as being a "slow-digesting" protein. The reality is, once the protein (whey or casein) reaches the intestines, the body digests whey and casein at about the same speed, spiking the blood stream with amino acids in similar fashion. By calling whey "fast" and casein "slow", the industry has a much easier time marketing both, so the labels stuck!
When did whey protein powder become so popular ?
Whey protein powders became wildly popular with the rise of body building legend Arnold Schwarzenegger. Marketing whey protein using Arnold's physique was a breeze, and then to learn that cheese manufacturers who had been paying for whey disposal services are now able to monetize that same need for disposal allowed the whey protein & supplement industry to explode to what it is today.
Is whey protein considered a "Complete" mean ?
Whey protein is one of the most readily available "complete" proteins which means it contains a substantial amount of all 9 essential amino acids. These include: histidine, *isoleucine, *leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and *valine. These are the "Essential" Amino Acids (EAAs) that your body can only obtain through diet and nutrition. The *Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are highly sought after for muscle building. AGN Roots Grassfed Whey leads the industry with the highest concentration of naturally occurring BCAAs due to it's grassfed sourcing & origin. Grassfed whey in general is a much better source of these micro nutrients than whey sourced from conventional feed lot farms. Grassfed whey is loaded with several highly beneficial protein fractions (major & minor) such as lactoferrin, immunoglobulins, beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, glycomacropeptides, and serum albumin.
Learn more about AGN Roots Grassfed Whey Protein Fractions.
Is Pea Protein Considered "Complete" too ?
Not until recently has protein derived from Peas been considered a standalone "complete" protein. Although pea protein contains all 9 essential Amino Acids, the key to being considered "complete" is having a substantial amount of all EAAs such that the body can benefit. Pea Protein lacks in quantity one of the most critical Branched Chain Amino Acids called Leucine which is responsible for muscle tissue repair & growth. As the Pea protein market continues to grow however, we expect Pea protein to continue to be marketed as a "complete" protein despite it's well recognized deficiencies. Most nutritionist and Pea Protein enthusiasts do understand the need to compliment their pea protein intake with other protein profiles loaded with the Leucine amino acid.
What are Amino Acids?
Quick Answer: Amino Acids often described as the "building blocks of life" are organic compounds that combine to form proteins. Amino Acids are responsible for building proteins and synthesizing hormones and neurotransmitters.
More Details: Amino acids essentially allow your to body function at it's maximum capacity. To function properly, your body needs 20 different amino acids. Nutritionists classify nine of these amino acids as "Essential". The essential amino acids are significant as your body cannot make them using the others, and thus you must acquire them through your diet.
Natural sources of protein like eggs, chicken, and beef contain these essential amino acids. When you dive into some proteins like this, your body breaks them down into meaningful amino acid peptides ready to serve you. These amino acids are then utilized all over the body for things like building muscles and regulating your immune system. There are many ancillary benefits to amino acids as well:
Improve Mood & Sleep - Amino Acids are proven to help produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter related to mood (happiness / depression) and assists you in achieving REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.
Boost Exercise Performance - Amino Acids help lessen fatigue and assist in muscle recovery immediately after exercise. On the other side, they prevent muscle loss and work to preserve lean body mass.
Stimulate Fat Loss - The proper amount of amino acids will help you lose unhealthy body fat. Whey protein is often marketed to this result and fortunately contains all these naturally occurring amino acids to stand up to this claim. Grassfed (Whey made from cows on a plant based diet) whey will naturally carry up to 20% more BCAAs than whey protein derived from cattle on grain or organic grain diets.
In general, a complete set of essential amino acids can be found naturally occurring in both whey protein concentrate form and whey protein isolate form. Which begs the question; What are whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate?
What is Whey Protein Concentrate?
The difference between whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate resides within the % of dry powder by weight that is pure protein versus fats & sugar (carbohydrates - lactose). If 80% of the powder represents protein, that is called WPC or Whey Protein Concentrate. If the powder is further filtered to concentration levels higher than 90% protein by weight, this powder earns the title of a WPI or Whey Protein Isolate.
Take Away: WPC tends to be naturally sweeter due to the simple sugar (lactose) that is left in the powder, however this lactose can also be responsible for stomach irritability for those that work through various forms of Irritable Bowl Syndrome or light forms of lactose intolerance. WPC tends to contain more calories, contain less protein per serving or less servings, and is typically less expensive than WPI by the lb.
What is Whey Protein Isolate?
Whey protein isolates goes through all the same processes the concentrate goes through with one difference. The isolate goes through additional filtering loops which further separates out fines such as lactose, fat, and undesired minerals.
Because of this additional time spent in the cold micro-filtering process, whey protein isolate yields a greater protein density than whey concentrate by a minimum 10% and in some cases up to 15%. WPI is also considered much cleaner (more from unwanted minerals) than WPC.
As a result of greater protein density by weight, WPI has less fat and less carbohydrates per serving than WPC. This additional filtering yields a whey isolate protein powder by volume to be on average, 90% to 95% protein.
To learn more about the details around the filtering process - Cold Processed, Cold Filtered, & Cold Pressed.
Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate
Whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate come from the same product, Whey protein. Their differences lie primarily in how they're processed and their resulting macro nutrient proportions of fats and carbohydrates.
If you are making a protein shake and need 25 grams of actual protein; this means you would need more WPC powder than you would WPI powder. The extra powder required to hit the the 25 grams of protein for the concentrate powder will cause your fat and sugar grams to also increase. In summary, if you took 1 scoop of each protein form, the WPI will contain more protein and less fats & sugar than an equivalent scoop (same volume) of WPC.
How are Whey Protein Isolate and Whey Protein Concentrate the Same?
Whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate have identical benefits to each other. All the positives of the actual proteins and amino acids are inherent to both.
In particular, whey protein both in the concentrate and isolate form has proven to help individuals build lean muscle mass. Nutritionists typically recommend you consume protein and amino acids from high-quality food sources. Eggs, dairy, and poultry top the list. Nowadays, you can find all kinds of creative ways and sources to ensure you are providing your body adequate essential amino acid intake. For more information on creative applications for your Whey protein regiment, please visit The Best Grassfed Whey Recipes.
Because both isolate and concentrate have such high levels of protein, you can expect similar results when taking either. In order to take the same quantity of protein gram for gram of a WPC to a WPI, the WPC may increase your fat and carbohydrate macros to undesirable levels. Where the whey protein isolate allows you to increase your protein macros without necessarily the added fats and lactose endemic to whey protein concentrates. This is one of those reasons why whey protein isolate has grown in popularity compared to whey in concentrate form over the years; taking WPI offers more control and is friendly across low fat low sugar diets.
Shopping Tip for Whey Protein: Paying careful attention to the ingredients may serve you well and allow for an easier choice to be made. Many protein powders will contain both whey isolate and whey concentrate or even milk powders. Sometimes the combination of these known ingredients are within parenthesis after the word "Protein-Blend". We recommend staying clear of any blends when it comes to protein supplementation. These brands tend to lean heavily towards the cheaper ingredients while marketing the high quality ingredient boldly.
Promotes Muscle Growth
All proteins are capable of promoting muscle growth in the right quantities. Bovine Milk specifically exists to grow a baby calf into a full grown cow in a matter of months, thus it's purpose is literally to build muscles and other tissues and rapidly. If you pair strength training with a good mix of various proteins it is likely that muscle-building and strength are benefits that generally follow.
Whey naturally stimulates muscle protein synthesis due to it's high leucine content, yet another reason why whey is so powerful when it comes to supplying athletes a focused diet for building the body compared to a pea protein for example with little to no leucine in it's amino acid profile. If you choose to do any amount of resistance weight training, you will see the true muscle-building effect of whey over time with the right diet (balanced) and lifestyle (sleep).
Lowers Blood Pressure
Whey protein has been proven to reduce hypertension. This may result simply from the pairing of building muscle naturally with whey and exercising. Exercise and a healthy diet will naturally reduce stress and hypertension overall.
As a result, this healthy lifestyle lowers stress and tension and reduces the risk of heart disease. Now you know; adopting healthy living practices improves the body's issues what ever they may be; did we just blow your mind or what?
Melts Off Weight
When you use either kind of whey, you will find yourself feeling full. More protein in your diet will naturally suppress your appetite, and this, in turn, means you consume fewer calories. Protein will satisfy you and fill you up. As a result, you may eat less and find yourself consuming fewer calories thus, contributing to your weight loss goal without the burden of conscious effort.
Whey protein can also help you burn fat naturally. More protein in your diet will help facilitate a greater proportion of muscle in place of other tissues around the skeletal frame (a pleasant way to describe fat). Fact is, moving muscle takes calories, thus the more muscle you have, the more muscle that needs to move for every day function, and the more calories you burn naturally repairing and servicing those muscles.
In high doses Whey has been proven to reduce a well known inflammation indicator within the blood called "C-reactive protein". As you workout and are consciously breaking down muscle tissues with the intent of getting a good pump to recover stronger than you were before, your body starts to swell as a result of inflammation.
The inflammation is great, and is the first step of the healing process, however the accompanying swelling as a result of the magnitude of inflammation and damage can be very counter productive, ultimately hindering you from a speedy recovery.
This is why whey protein serves as a perfect post workout recovery aid. Whey Protein is very quickly absorbed and recognized as valuable nutrition by the body, AND regardless of the form its in (WPC, WPI) will reduce that short term inflammation which will serve your recovery well!
How are Whey Protein Isolate and Whey Protein Concentrate Different?
Quick Answer: The difference between the whey protein forms is the protein content composition as it relates to the make up of the powder's total weight. Whey isolates contains the highest concentration of pure protein and can be pure enough to free of lactose, carbohydrate (sugars), fat, and cholesterol. Whey protein concentrate and isolate albeit sourced from the same milk will be exposed to slightly different processing methods which yield the variance in protein concentration.
Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein isolate, in short, has more protein. It consists of 90 percent protein by weight because it has gone through additional filtering to reach these optimal purity levels. 90% is the minimum yield to be called a WPI. Whey concentrate will have as much as 80 percent but as little as 5 percent weight of protein. Whey concentrate is used in all kinds of industries ranging from the typical snacks, chocolates, breakfast cereals, & ready to drink shakes, to more refined aseptically filled infant formula products & animal concentrates.
Users will vary because of the purity of the protein isolate. Because whey protein isolate has a purer level of protein, scientists use it most often in human study trials. Additionally, because of its purity, professional athletes and bodybuilders will often use whey protein isolate. Isolate also has fewer impurities in it, so those allergic or sensitive to these fats and or lactose will opt for isolate over concentrate.
Taste varies as well. Whey protein isolate has a smoother taste. It goes through a more stringent filtering process, and thus it has a silkier taste and texture than concentrate. Concentrate may be naturally sweeter due to the simple sugar (lactose) endemic to it's makeup.
Isolates generally need a lesser quantity of emulsification (Sunflower or Soy Lecithin) due to their being no fat (oil soluble) within the powder. dispersing whey Isolate into water without a blender is much easier than trying the same with a concentrate.
Whey Protein Concentrate
Because it spends less time in the filtering process, whey protein concentrate has higher levels of carbs, lactose, and fat than whey protein isolate. This fact can serve beneficial to individuals who would like to hit their fat and carbohydrate macro targets as part of their whey protein intake.
If you're someone who is nutritionally deficient, perhaps because of chemotherapy treatments or just poor digestion, whey protein concentrate could also serve beneficial albeit harder on the stomach given the lactose.
Why does Whey Protein Concentrate Cost Less than Isolate?
Although WPC is a high-quality protein, it does and should cost less than whey protein isolate. When it comes to protein powders, the amino acids (protein) make up the majority of the costs to the manufacturer, where the other macro nutrients and micro-nutrients (minerals) are considered negligible.
Whey protein concentrate costs less to make than whey protein isolate simply because it contains less protein if sold by weight. Whey protein is most commonly sold in pouches or tubs by the pound. If you compare a single pound of WPC with WPI gram for gram, you'll find there is less total protein grams in the WPC, thus you are buying less protein and should then (as it's only fair), pay less for it.
Isolate protein not only contains more protein than the same tub filled with WPC but it spends more time in the processing plant being filtered down a purity that yields a light fluffy dense protein powder of 90-95% potency. In summary, Whey protein isolate costs more than whey protein concentrate because you get more grams of protein per package, and it costs the manufacturer more to make.
Why is Whey Protein Concentrate Sweet ?
Quick Answer: There is Sugar in it. Lactose's official name is "disaccharide". It is a sugar composed of galactose and glucose and is naturally found in milk with concentrations ranging from 2-8%.
While whey protein concentrate may have a chalky texture, many consumers report it tastes better because of the fat and lactose (simple sugar) in it. The lactose holds a very light natural sweet flavor. The higher levels of fat and sugar often go unnoticed due to the proclivity of brands to pair most offerings with indulgent albeit harsh flavor systems such as peanut butter chocolate or mint chocolate chip. These flavor systems tend to mask lesser quality whey protein concentrates.
Whey vs Isolate: Which One Wins?
No single product is better than the other. Your choice depends completely on your purpose for taking the whey protein in the first place.
Price: The sad truth is that brands in this day and age don't discriminate, although whey protein concentrate should be much cheaper by the lb compared to whey protein isolate, they are often all sold at a premium cost due to high demand.
Meal Replacement: Concentrate retains the carbs (lactose sugar) and fat that you may need as part of your daily macro count. Isolate whey will allow you to obtain healthier fats and sugars from other foods like avocados or super foods.
Losing Weight: If you are watching total calories, Isolate also makes sense. One average a whey protein concentrate will have at least 20-30 calories over an isolate due to fat and sugar.
Sensitive Stomach: If you have a sensitive gut or palate and can't stomach either the thicker texture of concentrate or the inherent lactose, then isolate is your best choice. The lactose in the concentrate is a common source of gut irritation responsible for inflaming IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome ) symptoms.
Weight Gain & Building Mass: In order to do this especially if you are considered a "hard gainer" and you're in the age range of 16-22 years of age. High metabolisms are incredibly hard to overcome, no matter what whey protein you choose, the secret is to eat as much as possible as frequently as possible, as healthily as possible (high quality foods). We mention this, because the calorie difference between WPC and WPI is negligible when it comes to the desire to pack on the lbs for bulking season. A good idea is to mix AGN Roots grassfed whey with Oat & barley powder for the cleanest weight gain smoothie imaginable.
Grassfed Whey is Always Better!
You do not have to look hard to find the highest quality grassfed Isolate on the planet. You are already here :)
Although we only discussed the big differences between WPC and WPI. There are a ton of nuances that make grassfed whey much better for general nutrition than any other ready to mix protein powder. At AGN Roots, we only do one thing, we make the best grassfed whey and source it the right way. We believe that happy cows, raised in the best grassfed environment, by farmers committed to their well-being, produce the most nutrient rich grassfed whey available.
What Do I Do With Whey?
Basic whey requires just water. If you look at the back of your whey container, pouch, tub, the directions will include quantities of water and protein to put in a shaker and where to find some great recipes.
If you really want to up the flavor, though, you'll look into making smoothies. Creative smoothie recipes will help you figure out a way to make your whey taste even better and give you a maximum amount of nutrients.
Make Way for Whey
In the whey protein isolate vs concentrate war, you'll quickly see that both products win. Ultimately, their success depends on the consumer and the consumer's goals.
No matter what Grassfed Whey Protein you choose at the end of the day, whether it be a concentrate or isolate, you need to have a protein with proper accreditation. The product should have bold testimonies that explain the origin and quality of the protein. Claiming to be "grassfed" is the commensurate with claims like "pure", "transparent" , or even "premium", so make sure the claims are backed up!
If you do not have those testimonies, then you should look elsewhere for your whey and disregard that brand as a credible supplier of nutrition.
For any questions or more details around whey and "grassfed" whey in particular, please don't hesitate to reach out or comment below! Contact Us.