Whey Protein Concentrate vs. Whey Protein Isolate
If you're among the 23.2 percent of adults in the country which exercises regularly, you're probably among those who value health and nutrition. For many, a key to health and nutrition is whey protein.
In the world of whey protein, there are many options to consider. One of the first decision points is whether you choose a whey protein isolate (WPI) or whey protein concentrate (WPC) for your protein supplementation. As you make this decision, it's essential to understand the similarities and differences of each. In this article, we'll cover:
- What is whey isolate?
- How does whey isolate compare to whey protein concentrate?
- What are the main differences between whey protein isolate (WPI) and whey protein concentrate (WPC)
- Is Whey Protein Isolate better?
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is one of two primary proteins found in milk. The macro components of milk consist of fat, sugar, & protein (whey & casein). Unless otherwise stated, whey originates from bovine milk.
Is Whey Protein a "Complete" Protein?
Whey protein is one of the most readily available "complete" proteins, which means it contains a substantial amount of all nine essential amino acids.
These Amino Acids include:
These are the "Essential" Amino Acids (EAAs) that your body can only obtain through diet and nutrition.
The Branched-Chain Amino Acids (*BCAAs) are very attractive for those looking to build muscle. AGN Roots Grassfed Whey leads the industry with the highest concentration of naturally occurring BCAAs due to its grassfed sourcing & origin.
Grassfed whey, in general, is a much better source of these macronutrients than whey sourced from conventional feedlot farms. Grassfed whey contains several highly beneficial protein fractions (major & minor) which include:
- Serum albumin
Learn more about AGN Roots Grassfed Whey Protein Fractions. Below is an info-graphic that gives you an idea of what is meant by "Macro-Nutrients" in whey protein.
What are Amino Acids?
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.
Amino acids essentially allow the body to function at its maximum capacity. To optimally function, 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, to this result, 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 typically 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 naturally occurs in both whey protein concentrate form, and whey protein isolate form.
Is Whey Protein a Byproduct of Cheese Making?
It can be, but it depends. The molecular structure and nutritional benefits of whey protein can be sustained regardless of the extraction process from the milk. Utilizing 100% of an animal's milk yield serves incredible interests to the balance of nature; thus, we do love using 100% of it no matter what the diary product.
Whether the whey protein is extracted from pasteurized milk by mechanical means (centrifuge technology), or via natural enzymes for cheese making, the whey has the same potential of becoming denatured. Some grassfed whey brands depend solely on their ability to guide consumers in making pragmatic inferences around "Native Whey," emphasizing how mechanically extracted whey directly the milk has advantages over conventional methods regarding the level of denaturation.
Not only is this false logic, but the opposite case is much more durable and representative of reality. Looking at all the details starting from the quality of the milk selected for the process (not cheese or yogurt grade) and merely focusing on the unintentional nutrient stripping that is caused by the native filtering method, the case becomes more than apparent.
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 money.
Did you know - Milk is 86.5% Water, 4.8% Lactose (milk sugar), 4.5% fat, 0.7% Vitamins & Minerals, and 3.5% protein. Of this protein, 80% is made up of various casein proteins, while the remaining 20% whey.
Is Whey Protein Powder Better than Casein?
Whey protein is not better or worse than Casein; it's different. Although Casein and whey have slightly different amino acid profiles, the main difference is that whey is less mechanically sticky. Hence, the applications in the food & health industry are abundant.
Whey protein is more popular than Casein, primarily because it is a much cheaper product to manufacture. When a protein supplier extracts Casein from milk, the ability to make curds (fat inside a casein sheath) is lost.
The cheese-making process is very dependent on casein proteins to hold the fat globules together during coagulation. Thus, there can be no curds without the adhesive properties that Casein would typically bring to the equation.
Whey, however, is more often than not made in conjunction with cheese such that the fromager can sell the whey without impacting his bread and butter business (pun intended), cheese, and butter. Whey essentially allows the total milk yield to count for something, whereas casein extraction forces much waste.
The body absorbs whey more easily (from the point of ingesting to the bloodstream receiving the amino acids) and without the bloated feeling that's endemic to casein; this is due to casein's natural stickiness.
Its glue-like globule tendencies prolong the journey for casein to work its way mechanically through the stomach into the intestines to be absorbed.
Casein protein powders may leave you feeling full longer (some would say the feeling is similar to a "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 bloodstream with amino acids in a similar fashion.
By calling whey "fast" and casein "slow," the industry has a much easier time marketing both.
Learn More: Is Casein Protein Bad?
Whey Protein vs. Pea Protein
Only recently has pea protein been considered a standalone "complete" protein.
Although pea protein contains all nine 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 does not contain a comparable amount of Leucine, one of the most critical Branched Chain Amino Acids responsible for muscle tissue repair & growth.
As the pea protein market continues to grow, we expect the misinformation to grow with it. Even though well-recognized deficiencies exist with pea protein's nutrient capacity, the "complete" protein fallacy will continue to be promulgated by the pea protein suppliers.
Most nutritionists and pea protein enthusiasts do understand the need to complement their pea protein intake with other protein profiles loaded with the Leucine amino acid.
When Did Whey Protein Powder Become Popular?
Whey protein powders became wildly popular with the rise of bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger, marketing whey protein using Arnold's physique was a breeze. To learn that cheese manufacturers who had been historically paying for whey disposal services are now able to monetize that same need for disposal allowed the whey protein & supplement industry as a whole to explode to what it is today.
How is Whey Protein Made?
During the initial processes of cheese making, special enzymes (called rennet) added to the milk in combination with applied heat which causes the casein in the milk to thicken, or change to a solid-state.
The protease (chymosin enzyme) within the rennet breaks down the surface casein on the micelles, which fundamentally disrupts the emulsion of fat & water within the milk. The "coagulation" process then 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, casein & fat globules suspended in liquid are all the remain. This watery liquid substance is the whey protein in a water solution.
Historically this solution of whey and water would have been drained and discarded as a waste product leaving the remaining casein & fat curds to continue the process towards being made into other dairy products like cheese.
Now, cheese manufacturers who had been paying for whey disposal services can monetize it by providing the whey protein to the supplement industry.
What is Whey Protein Concentrate?
During the processing of the liquid whey, it takes several steps to increase the protein content. Once the whey has reached 80% protein, it can be dried to form whey protein concentrate (WPC) powder. Whey concentrate consists of 80% protein and 20% fat and sugar (carbohydrates, lactose).
The concentrate contains more calories and tends to be naturally sweeter due to the simple-sugar (lactose) that remains after processing. The lactose can also be responsible for stomach irritability for those that may be lactose intolerant or coping with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or other forms of Irritable Bowel Disorder.
Whey protein concentrate is generally less expensive than whey protein isolate to make. However, for the most part, this translates into more significant profit margins for the brands as WPC products tend to align more with WPI product pricing, in a sense preying on those consumers who are not aware of the difference.
What is Milk Sugar?
As mentioned above, milk contains approximately 4.8% carbohydrates. Although It's a common belief that the portion of milk characterized by the carbohydrate macro is the lactose, the reality is this portion of milk is the total milk sugars, not just lactose.
Milk sugar is composed primarily of lactose; however, it also consists of monosaccharides and oligosaccharides. Unlike lactose, these other simple sugars are already in a form that is very easy to digest.
What is Whey Protein Isolate?
Whey protein isolate (WPI) goes through the same initial processing as WPC; however, to isolate the protein to higher concentrations than typical WPC, WPI is sent through additional filtering loops, which further removes lactose, fat, and undesired minerals.
Due to the additional time spent in the cold micro-filtering process, whey protein isolate yields a higher protein density than whey concentrates by 10-15%. WPI is also considered much cleaner (less unwanted minerals) than WPC.
This filtering is particularly crucial if there are heavy-metal concerns, which is a common and dangerous issue when it comes to CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) in the United States.
At AGN Roots, we encourage our entire community to google whey protein brands claiming U.S.A. source of origin to look for Prop 65 Violations. We sincerely commend the state of California for taking such a strict approach to balance out the slack provided by the DHSEA (Dietary Health Supplement Education Act - 1994).
As a result of the multiple filtration cycles, a much more pure protein is made, WPI contains less fat, less heavy metals, and fewer carbohydrates per serving than WPC. This additional filtering yields a whey isolate protein powder by volume to be, on average, 90% to 95% protein. Did you know, to be called WPC, the protein concentration cut off by weight, is just 35%?
Whey Protein Isolate vs. Concentrate
Whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate come from the same product, Whey protein. Their differences reside only in the last step of processing (cold filtration), which impacts the resulting macronutrient 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 volume of powder required to hit the desired 25 grams of protein for the WPC will cause your fat and carbohydrate (sugar) macros also to increase.
In summary, if you took one scoop of each protein form, the WPI will contain more protein and fewer fats & sugar than an equivalent scoop (same volume) of WPC.
Benefits of Whey Protein Isolate & Concentrate
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 with adequate essential amino acid intake. For more information on innovative 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. To receive the same quantity of protein gram for gram of a WPC to a WPI, the WPC may increase your fat and carbohydrate macros to unacceptable 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. 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 a more trustworthy 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 is 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 on the high-quality ingredients boldly.
Promotes Muscle Growth
All proteins can promote muscle growth in the right quantities. Bovine milk exists explicitly to grow a baby calf into a full-grown cow in a matter of months; thus, its purpose is to build muscles and other soft tissues rapidly. By pairing strength training with a wide variety of proteins, studies have shown, muscle-building will generally follow.
Whey naturally stimulates muscle protein synthesis due to its high leucine content. Dense leucine concentration is the reason why whey protein is so famous for athletes as compared to a pea protein, for example, which contains little to no leucine in its amino acid profile. If you choose to do any resistance weight training, you will see the real muscle-building effect of whey over time with the right diet (balanced) and lifestyle (sleep).
Lowers Blood Pressure
Studies consistently show whey protein's ability to reduce hypertension. Reductions in hypertension may result directly 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.
Accelerating Weight Loss
Whey protein can also help you burn fat naturally. More protein in your diet will help facilitate a more significant proportion of muscle in place of other tissues around the skeletal frame (a pleasant way to describe fat). The fact is, moving a muscle takes calories. The more muscle you have, the more is needed for everyday function, and the more calories you burn naturally repairing and servicing those muscles.
The inflammation is necessary and represents the first step of the healing process; however, the accompanying swelling as a result of the magnitude of inflammation can be very counterproductive, ultimately hindering you from a speedy recovery.
Therefore, 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, WPC or WPI, it will reduce that short-term inflammation which will serve your recovery well!
Differences between WPC & WPI -
The difference between the whey protein forms is the protein content composition related to the makeup of the powder's total weight. Whey isolates contain the highest concentration of pure protein and can be pure enough to be entirely free of lactose, carbohydrate (sugars), fat, and cholesterol.
To be 100%-lactose-free is challenging if the product wants to retain the macro-nutrient benefits endemic to a truly grass-fed whey. Lactose can be as small as 10 microns; thus, a filter or membrane at least that small is needed to ensure all the lactose is removed.
At AGN Roots, we do our best to filter out lactose while maximizing the incredible nutrients within the protein itself. This said we communicate to our customers who have lactose sensitivities that if your gut's dairy-threshold is < 1.5% lactose, proceed with caution.
Does Whey Protein Isolate Contain More Protein?
Yes. Whey protein isolate has more protein per volume than Whey Protein Concentrate. 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 has uses 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 its makeup.
Isolates generally need a lesser quantity of emulsification (Sunflower or Soy Lecithin) due to their being no fat (oil soluble) within the powder.
Pro Tip - We recommend always using a natural emulsifier like sunflower lecithin to reconstitute your powdered protein supplements into water. Mechanically shearing (using a blender) your whey protein powder into solution with water forces air (non-polarized) into the 3rd and 4th protein structure bonds weakening and breaking them. Foam is a positive indication that you have denatured your protein powder by mixing too aggressively. By using a molecular solution like lecithin, there is no force-fitting required to enjoy a smooth water and whey nutrition blend.
Learn More: Sunflower Lecithin.
Does Whey Protein Concentrate Contain More Fat?
Because it spends less time in the filtering process, whey protein concentrate has higher levels of carbohydrates (lactose - sugar) 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 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 Isolate Cost More?
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 macronutrients and micro-nutrients (minerals) are considered negligible.
Whey protein concentrate costs less to make than whey protein isolate because it contains less protein, and if you have noticed, all tub protein supplements are sold by weight, not by total grams of protein. Whey protein is most commonly sold in pouches or tubs by the pound or kilogram. If you compare a single pound of WPC with WPI gram for gram, you'll find 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 recycling through the microfilters resulting in a purity that yields a light, fluffy, dense protein powder of 90-95% potency. In summary, Whey protein isolate costs more to make than whey protein concentrate because you get more grams of protein per package, and it requires the manufacturer more time to prepare.
Does Whey Protein Concentrate Sweet Contain More Sugar?
WPC is naturally sweeter than WPI; This is due to the quantities of sugar within WPC compared to WPI. Lactose's official name is "disaccharide." It is a sugar composed of galactose and glucose and naturally occurs in milk with concentrations ranging from 2-8%.
Though less sugar, whey protein isolate has a smoother taste as it goes through a more stringent filtering process. While whey protein concentrate may have a chalky texture, many consumers report it tastes better because of the fat and lactose (sugar) in it.
The lactose holds a very light natural sweet flavor. Though, 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 while providing more of what consumers do not need in terms of high-quality nutrition.
Is Whey Protein Isolate Better?
The answer to this question depends on consumer preference and nutrition goals. Consider the following when making your decision:
Remember, whey protein concentrate should cost less by the pound. Though often, you will see concentrate sold at a premium 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 superfoods.
Losing Weight -
If you are watching total calories, isolate is the better choice. On average, whey protein concentrate will have at least 20-30 calories over a WPI 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 natural lactose, then isolate is your best choice. The lactose in the WPC is a common source of gut irritation responsible for inflaming various IBD (Irritable Bowel Disorders) symptoms.
Weight Gain & Building Mass -
If you are considered a "hard-gainer" and you're between 16-22 years of age, high metabolisms are incredibly hard to overcome no matter what form of whey protein you choose. The secret is to eat as much as possible, as frequently as possible, and as healthily as possible (high-quality foods). We mention this because the caloric difference between WPC and WPI is negligible when it comes to the desire to pack on the pounds for the bulking season.
We recommend mixing AGN Roots Grass Fed Whey with oat & barley powder for the cleanest weight gain smoothie imaginable!
Grass-Fed Whey is Always Better!
You do not have to look hard to find the highest quality grass-fed isolate on the planet. You are already here. To give it a shot, use code: GRASSFED at checkout and opt in for a google review! Thank You.
Although we've only discussed the significant 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.
What Can I Make With Whey Protein Powder?
Whey Protein Shake - Plain, unflavored, or unsweetened whey (often referred to as naked whey or raw 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 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.
What are Common Side Effects of Taking Whey Protein Powder?
Although whey protein is broadly recognized as a safe and healthy source of critical nutrients, like everything there me be some drawbacks. The most common side effects experienced by whey protein users consist of the following and relate to digestion:
- Appetite Suppression
- Gas & Diarrhea
- Constipation (usually associated with lactose intolerance)
As previously discussed, WPC will naturally contain elevated levels of lactose (carbohydrate -simple sugar) which depending on your body's degree of intolerance is usually the culprit to most stomach unease when consuming whey protein.
World wide, lactose is said to have varying negative impacts to as many as three out of every four people - 75%. AGN Roots is a Grass-Fed Whey Isolate with nearly zero lactose per serving, but can easily contain residue being a dairy product.
In the event our product doesn't agree with you, another consideration could be as simple as a whey protein or sunflower lecithin allergy (both of which are in a greater concentration than the lactose).
Make Way for Whey
In the whey protein isolate vs. concentrate war, you'll quickly see the benefits of both. Ultimately, the best choice for the consumer depends on their fitness and nutrition goals.
Despite the route you take, we do highly recommend choosing a Grass Fed whey protein powder. Though we only discussed the significant 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 make the best grass-fed whey, sourced the right way! We believe that happy cows, raised in the best grass-fed environment, by farmers committed to their well-being, produce the most nutrient-rich grass-fed whey available.
For more information on AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate, please don't hesitate to reach out or comment below!
 Scrimshaw, N S, and E B Murray. “The acceptability of milk and milk products in populations with a high prevalence of lactose intolerance.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 48,4 Suppl (1988): 1079-159. doi:10.1093/ajcn/48.4.1142