whey protein

By Lucas Duppler, M.S., CISSN

I certainly do not envy the responsibility of the average consumer to decipher between actual science and marketing gimmicks when it comes to supplementation. As it pertains to whey protein, there are so many advantages of being on a high-protein diet, yet it’s tough to wade through the pseudoscience to ensure you’re receiving the correct information. Today’s post is about looking at the differences between whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate, and how both can lead to positive health outcomes.

The differences between whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate lie within how much protein you’re receiving per scoop. Generally speaking, isolates tend to contain 90% or more protein by scoop, whereas concentrates can contain anywhere between 25-89% protein by scoop. Because concentrates contain less protein per scoop, the other macronutrients (fat and carbohydrates) will make up the remaining calories.

There is a common misconception that because concentrates contain more fat and/or carbohydrates than isolates, that they are inherently worse for you, which is plain false. Because concentrates have more fat, they are likely to contain more fat-related substances, such as immunoglobulins and conjugated linoleic acid, which may have a minor effect at preserving lean mass. Whey protein concentrates may be a better choice for supplementation if the consumer is looking to replete carbohydrate storage post-workout. However, as a nutritionist, I’d recommend a food-first approach and replenishing glycogen stores from carbohydrate sources such as a fruits and vegetables. Be careful, however, for those of you who are lactose-intolerant. The higher percentage of carbohydrate within whey protein concentrates is likely to be lactose, and thus may cause an adverse reaction for those lacking the enzyme lactase.

Whey protein isolates tend to be the purest form of protein supplementation on the market. Isolates are going to be the best “bang for your buck” option when choosing a protein supplement. True to their name, whey protein isolates’ high protein content and subsequent low content of the other macronutrients means that isolates are typically safe for those with lactose-intolerance.

As always with supplementation, it’s important to know that the label you’re reading is safe and contains everything in the correct amounts. Third-party agencies like NSF and Informed Choice ensure the safety of your supplements. My personal recommendation would be to only purchase supplements of any kind that have been third-party certified by one of the above agencies.

It’s important to be educated when it comes to consuming whey protein. Whey protein supplements are just that, a supplement to your diet. Focus on a food-first approach, and sprinkle in either a whey protein concentrate or isolate shake when you’re not reaching your protein goals.

Looking for more protein information? Go to our Protein 101 page or check out some other Whey Protein Institute blogs