Author: Maria Fischer • Fact checked by: Tara D. Thies • Aug. 25, 2020
When it comes to choosing the perfect protein powder for you, you should consider how the protein powder is produced . Not all protein powders are the same or even equally useful. Is your protein powder using a protein isolate, a protein concentrate or possibly a protein hydrolysate? These are good questions because not all forms of protein are the same.
To determine which of these three types is the best option for you, it can be helpful to understand how protein is prepared for commercially available protein powders.
Protein concentrate is the least processed type of protein powder. Although going through less processing is usually viewed as a good thing or synonymous with being more healthy, when it comes to whey protein, less processing results in whey protein concentrate containing less protein per scoop. Instead they can be filled with other things like fat, cholesterol, lactose and gluten. Protein concentrate offers less protein than protein isolate and protein hydrolysate, so it’s usually the cheapest option of the three.
If you have a sensitive digestive system and are lactose-free or gluten-free, then you should always check the ingredients in your protein concentrates to make sure they’re not mixed with something that you shouldn’t consume.
A protein isolate is a type of protein powder that has undergone more processing than a concentrate. Processing protein isolate involves separating and collecting the purest protein fractions. The additional processing helps isolate the protein that you want, separating it from the fat, lactose, gluten, etc. As a result, protein isolates deliver more protein with fewer calories.
Good news for people with sensitive digestive systems or dietary restrictions: Protein isolates tend to be more digestible, because gluten and lactose are removed as the protein is purified.
Protein hydrolysates are made by taking a concentrate or isolate and subjecting it to further processing. Hydrolysates have been exposed to enzymes that break large, complex proteins into smaller pieces and partially break down the bonds between the protein’s amino acids. This creates a product that absorbs quicker for speedier digestion. The extra processing also makes hydrolysate the most expensive type of protein powder, and it may make the taste more bitter.
When it comes to deciding between the three options, hydrolysates aren’t usually part of the conversation because concentrates and isolates are already digested fairly rapidly, so most people don’t feel hydrolysate is worth the increased cost. So the real debate is between isolate and concentrate.
Is isolate better than concentrate? That’s the big question.
It all boils down to your goals and/or your dietary restrictions. As explained above, the main difference between isolate and concentrate is that isolate has been filtered further, removing more of the fats and lactose. Because it’s filtered out the lactose, isolate can be more beneficial for people who have trouble with dairy products. It also has a higher protein percentage and can be absorbed more quickly than concentrate — a fact that may be important to you depending on what you’re using your protein for. If you’re searching for post-workout nutrition that will increase your protein macros without the added fats and lactose and can digest rapidly without any significant fat content to slow absorption, then isolate might be the protein source for you.
But if you don’t have dietary issues, is protein isolate worth the money? Maybe not. Protein concentrate still offers high protein, low carbs, low fat, good absorption and a solid source of amino acids and complete protein. It is also cost-effective and widely available. Despite having a small amount of fat and some carbs, protein concentrate still contains roughly 70 to 80 percent protein. The fat and carbs in concentrate won’t get in the way of your gains or needed protein macronutrients. Concentrate is a solid option for pre- or post-workout nutrition.
Whey protein is a popular protein choice for people looking to build muscle or lose weight. Milk is made of two proteins: casein and whey. Formed as a by-product of the cheesemaking process, whey protein is a liquid substance separated from the solids (curds) in milk. That liquid substance is washed and dried into a powdered form to become protein supplements. Whey protein is considered a complete protein, as it contains all nine essential amino acids.The human body cannot make essential amino acids, so it’s important to get enough of them through a well-rounded diet or supplements. Whey is rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine (which activates a certain pathway in the body that stimulates muscle protein synthesis), isoleucine and valine. BCAAs help prevent muscle breakdown during exercise and are key for muscle building.
Both whey isolate and whey concentrate are forms of whey protein used in supplements. Due to varying processing methods, there are several nutritional differences between whey isolate and concentrate. Using steps to reduce whey’s fat and carbohydrate content, whey isolate powder ends up containing 90 percent or more protein. By having a higher protein content, whey isolate has less carbs, lactose and fat — and that’s generally a good thing. However, whey protein isolate might be “bad” for you if you’re especially sensitive to lactose or have lactose intolerance. Just because whey isolate has less lactose content doesn’t mean it’s lactose-free. (That said, Gainful's whey isolate is so finely filtered that it is virtually lactose-free. If users with an accurate case of lactose intolerance have symptoms of indigestion from it, we have 100% plant based blends that are 100% dairy and lactose free.)
And if you’re someone who has to carefully watch your blood sugar, it’s also important to note that whey isolates can elicit more of an insulin response than whey concentrate protein powders. You’ll want to be mindful of this when choosing a whey protein powder.
The short answer? Yes: Containing 90 percent or more protein, whey protein isolate is a great way to increase your protein intake, which can help support weight loss efforts. Replacing sources of calories with whey protein and increasing forms of both cardiovascular and strength training exercises to your workout regimen has been shown to help increase lean muscle mass and shed fat.
Whey protein has a reputation for helping bodybuilders bulk up, but whey protein isolate has proven to do more than build muscle or amplify muscle growth. Getting adequate protein is essential when you’re losing weight, as it helps keep you full and preserve your muscle mass (an underrated benefit, as many people unintentionally lose muscle while also trying to lose body fat). Using whey isolate for weight loss or fat loss is most successful when used in combination with a low-calorie diet that includes sources of lean protein and an exercise plan. The benefits of whey protein certainly extend to weight loss, not just muscle building.
It can be difficult or confusing to figure out which type of protein powder best aligns with your lifestyle, diet and overall goals. That’s why Gainful is here to help. Gainful is a subscription protein powder company that delivers you a personalized blend made from nutritious ingredients. Your customized protein supplement is created based on your body type, dietary needs, activity level and wellness goals. You just take a quiz to find your personalized blend of the finest, high-quality ingredients, and Gainful takes care of the rest. Each month, you’ll receive unflavored protein and your choice of single-serving Flavor Boost sticks to create your perfect mix. You can use your blend in protein shakes, smoothies, meal replacement bars or add it to foods that need a nutritional boost.
Whether you’re building muscle, starting a weight loss journey or just simply want to focus on your overall well being, there’s countless health benefits of integrating a personalized protein powder into your program. Gainful has a protein powder for everyone and every diet: vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, soy-free and anything in between. You won’t even have to weigh the pros and cons of protein isolate or protein concentrate — Gainful does that for you.
And if you still have questions about protein isolate vs. concentrate, the best form of whey protein, where to get your quality protein, etc.? Don’t worry: Each Gainful subscriber has unlimited access to a personal Registered Dietitian, who’s on-call to answer your questions whenever they pop up and help you figure out which type of protein powder works best for you and your body.
Gainful strives to make taking protein powders and supplements — and navigating the isolate vs. concentrate debate — easy.
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