Which Is Better, Whey Protein or Whey Isolate?

Whey protein powder is a popular option for supplemental protein intake that's readily available at health food and vitamin supply stores. Along with casein, whey is one of two proteins that comprises milk. It's the liquid that remains once milk is processed to make cheese or yogurt.

So what's the difference between whey protein and whey isolate? (Image: Vergani_Fotografia/iStock/GettyImages)

Once it's separated from milk, whey can be further processed into various whey protein supplements, including whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate.

Protein Percentages Vary

The main difference between whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate lies in the amount of protein contained per scoop of protein powder. Isolates are processed and filtered to contain approximately 90-percent protein per scoop, with the majority of the fat and lactose removed.

In contrast, concentrates contain anywhere from 25- to 89-percent protein, with fat and carbohydrates comprising the remaining macronutrients.

Differences in Fat, Carbs, Lactose and Price

In addition to having a 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.

Isolates tend to be a more expensive whey protein option due to their high percentage of protein. Whey protein concentrates and blends, which can contain a mixture of whey and casein or other proteins, may be more affordable muscle-building supplements.

If cost isn't a factor and/or you're limiting your fat, carbohydrate or lactose intake, whey protein isolate may be your preferred choice. However, you can also consider slightly increasing your serving of whey concentrate to achieve the same total protein intake as whey isolate.

Whey Protein Benefits

Containing nine essential amino acids, whey is considered a complete protein that helps to promote the growth of lean muscle mass. Healthline notes that whey is the fast-digesting part of dairy protein — casein digests at a much slower rate and is therefore best for promoting satiety — that's easily absorbed by the gut and distributed for use by the muscles.

When used in combination with an exercise program, whey protein may assist with weight loss as well as help to cut cholesterol and reduce blood pressure. It's also rich in the branched-chain amino acid leucine, which, of all the amino acids, is the most growth-promoting, or anabolic. As such, it's a popular supplemental protein used for muscle growth and definition as well as the prevention of age-related muscle loss.

Tips for Choosing a Protein Powder

When choosing a whey protein powder, whether an isolate or a concentrate, look for powders with minimal additives and sweeteners. Some manufacturers add artificial fillers or flavor enhancers that offer no nutritional value and may work against your health and fitness goals.

You can always add your own flavor to smoothies and shakes by blending in whole foods, such as berries and leafy greens. You can also look for powders that have been third-party-certified for safety by an independent agency, such as Informed Choice.

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