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Whey Protein Concentrate vs. Whey Protein Isolate: What's the Difference?

The world of supplements is full of a dizzying array of choices. Even things that you would think would be relatively straightforward come in an ever-increasing number of variations and forms.


This can be frustrating, intimidating, and just plain annoying. More importantly, it can trick you into spending more money than you need to on a dressed-up version of a perfectly fine supplement. This lack of a straightforward options was the guiding force behind Naked Nutrition.


Take whey protein, for example. This time-proven and laboratory-proven protein supplement is a pretty simple substance that humans have actually been using for thousands of years – about as long as we've been making cheese.


Still, there are many different forms of whey on the market and it can be difficult to know which you should choose. Primarily, there are two main varieties: whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate.


What's the difference? Which should you use? To really understand, we need to start at the beginning.


What is Whey?


Traditionally speaking, whey is a byproduct of cheese making. Once the solid portion of the milk – the curds – is removed for cheese, a protein-rich liquid is left behind. This is whey.


While some of the whey used in supplements does actually come from cheesemakers looking to off-load this abundant byproduct, there are several other processes for separating the curds from the whey.


Regardless of how exactly it's made, once this liquid whey is produced it needs to be dried and powdered to create the beloved whey protein powder. All whey products – whether concentrate or isolate – begin life this way.


Metal scoop of whey protein on a wooden table


Whey Protein Concentrate vs. Isolate: All In The Processing


Actually, at this point, the fresh, powdered whey is technically considered “concentrate.”


This concentrate consists of about 80 percent protein – including several highly beneficial subfractions such as lactoferrin, immunoglobulins, beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, glycomacropeptides, and serum albumin – as well as some fat and sugars.


From here, the concentrate can be processed even further to produce “isolate.” Although several different techniques can be used, the end result is the same: additional fats, sugars and micronutrients are removed from the whey.


What This Means


After that final stage of processing, whey concentrate and isolate now differ significantly in nutrient content.


Although the actual quality of the protein (with regards to its amino acid content) is the same between the rival whey proteins, isolate does contain a higher percentage of protein. Whey isolate also contains less fats and sugars – including the sometimes troublesome lactose.


So far, things sound pretty good for isolate. But, remember those complicated-sounding protein subfractions mentioned earlier? They offer a wide range of benefits outside of those normally associated with whey, including improved immune function and bone health.


Unfortunately, the process that turns whey concentrate into whey isolate destroys these – and other – useful micronutrients. We’ll further discuss the benefits of these subfractions, but suffice is to say that they are very beneficial and only found in whey proteins that have been delicately processed.


Tub of Naked Whey against a purple mat next to a gym weight and gym shoes


Which Whey Protein Is Right For You?


Considering this information, it's important for you to decide which form of whey protein works best for you. Although isolate does contain more protein, it is also a more heavily processed supplement – which means that the chemical structure has been thoroughly manipulated.


That extra work also means that isolate generally costs significantly more. And remember, the actual quality of the protein can only remain the same, at best, and many times the quality is reduced due to the extra processing.


That being said, whey protein concentrate is a much more affordable, natural form of this useful supplement. In addition to being a lean muscle-building protein, whey concentrate offers many healthful nutrients.


For most people, then, whey protein concentrate is the way to go. If you happen to be looking for a whey protein concentrate, we recommend Naked Whey.