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

When it comes to whey protein supplements, you’ll find two major forms on the market: concentrate and isolate. 

These two forms are nutritionally different, thanks to different processing methods - which is important to consider as you plan your supplement regimen. 

Regardless of whether you pick whey concentrate versus whey isolate, you’re getting a high-quality, bioavailable protein that supports lean muscle tissue. 

But is one version better than the other? As usual, it depends on your goals.

Whey Protein: Bioavailable and Balanced 

Before we consider its two main formulations, let’s first iron out the basics: what is whey protein? And why is it worth taking?

“Whey” refers to the watery portion of milk that results from cheese-making, when the curds (solids, made of mostly casein protein) are separated out. This whey portion is abundant in whey proteins plus other nutrients - which makes it a great starting ingredient for supplements. 

Whey protein in general is an all-star choice because it’s considered one of the most bioavailable proteins available (1). 

“Bioavailability” refers to how well your body can digest, absorb, and use a nutrient. Whey protein’s high bioavailability means you’re getting the most nutritional bang for your buck. 

Whey protein also has an ideal amino acid profile if you’re looking to build muscle. A lab analysis found that of all major available protein powder types, whey had the highest amino acid content (2). 

Whey also offers relatively high amounts of leucine, a specific amino acid that’s considered vital for muscle protein synthesis. 

We know whey is great, so the next question is which form to take: concentrate or isolate? 

Concentrate vs. Isolate: It’s All About the Processing

We already reviewed that step one is to obtain the liquid whey portion by separating out the casein solids. Here’s where we now diverge into two forms of whey protein supplements.

To make whey protein concentrate, liquid whey is turned into powder through the use of either heat or enzymes. This removes water, as well as some lactose and minerals. Small amounts of naturally occurring fat and carbohydrates still remain. Whey protein concentrate is at least 80% protein by weight (3).

To make whey protein isolate, liquid whey is processed even further to remove nearly all components except the proteins. As a result, whey protein isolate is at least 90% protein by weight and contains very little other nutrients (e.g., carbohydrates and fat) (3). 

To sum it up, both whey protein concentrate and isolate are processed until they contain mostly protein. Whey protein isolate is further processed so that it becomes virtually all protein. 

Which should you choose?

Both whey protein concentrate and isolate are rich in bioavailable protein to help build muscle, recover from workouts, and curb appetite. Which you choose may depend on nutrition, cost, and personal preferences.    

It may be tempting to think whey protein isolate is superior because it has slightly more protein in it. 

However, the by-weight difference in protein between concentrate and isolate (80% versus 90%) is marginal when we look at a serving size of protein powder. 

A whey protein concentrate-based product like Naked Whey still packs 25 grams of protein in one serving, which is plenty of protein for one sitting.

More nutrients in whey protein concentrate

Because whey protein concentrate is less processed, it also contains some additional nutrients. Dairy is rich in an array of micronutrients, and whey protein concentrate retains some of these (like calcium, phosphorus, and iron).  

Especially grass-fed whey protein, like Naked Whey, has a higher amount of conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) and omega-3s, which support better immune function, cardiovascular health, and optimal weight management.

If you’re lactose intolerant, whey protein concentrate is most likely not ideal for you. 

Instead, you can choose Naked Goat, a goat whey protein product which is easier to digest for those with mild lactose intolerance. You still get all nine essential amino acids and BCAAs for muscle growth with goat protein, and it is great for your skin.

With that said, the amount of lactose in whey protein concentrate (and carbohydrates in general) is minimal. 

Cost is a variable to consider, as well. Because whey protein isolate is more processed, it can be pricier.   

Regardless of which whey protein format you choose, look for a product that is grass-fed and free of unnecessary additives. Naked Whey is sourced from small dairy farms in California to provide you with the premium version of this versatile, muscle-building protein.