We sell every type of protein there is, we are obligated to state the nutritional make-up of a product, and we must be able to specify the protein type and composition. This makes it easy for our customers to understand the protein they are consuming…right? So if the terms ‘Concentrate’, ‘Isolate’ and ‘Hydrolysate’ are helpfully written on the back of the tub, our customers are informed and ready to go…right? We’d beg to differ, so here we offer a concise and laid bare summary of the three key types of protein in the supplement world!
The three main types of whey protein include whey protein concentrate, isolate & hydrolysate. There are several processes that occur during the production of a protein supplement, and it is the degree of processing (filtration, hydrolysation and ion exchange etc) that ultimately differentiates one protein to the next.
Whey Protein Concentrate
The protein that receives the least amount of processing is whey protein concentrate. Typical whey concentrates contain around 70-85% protein relative to weight, but bear in mind other less reputable companies may sell proteins that contain as little as 30% protein! The remaining % is made up of carbohydrate and fat meaning it makes sense to opt for a higher % protein (Llewellyn, 2009).
Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein isolate is widely regarded as the ‘gold standard’ (best) protein about, and in one form or another is the most popular protein on the market (isolate makes up the 70-85% protein found in whey concentrate). This notion is generally true, but as you’ll find out later, other factors do come into play when determining the overall effectiveness of a protein. Bigger, or in this case purer, isn’t always better…at least that’s what I’m telling myself (and my girlfriend). The high degree of processing that whey isolate receives means more protein fractions are retained, increasing the overall % of protein relative to weight. Unfortunately this higher degree of processing results in a higher overall price.
Whey Protein Hydrolysate
Of all the proteins out there Hydrolysate receives the greatest degree of processing. Various forms of hydrolisation, filtration and partial digestion occurs during the processing of hydrolysate resulting in a rapidly digested and readily absorbed whey protein that is almost identical in % protein relative to weight as whey isolate (a minimum of 90%). However, the partial digestion of the protein does result in a net decrease in Branch Chain Amino Acids, which as Kreider et al, (2010) explain are the key amino acids in muscle anabolism (growth). Whey hydrolysate also tastes quite bitter so consequently is only added in small amounts to other high quality whey protein concentrates.
Please do bear in mind that some carbs and fat are desirable when supplementing with whey protein. Consequently whey concentrates are often chosen ahead of isolates due to the cost effectiveness, but more importantly because the carbs cause a rise in blood sugar which induces an insulin surge, enhancing the absorption of the protein! So it seems that whey protein doesn’t conform to the notion that ‘processing’ is bad (as in the food and beverage industry), and bigger (or purer) is better…in fact, many would argue that it’s not the case at all. I opt for a 70-85% whey protein concentrate every time such as Optimum Nutrition 100% Gold Standard Whey or XL Nutrition Xtra Whey Protein. Alternatively a whey protein isolate such as Reflex Nutrition Micro Whey mixed with 15-25g of maltodextrin e.g. Peak Body Matodextrin would also do the trick…but be prepared to pay a little bit more for this combination.