What is the best type of whey protein?
In the previous article of this series, we discussed how whey protein is made. The process creates three main products: concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate (or hydrolyzed whey). The main difference between the three is protein content, amino acid length, and cost.
Whey Concentrate vs Isolate vs Hydrolyzed
Whey protein begins as a watery mess, leftover from cheese production. The liquid is refined and eventually turned into a whey protein supplement. The more processing it goes through, the higher its protein content. Whey concentrate is anywhere from 29-89% protein, while isolate, a more refined product, is made up of more than 90% protein1.
Hydrolyzed proteins are broken down into smaller chains to facilitate faster absorption into the body1. Protein content of hydrolyzed whey depends on the how the amino acid chains are broken down2.
This processing isn’t free; more refined products are more expensive. Does this added cost lead to additional benefits? Let’s see if the research can answer that question for us.
Meta Analysis: Concentrate vs Isolate vs Hydrolyzed Whey2
This meta analysis looked into 8 randomized clinical trials comparing the effects of different types of whey protein on body composition. This analysis included 288 subjects. The researchers made two main conclusions:
- there was no difference in muscle gain between the three types of whey protein tested
- the subjects using whey protein concentrate saw the most significant decrease in body fat
Effects of Whey Concentrate and Hydrolyzed Whey on Strength Training3
In this study, researchers compared the effects of whey concentrate (80% protein content) and hydrolyzed whey (also 80% protein content) on body composition. Participants were split into concentrate, hydrolyzed, and placebo groups.
Both whey groups took 30 grams of protein twice per day. All participants engaged in strength training four times per week. The results:
- there was no difference in muscle gain between the two types of whey protein
- hydrolyzed whey protein supplementation resulted in greater fat loss
What type of whey protein should I use?
The research concludes that any of the three main whey products cause muscle gain; it’s less clear on whether any of them lead to fat loss. The determining factors for most should be price and nutrient content. Currently, MyProtein lists concentrate at $11.50 per pound, isolate at $14.50/lb, and hydrolyzed whey at $15/lb.
The fairly significant price jump from concentrate to isolate/hydrolyzed without many added benefits makes the decision easier. Another consideration is nutrient and calorie content.
MyProtein’s whey concentrate contains 100 calories, 1 gram of fat, 3 grams of carbs, and 19 grams of protein. Their isolate contains 90 calories, less than 0.5 grams of fat, 1 gram of carbs, and 22 grams of protein. The hydrolyzed product is 110 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of carbohydrates, and 23 grams of protein.
Whey concentrate has less protein and slightly more fat/carbs than the other choices. If you are lactose intolerant or have other dietary restrictions, isolate may be a better option. Otherwise, the vast majority of individuals benefit from any of the whey protein products; added cost for a more refined product does not necessarily lead to better results.
- Deeth, H., & Bansal, N. (2019). Whey proteins: from milk to medicine. London: Academic Press. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-812124-5.00002-3
- Castro, L. H. A., Araújo, F. H. S. D., Olimpio, M. Y. M., Primo, R. B. D. B., Pereira, T. T., Lopes, L. A. F., … Oesterreich, S. A. (2019). Comparative Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Concentrated, Hydrolyzed, and Isolated Whey Protein Supplementation on Body Composition of Physical Activity Practitioners. Nutrients, 11(9), 2047. doi: 10.3390/nu11092047
- Lockwood, C. M., Roberts, M. D., Dalbo, V. J., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Kendall, K. L., Moon, J. R., & Stout, J. R. (2016). Effects of Hydrolyzed Whey versus Other Whey Protein Supplements on the Physiological Response to 8 Weeks of Resistance Exercise in College-Aged Males. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 36(1), 16–27. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2016.1140094