Whey protein has been a staple in the weightlifting community for decades, but has become a more common part of mainstream nutrition these days. It is commonly used to help improve muscle synthesis, promote the growth of lean muscle mass, and to supplement protein that might be missing from your diet. But what is it, what are the benefits, and how do you choose what type is right for you?
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein comes from cow’s milk, which is made up of two proteins called casein and whey. Various methods are used to separate whey protein casein protein to produce a powdered, concentrated form of protein powder.
How is Whey Protein Produced?
Whey protein is separated from casein in milk, and is commonly formed as a by-product of cheesemaking. In the cheesemaking process, liquid whey is removed and dried into a powder, then undergoes processing to remove non-protein components.
To make whey concentrate, whey protein is simply separated from casein and dried into a powdered form- that’s it. The resulting whey powder contains more than protein- it also has some fat and carbohydrates.
In order to increase the concentration of protein in whey, manufacturers can subject whey to additional processes that produce a product called whey isolate. These processes remove fat and carbohydrates. During this process, whey is denatured, partially breaking down the protein and destroying several nutritional components. A combination of high-heat processing and chemicals are used to break down whey concentrate and form whey isolate.
The Benefits of Whey Concentrate vs Isolate
Whey concentrate contains marginal amounts of fat and carbohydrates, and contains a less concentrated amount of protein ounce-per-ounce. Whey isolate contains less fat, fewer carbs, and less lactose than concentrate. However, the aggressive treatments used to produce whey isolate unfortunately strip it of many important, beneficial nutrients and in low-quality protein, can leave residual chemicals behind such as detergents, heavy metals, and acids.
As it turns out, the fats in whey concentrate aren’t necessarily bad. A specific type of fat found in whey concentrate known as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) has been linked with increased metabolism and cardiovascular health. Grass-fed whey contains higher CLA content than regular whey concentrate.
Disreputable companies will go out of their way to mask the damage they’ve done to their whey isolate by adding in dyes, flavoring, and amino acids derived from questionable sources.
So Which Whey Should I Use?
In the end, whey concentrate is pretty amazing on its own, and contains more nutrients than most people understand. When high heat and chemicals are used to process whey protein, many of these nutrients are lost just so a few more grams of protein can be claimed on the product label. If you have a lactose allergy, the tradeoff might be worth it for you- but otherwise, consider switching from whey isolate to a high quality, grass-fed whey concentrate