In the fitness world we hear this all the time: “You need to be taking a whey protein post-workout.” But with so many brands and varieties out there, choosing the right whey protein that is best for you can be tough, especially if you’re new in the game.
The two most common forms of whey protein are whey concentrates and whey isolates. However, there’s a new kid in town — hydrolyzed whey protein, and it’s trying to steal the spotlight. All three forms are effective.
First of all, let’s answer the age old question: What is whey? Whey is a milk protein and a natural byproduct of cheese production. During cheese productions, pasteurized milk is treated with enzymes to separate the whey and casein. Casein (curds) is solid in form and is used to prepare cheese, while whey is suspended in a liquid along with fat and carbohydrates.
The liquid whey is filtered to remove the water, fat, and lactose (carbohydrates), then microfiltered into a whey protein concentrate or ultrafiltered into an isolate. Finally, it’s dried into a powder.
Whey packs a protein-packed punch and contains amino acids – specifically Leucine, which assists in protein synthesis and increasing lean muscle mass. It boasts numerous health and fitness benefits and due to its fast absorption time, whey protein is ideal for consuming pre-, intra-, and/or post-workout.
But are all whey proteins created equal? Let’s investigate.
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
Closest to a whole food, WPC contains less protein on a gram for gram basis than an isolate (up to 80%); however, what it does contain are beneficial compounds like growth factors, immunoglobulins, calcium, glutamine, lactose, some fat, and carbohydrates that are vital and naturally occurring to help aid in muscle repair, exercise recovery, and immunity. Because concentrates contain other nutrients, they are more slowly released so amino acids are available for longer post-training. And since it’s less filtered than an isolate or hydrolysate, it’s more economical and affordable.
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
Whey protein isolate (WPI) has the highest protein yield, resulting in a superior protein yield of at least 90% protein. This means for 100 grams of protein powder, you get 90 grams of pure protein. This means that non-protein sources have been removed (ie. less total carbohydrate, lactose, fat and cholesterol).
WPIs are utilized almost immediately by your body, making it ideal during and immediately after a workout, which is the precious anabolic window. It provides essential amino acids, which are the building blocks for muscle development and it helps in the release of anabolic hormone that is responsible for muscle growth and controlling blood sugar.
Hydrolyzed Whey Protein
Hydrolyzed Whey Protein also known as a hydrolysate is a WPI; however, whey manufacturers take processing a step further by “pre-digesting” the whey protein to create a whey protein hydrolysate. The upside is this whey is an extremely high quality protein and breaks it down into faster-absorbing peptides, which allows it to absorb more rapidly than a concentrate or isolate (less than 30 minutes). It can be taken any time of day; however, because it is absorbed so quickly and like an isolate, contains 90%+ protein, it’s great to take pre- and post-workout. Hydrolyzed whey protein is also gut-friendly. If you’re a person who is lactose intolerant or experiences upset stomach, pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and other GI distress, a hydrolysate has shown to have no significant adverse effects; therefore, it should be well-tolerated. The only real downside is that it costs significantly more than regular whey protein and it tends to taste more bitter.
Remember: we break down our muscles in the gym, we feed them in the kitchen – and we grow them at night!