What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is a protein that is obtained from milk, specifically during the cheese-making process. It is separated out of the other milk components through a process of ion exchange or filtering. There are basically three forms of why protein which we will go through in this article. The difference between the three types is essentially how much they have been refined/processed which means that they have varying concentrations of protein and varying levels of other components, as a result.
Why should I be interested in Whey?
On of the characteristics of whey that people are most attracted to is the fact that whey is rapidly digested protein. This makes whey a perfect post-workout beverage that ensures that within 30 minutes the protein is digested and the amino acids start feeding your muscles. This helps with muscle growth and recovery.
This is not the only reason you should be interested in whey. On top of being quick to digest, whey is one of the most complete protein sources out there in terms of it’s amino acid composition. Furthermore, it is very rich in branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s). BCAA’s include leucine, isoleucine and valine which are very effective in supporting muscle growth and in providing the muscles with energy during workouts. In addition, there are many antioxidant benefits in whey and it has also been shown to boost the immune system.
Which Whey should I use?
There are essentially three forms of whey protein:
- Whey protein concentrate
- Whey protein isolate
- Whey protein hydrolysate (or hydrolized whey protein)
Most whey protein products will have some blend of two or more of these whey proteins. The one that is listed first on the ingredients label is the one that makes up the largest proportion of the total whey content. The ones that follow will form less of the product. One of the things though is that you never know the amounts and some companies may put a very small amount of the second and third listed whey proteins just so that they can list them on the label but the amounts may be too small to have any significance. Nevertheless, most reputable brands are including decent amounts of the whey types that they list on the labels and the ranking applies likewise.
There are whey protein products that contain only one whey protein type and this is usually clearly stated on the product (as part of their marketing) and also described in the ingredients list. The good thing about this is that you know exactly what you’re getting in terms of whey protein and there is no uncertainty about the blend composition. However, some may prefer having a blend of different whey proteins.
There are different schools of thought on which whey protein is better. Before we go into that, let’s look at each whey protein individually to understand the main differences.
Whey protein concentrate
Whey protein concentrate is the least filtered/processed of the three main whey proteins. This means that it contains lower protein levels because it retains many of the other compounds that are naturally found in whey. Due to it’s higher content of these other compounds, whey protein concentrate will have about 70%-80% protein in a high quality product, although some concentrates can have significantly lower levels of protein in the product. The rest is comprised of the natural fats and compounds that are found in whey (and milk). Whey protein concentrate will also have higher levels of lactose, which may be an important consideration for those who are lactose intolerant.
Whey protein Isolate
This is a purer form of protein because it goes through some extra filtering which removes many of the natural fats and carbohydrates that you will find in the whey protein concentrate. This makes isolates virtually fat free. Whey protein isolate usually has about 90% protein which is higher than that of the concentrates.
Whey Protein Hydrolysate
Also known as hydrolysed whey protein, this is also considered an isolate which means that all the properties of the isolate apply here however, this protein is even further processed. The hydrolysed whey has been has been pre-digested into smaller protein fragments which means that it can be digested even faster than regular whey protein isolate. This also makes hydrolysed whey protein easier to digest for lactose-intolerant individuals.
So Which Whey is Best?
This depends on the individual and what each one prefers to get out of the product. When compared to the isolates, whey protein concentrate will have a lower percentage of protein and a higher percentage of fat, compounds and lactose. These may be considered disadvantages by some, while others would argue that the fats and compounds have other beneficial properties for the body and immune system which you will not get in an isolate. Some studies suggest though that the level of these compounds present in even a concentrate are too small to have any real benefit.
Some may be looking for as pure a protein as possible and what to minimise any fat intake. Their main concern is how much protein they get for each dollar spent. In this case, an isolate or even an hydrolysed whey is what the’re after. For an individual who is lactose intolerant, the only option might be an hydrolysed whey protein and even then it might still have an effect on the person in which case I would recommend staying away from whey altogether.
My personal view is that if you are not dieting very strictly and watching every gram of fat and carb intake in your meal plan, get yourself a blended whey protein from a high quality brand that you can trust. Ensure that whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate are listed first (in either order) and it’s not necessary to even have the hydrolysed on the list of ingredients.
If you are following a more strict program and want to eliminate that bit of extra fat, I would go with the regular whey protein isolate as opposed to the hydrolysed whey. I believe that the less something is processed, the better and the regular isolate is good enough. No need to take it all the way to the pre-digested hydrolysed whey (unless there’s a lactose consideration). Hydrolysed whey has been exposed to enzymes but most of the time it is also exposed to heat and chemicals which denature a lot of the compounds and removes some of the natural benefits of the whey protein. Hydrolyse whey proteins are also more expensive and in my opinion it is an inferior product compared to a regular isolate.
In summary, whey proteins are excellent sources of protein and very widely used. It goes without saying though that whole natural foods are always your best option when talking about nutrition. Whenever possible you should consume as much of your protein from good food as opposed to supplements. But if you feel you have the need to supplement your food intake, then whey is a great option for increasing your protein. It is best taken in the mornings with breakfast or between breakfast and lunch, and immediately after training. Use a high quality blend or a high quality regular isolate (depending on your needs) and stay away from the hydrolysed unless you have specific reasons for taking it and are happy with the resulting trade-off.
Keep growing and stay healthy!
If you are looking for a decent whey protein…..
Here are a few of my recommended whey products:
- This is a high quality blend by Optimum Nutrition with Whey Isolate as the main ingredient and then whey protein concentrate. Highly recommended product. (5 lbs)
- AST has very good products. This is an isolate and hydrolysed blend. Notice the increase in price compared to the previous product (2 lbs)
- Finally, this is a blend by MetRx with whey protein concentrate as the main ingredient, followed by whey isolate. (5 lbs)