Protein powder is by far one of the most popular supplements used in the fitness industry. Just about every gym-going health-conscious person has some kind of protein powder that they use regularly to facilitate their strength gains via consumption during their anabolic window. To take that one step further, barring any food intolerances, just about everybody who uses protein either uses or has used a variation of whey. Whey is the liquid by-product of cheese production, so it’s a dairy-based protein. It is low in fat and cholesterol, making it a good choice for those on a structured diet. But there are several kinds of whey protein, each with its own set of benefits.
Before we jump in to what whey protein powder is best for you, there is something you should know: All whey variations all complete proteins, meaning every form of whey protein will supply you all of the essential amino acids (those that cannot be made by your body). In other words, you can’t really go wrong with any of them. Even still, there are some specific advantages (and, yes, some disadvantages too) to each version, so choose the one that works best with your lifestyle — here’s our breakdown.
Whey protein concentrate is by far the most common protein on the market. It’s extremely affordable compared to the other types of whey protein powder and can be found at just about any grocery store. However, that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective than the others. When consumed properly, it is still known to help build and maintain muscle mass while lessening risk of metabolic diseases. It typically contains about 80 per cent protein in each serving. It helps increase leptin concentrations, which will increase satiety (fullness) between meals, while reducing ghrelin, which is known as the hunger hormone — and something that can wreak havoc on your diet.
While there are many benefits from whey protein concentrate, it contains the highest lactose content of all the whey protein powders. So, if you are lactose intolerant, you may want to opt for a different type of why, if not a different type of protein altogether. Additionally, concentrates contain more fat and carbohydrates per serving than the others, so you may want to avoid a concentrate if you are counting every calorie.
Whey protein isolate is simply whey protein concentrate that has been processed and broken down further and purified. Think of it like whey protein that has been denatured. But before you get worried about denatured proteins, remember that after you have eaten or consumed protein, it gets denatured in your stomach to facilitate digestion. So whey protein isolate helps you skip a few steps along the way, speeding the entrance of protein into your bloodstream and muscles. Therefore, it still has some great muscle building qualities, similar to concentrate.
While this is great for digestion and absorption, it does lose some biological activity and health benefits. But when it comes to muscle gains, it has more protein per serving (92 per cent per serving) and less fat and carbohydrates than concentrate. In turn, each serving has fewer calories, making it very diet-friendly. Because isolates are absorbed much faster than concentrate, they can create a greater insulin response, making them popular for post-workout. Additionally, they have less lactose than concentrate, making it a better choice than for those with an intolerance.
Whey protein hydrolysate is whey that has been broken down by water in a process known as hydrolysis. Similar to isolate, it is also ‘pre-digested,’ and therefore can be absorbed and metabolized relatively quickly. It’s also a popular choice post-workout because of the rate of absorption. And since it has a greater amount of protein per serving, it delivers more amino acids to the muscles for use during the anabolic window. It also contains a larger amount of leucine compared to the others, so it helps speed recovery to a greater extent. It also contains practically no lactose, so is the best choice out of all the whey proteins for those that are lactose intolerant.
Now, all these benefits come at a cost — literally. Hydrolysate is usually is the most expensive form of whey protein. Also, some researchers believe that hydrolysate is absorbed no faster than concentrate, with studies showing no significantly greater absorption rate compared to concentrate. And, because of the process used to break apart the amino acid bonds, hydrolysates can often taste bitter and be difficult to chug post-workout if you are a flavor connoisseur. Like we said, there are pros and cons to each type.