2 Types of Whey Protein and Their Pros and Cons

Whey Protein

Protein powder is popular these days and it’s a convenient way to get a dose of protein when you’re in a hurry. It’s popular choice of bodybuilders who want to grab a quick protein shake or smoothie after a workout to get protein to the muscles they just trained. Muscles need protein to repair and rebuild after a strength training session.  One of the most popular forms of protein is whey protein powder.

Yet shopping for whey protein powder can be confusing. If you peruse the shelves of a health food store, you will find whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. If you’re looking for whey powder, you might wonder how they differ and whether one is better than the other.

What is Whey Protein?

Whey protein powder is protein from whey, a substance found in dairy products. Milk contains two primary proteins: casein and whey. Around 20% of the protein in milk comes from whey and the rest from casein. Whey makes up the liquid that separates from curds during the cheese-making process.

Whey protein is a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids necessary for healthy body function. It’s also rich in branched-chain amino acids, which are important for muscle growth and development. That’s why whey is so attractive to bodybuilders and people who strength train. Whey protein is available as whey protein concentrate, isolates, or hydrolysates.

Whey also has the advantage, over casein, of being a rapidly absorbed source of protein.

What is Whey Protein Concentrate?

As mentioned, whey protein is a by-product of cheese production. The whey separates from the milk by curdling it using rennet, a substance which contains enzymes that separate milk into curds and whey. Whey is the watery part of milk that remains after the coagulation process.

To make whey concentrate, manufacturers extract all the water from whey using microfiltration. The protein content of whey concentrate ranges between 30% and 88%. The lower range represents whey proteins in their native state. The higher end reflects the denatured whey proteins that form when the proteins are subjected to high temperatures or pressure during processing.

What is Whey Protein Isolate?

Like whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate comes from the liquid left over from the process of turning milk into cheese. Whey protein isolate undergoes further processing to remove casein, lactose, water, salts, carbohydrates, and fats, creating a more purified form of protein. The result is a high-protein powder you can add to shakes and smoothies for more protein. Manufacturers also use it as a base for other supplements, including creatine and glutamine.

Whey protein isolate contains more protein per serving than whey protein concentrate and can have as much as 90% protein per scoop. The manufacturing of whey isolate also uses less heat to prevent denaturation of the proteins. It is also lower in fat, carbohydrates, and lactose. Lactose intolerant? Whey protein isolate is a better choice than whey protein concentrate. Whey protein isolate contains less than a gram of lactose per serving while whey protein concentrate may contain 3 to 4 times that amount.

Whey Protein Concentrate vs Whey Protein Isolate: Which is Better?

Whey protein isolate contains more protein per serving than whey protein concentrate does. So, you must consume more whey protein concentrate to get the same amount of protein you would from the isolate. Whey isolate is more expensive than whey protein concentrate, but you consume less to get the same amount of protein relative to the concentrate. So, they aren’t that far off in cost per dose of protein. You can also buy whey protein powders that contain both whey concentrate and isolate.

Will one form of whey protein lead to greater muscle gains? Research shows both forms of whey protein supplement boost muscle strength and mass gains relative to a supplement that doesn’t contain whey protein. The key is to consume enough protein, and you can do that with either form of whey.

If you’re lactose intolerant, whey protein isolate has advantages over whey protein concentrate since it contains far less lactose. If you’re trying to limit your carb intake, whey protein isolate will give you more protein with fewer carbs.

The Bottom Line

Both whey protein concentrate, and whey protein isolate provide protein in a form your body can use to build muscle. It’s also a rapidly absorbed form of protein, making it an ideal form of protein for after a workout. There’s evidence that whey protein supports a healthy immune system, and some studies suggest that it has blood-pressure lowering benefits too.

You can use either whey protein concentrate, or whey protein isolate to get protein after a workout and adjust the amount based on how much protein you want to consume. If you have lactose intolerance or are trying to cut carbohydrates, whey protein isolate may be your best option if you don’t mind paying a little more.

Also keep in mind that you don’t need to consume whey protein. You can also consume protein from whole food sources. However, grabbing a shake made with whey protein concentrate or isolate may be a convenient alternative when you’re pressed for time. Ensure that you’re eating a nutritionally balanced diet of whole foods rather than relying on processed protein powders.


  • Naclerio F, Larumbe-Zabala E. Effects of Whey Protein Alone or as Part of a Multi-ingredient Formulation on Strength, Fat-Free Mass, or Lean Body Mass in Resistance-Trained Individuals: A Meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2016 Jan;46(1):125-137. doi: 10.1007/s40279-015-0403-y. PMID: 26403469.
  • Wolfe RR. Update on protein intake: importance of milk proteins for health status of the elderly. Nutr Rev. 2015 Aug;73 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):41-7. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuv021. PMID: 26175489; PMCID: PMC4597363.
  • Lothian JB, Grey V, Lands LC. Effect of whey protein to modulate immune response in children with atopic asthma. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2006 May-Jun;57(3-4):204-11. doi: 10.1080/09637480600738294. PMID: 17127471.
  • Yang J, Wang HP, Tong X, Li ZN, Xu JY, Zhou L, Zhou BY, Qin LQ. Effect of whey protein on blood pressure in pre- and mildly hypertensive adults: A randomized controlled study. Food Sci Nutr. 2019 Apr 21;7(5):1857-1864. doi: 10.1002/fsn3.1040. PMID: 31139400; PMCID: PMC6526665.

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