Protein isolate vs. concentrate: What’s the difference and which one is better for me?
The supplement aisle can be a confusing place. Protein is protein, right? Actually, it’s not that simple. Proteins vary in their makeup, so it’s important to understand the differences, especially between protein isolate and concentrate. Maybe you’re trying to choose between whey protein isolate vs. concentrate, and can’t see an obvious reason why the isolate protein has a higher price tag. Let’s take a closer look to clarify the difference between protein isolate and concentrate.
Protein Isolate vs. Concentrate
You’ll find many types of protein—including milk, soy, rice, egg, and pea—most of which are available in both concentrate and isolate form. By far the most commonly used protein supplement is whey protein, and in particular whey protein concentrate. The differences between whey protein isolate vs. concentrate also apply to other types of protein, so we’ll focus on these two forms of whey.
Whey Protein Concentrate
Whey protein concentrate is one of the most affordable and widely available protein sources. It contains all nine essential amino acids, which is the key nutritional benefit of protein supplementation. It also breaks down relatively quickly, making its nutrients rapidly available to the body.
Protein concentrate is the least processed type of protein powder, which is the reason for its lower cost. In theory, less processing should make protein concentrates more desirable—after all, we’re always hearing about the importance of unprocessed foods. However, because it lacks the processing to remove other components, whey protein concentrate contains less protein per scoop. Instead, it has a higher volume of carbohydrate, fat, and lactose than its whey isolate counterpart. Anyone limiting their fat intake or with a lactose sensitivity may want to avoid protein concentrates.
Whey Protein Isolate
Whey protein isolate is considered a higher quality protein, in that it contains more pure protein (and less non-protein components) than whey protein concentrate. The additional processing that occurs is simply cooking, filtering, and removing of fat and other components in order to isolate the protein. Therefore, whey protein isolate delivers a potent serving of essential amino acids, and is widely considered one of the highest-quality proteins available.
While the additional processing of isolate protein makes it notably more expensive, it is also more appealing to many protein powder consumers. Although sourced from milk, whey protein isolate is virtually lactose-free, and therefore it is well tolerated by many people with dairy sensitivities. Whey protein isolate also provides more protein and fewer calories per serving, and is similarly fast acting in the body.
The choice between protein isolate and protein concentrate depends on a number of factors: your nutrition and fitness goals, your digestive system, and your budget. With the information outlined above, you’ll be well equipped to select the best protein for you.