Anyone who exercises regularly knows how important proper nutrition is for staying healthy and reaching your fitness goals. Reaching your daily macro nutrient goals is something a lot of people struggle with, especially when it comes to reaching the recommended daily intake of protein, which is why whey protein has become a staple supplement that not only gym-goers rely on, but everyday normal Joes as well. In the world of whey protein, however, there are many things to consider – the main one being whether you should go for WPI protein (whey protein isolate), or WPC protein (whey protein concentrate), and in order to make the right choice, you’ll have to understand how these two forms of protein are similar and differ from one another.
But before I start comparing the two forms of whey protein, let’s talk about what whey protein is. Whey is one of the two main proteins found in milk. Milk consists of protein (whey and casein), sugar and fat. And unless stated otherwise, whey comes from bovine milk. Whey protein is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains a significant amount of the 9 essential amino acids, including Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Threonine, Valine, Phenylalanine and Tryptophan. The essential amino acids are only obtainable through nutrition and diet, and Branched Chain Amino Acids are essential for building muscle.
As aforementioned, there are two main types of protein found in milk – whey and casein. The difference between the two is mainly in their amino acid contents, and whey isn’t as mechanically sticky as casein is. Further, whey is more affordable due to the extraction process being cheaper. On top of all these benefits, whey protein is more easily absorbed from the body, and it doesn’t bloat you as much. Casein protein is oftentimes labelled as slow-digesting protein, but the reality is both forms of protein are absorbed at about the same rate.
WPC (Whey Protein Concentrate)
When liquid whey is being processed, several steps are taken to significantly increase its protein content. Once the amount of content has reached 80%, it can be dried to form WPC powder. The other 20% are fat and sugar (carbs and lactose). Whey concentrate contains more calories and is sweeter due to the sugar content left after the processing. This protein isn’t suitable for people with sensitive stomachs and those who are lactose intolerant or have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. On the upside, whey protein concentrate is more affordable than whey protein isolate.
WPI (Whey Protein Isolate)
Whey protein isolate goes through one additional process than Whey protein concentrate. During this process, the undesired minerals, fat and lactose are separated from the WPI protein, so you get a product that yields a greater protein density by 10-15%. Whey protein isolate powder is also considered much cleaner. As a result of the greater protein density by weight, whey protein isolate has less carbs and fat than concentrate, so you get a product that’s 90-95% protein.
That being said, both types of whey protein have similar benefits, and the positives of the actual amino acids and proteins are inherent to both. Whey protein has proven to help people build lean muscle mass, and although it’s recommended you get your protein and amino acids from high-quality food sources like dairy, eggs and poultry, protein powder can be a great alternative. Both types of protein can help you reach your recommended daily protein intake, but whey protein concentrate can also increase your carbs and fat macros to undesirable levels. This is exactly why isolate protein has become more popular – an easier time controlling your macro intake and being friendly across low-sugar, low-fat diets.
When shopping for whey protein, pay attention to the ingredients. Many protein powders contain whey concentrate and whey isolate, or even milk powders. Combining these ingredients among others is often marketed as Protein-Blend, which should be avoided, simply because the brands making protein blends lean heavily towards the more affordable ingredients, while marketing the higher-quality ingredients. So what is the best WPI protein powder? Some of the best protein powders you’ll find today are Gold Standard by Optimum Nutrition, Whey Professional by Scitec Nutrition, Whey by Ghost Lifestyle, Pure Whey by Maxs and OxyWhey by EHP Labs.
At the end of the day, whether you go for whey isolate or concentrate will depend on your fitness and nutrition goals. For people looking to gain some weight, concentrate protein is probably going to benefit them more, whereas for people losing weight and looking to build pure muscle mass, isolate protein will benefit them more. All that matters is reaching your daily recommended macro goals with the help of a healthy diet and supplementation. Without exercise and a healthy diet, protein won’t do much for your fitness goals by itself.