Whey protein is commercially available in a number of different forms and concentrations. The two most common forms are whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. At Mike’s Mix, we have researched and experimented with both varieties, and currently use a high quality concentrate for our recovery drinks and protein powder. Although the two varieties are similar in composition we feel our concentrate has slight advantages over an isolate in nutritional value, health benefits, quality, taste and cost.
Whey protein concentrate (WPC), also referred to as native whey, can contain 29% to 89% total protein, with the remaining nutrient composition from carbohydrate (lactose) and lipid. Mike’s Mix whey concentrate is 81% protein and is processed with low-temperature filtration. This form of processing is gentler than other forms that include the use of acids and heat, which can damage or denature the protein.
Whey protein concentrate is further processed to obtain whey protein isolate (WPI), which contains roughly 90% total protein and very little, or insignificant amounts of lactose and lipids. There are two methods of processing whey protein isolate: microfiltration and ion exchange.
Whey Protein Isolate Advantages:
The very low lactose content of WPI may be of importance for individuals with extreme lactose intolerance, especially when large amounts of whey or other dairy products are consumed daily. However it should be pointed out that the small amount of lactose present in our whey protein concentrate (2 grams) does not cause a reaction in most lactose intolerant individuals. (1) Additionally, WPI may be more suitable than WPC when used in combination with very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets.
Whey protein isolate is more frequently used for research than concentrate, as the purer protein reduces confounding variables or the effects that may be inherent to the milk fat or lactose. However, the relatively small differences in lipid and carbohydrate concentrations between WPC’s of high protein concentration and WPI, may not significantly affect the rate of gastric emptying and amino acid absorption as compared to what has been observed in response to WPI. Furthermore, to date, no data exists that has compared the acute absorption kinetics, muscle protein synthesis, or long-term physiological adaptation from whey protein concentrates to isolates.(2)
Disadvantages of Whey Isolate:
As with any food, there are disadvantages associated with processing. Processing causes the loss of favorable nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, and can cause damage to remaining nutrients. The processing of WPI may denature or damage protein fractions, especially with ion exchange methods (which produce the purest isolates). Several of these protein fractions are inherently responsible for the health benefits associated with whey and over processing may reduce whey’s functionality. Whey protein fractions and function.
We have tried a variety of whey isolates derived from different processing techniques and different manufacturers and have universally been disappointed in the taste. Since our mission was to offer a protein that didn’t require flavorings and sweeteners to mask the taste, the isolates came up short. It seems counterproductive to process a protein to make it purer, only to add substances (artificial or natural) not inherent to the protein to make it palatable. Cost. The additional processing required to produce whey isolate adds cost to the product, which reflects in the consumer price. To counteract this cost, many manufacturers offer whey isolate “blends” which include some whey protein isolate along with whey protein concentrate. At a lower concentration, (i.e. 60%) WPC is significantly less expensive and if used in a blend, manufactures can produce “isolates” at less cost than a higher quality whey concentrate. Additionally, the percentage of protein in these isolate blends may be less than the 80% or that of a high end concentrate. If you decide you do need a whey isolate be sure to read the nutritional information thoroughly before making a purchase.
If you are extremely lactose intolerant, than choosing a pure whey protein isolate may be your only choice for including whey protein in your diet. For everyone else, a quality, high percentage whey protein concentrate may offer several advantages in nutrition, taste and cost. Mike’s Mix whey concentrate offers a high percentage of protein, but being gently processed retains much of its nutritional value.