Whey Protein Isolate vs Whey Protein Concentrate: What's The Difference?

Whey Protein Isolate vs Whey Protein Concentrate: What's The Difference?

When it comes to protein powders, NOTHING beats whey protein. For one, it has the best amino acid profile (1). Secondly, your body can use this protein more efficiently than pretty much any other protein (2).

There is more than one type of whey protein though. The main two types of whey protein are exactly what we're going to discuss today:

• Whey protein isolate
• Whey protein concentrate

Truthfully, there aren't a lot of differences between the two of them. However, they do serve different purposes, making them each better in different situations.

I'll make sure you know all the ins and outs when it comes to whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate.

By the end of the article, you'll know exactly when to use each one. You'll also know how to spot a low-quality whey powder from a high-quality whey powder.

So, let's get into it!

What is Whey Protein?

Before you can understand the difference between whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate ... It's important to know what whey protein is. You'll understand why soon.

You see, whey protein is one of the proteins found in milk. Whey makes up roughly 20% of the protein in milk, while casein makes up the remaining 80%.

Whey protein used to be thought of as a byproduct when cheese was made. People used to add acid to milk, and that caused liquids and solids to separate.

The liquid was the whey protein. The solids were used to make cheese, and the liquid, in some cases, was disposed of.

Hippocrates in Ancient Greece actually used to prescribe it as medicine to sick people (3). 

Today, it’s the most commonly used as a powdered protein supplement (4). This is because of the quality of the protein, the vast amount of benefits, and the taste.

If that's what whey protein is, what is a whey protein isolate and a whey protein concentrate? What makes them different?

Let's start with whey protein isolate.

Whey Protein Isolate

Whey protein isolate is a form of whey that has been, you guessed it, isolated. To be considered an isolate, the whey protein must be at least 90% protein by weight.

This means the other 10% is made up of carbs and fats with very little lactose. In some cases, whey protein isolate can even be lactose-free!

So, if you’re lactose intolerant, there are some whey protein isolates that you may tolerate just fine! You just need to be sure it’s lactose-free.

Because of its high concentration of protein, whey protein isolate does require more processing. The word processing may sound bad, but in this case, it just needs to be filtered for longer.

Having a higher protein content with less fats can help the protein digest faster. This makes it much more ideal to use before and after your workouts.

It’s lighter on your stomach, so before a workout, it’s a great option if you need a little extra protein. Because it digests quicker, it can be even more ideal to use for post-workout recovery.

The faster the protein digests, the faster it can get into the muscle to jumpstart recovery.

Because it must go through more processing, it does cost more than whey concentrate. It can be well worth it though if you’re trying to maximize your post-workout recovery!

Whey Protein Concentrate

Whey protein concentrate is a type of whey that can vary immensely in terms of protein content. I’ve seen it as low as 30% protein by weight with the remaining 70% coming from lactose, other carbs, and fats.

Today, many products using whey protein concentrate will have 80-89% protein by weight. That’s a large range though, so it’s important to know the quality of the protein you choose to buy.

Now, having a little less protein by weight doesn’t make it an inferior product to whey isolate. It may seem this way, but the extra carbs and fats can serve a purpose. Outside of the pre and post-workout environment, whey protein concentrate is considered superior.

Here's the reason for why this is...

The extra fats and carbs slow the digestion rate. Yep, it's that simple. This is ideal when you plan to use the protein in a meal or snack setting. It feeds your muscles amino acids for a longer period of time, just like a whole-food protein source.

There are also more immunoglobulins and lactoferrin present in whey concentrate (8). Without over-explaining, they are both great for your immune system. Whey protein concentrate gets filtered less than whey isolate, so more is left in the mixture.

If you’re looking for a meal replacement protein powder, make sure it has whey protein concentrate. It doesn’t need to be the only source of protein in there, but it definitely should be one of them!

Whey Protein Isolate Vs. Whey Protein Concentrate: The Similarities & Differences

As you can see, there aren't many differences between whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate.

Really, the biggest difference is the concentration of protein vs carbs and fats. Whey protein isolates have more protein and less carbs and fat. Whey protein concentrates have less protein, and more carbs and fat.

However, both of them have a lot of protein. On top of that, whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate both come from whey!

Whey protein isolate is ideal for pre and post-workout because it can digest quickly. Whey protein concentrate is ideal for meals and snacks. That's because it has more carbs and fats to slow the digestion speed of the protein.

If you're trying to decide which one is the better option fo you ... I would say it depends on when you plan to use it. At the same time, they are both different proteins that serve different purposes.

For that reason, I almost always recommend using both!

When you're looking for a high-quality whey protein to use though, that's when things can get tricky.

What To Look For In a Whey Protein Isolate and Whey Protein Concentrate

Whey protein powders can be a great tool to help you reach your goals. But, not all of them are created equal. To make a whey protein supplement, processing is required.

When it comes to quality, the manufacturing methods are what you want to look at. That's one of the main components that separates the good whey protein powders from the not-so-good ones.

Whey protein does start as a liquid containing protein, carbs, and fats. In order to separate the protein, there are a few different ways companies can do this.

These methods are ion exchange and cross-flow microfiltration. When it comes to quality, the golden standard is cross-flow microfiltration.

I'll touch on each briefly so you can understand why that is.

Ion Exchange

Ion exchange processing is a less desirable practice. It's a process that involves adding strong acids and bases to the liquid whey. 

Without getting too deep into the science, the change in pH helps separate the protein from the carbs and fats. The whey protein is also heated to intentionally denature it for this process to work (7). 

The denatured protein, however, does not retain the same nutritional benefits. If you see ion exchange or ion filtered on the label, I would look for a different product.

If it says nothing about filtration, that can also be a bad sign. Supplement companies do not have to disclose this information on the label. The only reason they would disclose it is if they are using a processing method that's worth bragging about.

Cross-Flow Microfiltration

As I said earlier, cross-flow microfiltration is the gold standard when it comes to processing whey protein. It's a process that uses ceramic filters to separate the protein from everything else in milk (5).

It's also a process that also uses low temperatures to preserve the integrity of the protein. This is important because if you denature the whey protein, it can lose some of it's nutritional value (6).

If a company is doing this, they may put it on their label. If not, you can also reach out to them and ask how they make their protein. 

In this case, if you want to make sure you’re getting the best product, it may be worth the call.

Level-1 Meal Replacement Protein Powder

1st Phorm Whey Protein: Never Settle

There are quite a few different things that make whey protein so special.

For one, it has the best amino acid profile while also being very easy for your body to utilize. When it comes to building muscle, no other protein source can compete.

The two main forms of whey protein you'll find are whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate. While both are beneficial, they are best used for different purposes.

Whey protein isolate is best utilized around your workout. You can take it both before and after your workout to maximize results.

Whey protein concentrate, on the other hand, is best used as a meal or snack replacement. The slower digestion rate of whey protein concentrate makes it comparable to a whole-food protein source. After all, a meal or snack replacement protein should digest like whole food, right?

At 1st Phorm, we offer both whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate! In fact, we have a full selection of whey protein supplements to choose from.

Not only that, but our whey protein powders come cross-flow microfiltrated. That way, you know you're getting the highest-quality whey protein out there.

Our whey protein isolate is Phormula-1. If you need a whey protein isolate for your post-workout recovery, there is no better option in my opinion. Phormula-1 comes in over 10 delicious flavors like Chocolate Mint Cookie and Cherry Lime!

You can also get Phormula-1 in the Post Workout Stack for everything your body needs after an intense workout.

Our whey protein concentrate is Level-1, and it's designed to help you meet your protein needs throughout the day. As a meal replacement powder, Level-1 is remarkable. Not only does it have whey protein concentrate, but it also has two other proteins: whey protein isolate and milk protein.

This blend gives you the best of all three protein sources. You'll get the slow-digesting casein from the milk protein ... the high-concentration of protein in the whey protein isolate ... and of course, the whey protein concentrate we discussed in this article.

Both of our whey protein powders also come in naturally-sweetened options! Those would be Phormula-1 Natural and Level-1 Natural.

If you have any more questions for us, just reach out to our team! We have a full staff of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Nutrition Coaches here in St. Louis, Missouri! Just give us a call at 1-800-409-9732, or email us at CustomerService@1stPhorm.com and we’ll help in any way we can.

Shop 1st Phorm's whey protein supplements today and experience the difference for yourself!

1st Phorm Post Workout Stack


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(2) Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein - Which is Best? J Sports Sci Med. 2004 Sep 1;3(3):118-30. PMID: 24482589; PMCID: PMC3905294.

(3) Madureira AR, Pereira CI, Gomes AMP, Pintado ME, Xavier Malcata F. Bovine whey proteins – Overview on their main biological properties. Food Res Int. 2007 Dec;40(10):1197–211. doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2007.07.005. Epub 2007 Aug 3. PMCID: PMC7126817.

(4) Park Y, Park HY, Kim J, Hwang H, Jung Y, Kreider R, Lim K. Effects of whey protein supplementation prior to, and following, resistance exercise on body composition and training responses: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2019 Jun 30;23(2):34-44. doi: 10.20463/jenb.2019.0015. PMID: 31337204; PMCID: PMC6651693.

(5) “Cross Flow Microfiltration (CFM).” Glanbia Nutritionals, 28 July 2022, www.glanbianutritionals.com/en/nutri-knowledge-center/innovative-technology/cross-flow-microfiltration-cfm.

(6) Qian F, Sun J, Cao D, Tuo Y, Jiang S, Mu G. Experimental and Modelling Study of the Denaturation of Milk Protein by Heat Treatment. Korean J Food Sci Anim Resour. 2017;37(1):44-51. doi: 10.5851/kosfa.2017.37.1.44. Epub 2017 Feb 28. PMID: 28316470; PMCID: PMC5355583.

(7) “Whey Processing.” Dairy Processing Handbook, 6 Sept. 2019, dairyprocessinghandbook.tetrapak.com/chapter/whey-processing.

(8) “Whey Protein.” Whey Protein - an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics, www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/whey-protein. Accessed 26 Oct. 2023.