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Which Whey Protein is right for you?

by Dr. Mike Godard, Sport Nutrition Coach | Nov 05, 2014

What’s the deal with the different types of Whey Protein?

 With so many companies selling a variety of whey protein products it’s tough to filter through all of the choices and determine what product is best for you to meet your short and long term training/diet goals.  There are a multitude of factors that may dictate which product might be most suitable, so to simplify things lets just focus on whey concentrate, whey isolate and whey hydrolysate as they relate to the goals of increasing lean body tissue and training performance.

Currently, there are three major choices that you have when selecting whey protein:

1) Whey Concentrate – the least processed form that is typically 80% protein by weight.  It does contain some carbohydrates (about half is lactose), fat and cholesterol.  Whey concentrate can be a vessel for L-Cysteine (remembering that Glutathione is an endogenous anti-oxidant enzyme that is made of amino acids, with L-Cysteine being the rate-limiting enzyme). So, in situations of oxidative stress (such as exercise) this could be an important substance to help with recovery, etc.

Cost ≅ $.75/serving

2) Whey Isolate – More than 90% protein by weight and usually contains no carbs (99% lactose-free) or fat. It is thought to be more “pure” and a fast digesting and absorbed protein source. There are two major ways that Whey Concentrate is converted to Isolate.  The first and cheaper way is through ion exchange – this method heats up the protein to a point that actually causes the loss of a lot of the “good stuff” in the whey concentrate (L-cysteine, Glutathione, etc.). The second way and a bit more expensive is cross flow microfiltration.  By doing it this way you don’t heat up the protein and denature the “good stuff” and therefore you have the benefits of the whey concentrate but with a more soluble substance that is easily digested and absorbed (with essentially no fat or carbs and 99% lactose-free).

Cost ≅ $1.20/serving

3) Whey Hydrolysate – This is enzymatically and acid pretreated (i.e., predigested) leading to even faster absorption and therefore release of amino acids into the blood stream.  This could lead to a slightly greater mixed fractional protein synthesis rate compared to Whey Isolate and Whey Concentrate. So, basically you take the isolate and hydrolyze it – unfortunately you can now not prevent loosing the “good stuff” due to the breaking of these peptide bonds, etc.  Additionally, this extra step is going to cost you more money.

Cost ≅ $2.00/serving

Is one better than the other for performance?  From what we know thus far…not really.  A study in 2010 by Buckley that examined the performance differences between administering Whey Isolate or Whey Hydrolysate found that only Whey Hydrolysate group recovered power in a short time frame (such as during two a day workouts).  However, other studies such as one that Power, et al. conducted in 2009 have found that because whey protein absorbs so rapidly, Whey Hydrolysate does not lead to significantly faster absorption because its advantage is too hypothetically small to even detect.

The bottom line is that all three forms of whey protein can result in muscle building and benefit overall health.  If a few extra calories of carbohydrates and fat aren’t a concern in your situation and you’re not lactose intolerant then whey concentrate would probably be a good choice.  If, however, you don’t want those extra calories for carbohydrates and fat and/or you are lactose intolerant then the whey isolate is probably the best choice for you.  Based upon the current research that is out there regarding whey hydrolysate, unless you are performing two training sessions a day there does not seem to be a performance benefit from this product. Mind you, this product that costs significantly more per serving.  Also, you will lose the potential Glutathione/L-Cysteine anti-oxidant benefit due to the hydrolyzation process.

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-Dr. Mike Godard