You must have heard about the different types of whey protein at one point or another long your fitness journey. If you haven’t, then this article is for you. Let’s take a look at each of the three types of whey protein and see why they are so valued by athletes, fitness enthusiasts and health consensus individuals alike.
Functions of Protein
First, let’s recap why protein is so important.
Protein is a major macronutrient, one of the building blocks of muscle, bone, and skin. It aids immune system function, repairs damage tissues and supports overall health. To everyone who workouts at the gym, plays sport or is involved in regular exercise, protein is much more essential. In fact, according to the British nutrition foundation, strength and endurance athletes need as much as 1.2-2kg/Kg body weight/day (or .54g-.91g/lb. body weight/day) compared to the general adult population that require 0.75/Kg body weight/day (or .34g/lb. body weight/day).
The reason for this is easy to understand, when you exercise, muscle fibers are broken down and require repair. Protein promotes muscle repair which aids recovery, it also boosts glycogen storages, this improves strength and aids performance. If you exercise often but feel like you have low energy or aren’t building enough muscle, you should check your daily protein intake and possibly consider a protein supplement to help you reach your daily protein requirements.
In a study published by the international journal of Sports and Nutrition, the effect of protein supplementation on lean muscle mass was assessed during resistance training, candidates who were giving supplements had greater lean muscle mass than those who had only resistance training. The conclusion made was that protein supplementation offers more benefit in resistance training than resistance training alone.
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is the most common protein powder used amongst athletes. Whey protein alongside casein are proteins isolated from milk, usually during the production of cheese and yogurt. They are rich in amino acids and contain all 9 essential amino acid that play a vital role in muscle repair and growth. These two protein sources are the richest protein powder source of amino acids.
Not all proteins are equal, some forms offer much more benefit than others. A good example is whey protein which besides its leucine content, is 4X richer in cysteine residue than other proteins including casein and soy. This explains why it is more effective in body building. Whey Protein promotes the maintenance of lean body mass better than other proteins.
Another advantage of Whey protein over other protein powder supplements is its faster rate of absorption. This stimulates a high rate of muscle protein synthesis, inhibits protein degradation, and increases net whole-body protein.
A study published by the school of biomedical studies in Australia revealed that people who were placed on whey protein supplements and subjected to resistance training demonstrated more strength and greater gain in lean body mass than a different group given equivalent dose of casein.
Three Types of Whey Protein
One challenge people encounter when they first consider using whey protein is deciding which form of whey protein is best for them. Whey protein comes in three primary forms, which all have their different advantages. Which type of whey protein you choose will depend on your daily protein and fitness goals.
Let's discuss the various types of whey protein.
Whey concentrate is the most common, least processed, and cheapest form of whey protein. Once whey protein is extracted from milk, it is micro filtered. So, it doesn’t undergo processes such as heating that can denature the protein. This ensures the delivery of a natural and powerful protein powder.
Although whey protein concentrate has a relatively low carbohydrate content, it has the highest level of carbohydrates, fat and cholesterol content making it healthy and a better-balanced whey protein powder. The protein concentration in whey protein concentrate is typically at 80% pure protein, while the remaining 20% consists of carbohydrates and fat.
Some of the carbohydrate content found in whey protein concentrate is lactose- a sugar compound derived from glucose and often found in milk, which some individual’s digestive tract does not tolerate. Consequently, people who have lactose sensitivity tend to avoid whey protein concentrate and consider one of the other forms of whey protein.
Whey concentrate is also known to contain immunoglobulin which may help boost your immune system.
Whey protein isolate undergoes further processing such as “cross flow microfiltration” which further isolate the protein by reducing (or even removing) the carbohydrates and fat content. Whey protein isolate contains 90% pure protein and delivers ultra-pure and high content protein to your body.
Because of its extremely low in carbohydrate and fat content, this form of whey protein is more suitable for people with lactose sensitivities and those on strict diets. This is why so many athletes choose whey protein isolate as their whey protein of choice.
Whey protein isolate is also less thick than whey protein concentrate and makes a lighter drink, which can be desirable if after an intense workout session.
One thing to note is whey isolate is typically more expensive than whey concentrate, so you must be willing to spend more for whey protein isolate.
The peculiar thing about this form of whey protein is that it has been broken down through the process called hydrolysis. This form of whey protein is also called hydrolyzed or pre-digested whey protein. In protein hydrolysis, large peptide bonds and proteins are broken down by enzymes and acids, making absorption easier and faster than either whey concentrate or whey isolate.
This is why its action on muscle is realized faster than other forms of protein powder, and why it is prized by some top-level athletes.
In a study published in the National Library of Medicine 2018, whey protein hydrosylate was found to speed up tissue repair faster after damage than other forms of whey protein, which demonstrates how useful this form of whey protein is for accelerating recovery from exercise induced damage.
Another study published in the Journal of Medicine and Sports proved that athletes placed on hydrolyzed whey protein recovered their power quickly than those on whey isolate.
Things to note about whey hydrolysate is since proteins and peptide bonds have been reduced to free amino acids, this form of whey protein can taste bitter. Whey hydrolysate is also the most expensive for of whey protein.
The Final Scoop on Whey Protein
The use of whey proteins is a convenient way to help you reach your daily protein needs and can be easily incorporated into your diet. Additionally, whey protein’s rich amino acid profile, which includes all nine essential amino acids, and is exceptionally high in leucine, insures you are consuming all the amino acids you need for muscle repair, maintenance, and growth.
Whey protein not only aid in physical training and sports, but also offers a variety of health benefits. Whey protein helps in weight loss, blood pressure regulation, blood sugar moderation, reduction of inflammation and more.
For the average person who doesn’t have digestive issues from lactose and doesn’t mind a few grams of lactose, carbohydrates or fat, you’re probably going to be okay with whey concentrate. Whey concentrate is the cheapest and most common form of whey and may boost immune strength by its immunoglobulin content.
However, if lactose is an issue or you’re looking for a faster digesting whey with a purer source of source of protein, whey protein isolate might be your best bet.
However, if you’re looking for the fastest digesting whey protein and highest concentration of amino acids, whey hydrolysate might be the whey for you. It is also the most expensive option too.
British Nutrition Foundation, Nutrition for Sport and Exercise (page 3)
Darren G. Burke, Philip D. Chilibeck, K. Shawn Davison, Darren C. Candow, Jon Farthing, and Truis Smith-Palmer. Protein Supplementation with and Without Creatine Monohydrate Combined with Resistance Training on Lean Tissue Mass and Muscle Strength International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism
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Alan Hayes and Paul J Cribb Exercise Metabolism Unit, Center for Aging, Rehabilitation, Exercise and Sport (CARES) and the School of Biomedical Sciences, Victoria University. Victoria, Australia.