Protein powders are a popular type of dietary supplement that is readily available in grocery, fitness and health stores. The most common are whey-based powders (although there are plant-based options for any vegans in the audience!) - which is used by fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders to increase strength and athletic performance.
Here at Bellevue Sports and Family Chiropractic, we are one of the few chiropractors in Bellevue that specialize in Nutrition Response Testing (commonly known as NRT). Since we strive to continuously be on the cutting edge of the field with our care, we want to ensure you're making the right choice in nutrition supplementation in your exercise routine.
There are three types of whey protein powder - concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate. And because these three protein types have similar characteristics, deciding which of the three is best to go for can be quite confusing
In this article, I will be detailing the unique differences between all three types of protein powders. And when you are done going through the facts, you should be well equipped to make an informed decision of which type is best for your particular need.
But before we dive deep, let's look at what whey protein powder is all about and get to understand how it is made.
What is Whey Protein?
Milk is made up of two proteins: casein, which takes 80% of the total volume, and whey, which takes up the remaining 20%. When milk is converted to cheese, whey is present in the left-over liquid that has been separated from the solid curds.
Once separated, the whey-laden liquid is put through several processing steps to get a relatively tasteless powder as the end-product, which is dried to create the powder we all see in nutrition stores and in athlete's promotions.
Whey, just like other proteins, is composed of amino acids, and it has a very high concentration of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) - especially leucine. This unique property of whey makes it the protein powder of choice among fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders, and is used mostly for building muscle and aiding in recovery.
Different Types of Protein Powder
There are three types of whey protein powders:
These variants of protein powder all differ by the concentration of protein present. The protein concentration in each variant is determined by the number of steps that whey liquid is processed through before the different powder types are refined.
As the whey liquid passes through each successive step in the process, when a desired concentration of protein is obtained, the liquid is dried into powder form. “Concentrate protein powder” is the first stop during the process, hence containing the least concentration of protein.
On the other hand, hydrolysate powder comes out last with the highest concentration of protein. Isolate protein powder comes in at the middle with a protein concentration higher than what’s present in concentrate protein powder, but less than the level in hydrolysate protein powder.
Overall, the processing steps used in the production of concentrate, isolate and hydrolysate protein powders produce different levels of protein and fat/carbohydrate content per serving. However, the types of amino acids found in all these three types of protein powder are identical, being that they are derived from the same proteins.
Listed below, are more specific differences between concentrate, isolate and hydrolysate protein powders:
Concentrate Protein Powder:
While there might be slight variations across different concentrate protein powder products, generally speaking, concentrates are made up of about 80% protein and 20% fats/carbohydrates.
Due to the short production process that goes into its production, concentrate protein powders tend to retain more of their source nutrients than isolate and hydrolysate powders. Within the 20% that contains fats/carbs, there are lots of valuable nutrients.
Concentrate protein powder products are generally cheaper than isolate and hydrolysate protein powder products. The relatively lower price of concentrate powder products is also due to the little processing time.
Isolate Protein Powder:
Isolate protein powder goes through more process of refinement to further isolate the protein from the fats and carbs. Unlike the simple process that concentrate powders go through, for isolate protein powder, the process is a divided and more complex.
In one process, the isolation of protein from fats and carbs is done using ion exchangers. In the second process, the separation is done via microfiltration or ultrafiltration. While isolate protein powders made from the ion-exchange process is casein-free, those made from microfiltration and ultrafiltration contain trace elements of casein molecules.
As per composition, isolate protein powder contains 90% protein, while the other 10% is made up of fats/carbs. They are more expensive than concentrate protein powders due to their longer processing time.
Hydrolysate Protein Powder:
Hydrolysate protein powder is put through the longest and most intricate process. It is made from purified protein sources via a process which involves the use of heat and acid, or the addition of enzymes to break down the protein into peptides.
The process of breaking down the protein into smaller peptides is meant to imitate how proteins are broken down into amino acids before they are absorbed and used in the body.
This process is called “pre-digestion”, and hydrolysate protein is made using this model so that it will be absorbed easier and faster by the body when consumed. This makes the body-absorption rate of hydrolysate protein powder faster than isolate and concentrate protein powders.
What is the Best Option: Concentrate, Isolate or Hydrolysate?
As in many cases with nutrition and supplementation, it depends on your goals and your individual body. You really can’t place one above the other. This is because there is no conclusive study that categorically states that one type of protein powder is more effective than the other at present.
A mix of relevant factors will better determine the best protein powder to use, and some of these factors are budget, the purpose of use, and digestibility.
If you are lactose-intolerant, then you might not want to use concentrate protein powders. This is because they contain the highest amount of lactose among all three protein powder options (you can also try plant-based powders like those talked about here).
If you are operating on a budget, then going for concentrate or isolate powder products will likely be a better option. These will be better choices over hydrolysate, because concentrate and isolate protein powders are usually cheaper and easier to find.
In a nutshell, the answer to which protein powder is best depends on you, and can only be answered by you! Because taste, budget, digestibility and the purpose of use will vary from person to person, the answer to which protein powder is right for you will also differ.
If you want professional help not only determining which protein supplement is best for you, but also help determining the best nutrition practices for YOUR body, set an appointment with Dr. Lonny today!