Protein bars and powders are gaining in popularity with many people depending on them for snacks, fuel following workouts and even meal replacements in some cases. However, with so many types of protein powders on the market today and with so many unfamiliar words on protein powder labels, it is important to understand a bit more about your choices so that you can make the best decision for your lifestyle and needs.
In particular, you may have seen the terms protein concentrate and protein isolate on some of the items you have purchased. Use this guide to find answers to your questions and to determine which type of protein may best help you meet your goals.
What Is a Protein Concentrate?
A protein concentrate is a supplement that is naturally very high in protein and that comes either from an animal or plant source. These protein sources usually go through very little processing in an attempt to leave them in as natural of a state as possible. They often have a very natural flavor due to the addition of carbohydrates and fat that have been left in the product. In addition, protein concentrates may contain additional vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients that can benefit your health.
Up to 80% of the calories from a protein concentrate come from protein. However, this number can change dramatically depending on the brand with some protein concentrates only containing 30 to 40% protein.
What Is a Protein Isolate?
A protein isolate is another type of natural protein source. However, it has gone through even more processing to uncover the highest protein levels possible. Therefore, there is typically very little fat or carbohydrates left behind, and the protein powder is usually at least 90% protein by weight.
With this option, the protein has literally been isolated from other components of the original plant or animal product. Because of this additional processing, you will find that protein isolates are generally more expensive than their concentrate counterparts are. In addition, because some of the proteins in isolates have become denatured through processing, they may be difficult for some people to digest completely.
Is Protein Concentrate or Isolate Best?
Both protein concentrates and protein isolates can be great additions to your daily or weekly nourishment routines. However, determining which is the best option for your circumstances may take a bit more thought as you consider your goals for your overall health and fitness. Here are a few tips to help you make your decision.
If you are simply looking to add some extra protein to your meals and are not on a strict diet that limits fats or carbohydrates, protein concentrate may be the best and most affordable choice for you. Keep in mind that most of the fats and carbohydrates found in protein powders are generally considered to be healthy nutrients that can benefit your body in other ways.
However, if you are specifically choosing protein powders to build muscle or to help you lose a significant amount of weight, protein isolates will be better suited for your goals. Isolates are also well-suited for those who are closely monitoring their macronutrient counts or who are following a ketogenic diet. Although the amount of carbohydrates in protein powder concentrates is usually quite low, it can certainly impact those on a low-carb diet. However, keep in mind that isolates come with higher price tags.
Which Protein Powders Come As Concentrates and Isolates?
The most common protein powder on the market today and the one most frequently mentioned when it comes to protein concentrates and isolates is whey protein. Whey protein, which comes from an animal source, is manufactured as both a concentrate and an isolate, but the isolate is the best choice for those who are lactose intolerant because the milk fat is almost completely removed.
However, it may surprise you to learn that many protein powders other than whey are also available as concentrates and isolates. In fact, these terms mean nearly the same thing when used for any protein source. Check for these terms on your container of the following protein powders:
Isolates from any of these sources are always more highly processed but provide a higher protein level than concentrates do. In some cases, choosing the isolate form of any of these protein sources could decrease certain allergens naturally found in the product, making it a better fit for you.
After testing out one or two of these types of protein, you will have a better idea of what works best in your body. Consider how you feel after drinking your protein shake as well as how the powder tastes in your blended drinks and baked goods. Both protein concentrates and protein isolates have their positives and negatives, but it may require some trial and error to discover a good fit for your everyday life.