Take it from a Chemist: What’s the Difference Between Whey, Iso, & Hydrolysate?

Little Miss Muffet (1805)

Little Miss Muffet

Sat on a tuffet

Eating her curds & WHEY

Along came a spider

Who sat down beside her

And frightened Miss Muffet away


Little Miss Muffet (2017)

Little Miss Muffet

Sat at the squat rack

Drinking her preworkout & whey

Along came a meathead

Who told her don’t eat bread

And asked her to be his next bae


Milk is made of two major components: (1) curds (or casein protein – which, I know, I know, WTF is casein?? Well we’ll get to that in another post), which is used to make cheese, and (2) whey, which is the unused liquid portion. Whey used to be discarded by cheese manufacturers as a waste product. Whey contains proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Whey protein is also a “complete protein.” When a source of protein has all 9 essential amino acids, which are the amino acids your body needs to get from food, that food is said to be a complete protein. Due to its high amino acid profile and ease of absorption, it is notably the most popular sports nutrition supplement. Whey has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis, support fat burning, decrease recovery time, increase power, boost the immune system, improve insulin sensitivity, decrease bad cholesterol while increasing good cholesterol, and decrease appetite.


Whey protein exists in three main forms: concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate (where whey isolate undergoes additional processing).


Pushing the liquid portion of milk through a filter creates whey protein. The material left behind is micro-filtered and dried and forms what we all know to be whey protein concentrate. Concentrate contains varying amounts of fat and carbohydrates in the form of lactose.  Whey protein concentrate is rich in both BCAAs and Glutamine. Whey protein concentrate has a protein content of about 80%.


Whey protein isolate undergoes a process called cross-flow micro-filtration. This separates the protein from fat, cholesterol, and lactose producing an end product which is a purer protein. Whey isolate is made from whey concentrate and has protein per unit (about 90% total) than whey concentrate. Whey protein isolate is believed to have less fat, cholesterol, lactose, carbohydrates, and calories than most other proteins on the market. It is therefore a common choice for those looking to maintain low levels of body fat as well as those who suffer from lactose intolerance.


Most whey concentrates and isolates are available as intact proteins, but either can be also hydrolyzed. Hydrolysates have been partially broken down by exposing the protein to heat, acid, or enzymes that break apart the bonds linking amino acids. This makes it taste more bitter, but also allows it to absorb more rapidly than a concentrate or isolate. Since, concentrates and isolates are already fast-digesting, a hydrolysate, which digests minimally faster, may not be worth it for most people.


So, you’re probably thinking now.. “Which one should I buy?”

Well, people have long debated which protein is better and the truth is – there really is no right answer. It just largely depends on your personal nutritional goals. Of course, there are differences between whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, and whey protein hydrolysate BUT what it really comes down to is personal preference of nutritional content, flavor (obvi), and cost.

So, Cheers Eat . Whey . Love Nation! To Protein!

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