There are three types of whey protein:
- Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
- Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
- Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH)
Whey protein concentrate (WPC) is the cheapest form and therefore usually accounts for the majority of the protein content in products that are labelled as a "whey protein powder". In its natural state, before
flavourings, colours and sweeteners are added, it is an off-white, finely textured powder. An unflavoured WPC tastes bland and is probably similar to what watered down milk and cheese would taste like.
The quality of WPC does vary quite considerably. Most whey concentrates tend to be in the 80% range, so an average 30 gram scoop will offer about 24 grams of protein. If the name of product isn't explicit about
protein content, always read the nutritional profile. For example Bulk Powders' "Pure Whey Protein" contains 82 percent protein and Myprotein's "Essential Whey 60" contains 60 percent.
Of all the protein supplements we've taken, WPC has been base protein ingredient. We've taken it branded, unbranded (from a bulk supplier), unflavoured, flavoured and natural. Some of us use it on its own, usually
around workout times or first thing in the morning, but most mix it with other food groups and or other protein sources to help slow down or spread its digestion rate.
A good tip worth considering if money's tight is to buy a bulk supply of unflavoured WPC and mix it with other products. Depending on your needs the other product could be a:
- Flavoured variant - If you buy a bulk supply of unflavoured WPC this would be ideal for extending the longevity of the flavoured product. Flavoured products always cost more than unflavoured ones.
- Whey protein isolate - Make your own whey blend. Although technically a whey concentrate would impact slightly on the rate of the isolate's digestion speed, (which in turn it could be argued negates the
rationale behind spending more on an isolate) whey concentrate / isolate blends are popular manufactured products.
- Slower digesting protein - Ideal if you want to extend digestion and absorption times. Casein, egg, soy, pea and rice proteins ideally complement whey in a solid all-round "through-the-day" protein shake.
- Fast carbs - To help aid muscle recovery, a fast carb source like dextrose, waxy maize starch or maltodextrin can be a great addition to any whey product post-workout.
- Slow carbs - Adding slow carbs like oat bran and / or fine oats are great to combine in whey if your goal is to gain weight.
You can read more about WPC on the product search.
Whey protein isolate (WPI) is a purer, hence more expensive, form of whey. Whey isolate products contain over 90% protein with further reductions in carbs (lactose) and fats when compared to the cheaper WPC.
In its natural state, physically it isn't too dissimilar to WPC, although it's slightly whiter and "fluffier" texture. Mixed with water it has a thinner consistency than WPC does. Unflavoured, it tastes similar to skimmed milk
and it doesn't have the same cheesy after taste that WPC sometimes has. Most manufacturers say that WPC is easier to flavour and offers a fuller taste over a flavoured WPI. Citrus flavoured WPIs tend to have the edge taste wise.
Due to its higher cost, WPI products are more favoured by sportsmen and women who are either seeking to build or maintain lean muscle. It's also popular with athletes seeking to cut or trim body fat due to it's further reduced carb / fat
content. Due to the very low (if any) lactose levels, WPI is the preferred choice for people who are lactose intolerant.
WPI is best used as a post-workout shake. We'll sometimes blend in a banana or a fast acting carb source like dextrose. To reduce the cost you can mix it with a WPC and you may even prefer to look at a
WPC / WPI blend.
You can read more about WPI on the product search.
Unlike WPC and WPI, whey protein hydrolysate (WPH) does not draw any inference to the purity of the product. The process of hydrolysing whey essentially means the whey fractions, (which can be either WPC, WPI or a
blend of both) are taken through an extra manufacturing process. They enzymes are broken down into smaller segments called peptides. When ingested, this "pre-digested" whey is absorbed at the fastest rate
available of any protein shake. This makes it particularly favourable amongst elite strength training athletes, especially seasoned bodybuilders. It's also commonly used in infant formulas and for medical use.
As the protein has to go through this extra process, WPH products are the most expensive of all three types.
We haven't experimented with a standalone WPH over a sustained period mainly because we find it difficult to justify the extra expense. From reading and the conversations we've had, our opinion is there is a limited benefit over a WPI.
That being said, there are people who swear by WPH, but they tend to be seasoned bodybuilders. Several have even said that they could substitute WPH for a good WPI, but given the choice they feel WPH does offer an edge. If you can afford
it and you're undecided on whether it could be a suitable product for you, Google WPH and you'll find enough people talking about their experiences with it.
You can read more about WPH on the product search.