Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate

A high protein diet has many health and fitness benefits. Such as building lean muscle, decreasing appetite, and increasing calories burned through the thermic effect.

One drawback is that it can be difficult to hit your daily protein intake. For this reason, whey protein powder supplements are extremely popular.

But that popularity means there is a seemingly endless variety of whey protein products. And that makes it hard to know which one is ideal for you.

Two of the most common types of whey protein supplements are called isolate and concentrate. In this article, I’m going to break down everything you need to know about whey protein isolate vs concentrate.

So you’ll know which one is best for your diet, your fitness goals, and your budget!

Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate

What Is Whey Protein?

Whey protein is one of the primary proteins found in milk along with casein. During cheese production, milk is coagulated into solid chunks called curds. The curds are casein protein. And the remaining liquid is whey protein.

Why Use Whey Protein?

Whey protein powders are arguably the most popular nutrition supplement in the world. And for good reason! Whey protein is convenient, high in amino acids, and digests quickly.

First, if you’re on a high protein diet, it can be hard to get all your protein from whole foods. With whey protein, all you have to do is mix it with water and you get 20-30 grams of protein. Plus you can use it in recipes like protein oatmeal or protein pancakes.

In addition, whey has the highest concentration of essential amino acids of any plant or animal source1. This is critical for promoting the increase in protein synthesis necessary for building and maintaining lean muscle.

Whey Protein Amino Acid Content

Mean essential amino acid (EAA) content (% of total protein) of various dietary protein sources. Adapted from Gorissen, Stefan HM, et al.

Finally, whey protein digests quickly and gets absorbed faster than other protein sources. This is advantageous when you want rapid delivery of amino acids, such as immediately following a resistance training workout.

For example, it only takes about 1 hour for whey protein to deliver amino acids to your bloodstream. Compared to 2-3 hours for other sources like casein or meat.

Whey Protein Absorption Rate

There’s no question that whey protein is a good addition to a fitness nutrition plan. But there are multiple types including whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate.

So it’s important to know the difference when deciding which one to buy.

Difference Between Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate

The main difference between whey protein isolate and concentrate is the processing methods and resulting protein content. After the whey is separated from the curd, it can undergo several more processing steps.

Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate Process

Whey Protein Concentrate

Whey protein concentrate gets skimmed and refined to remove any remaining casein and excess fat. However, it still contains some carbs, fat, and lactose.

Therefore, whey concentrate is about 70-80% protein by weight.

Whey Protein Concentrate

Whey Protein Isolate

On the other hand, whey protein isolate goes through an additional filtering step to further remove carbs, fat, and lactose. Many brands contain less than 1 gram of carbs, fat, and lactose per serving.

As a result, whey isolate contains up to 90% protein by weight.

Whey Protein Isolate

Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate Comparison

In order to understand how whey isolate and concentrate compare, it’s useful to look closer at the nutrition profile and cost breakdown. So in this section, I’ll be comparing 20 of the top brands.

Protein Content

Since whey isolate and concentrate each come from cow’s milk, they have the same amino acid profile. But, generally, whey isolate has more protein per gram of powder.

This is something to consider when looking for a brand that will help you hit your daily protein intake number. To illustrate, I sorted the top 20 brands by highest protein content.

Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate Protein Content

Whey isolate generally has a higher protein content than whey concentrate. Although there is a lot of variation between brands.

To find protein content as a percentage, all you have to do is look at the nutrition label. Then divide the grams of protein by the serving size (in grams) and multiply by 100.

For example, say there are 25 grams of protein per scoop and a scoop is 31 grams. That’s 25 ÷ 31 x 100 = 80% protein content. Generally, I avoid anything less than 80% because then it’s usually too much other junk and fillers.

Nutrition Facts

Aside from protein content, there are also slight differences in carbohydrate and fat content. On average isolate has just 1g carbs and 0g fat. While concentrate has 3g carbs and 2g fat.

This difference is relatively small and it isn’t going to make or break your diet. But it does amount to almost 20 calories more per serving for whey concentrate. And that could add up if you’re watching your calorie intake.

Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate Nutrition

Lactose Content

Lactose is the sugar that naturally occurs in milk. An 8-ounce glass contains 9-14 grams of lactose2, which shows up on the nutrition label in the form of carbs.

But most of the carbs and lactose are removed during the process of making whey protein. That means whey concentrate has about 3 grams of lactose while whey isolate has <1 gram.

If you’re wondering how much lactose you can tolerate, researchers found that most lactose-intolerant people can handle up to 12 grams in one sitting or 24 grams over the course of the day3.

Therefore, most people should have no lactose reaction to either whey isolate or whey concentrate. Especially if you combine it with other foods.


When looking for protein supplements the first thing you’ll notice is that whey isolate generally has a higher price tag. This is due to the added processing costs.

However, the higher protein content of whey isolate means you actually get more protein for that price. So on average, the cost per gram of protein is about the same!

  Isolate Concentrate
Per 5lb tub $62.30 $54.05
Per serving $0.86 $0.80
Per g protein $0.03 $0.03

Table 1: Comparison of cost per container, serving, and gram of protein. Based on top 20 brands.

That being said, there’s actually a huge cost variation from brand to brand. To make it easy to see the best value, the chart below shows the top 20 brands sorted by lowest cost per 25 grams of protein.

Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate Cost Per 25 Grams

On average, the cost per 25 grams of protein is similar between whey isolate and concentrate. The biggest factor in cost is the brand name!

Taste & Texture

This last category is somewhat subjective. Because the flavor and texture you prefer depend on your individual tastes and how you plan to use the protein powder.

But there is some science to taste and texture as well. One study found that people rated whey protein concentrate as higher in milky, sweet, and caramel flavors4. This is likely due to the higher sugar and fat content.

In addition, whey concentrate has a chunkier texture. This lends itself well to making fluffier proats or protein pancakes. On the other hand, whey isolate has a smoother texture which may be better for mixing in shakes.

Either way, you can find something that tastes good in both concentrate and isolate.

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Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate: Which Is Better?

Despite the difference in processing and protein content whey isolate and concentrate are actually very similar.

First, the additional gram or two of carbs and fat in whey concentrate aren’t of much concern for weight loss. And may actually help bump up your calories slightly for muscle gain.

Next, the average protein per serving comes out pretty close even though whey protein isolate is more concentrated. So you really can’t go wrong with either isolate or concentrate… as long as you choose a good brand!

Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate Cost 2

Which To Choose

Some of you may want a particular brand name, a certain flavor, or whey from grass-fed cows. In that case, you may have to pay up to $1.18 per 25 grams of protein.

But if you’re looking for the best value and a good quality product, I recommend Nutricost. Both the isolate and concentrate versions cost right around $0.55 per 25 grams of protein.

To see the nutrition facts, click on the arrows next to the pictures below. Or click on the orange button to buy either the whey isolate or whey concentrate on Amazon.

While I’m not affiliated with this brand I do use several of their products. In my supplement research for articles like this one, Nutricost consistently comes out on top in terms of quality ingredients, concentration, and affordability.

As you can see from the photo below I’ve used both Nutricost whey isolate and concentrate. Personally, I like to get the unflavored kind and add it to my post-workout smoothies. But they have multiple flavor options with minimal added ingredients.

Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate Nutricost


At the end of the day, whey protein isolate vs concentrate are more similar than different. So which one you choose comes down to your goals and personal preference.

Whey isolate is usually better for maximizing your protein intake while minimizing carbs, fat, and lactose. While whey concentrate is good for a similar protein boost with a more complete nutritional profile.

For more information on supplements, nutrition, and fitness, check out my related articles below!

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