Thursday, April 25, 2013

Whey protein types: Manufacture and nutritional analysis. By Vic Goyaram

Whey Protein Types Explained
Researched and composed by Veeraj Goyaram
Exercise and Nutritional Scientist

It is not easy to make sense of the amazing diversity of whey protein types available on the market today when choosing for the protein that gives the best anabolic bang for your protein buck. Furthermore, labels that use excessive scientific jargon often add further confusion. When reading protein powder labels you will often see one or some of the following types of whey proteins on the ingredients panel:
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Ion Exchange Whey protein isolate
  • Cross Flow Microfiltered Whey protein isolate
  • Hydrolysed whey protein (hydrolysates)
This articles attempts to get you to understand the above so that you make an informed decision come purchasing time.  

Whey Protein Manufacturing 101
Whey protein as you probably know is derived from milk. The protein in cow milk is made up of about 20% whey and about 80% casein protein.
Fig. 1: The liquid is whey (containing whey protein) and the
curdled part contains casein
When milk coagulates you see a liquid which remains along with clots called curds. Curds contain casein protein (Fig. 1). The liquid is called whey and contains our famous whey protein.  Some time ago, whey used to be thrown away until some clever mind discovered some real good stuff in it. This one discovery revolutionised not only bodybuilding but human nutrition in general. Whey protein brought new life to the (then lacklustre, according to me) nutritional supplements industry. Today whey protein is a billion dollar industry and is used in anything from baby to clinical nutrition formulas.

One of the constituents of whey is whey protein. As shown in Fig.2 whey protein is in fact a collection of different proteins called "microfractions". For example beta-lactoglobulin, alpha lactalbumin, serum albumin and lactoferrin are the main proteins that make up whey protein.

Fig.1: The protein constituents of milk. Casein and whey
are collections of protein fractions
Fig. 3: Dairy proteins 
Whey Protein Concentrate 
Liquid whey contains water, lactose, fats and proteins. The protein from it is extracted and then dried to form Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC). A typical WPC product on the market has about 80% protein, 10% Carbohydrates (mainly lactose) and about 7% fat. Whey protein manufacturers offer WPC products that contain anything from 30 to 80% protein to supplement companies. 

WPC has a bit of cholesterol but unless you have been living under a rock you should know that dietary cholesterol is no reason for concern. Lactase enzymes are very often added finished WPC-based products to help lactose intolerant individuals from running to the toilet. It is worth mentioning that with the increasing prices of whey protein globally it won't be uncommon to see finished WPC products bordering the 60% protein level.
Fig. 4: Typical nutrition facts for a WPC product
*Bodybuilding Mauritius here is a fictitious company used for illustration purposes only
Whey protein Isolate
Whey protein isolate (WPI) has been further processed to remove fat and lactose, leaving behind a product which is generally +90% protein by weight. As it is low in lactose the consistency of the dissolved WPI is less milky than WPC and therefore WPI can be made in fruit juice-based formats. Please note that WPI is also low in cholesterol. However, not all WPIs are created equal. We take a closer look at the two types of WPI in the section below.
Fig. 5: WPI has much reduced carbohydrate (lactose), cholesterol
and fat content. Our WPI is made by CFM Technology

*Bodybuilding Mauritius here is a fictitious company used for illustration purposes only
Ion exchange v/s Micro-filtered isolates?
You will often will find on the labels of WPI products the terms Ion-exchange WPI and Microfiltered WPI. These terms refer to the manufacturing techniques used to produce WPI. I will not complicate your life and will summarise the difference below:
  • Ion-exchange WPI: Ion-exchange uses chemicals for separating proteins and this denatures some of the important protein microfractions. Remember that whey protein is a collection of several proteins called microfractions, some of which have biological activity (antioxidant, immune-boosting etc.). Ion exchange processing denatures some of these protein fractions. Ion-exchange WPI may have a higher protein percentage than CFM WPI but the overall quality is reduced. If you find a cheaper WPI on the market it will most likely be Ion-exchange. The good news is that Ion-exchange WPI products are very rare on the market nowadays. 
  • Microfiltered WPI: Microfiltration is a better manufacturing process because it uses high efficiency filters to filter proteins, leaving behind a high quality product with all its biological properties. There are several types of microfiltration techniques used, the most popular being the Cross-Flow Microfiltration (CFM®) and ultrafiltration. CFM is generally considered the "real deal" micro filtration method and products having been made using the CFM technology will usually "brag" about it on product leaflets and labels. 
Fig. 6: An example of "scientific" marketing for a protein
which uses CFM manufacturing
Fig. 7: If a company is using CFM Whey isolate in its product 
it will most likely display it prominently on the tub
Whey protein hydrolysates
Hydrolysates are whey proteins that have been treated with enzymes to break down (hydrolyse) the proteins by varying degrees into smaller fragments called peptides. Peptides, like proteins, are chains of amino acids but are of shorter length. Hydrolysed whey is also often called pre-digested whey and absorbs faster in the body because, being simple, it digests rapidly. Of course, hydrolysed whey is more expensive because enzymatic digestion of proteins is not an easy process on an industrial scale. Hydrolysed whey does have its benefits particularly in post-workout recovery as it results in a faster increase of amino acids and anabolic insulin response than intact proteins. This point will be extensively reviewed in a future article. It is also worth noting that hydrolysates dissolve rather well and have virtually no carbohydrate, fat or cholesterol content. The major downside is the price and the taste! Hydrolysates are also used in formulas for infants who are allergic to intact dairy proteins. 
Fig. 8: The manufacturing process of whey protein Hydrolysate.
Fig. 9: The Bodybuilding Mauritius Hydro Whey has no
carbohydrate, fat and cholesterol. The delicious "sirop canne"
flavour masks the taste pretty well

*Bodybuilding Mauritius here is a fictitious company used for illustration purposes only
Your user guide and additional tips

  • Concentrate or isolate?
Protein Quality: The difference between WPC and WPI is mainly in terms of lactose, fat and cholesterol content. If for some reason (medical or otherwise) you need more control over your intake of these nutrients then isolate is your best bet. The protein percentage of WPC is lower than that of WPI so that you get less protein per gram of product. However, the quality of the protein is the same. WPI doesn't absorb better or faster than WPC as some manufacturers would want you to believe in order to justify selling you a higher priced product. The same proteins fractions are present in both WPI and WPC and, as you have seen above, WPC may even have more protein fractions than a ion-exchange WPI. As a side note, there are many products on the market that are blends of WPC and WPI and although the ratio of WPC:WPI is not known we suspect that they are WPC dominant because the latter protein is often listed first on the label. From a functional (not economical or marketing) perspective it makes no sense to me to include an isolate along with a concentrate. 

Carb content, getting fat and lactose intolerance: The extra grams of carbs in WPC is unlikely to make you fat because a typical WPC product may bring you about 8-10g of carbs per serving at most. So with your 2-3 servings of whey per day this is unlikely to make you fat. If you are on a ketogenic (zero-carb) diet then a WPI may be used. If you are lactose intolerant then you can switch to a WPI otherwise you can get away with a WPC. Additionally, as mentioned, some WPC products add some lactase enzyme to their product to help with lactose digestion. 

Cholesterol: The cholesterol content of WPC may worry some of you but there is currently a lot of debate that the cholesterol coming from your diet has little influence of the cholesterol in your blood and that rather a high consumption of carbohydrates like fructose can drive the production of cholesterol to a far greater extent than consumption of cholesterol itself from food sources. But this is not the focus of the current article. If for some reason or the other your doctor advises you to go on a low cholesterol diet then talk to him about your use of whey protein.

Beating the boredom: if you are tired of dairy-based shakes all the time, typical of WPC products then you may give WPI a try. Remember that due to its low lactose content WPI can be manufactured in fruit-based flavours. This can be a good thing to bring a change. If you have the money then why not? Back to when I had a career I liked to use the 4ever fit fruit blast isolate after workouts with Creatine. I also used to get Isopure (Nature's best) bottles and powders from Reunion island. Again if you can afford it, then why not? One needs to adapt himself to changing times. When I went back to university even a basic whey concentrate was a luxury I could rarely afford. Adapt or perish, as we say. Now that I back for good in career mode I am able to sample the world's finest proteins. 
  • Are hydrolysates worth the extra expense?
The main reasons to use a WPH is that it induces rapid increases in blood amino acids which may maximise muscle protein synthesis and facilitate recovery. Moreover there are reports that WPH promotes greater releases of insulin after ingestion compared to carbohydrates, its amino acid constituents in the free form, and intact proteins. This would potentially lead to increased rates of protein synthesis due to the anabolic action of insulin and increased rates of muscle glycogen replenishment after glycogen depleting workouts.  While such findings show that WPH has a lot of promise the protein comes with a hefty price tag and those who cannot afford it may not necessarily be at a massive disadvantage. 


Hulmi et al. Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein. Nutrition & Metabolism 2010, 7:51

Kanda A et al. Post-exercise whey protein hydrolysate supplementation induces a greater increase in muscle protein synthesis than its constituent amino acid content. Br J Nutr. 2013 Feb 7:1-7

Manninen AH. Protein hydrolysates in sports nutrition. Nutrition & Metabolism 2009, 6:38
About the author: I am currently a PhD student in Exercise Science at the University
of Cape Town in South Africa. My MSc research looked at the regulation of glucose
transporters in muscle by exercise and nutritional factors. If you enjoy my articles please feel free to recommend them to others. Your comments and suggestions are welcome. For correspondence email me on vicgoyaram
©,2013, Veeraj Goyaram, Bodybuilding Mauritius. Any reprinting in any type of media is prohibited.
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  1. Man, that has been very instructive, thank you.
    I'm trying to get to know, learn and understand more of it before getting on the 'beast'.
    Thanks again.

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