Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate: What's the Difference?

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: November 20, 2023
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If you've explored the health food or supplement aisle, you've likely encountered whey protein.

A versatile supplement for weight loss and gain, whey protein is essential for protein shakes. Originating as a byproduct of milk during cheese or yogurt production, whey is the liquid separated from casein.

It's then dried to create the popular whey protein powder. When shopping for whey protein, the two common types you'll find are whey protein isolate and concentrate.

To grasp their differences, let's dive deeper.

  • Whey isolate offers a high-protein, low-carb option, while concentrate provides a balanced mix of protein, fats, and carbs.
  • Isolate is ideal for those counting macros due to its lower fat, carb, and lactose content, whereas concentrate is more budget-friendly.
  • Whey protein isolate typically boasts a higher protein content, often exceeding 90%, while concentrate varies between 25 and 89% protein.
  • In my personal experience, the choice between isolate and concentrate should be based on individual dietary needs and budget constraints.

What is Whey Protein Isolate?

Plain image of Whey Protein Isolate on a white background

Whey protein isolate, with more processing than whey concentrate, packs a protein punch—often 90% or more per scoop [1].

Starting as whey from milk, it's dried and then fine-tuned, stripping away fats and carbs to become a protein-rich isolate.

Its lactose-free composition enhances gut health due to its high digestibility and specific amino acid profile, based on a  study published in Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research [2].

Though similar to whey concentrate, isolate stands out with its hefty protein content, while concentrates vary widely, containing anywhere from 25–89% protein.

However, its efficacy is similar to that of concentrate.

Note that whey protein's quality can vary globally, influenced by regional dairy farming practices and regulations.

Close up shot of nutrition facts

1. Typical Nutritional Value

  • Protein: 23 grams
  • Carbs: 1 gram
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Lactose: Up to 1 gram

2. Benefits

  • Contains less fat, carbs, and lactose than whey protein concentrate, so its great if you are counting macros.
  • High protein content.
  • Helps promote muscle growth and strength.

3. Cons

  • Costs more than whey protein concentrate.

4. What Whey Protein Isolate Is Great For

Close up shot of a muscular person's abs

Ideal for muscle gain, whey protein isolate is a top pick for post-workout shakes, thanks to its full deck of nine essential amino acids.

Therefore, if you're aiming to bulk up or slim down, isolates are your go-to, especially if you're watching your carbs or fat intake, according to the meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition [3].

Plus, for the lactose-wary, it's a surprising friend, being low in lactose despite its dairy roots.


What is Whey Protein Concentrate?

Whey Protein Concentrate in front of a white background

In my experience coaching athletes, whey concentrate, a byproduct of cheese or yogurt making, offers a practical protein source after drying and processing [4].

Whey concentrate is less refined, rocking about 80% protein, but it's also richer in fat, carbs, and lactose compared to whey protein isolate.

Yet, it's still a smart pick if you're macro-counting.

There is a common misconception that because concentrates contain more fat and/or carbohydrates than isolates, that they are inherently worse for you, which is plain false.

- Duppler

1. Typical Nutritional Value

Close up shot of nutrition facts
  • Protein: 18 grams
  • Carbs: 3.5 grams
  • Fat: 1.5 grams
  • Lactose: Up to 3.5 gram

2. Benefits

  • Costs less than whey isolate protein, so its easier on your wallet if you're trying to save money.
  • Can lead to muscle growth and an increase in strength.

3. Cons

  • Contains more carbs, fat, and lactose than whey protein isolate.
  • Has a lower protein content than whey protein isolate.

4. What Whey Protein Concentrate Is Great For

From my coaching days, I've seen whey concentrate excel in muscle building, especially in pre- or post-workout shakes, much like isolate.

They both provide essential muscle-building amino acids.

As a health coach, I find it fascinating that research in the Journal of Medical Science validates whey protein's role in boosting growth hormones [5].

Therefore, choosing between the two boils down to your nutrient needs and wallet size [6].

Isolate cuts back on carbs, fat, and lactose, which is a plus for weight loss fans, but it'll cost you more.

Therefore, whey protein concentrate is great if you have a tight budget or are not willing to spend that much on your whey protein.


Whey Protein Isolate vs. Concentrate

Choosing between whey protein isolate and concentrate can be tricky, as both types are effective for muscle growth and weight loss, with no significant difference in their effects on the body.

The real differences lie in price, lactose content, and macronutrient levels. For those on a budget, whey protein concentrate offers a cost-effective option. However, if you're lactose intolerant or watching your carb and fat intake, whey protein isolate is the better choice.

For more details on dietary considerations, explore low-FODMAP protein powders.

Ultimately, either isolate or concentrate will support your workout goals effectively.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905294/
  2. https://research.wur.nl/en/publications/health-issues-of-whey-proteins-3-gut-health-promotion
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24724774/
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/250206006_Studies_on_Whey_Protein_Concentrates_1_Compositional_and_Thermal_Properties1
  5. https://scialert.net/fulltext/?doi=jms.2018.27.33
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24724774/
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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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