Isolate, concentrate or hydrolyzate? Which protein supplement should you choose?



Protein supplements are the basic and most frequently used supplements for people who regularly train at the gym, as well as those who take up other sports. It allows you to supplement the protein in the diet; if you’re physically active, the demand for them is much bigger. We can distinguish several forms of protein powder, differing mainly in their time of absorption and ingredients – the content of protein, fat and carbohydrates, as well as lactose. Which protein supplement is the best for you?

Protein supplement for people with an increased demand for protein

We provide protein to our bodies with food. Its primary sources are dairy and lean meat. High content (27g of protein) can be found in skyr – natural yogurt (in 225g of the product), lean curd cheese (in 160g of the product), and also chicken breast (in 130g of the product). A portion of protein supplement corresponds to the same protein content, usually 23-27 g. so it should be used additionally only by people with increased physical activity, especially those who train intensively at least 4-5 times a week. People on a reduction diet have a high demand for protein, because it protects against the loss of muscle tissue. People who build muscle mass also need it more, because it is the basic building block of muscles.

Protein supplements should be treated as a supplement to a wholesome or high-protein diet, and not as a substitute for basic protein sources. Its form should always be adjusted to the point of the day when we consume it, as well as to the effect we want to achieve.

A universal isolate

The protein isolate is marked with the WPI symbol, followed by a number, e.g. WPI90, informing about the protein content in the dry matter of the product. Protein isolates are made using a cross-flow microfiltration process. This enables better separation of carbohydrates and a higher protein content (90g per 100g of protein powder), higher than in a protein concentrate, but lower than in a hydrolyzate. The protein isolate has also very good solubility. In contrast to the concentrate, it contains less sugar and fat, so it may have a slightly worse taste, but the taste is not the main factor when choosing the appropriate form of protein supplement. What’s much more important is the absorption time. The isolate is absorbed relatively quickly, so it should be consumed immediately after training. It is worth taking the conditioner with you to the gym or preparing it right after returning home from outdoor training.

The hydrolysate has the fastest absorption

Whey protein hydrolysate, i.e. WPH, is considered to be the highest quality protein supplement, which results in its slightly higher price. It is produced in the process of hydrolysis of whey protein concentrate or isolate in the water environment. The connections between individual amino acids and peptides that make up the protein are then broken. This causes the hydrolysate to be absorbed very quickly in the digestive tract and, therefore, as in the case of the isolate, it should be used immediately after training. However, during the hydrolysis process, peptides are released, which results in the bitter, unpleasant taste of the conditioner. If you don’t like it, you can choose flavoured hydrolysates. Hydrolysates are conditioners recommended especially for people who train very intensively and not only care about a nice figure, but also about fast muscle regeneration after a workout and better preparation for the next one.

Concentrates with high carbohydrate content

Another form of protein supplement is the WPC concentrate. It is most often chosen by people who are just starting their adventure with intense physical activity or who have just started building muscle mass. Its big advantage is its low price. It is made from cow’s milk whey in the process of micro- or ultrafiltration. Its absorption time, unlike the hydrolysate and isolate, is long – it is fully absorbed in about 2-4 hours after consumption. Concentrates usually have a high content of carbohydrates, namely milk sugar (lactose) and sucrose. This means that it is not a good source of protein for people who are lactose intolerant. In addition, due to the long absorption time, we need to consume whey protein concentrate between workouts; it also works well before bedtime. If you are looking for a quick portion of protein to be taken immediately after workouts, this won’t be the best option.

Casein – the best for the night

Recently, micellar casein (MC) is getting increasingly popular. Its protein content is comparable to that of whey protein concentrate – 100g of powder contains approx. 80g of protein. Casein is obtained from milk: it consists of ca. 80% milk protein fractions and 20% whey protein. Casein is used to make curd cheese, which is a well-known and popular cheese that takes a long time to digest – and so does casein. We eat it at night or when we have a long break between meals, at least 5 hours. During the day it is unlikely to happen, or at least it should not, as meals should be eaten regularly every 3-4 hours. Casein has a low fat and sugar content, which is the result of a complex process of its production – microfiltration, evaporation, and drying. It can be used by people intolerant to lactose because it contains only trace amounts of this sugar. However, you have to be careful with it then.

As there are many types of protein powders with properties and forms, we can choose the supplement that best suits our needs, goals, training plan and time of consumption. Immediately after training, we consume isolate or hydrolysate; a concentrate is to be taken between training sessions, and casein at bedtime.