Whey protein is perhaps the most popular fitness supplement available, and for good reason. It’s full of amino acids, vitamins, fats, and carbohydrates that provide the fuel for a great street workout, muscle building and improved recovery. However, it’s important to realize that there isn’t just one type of whey protein, and in fact three common varieties exist. Here is information about each one, their benefits, and which one might suit you best based on your workout needs.

Whey Protein Basics

First, it’s important to understand how whey protein works and why many in the fitness community consider it the single best supplement to take. For one, whey protein is completely natural. It’s simply the liquid component of milk when it’s separated from the curds during the cheese-making process. For hundreds of years this whey was simply discarded as a waste until the fitness community realized it was a rich source of protein.

In fact, as a protein source, it has the best bioavailability of any other protein out there, including egg which has a biological value of 100, which is the second highest. Whey protein has a whopping BV at 104.

Second, whey protein is complete protein, which means it delivers all essential amino acids to your body. Studies have shown that these amino acids are vital to repair muscles, grow muscle tissue, and lose body fat.  Whey protein also stimulates the release anabolic steroids like insulin, which helps lead to bigger muscle mass.

Choosing A Whey Protein

All the different forms of whey protein are related. Whey isolate is just a more processed and purified form of whey concentrate. This processing produces “denatured” protein in isolate. This does not impact whey isolate’s ability to build muscles. After all, larger proteins are always broken down into smaller proteins inside the body anyway. However, there are certain bioactive peptides that are destroyed during this processing, such as conjugated linolelic acid (CLA), which may be helpful to the immune system and heart.

Ultimately, it’s important to analyze your fitness goals, what you’re willing to spend, and whether you have certain allergies. Here are the pros and cons of each whey protein type.

Whey Concentrate

Whey concentrate is the least processed of the different types of whey protein supplements. It contains more complete proteins and bioactive compounds than other forms of whey protein, but usually less protein per serving. Whey concentrate can contains about 70 to 80 percent protein, but also trace amounts of lactose and milk fat.

It serves as a great meal replacement option, which is perfect for maintain fitness levels and ensuring you get a more “complete” meal replacement.  It also happens to be cheaper than other forms of whey protein.

However, this protein features higher carb levels which means more calories, and higher amounts of lactose, which might present a problem for people with lactose intolerance.

Whey Isolate

While whey isolate is more processed, but this processing helps produce more protein per serving, which is why it is made up of about 90 percent protein or more. Furthermore, whey isolate absorbs more quickly in the body than concentrate. That’s why this particular whey protein is so valued by body builders who want to build muscle mass and quickly begin their workout recovery.

The flip side is that whey isolate tends to be more expensive than the concentrate.  Also, many of the bioactive compounds within the protein are broken down during processing, which means you may lose out on some of the health benefits of whey concentrate.

Whey Hydrolysate

This whey protein form is thought to be the fastest absorbing of all the whey proteins. The reason is that all of the proteins found within are predigested, which means the long chain amino acids found in whey concentrate and isolate are broken all the way down into single amino acids. The body already tends to convert these long chain amino acids into single amino acids, but with hydrolysate, this is already done for you.

This could result in better muscle protein synthesis and a bigger spike in insulin production than whey isolate. Hydrolysate is very popular with body builders, but since isolate and hydrolysate are both heavily processed, many of the bioactive compounds and long chain amino acids are destroyed, which may reduce many of the health benefits present in concentrate.

Ultimately, all of the whey proteins offer significant benefits. However, the differences often come down to whether you’re a body builder, what you’re willing to spend, and what kind of nutrition and protein loads you’re looking for in your whey protein.