The classic whey protein concentrate is a tried and true staple that has been used among many fitness circles for years. It naturally has a higher quality protein than milk, egg, soy and other plant based protein varieties. Additionally, it contains high amounts of naturally occurring branched chain amino acids which are leucine, isoleucine and valine. These play a critical role in kick starting protein synthesis and help in the growth, recovery and preservation of lean muscle tissue.
So why is whey protein concentrate a superior form of protein?
Naturally High BCAA Content
Let’s start with the naturally high BCAA content and examine just how each of the three BCAA plays a critical role in the human body and why supplementation is beneficial for optimal growth and recovery:
Leucine is often considered the ‘king’ of the amino acids due to the solid research behind it and its role in protein synthesis, and its anabolic properties. It has been shown in research to be an activator of the protein known as the mechanistic target of rapamycin (or simply mTOR), which induces muscle protein synthesis.
Another critical pathway that leucine has is that it interacts with glucose and possesses both blood sugar reducing properties (can release insulin from the pancreas, can directly stimulate glucose uptake into a cell without insulin) but also the opposite (via stimulating S6K, it can inhibit insulin-stimulated glucose uptake).
Isoleucine much like the main BCAA leucine, can stimulate muscle protein synthesis, but to a lesser when not combined with the other BCAAs. The main benefit rather of isoleucine is that it acts complimentary to leucine and plays a significant role in significantly increasing glucose uptake and the usage of glucose during exercise which leads to greater energy production. Furthermore, isoleucine may also play one of the main roles in the research findings that the supplementation of BCAA can aid in fat burning.
The third of the BCAA, valine promotes muscular endurance and decreases fatigue during exercise. The mechanism of action is that during exercise, tryptophan is converted to serotonin and signals the brain that the body is fatigued. Valine counteracts this as it competes with tryptophan for entry into the brain, translating to less serotonin getting to the brain and ultimately leading to stronger muscular contractions, quicker recovery between sets, and prolonged muscular strength and endurance.
Closest to Whole Food Protein
At the most basic explanation, milk contains two proteins: whey and casein. Whey is the liquid portion of the milk that separates from the curds (the casein component), during the process of making cheese. Whey contains proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals as well as many highly beneficial subfractions.
With the aforementioned strong BCAA content as well as being a complete protein and strong amino acid profile overall, whey protein is definitely a powerhouse protein. It has been research proven to augment muscle protein synthesis, support fat burning, boost the immune system, improve insulin sensitivity, and decrease appetite. More specifically, whey concentrate is shown to boost production of glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant.
To create whey protein the liquid portion of milk is pushed through a filter and the material left behind is dried to form whey protein concentrate. This minimally processed concentrate contains varying amounts of fat and carbohydrates in the form of lactose (dairy sugar). The percentage of protein varies from about 30% to about 80%, and includes a variety of protein peptide subfractions. These are beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, immunoglobins, lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, serum albumin, glycomacropeptides, and Proteose Peptone. Many of which have significant biologic activity and health benefits. Evidence suggests that these peptides must remain in their native, undenatured form in order to exert these properties (1).
Beta-lactoglobulin (35—55% of whey)
- An excellent source of essential and branched chain amino acids
- Binds with fat-soluble vitamins, increasing their bioavailability
- Has inhibited cancer cells in animal research
Alpha-lactalbumin (12—25% of whey)
- The primary protein found in human breast milk
- Excellent source of essential and branched chain amino acids
- Protects against infection
- Shown to improve alertness in the morning
- Helps removal of toxic metals
- High in the amino acid tryptophan; Helps regulate sleep, mood, and stress
Immunoglobins (8—15% of whey)
- Only found in undenatured protein
- Enhances immunity among people of all ages
Lactoferrin (1—2% of whey)
- Only found in undenatured protein
- Antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties
- Promotes growth of bone and beneficial bacteria
- Contributes to healthy immune function
- Regulates iron absorption
- Controls inflammation and allergic responses
Lactoperoxidase (0.5% of whey)
- Only found in undenatured protein
- Inhibits the growth of bacteria
Serum albumin (5—10% of whey)
- Shown to inhibit estrogen-positive breast cancer
- Helps control blood pressure
Glycomacropeptides (10—15% of whey)
- Inhibits formation of dental plaque and cavities
- Inhibits colitis in infants
Proteose Peptone (12% of whey)
- Enhances the production of antibodies that protect against infection
Now, there are other forms of whey protein available and these include isolates and hydrolysates which undergo further processing compared to whey protein concentrate. The problem is that typically the more processed and purified a protein gets, the subfractions can be degraded and lose their biologic activity. Since denaturing can affect the biologic activity of certain peptides, whey concentrate has a theoretical health advantage over isolates and hydrolysates and is closer to a whole food than the more processed varieties, providing additional health benefits.
Now, for full disclosure, it should be kept in mind that while there may be degradation of the subfractions, the amino acid sequences do not change when protein is denatured. This means that it will still have the same muscle building properties because in the body, all proteins are denatured in a sense as they are broken down during digestion into smaller protein chains and individual amino acids for the amino acid pool. So, in regards to muscle building muscle, this doesn’t matter, but you’ll be missing out to a large degree on the great benefits of the subfractions.
Overall, whey protein concentrates are very economical per gram of protein. They have a low lactose level that is generally well tolerated by even most lactose-sensitive people and are fast absorbing. Additionally, whey protein concentrates are closer to a whole food protein that other forms of whey and have additional immune boosting properties. It’s hard to go wrong with the tried and true whey protein concentrate.
For a comparison of Whey Protein Concentrate and Whey Protein Isolate check out our blog post.
We recommend purchasing NutraBio Classic Whey, a 100% full label disclosure whey protein concentrate with great taste. This is one of the only proteins on the market that is 100% concentrate instead of a blend of concentrate and isolate. Classic Whey is made from the highest quality WPC80 and is the re-branded version of NutraBio Whey Protein Concentrate. NutraBio has made a reputation for producing only the highest quality products and has been using non-proprietary, 100% full disclosure labels longer than any brand, so they are a name you can trust. Watch below for NutraBio CEO Mark Glazier’s explanation of common “protein scams” and how NutraBio differs themselves.
- Park, Y. Bioactive Components in Milk & Dairy Products. s.l. : John Wiley & Sons, 2009.