Because of protein’s importance, supplement manufacturers have come up with many products to choose from. Two popular products are raw protein and whey powder.
Let’s break them down, see what makes them unique, and answer the question, “Which one should I get?”
What Is Raw Protein?
Raw protein is a natural product derived from dairy through the process of separation. The type of protein doesn’t have any fats or lactose remove, and manufacturers don’t add sweeteners, coloring agents, or flavors to it.
Raw protein contains all nine essential amino acids, which the human body cannot produce on its own. This type of protein is also rich in fats, lactose, antioxidants, and minerals, most of which get lost when making a whey protein.
What is Whey Protein?
Whey is similar to raw protein because both have the same origin: dairy. The liquid that separates from milk during cheese production is where we find the most concentrated dose of whey.
Once derived from dairy, whey protein goes through different processes that refine it and make it more palatable. For example, once whey gets separated from dairy, it goes through three processes:
- Concentration of solids
- Reverse osmosis
The processing results in dried whey powder: the most basic whey product on the market. But since whey comes in different forms, including concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate, manufacturing processes continue.
The product goes through complicated processes of recovery and ultrafiltration to produce whey concentrate, which is a semi-refined product with 75-85 percent protein concentration.
Whey isolate is the purest form with the most protein per dose and the least fat, lactose, or other nutrients.
We also have whey hydrolysate, which is also more difficult to produce and costs more for the consumer. To produce whey hydrolysate, protein peptides (chains of amino acids) get broken down through a process called hydrolysis. As a result, we break down and absorb this type of protein more quickly, which offers an almost immediate amino acid spike to support muscle growth and recovery.
What Makes Raw Protein And Whey Unique?
Whey powder and raw protein might seem like the same product. But both types possess unique qualities that determine their overall use and applicability.
As discussed above, raw protein is derived through separation. The product then goes through minimal processing before getting packaged and sold to the consumer. Unlike whey, raw protein doesn’t get treated with heat, which allows it to maintain many of its original qualities.
Raw protein is also richer in lactose (a type of sugar found in milk) and fats. Meaning, it has slightly fewer grams of protein per scoop and instead offers more energy in the form of sugars and fatty acids. According to some nutritional labels, raw protein provides up to 20-25 extra calories per scoop and a gram or two less protein.
Raw protein is rich in all nine essential amino acids, making it highly beneficial for stimulating muscle protein synthesis, helping us recover after training, and aiding muscle growth. Unlike whey, raw protein takes slightly longer to digest, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For example, if you take a scoop in the evening, raw protein will provide you with a steady stream of amino acids for hours after you’ve fallen asleep.
In contrast to raw protein, whey powders are refined and more sophisticated. There are many options to pick from, each with its unique pros and cons. For example, whey concentrate is the least processed option after raw protein. Concentrate features slightly fewer grams of fats and sugars per scoop and is roughly 80 percent pure protein. For example, a scoop of concentrate offers around 120-125 calories, 23-24 grams of protein, and 5-7 grams of fats and carbs.
Whey isolate is the most refined option. As such, it offers 90+ percent protein and has fewer calories per scoop. The average whey isolate contains around 110-115 calories per scoop and provides 26-27 grams of protein.
Which Type of Protein Should You Get?
Raw protein is almost always a good option. Since the product doesn’t get treated with heat or refined in any other way, it maintains its original enzymes and nutrients, which are beneficial for us. Buying raw protein is also the more budget-friendly option, especially compared to whey isolate or hydrolysate.
Unprocessed protein is also suitable for everyone who wants to bump their calorie intake and build mass. Since the product contains slightly more sugar and fats, it offers extra calories per scoop, which can help put you in a calorie surplus for muscle growth.
In contrast, if you’re looking to shed some fat and want to control your calories more strictly, a whey isolate might be a better option. Isolate offers fewer calories per scoop and more protein, both of which are beneficial for maintaining a calorie deficit and retaining muscle mass.
Isolate is also the better option if you don’t react well to lactose. For example, if you get bloated, gassy, or nauseous after consuming raw protein, your stomach might be too sensitive, and you might need a more refined protein product.
Whey concentrate is in the middle of the spectrum between raw protein and isolate. Concentrate is refined but not too much, so it retains some of its original properties and nutrients. Plus, thanks to the simpler processing methods, concentrate is also a budget-friendly option. Concentrate also offers slightly less lactose than raw protein, making it a viable option if raw protein bothers your stomach, but you can’t afford isolate.
Picking the right protein should mostly come down to preferences and your budget. All dairy-derived proteins are high-quality and offer all nine essential amino acids that stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
Raw protein is the most budget-friendly option and might offer some health benefits over whey. But whey protein has its unique benefits that make it a decent alternative. Concentrate is the middle product that balances processing and price, where isolate is the more refined product that costs extra.