Whey Protein Concentrate

If you’ve ever stood in front of a wall of protein powder and meal bars, you may have noticed that whey protein concentrate is used in a few areas. Let’s take a look at what exactly it is and how it works.

What Is It?

Whey protein concentrate [1] is a form of whey protein that has been minimally processed to remove the liquid portion. This allows it to be used as a supplement and food additive. Whey protein concentrate is less expensive, less processed precursor to whey protein isolate and whey protein hydrolysate.

What Is Its Biological Role?

Whey protein concentrate is used as a supplement or food additive to get more protein in your diet. Being the least processed type of whey protein available means that while it can contain between 30 and 80 percent protein depending on the quality of the concentrate, it does still contain a varying percentage of lactose and fat.

When the whey is concentrated, the proteins are left as untouched as possible. This is because whey protein contains specialized types of amino acids that can yield  special benefits when absorbed into the body during the digestion process. The most notable is BCAAs, or branched chain amino acids.[2]

These aminos acids are tiny building blocks of protein that are specifically required to stimulate muscle growth and so are great to add to any type of fitness supplement or meal replacement,protein shake etc. BCAAs aid the build up of muscles and slow down the body’s natural reaction of breaking down muscle fibers after exercise. Another amino acid found in whey that helps our health is cysteine.[3]

Cysteine is a cofactor, or require component, for the creation of glutathione, or GSH. GSH is an incredibly powerful antioxidant, and one of the most easily water soluble antioxidants in our bodies. This makes it incredibly bioavailable, which is desirable because it has a very positive impact on our immune system. Low blood levels of GSH are associated with many different diseases, including the fitness-related overtraining syndrome.

GSH allows your body to withstand physical stressors by keeping your immune system strong. In short, whey protein concentrate delivers to your body lactose (which may be negative, depending on how tolerant you are of this dairy-based sugar), fats, and protein composed of specialized amino acids that can positively affect your health as well as your muscle mass and tone.

How Does It Help Bodybuilders and People Who Work Out?

Whether or not whey protein concentrate would be a helpful ingredient for you depends on why you work out and what your specific fitness goals are. If you are looking to consume as few calories as possible and lose weight, then a more processed form of whey that contains less fats may be for you, such as whey protein isolate.

If you are lactose intolerant, whey protein concentrate is the highest lactose-containing type of whey protein and may cause digestive distress. If you are an athlete or bodybuilder who is looking for serious support for your muscles in terms of recovery after a workout, and you don’t mind the thought of possibly gaining some mass along with that, then whey protein concentrate is your best best.

Isolates are more heavily marketed, but many of the specialized amino acids mentioned above are either destroyed or made far less bio-available during the filtering processes that create these other types of whey protein options.

What Foods Contain It?

Whey protein concentrate is a food additive used in many processed foods as a replacement for milk. This includes bakery mixes(the “just add water” type cake mixes), yogurts, baby foods, various baked goods, and diet foods such as protein bars and powdered shake mixes.

How Much Of It Do You Need?

While the constituents of whey protein concentrate may provide health benefits, whey protein is not the only available source of these elements, nor of protein. As such, there is no officially recognized recommended daily intake or limit.

If you do consume products containing whey protein concentrate, it is generally best to simply follow the advice on the container as it pertains to serving size and nutritional content.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Much Of It?

Consumption of whey protein concentrate is generally safe. If done to extremes, however, it can cause unpleasant side effects. Consuming high amounts of whey protein concentrate can make you more sensitive to lactose.

It can also cause bloating, diarrhea, and kidney problems. Keep in mind that these last few symptoms are all results of a high protein,low carb diet, not necessarily whey protein concentrate itself.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Little Of It?

Whey protein concentrate is not a nutritional requirement for humans. If you choose to avoid it, you should be fine as long as you fulfill your protein needs elsewhere.

Final Take

Just like many other areas of nutrition and exercise advice, there is no “best” type of protein. Your goals are what dictate whether something like whey protein concentrate is a good choice for you. The hard part is learning the meaning behind the many ingredients on the nutrition labels.


[1] Dr. Seltzer, Charlie. Whey Concentrate vs Isolate: What’s The Difference? Builtlean.com,2016.

[2] Norton, Layne. BCAAs The Many Benefits of Branched Chain Amino Acid Supplements. Bodybuilding.com, 2017.

[3] Kerns, Michelle. What Is Cysteine?. Livestrong.com, 2015.