There are good and bad supplements out there, but how can you tell the difference? Bear this advice in mind when you next buy your whey protein.

When it comes to protein supplements, there is an enormous variety in both the quality and type on the market, ranging from concentrates and isolates to blends, and casein. Every company will launch a marketing strategy for their protein product in an attempt to convince consumers why their product is superior to others. Protein isolates are undoubtedly the benchmark for quality while blends typically carry a reputation for being less pure and therefore, less desirable for your supplement stack.

Having spent the better part of two decades in the fitness industry, I have personally used a wide variety of protein supplements, including blends and whey isolates. The following is a breakdown of the differences between these two protein supplement types and why I have a strong preference for isolates.

What is a Protein Blend?

Blends are a formula which contain multiple protein varieties, sometimes including as many as five types in one product. Ingredients can range from whey protein concentrate, isolate, casein, and milk protein, with many other derivatives commonly used as well. There is no specific ratio of protein types used when creating a blend, and each formula will have its own unique make-up in this respect.

What is a Protein Isolate?

Pure whey protein isolate supplements are made solely of whey isolate as their protein component, free of other types of proteins or amino acids to help boost the protein profile. Through the processing method, more fat, carbs and lactose are removed from the protein, leaving behind a product with approximately 90% pure protein content. Protein isolates are largely acknowledged as the premium choice, provided it has not been denatured during processing, or had other ingredients added to it.

The Negatives Blend

The majority of protein blends will use small amounts of high-quality ingredients, like an isolate, but then dilute it with cheaper alternatives to fill their protein content at a lower cost. This allows the company to claim that the product is made with premium ingredients, yet in reality, very small doses are included while the majority of the protein content comes from cheaper sources such as concentrates or milk protein isolates. With the inclusion of lower-quality protein sources, the overall macronutrient profile of the supplement suffers – you end up with less protein per gram, and more fat and carbs per serving. Also, cheap ingredients that haven’t been processed with care can lead to the denaturing of the amino acid content. This greatly reduces the anabolic impact of the protein, severely limiting the claimed benefit of the supplement.

Isolated Positives

The objective of any protein supplement is to spark muscle protein synthesis by saturating the body with bioavailable amino acids. Whey protein isolate undergoes micro-filtration processing, which helps with the digestibility and reduces the fat and carbohydrate content. In whey isolates, overall protein content is higher – gram for gram — while calorie content is usually lower due to its purity and thorough processing method. This results in a product that makes it easier to meet daily macronutrient targets without over-consuming calories. The lower fat and carb content of isolates also allows users to tailor their intake of these important macronutrients to suit their specific needs.

Lactose content is generally lower in whey protein isolates, which can aid some people with digestion and also keeps sugar intake to a minimum. Both are fundamental components of an optimal nutritional protocol, something I highly value.

Natural flavors and colors are important criteria worth valuing. Many companies used to add color and flavor to supplements such as Red 40, Blue 1, and Yellow 5 but innovations in food technology now allow brands to rely on natural colors and flavor systems and still taste amazing! You wouldn’t eat a chicken breast with artificial colors and flavors every day, several times per day, so why accept this from a sports nutrition supplement?

For complete peace of mind, it’s best to ensure that any supplement you use comes with a third-party guarantee to be free of banned substances. Owing to the fact that third-party testing is entirely voluntary, the majority of supplement companies don’t put their products through it. Not only is it expensive and time-consuming, but if a company has something to hide, they likely won’t expose their products to it. To be sure I am getting what I paid for, I only use supplements which have a third-party guarantee, affording me the reassurance that I’m not consuming any unwanted, banned substances.

Whey protein isolate supplements are undeniably one of the best options in this category, eclipsing sub-standard blends, which are often heavily compromised. However, it is essential that you understand the difference between good and bad whey protein isolates, and how to choose the right one to gain the best impact from your supplement. Hopefully following this column will allow you to make the smarter choice when completing your next order of whey protein isolate.

TIPS: Isolating The Best Buy

As with every supplement type, there are good and bad options available to you. To help you make the best choices, here are some pointers to keep in mind when you’re selecting a protein isolate product.

1. Purity must be the first priority. To evaluate a product’s purity, the ingredient profile shouldn’t expand beyond whey protein isolate. If you’re shopping for a whey protein isolate, check the ingredient list to ensure the content comes from this specific source.

2. How is it made? Processing is a significant factor in producing a high-quality whey protein isolate. If the ingredients are exposed to too much heat during processing, the amino acids can become denatured. Cold processing helps ensure that the protein content remains intact. Check to confirm the whey protein isolate you select has been produced using the cold-processing method.

3. Will you digest it? Added digestive enzymes are a highly desirable component of a whey protein isolate supplement. This inclusion can help the body make better use of the product. Ensuring your body can optimally use the protein you are ingesting is an essential part of enhancing results, and selecting a whey protein isolate with this feature will only contribute towards this outcome.

EXPERT: Kris Gethin is a nutrition consultant, trainer and author of Man of Iron: A world-class bodybuilder’s journey to become an Ironman