Hydrolysed Whey Protein (HWP, HWPI and HWPC)
Hydrolysed Whey Protein, also known as HWP is a highly desirable form of whey protein that is absorbed quickly and easily into the body making it the ideal pre or post workout protein supplement. Whilst they are a number of benefits to HWP, there are also a number of limitations and therefore throughout this article we will discuss both the pros and cons of using HWP as a protein supplement, the differences between HWPI and HWPC and what to look for when choosing the best protein product to suit your needs.
What is Hydrolysed Whey Protein (HWP)?
As seen in the diagram below, after separating the dairy milk proteins into casein and whey, whey protein concentrate forms the foundation of all whey protein products. Hydrolysed Whey Protein is then created through a process of hydrolysis where the amino acids (predominately the long-chain amino acids that make up whey protein) are pre-digested (broken down) by enzymes such that the end product is absorbed into our bloodstream much quicker. The pre-digested product is also much safer for human consumption with a significant reduction in the risk of gastrointestinal side effects.
What's the difference between HWPI and HWPC?
There are 2 types of HWP, hydrolysed whey protein concentrate (HWPC) and hydrolysed whey protein isolate (HWPI). The difference between them is the point of hydrolysation. As can be seen in the diagram above to make HWPC you simply need to hydrolyse WPC, where as to make HWPI you need to isolate the whey protein first and then hydrolyse it.
HWPI vs HWPC - Which is Better?
Assuming that we are comparing apples with apples and the hydrolysis process used to make both is the identical (ie using the same enzymes, in the same environmental conditions, for the same amount time) comparing HWPI with HWPC is the same as comparing Whey Protein Concentrate to Whey Protein Isolate. For athletes seeking a fast acting Whey Protein for pre or post workout purposes, they would be best served by using a HWPI, as isolates are traditionally digested faster and contain more protein per serve. Additionally Hydrolysed Whey Protein Isolates have lower amounts of lactose and fat in comparison to Hydrolysed Whey Protein Concentrates. Unfortunately the process of hydrolysation leaves a bitter taste in your mouth and therefore HWPC products tend to taste better then HWPI as they contain a higher percentage of fat and sugar. Whilst hydrolysed whey concentrates may taste better, the fat content slows down the absorption rate and therefore it takes longer for the amino acids to enter the bloodstream.
Which is better? Well that depends on what you're taking it for. Given that most people who take hydrolysed whey protein products do so for the fast acting protein, HWPI is generally the better option. Fortunately most HWPI products on the market today take advantage of modern food technology to make them taste better (although as a result, may contain artificial sweeteners). Once upon a time to drink HWPI, you had to hold your nose, it was awful!
Whilst Hydrolysed whey protein isolate products are typically the most desirable option they are also represent the most expensive products on the market. Depending on your training goals, sometimes this extra cost is unwarranted and therefore you should consider both the pros and cons of hydrolysed whey protein discussed below before jumping to conclusions.
TIP: don't mix HWPI with anything other than water, mixing pure HWP products with milk for example will slow down the absorption process defeating the point of taking it in the first place.
Advantages of Hydrolysed Whey Protein
One of the main advantages of HWP over the more natural WPC and WPI is that it is safer for human consumption. A commonly reported side effect of ingesting whey protein is that in some people it can cause gastric discomfort, constipation, cramping or bloating.
One of the reasons people often experience these symptoms is that the digestive system has to work hard to breakdown the many long-chain amino acids that make up whey protein. Hydrolysed whey protein is already pre-digested by enzymes and therefore it is much easier on the digestive system. Additionally HWP is absorbed much quicker (some products are absorbed within 20mins of consumption). In comparison the more natural WPC can take up to 3-4 hours to fully digest.
Another cause of gastric upset is the strong dose of lactose associated with whey protein products given that they originate from dairy milk. To overcome this problem whey protein isolate products were created to deliver a higher percentage of protein and smaller percentage of lactose. Hydrolysed whey protein Isolate takes this one step further by breaking down the long chain amino acids making it even easier on the stomach.
Given that HWP is the easiest form of whey protein to digest and is the least likely to cause side affects, HWP (and in particular HWPI) is the most common form of whey protein used in baby formula and medicinal protein products.
Hydrolysed whey protein shakes consumed in the gym, trend or friend?
The main reason why Hydrolysed whey protein products are popular among athletes in the gym is that they typically offer a strong dose of protein, which is absorbed quickly into the blood stream making them an ideal pre/intra/post workout protein supplement.
A recent study conducted in Australia (2008) concluded that Hydrolysed Whey Protein was more effective in muscle recovery immediately post workout when compared to other whey protein products, which arguably makes them more desirable.
In summary the main reason people like HWP products is because they contain the fastest acting source of whey protein, which elicits the greatest results when consumed immediately post workout. Unfortunately the benefits of consuming HWP at other times of the day are less convincing and are discussed in more detail below.
Limitations and Disadvantages of Hydrolysed Whey Protein (MUST READ)
Whilst at this point we might have you thinking that that HWPI are the best products on the market and therefore they are the only products you should be looking at, that would be wrong. There are no doubt advantages to using HWP products, particularly when consumed immediately post workout (as discussed above), but there are also a number of disadvantages and this is where if you're smart you can save a lot of money.
The first disadvantage is the cost, these products are normally twice as expensive as whey protein concentrate and this is easily justified by the extra processing that is required to manufacture these products. The question that needs to be ask is, are they worth the extra cost?
The main advantage of HWP products is that that they offer a fast acting protein, but in order to do this the long-chain amino acids need to be broken down through a process of hydrolysation. The problem with this is that when you breakdown these amino acids they lose some of their biological value meaning that they become less useful to body, particularly when trying to build muscle. So whilst HWP products offer the opportunity to deliver protein quickly, as a trade off you make the sacrifice of delivering a protein of lower biological value (less desirable for building muscle).
This is not to say that HWP should be dismissed, but instead use them for the purpose in which they were intended, a post workout protein hit. Now here's the most important thing to remember about HWP and this is where you can save money. Pure HWPI (the expensive stuff) is only really beneficial when taken just before, during or after a workout. If you taking pure HWPI at any other time throughout the day (ie more than 3 hours before or after training), your money could be better spent. Sure your still getting protein, but at other times of the day you would be better off using a cheaper, better quality protein (higher biological value), such as Whey Protein Isolate to ensure you have enough long chain amino acids required to build muscle.
In an ideal world, if you are a serious athlete, you would use a quality HWPI immediately post workout (for an instant protein boost) in combination with a quality Whey Protein Isolate (WPI), Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) or a whey protein blend (WPI + WPC) a few times throughout the day to ensure you get adequate amounts of all the amino acids you require for strength and muscle mass gains. An alternative is to purchase a whey protein blend that offers both.
One big mistake that uninformed (or misinformed) athletes make in the gym is that they spend the big bucks on 100% pure HWPI and drink it during or after their workout, but then think that's all they need to do. If you read the article on post workout nutrition you will learn that the most important nutrient immediately post workout is carbohydrate, not protein and therefore if you're only consuming protein immediately post workout and not addressing the glycogen window, you're wasting your money.
Essentially our best advice around nutrition for athletes is to get your basic nutrient timing right first before you starting investing in the top shelf protein products. Additionally when using HWP products they are best used in combination with a more complete protein such as WPI or WPC throughout the day as discussed above. They generally don't deliver the best results when used in isolation.
What is the Degree of Hydrolysis (DH)?
To understand hydrolysis you first need to understand that whey protein is made up of a series of short, medium and long chain amino acids which are held together through a series of peptide bonds. During the process of hydrolysis, specific enzymes are added to isolate and break these peptide bonds. Depending on the type of enzymes added and the processing conditions, different amino acid sequences can be produced. This amino acid profile then determines the nutritional and functional characteristics of the hydrolysed whey protein product.
The degree of hydrolysis (DH) refers to how much of the protein has been pre-digested. An overall DH value of 10% suggests that 10% of all the available peptide bonds have been hydrolysed (pre-digested). To make it more confusing however sometimes the DH value maybe in reference to how many of the amino acids have partially broken down. 100% pure hydrolysed whey protein isolate for example does not mean that the formula has been entirely broken down (if so it would be worthless), instead it means that the product only contains hydrolysed whey protein isolate and does not contain any traces of WPC or unhydrolysed WPI.
In our experience the key is to not read too much into the degree of hydrolysis, you time is generally better spent modifying your training program to maximize the results and not just doing an exercise for the sake of doing it. Every rep and set has a purpose and only when you take this approach can you optimize your returns.
One final word on the degree of hydrolysis, of all the whey protein formulas, 100% pure hydrolysed whey protein isolate will be absorbed the quickest, but it's also the most expensive (and most bitter tasting). For the general population, beginner and intermediate athletes, this extra investment is most likely unwarranted, using WPI will save you money and often deliver better results. For those advanced athletes who are set on HWP, we recommend 100% pure HWPI, you'll pay for it, but if everything else in your diet and workout is optimized, you will notice the difference.
How to Choose a Whey Protein Product?
Don't get sucked into buying the product with the most protein thinking it is the best, the amino acid profile (the makeup of the whey protein) is what determines the biological value not just the amount of protein. This will be reviewed in more detail in the future, in the short term you simply need to understand the following generalisation
Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) - cheapest, most natural and complete form of whey protein. Comes with the highest percentage of fat and carbohydrate (lactose) and therefore takes longer to digest and there is a greater chance of gastric upset and bloating. Recommended for - beginner to moderate athletes and those looking to gain weight who otherwise have no trouble digesting dairy products.
Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) - greater percentage of protein per serve (less fat and carbohydrate), has the highest biological value (conversion of protein in the body) and the best overall effect on muscle growth. More expensive then WPC but cheaper then HWP. Recommended for - moderate to advanced athletes (majority of gym users), who wish to focus on muscle growth and recovery (not to be confused with weight gain) and/or those who are partially susceptible to dairy related symptoms (eg bloating, gastric upset).
Hydrolysed Whey Protein (HWP) - high protein percentage, absorbed the quickest, enabling quicker muscle recovery (really desirable for heavy trainers) with the lowest chance of side effects. It is the most expensive. Recommended for - advance athletes with high training volumes who need quicker recovery. Additionally is ideal for those who are very susceptible to dairy related symptoms (eg lactose intolerant).
Realated Whey Protein Articles
Learn about the benefits of Whey Protein
Learn more about Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
Learn more about Whey Protein Isolate (WPI)
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