Expert Nutrition

Learn About Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)

Whey Protein Concentrate also known as WPC is the foundation product of the whey protein range. Throughout this article we will discuss the pros and cons of using WPC as a protein supplement and what to look for when choosing the best protein product to suit your needs.

What is Whey Protein Concentrate?

Whey Protein Concentrate is essentially a dehydrated by-product (formally a waste product) of manufacturing cheese. As seen in the diagram below and discussed in the article on whey protein, during the manufacturing process of cheese, the casein and whey proteins found in dairy milk are separated. If you then remove the water you're left with WPC.

Making of Whey Protein Concentrate

Defining Whey "Concentrate"

WPC products offer whey protein in its most natural form, they do not however contain the highest amount (concentration per serve) of whey protein as the name suggests. Don't let the name fool you, the term "concentrate" in regards to whey protein is in reference to its raw form, not the amount of protein.

Using WPC for Weight Gain and Muscle Growth vs Weight Loss

As a concentrate, whey protein acts as a moderate release protein where it is digested and normally absorbed within 2 hours of consumption, gradually feeding the body protein over this time. One advantage of whey protein concentrate is that it is very satiating, helping to satisfy hunger and prolong the feeling of fullness. Products that contain WPC can have up to 85% fewer calories than that of a typical meal and still help to satisfy your hunger which is specifically desirable for those trying to lose weight.

If weight loss is the goal, WPC products are typically used to replace a meal (ie breakfast, lunch or dinner) such that you get the feeling of fullness without over-consuming calories.

For those trying to gain weight, WPC is also very beneficial but instead it is used as a meal supplement to add protein and quality calories to your diet. Three balanced meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) when supplemented with a whey protein product mid morning and again mid afternoon is generally enough to assist weight gain or muscle growth (please refer to any product specific label to achieve best results).

How Much Whey Protein?

Whey Protein concentrate in its rawest form is about 80% protein when it leaves the dairy manufacturing process and by the time it hits the shelves most WPC products on the market will range between 40-80% depending on the type of product and the quality. How to choose the right whey protein product is discussed in more detail below.

Benefits of Whey Protein Concentrate

One of the main benefits of whey protein concentrate is that in its natural form WPC delivers a complete protein where the natural amino acid profile is preserved. Whilst other forms of whey, Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) and Hydrolysed Whey Protein (HWP) may offer a higher protein content per serve and are more easily digested and absorbed, during the refining process some of the amino acids can be lost or modified in the process.

The other big advantage of WPC is the cost. Given that there is little processing and modification required, WPC products are the cheapest on the market, delivering quality whey protein at the most affordable price.

Disadvantages and Side Effects of Whey protein Concentrate

Before getting too excited about WPC there are a few factors that also need to be considered before you open your wallet. The most important is that WPC also contains a good dose of lactose (milk sugar), which has the potential to cause stomach upset and gastro-intestinal discomfort in some (not all) people. In particular WPC products are generally not recommended for people with lactose intolerance.

A common misconception however is that anyone who reports gastro-intestinal discomfort shortly after drinking WPC is lactose intolerant. Whilst the lactose content of WPC is likely to aggravate symptoms of people who have lactose intolerance, the side effects most commonly reported by WPC users is a result of ingesting the entire protein shake too quickly (particularly when taken immediately post workout) and/or not allowing your body time to adjust to a new food product.

To avoid the commonly reported protein shake bowel discomfort associated with WPC our best advice is to drink your protein shakes like a cup of coffee (slowly over 20 minutes), not like a tequila shot and this should settle down most stomach upsets. Additionally to help the bacteria in your bowel adapt to the new form of food, it is recommended that you slowly introduce protein shakes into your diet. Start day 1 with a small dose (ie quarter of recommended) and gradually build up to the recommended dose over a few days (ie quarter-dose, half-dose, full dose, twice daily etc).

If you have concerns about WPC or have experienced gastro-intestinal troubles with Whey Protein Concentrate in the past, switching to a quality Whey Protein Isolate (WPI), Hydrolysed Whey Protein or a Whey Protein Blend should help to overcome most gastrointestinal problems as well as offer additional whey protein benefits which are discussed in each of the relavent articles at the bottom of this page. The down side of course is that you will have to pay more.

The other advantage-disadvantage of WPC is the slower absorption rate. WPC is a moderate release protein which offers the benefit of ensuring your body receives a constant supply of protein throughout the day when taken in conjunction with a proper balanced diet. More recently however there has been a greater demand in the marketplace for fast release whey protein products (eg HWP and HWPI) which are designed to deliver a strong dose of protein quickly to help satisfy the increasing demand for blood proteins immediately post workout.

In an ideal world athletes would consume a well balanced diet in combination with either WPC or WPI throughout the day to ensure their body is always in positive nitrogen balance (ie there is always a supply of protein in the blood ready for when the body needs it) as well as a fast acting Hydrolysed Whey Protein Isolate (HWPI) immediately post-workout (absorbed within 20mins) to help satisfy any increase in protein demand. This combination however is costly and therefore a solution needs to be tailored not only towards your training goals but also your budget.

Choosing a Whey Protein Concentrate Product

Products advertised as Whey Protein Concentrate should normally be above the 75% protein mark if you're looking for quality. Having said this it is not uncommon for weight and mass gain products to contain as little as 40% protein with the remainder of the serve made up of carbohydrates and fats.

A lot of people incidentally are deterred from using weight gain formulas based on the high portion of carbohydrate per serve, however these products as the name suggests are designed to help you gain weight, not make you look shredded and cut. When you are trying to gain weight, protein alone will generally have limited effects as you need a combination of quality protein as well as carbohydrate to promote insulin secretion and muscle growth. Most of the research suggests that protein without sufficient carbohydrate intake will have limited growth effects. Additionally the serving size of weight gain formulas is normally much higher, whilst you might only be getting 30% protein (ie 30g of protein per 100g serving), more than about 30g of protein in one serve is most likely going to waste anyway.

Our best advice when looking to buy any form of protein powder is to be clear about what your training goals are. Only when you're clear about your goals can you really then decide what will be the best product to help you achieve that goal (as well as what sort of training you should be doing).

In summary be clear about your goals and don't just look at the overall percentage of protein (protein serve per 100g) when choosing a product, but also the amount of protein per serve. Quality WPC products should give you at least 25g per serve.

As a general rule most WPC products are pretty much the same, any differences in price normally come through the cost of branding and through the added (often over-hyped) ingredients. Some brands of WPC will add certain ingredients to make them more appealing and sexy, but these products generally do little more than the basic formulas. The added ingredients become more important with WPI and HWPI products which are discussed in the relevant articles below.

One way to determine inferior whey products is that they normally do not mix well in water and will leave you feeling bloated. Unfortunately you normally won't find this out until after you have bought the product. Some stores however will offer sample packs or let you try them first. Asking your fellow gym users about their experiences can also help.

Remember, 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).

Other Whey Protein Articles

Related Nutrition and Weight Training Articles

Nutrition for Bodybuilders, Gym Junkies and Beach Bodies

Resistance Training 101

Muscle Building Nutrition Advice

Protein Powder and Gym Supplement Advice

Muscle Building Training Advice

Fit Body Photos and Images

These articles will provide you with the necessary tools to start a successful gym training or bodybuilding program. These principles are only the beginning. Remember that discipline, knowledge and consistency are the keys to achieving your goals. Good luck!

Over the coming months we will be developing this chapter. Please visit our blog and subscribe to our rss feed such that when new articles are added to this chapter you will be notified.

If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact us for advice.

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