How Much Protein for Cyclists? Whey Protein vs Isolate

In recent years, especially among physically active people, considerable attention has been paid to the appropriate amount of protein intake. People who are physically active should consume 1.2 – 2 g/kg of body weight. Its values ​​depend on many factors, including the type of physical activity performed, gender, age or sports goal. It seems extremely convenient to supplement it in the form of protein supplements. This is a quick and practical way, thanks to which we can easily deliver the set values ​​(especially when we need to consume large amounts of protein).

There are many types of it, from whey proteins through soy proteins to casein. In the last article, we talked about which protein would be better: whey or casein. I refer you to the article here: Casein protein vs Whey protein

Today we will focus on protein for cyclists per day and what whey protein to choose a concentrate or isolate?
How are these proteins different from each other and which one will be better for cyclists?

Let’s find out!

Protein for cyclists

As a group practicing endurance sports, cyclists should pay special attention to an adequate supply of protein in the diet. As more physical activity is associated with increased protein breakdown, they should be properly supplemented. The demand for protein among cyclists will therefore be correspondingly higher. People who train cycling regularly should make sure that the diet includes 1.2 – 1.6 g of protein/kg of body weight every day.

Proteins support post-workout recovery and muscle growth. Sometimes they serve as an energy source (while muscle glycogen stores are too low – this usually happens after 60-90 minutes of exercise, some amino acids such as lysine, leucine, and isoleucine can be converted into energy).

It is also worth remembering to distribute the delivered proteins evenly throughout the day. The recommended dose is 15-25 g per meal (0.2-0.3 g/kg body weight per serving). This also applies to protein supplementation immediately after training.

Recommended protein intake depending on the type of training

Type of training Protein requirement in g/kg body weight per day
No workout 0,75
Endurance training 1,2 – 1,6
Endurance and strength training 1,6 – 1,8
Fast and strength training 1,8 – 2,5
Aimed at fat loss 1,6 – 2,0
Aimed at weight gain 1,8 – 2,0

Source: Nutrition in sport A. Bean 2014

Types of whey proteins

In the previous article on protein (Main differences: Casein Protein vs Whey Protein), I recommended whey as a rapidly digesting protein, compared to casein or soy protein among the “slow digest” types. The choice is not as simple as it seems to be. There are several types of whey that differ in the method of production and the content of macronutrients.

Whey can be found as:

WPC (Whey Protein Concentrate)
WPI (Whey Protein Isolate)
WPH (Whey Protein Hydrolyzate)

Hydrolyzate is the most advanced form of preparation. It is characterized by fast digestibility and contains 100% protein. As you can guess, it is also the most expensive and it does not always make sense to invest in it. The first two mentioned are the types of whey most frequently chosen by consumers.

How are they really different from each other?
Which one is better to choose?

Let’s get down to business.

Whey protein concentrate

Whey protein concentrate (WPC) is made from whey as a side effect in milk production [1]. It usually contains up to 80% of protein, so it is often hidden in stores under the mysterious name WPC-80. Protein in this form contains a certain amount of lactose (carbohydrates) and fat. Due to the addition of these macronutrients, organoleptically it is more attractive to the consumer. Whey protein concentrates also have bioactive ingredients, such as α- and β-lactoglobulins, transferrin, proteosopeptones, and immunoglobulins. These compounds constitute a kind of reserve for the reserve amount of vitamin A or iron.

Another important feature is the digestibility and very good taste of the concentrate. Manufacturers often add various types of dyes, sweeteners, or flavors, thanks to which they can be used not only as a post-workout cocktail but also as an addition to baked goods or sweet meals.

Protein supplements based on whey concentrates are usually classified as products with an average absorption time. The duration of the absorption of nutritional values ​​from this preparation depends on the presence of carbohydrates and fats in the composition. Due to their content, the preparation must pass through the gastrointestinal tract more slowly so that any nutrient contained in it can be broken down into an easily absorbable form [2]. Amino acids, which are a product of whey protein breakdown, are absorbed in the intestine. The estimated time for the absorption of the WPC by the human body is 1-3 hours.

A portion of 25 g of whey protein concentrate contains about:

Energy: 98 Kcal
Proteins: 19 g
Fats: 1.5 g
Carbohydrates: 2.5 g.

Whey protein isolate

Isolate is another type of whey protein. Just like the concentrate, it is made of whey in the milk production process, but the isolate is additionally subjected to processes aimed at purifying it of carbohydrates and fats [1]. Often, in order to save time, more technologically advanced methods of preparation occurring at lower temperatures are used. As a result, protein in the form of WPI has more nutritional value than whey protein concentrate. The protein content in such nutrients ranges from 80 to 90%. Moreover, the amount of exogenous amino acids is greater than in the concentrate. On the other hand, the amount of fat (1-3%) and carbohydrates (0-3%) is reduced.

Such composition means that they are quickly (up to an hour) absorbed by the body and can be successfully used as a post-workout source of protein. The big disadvantage of isolates is their price. They are much more expensive than WPC preparations, they also have a worse taste. However, what is important, is the almost complete absence of sugars (including lactose), which makes them more digestible for people suffering from stomach problems after consuming the concentrate. Nevertheless, people with lactose intolerance may still experience problems after consuming the isolate [3].

A portion of 25 g of whey protein isolate contains about:

Energy: 91 Kcal
Proteins: 22 g
Fats: 0.2 g
Carbohydrates: 0.2 g

Whey Protein Concentrate vs Whey Protein Isolate

There is no clear winner in this duel. Comparing the effect of the concentrate and isolate, they are similar in terms of muscle protection. However, they differ in the speed of action. Although in terms of providing material for regeneration, WPI and WPC work similarly, but whey protein isolate, through faster absorption, inhibits catabolic processes that occur after depletion of energy reserves. Moreover, its faster absorption in the intestines causes a faster insulin response and, consequently, the deposition of muscle glycogen, the reserves of which have been depleted during training [4].

The isolated protein is recommended in particular to people who want to lose weight (due to the minimum content of sugars and fats) or professionals for whom every gram of protein is important and care about faster regeneration (e.g. professional cyclists training every day).

Whey concentrates are recommended for people who train amateur cycling and want to supplement protein from a valuable source, those who are just starting out, whose goal is to build muscle mass or maintain body weight, or simply want to enrich their diet with a protein supplement. More carbohydrates and fats will be an additional plus for the newly formed muscle tissue. What’s more, their price is undeniably lower than that of isolates, so if you want to save money, go for WPC. In addition, the concentrate is simply tastier and will be better as an addition to sweet meals.

When choosing a protein preparation (whether it will be an isolate or a concentrate), you must also pay attention to its composition. Producents often, for marketing purposes, “add” many price-increasing additives that are not always needed, or contain minimal values, such as vitamins, minerals. Usually, you also have many flavors to choose from (sometimes even several dozen), which means that everyone will choose something for themselves. Be sure to buy products from proven companies. It is best to decide on large concerns that have their own laboratories and risk a lot by introducing a defective product.


Protein supplementation in the form of a powder is a popular way to supplement it with your diet. Whey protein is the most frequently chosen form of them. Which whey protein should you choose when training cycling, isolate, or concentrate? It depends. The difference between them is mainly in the speed of absorption and the content of macronutrients. For non-advanced athletes, WPC is definitely enough. Slightly lower protein content will not for sure affect the speed of training progress. This solution is the most economical and tastier.

Isolate is a product aimed rather at professional athletes, for whom every detail makes a difference, or at people who are slimming.

When choosing the right protein powder, remember that it is only a supplement to a healthy, balanced diet. Protein sources should come primarily from poultry, eggs, lean dairy products, legumes, soy products, seeds, and nuts [5].