Protein powder is a popular nutritional supplement used to build strong, lean muscles. A wide variety of plant and animal-based options are available on the market, leading many people to wonder about the benefits of whey protein vs. plant protein for their routine.
Here, we will discuss the main differences between plant-based protein powder and whey powder. The best protein supplement for you will depend on individual preferences, sensitivities, and dietary choices.
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey protein comes from milk byproducts processed and dried into a powdered form. Thanks to its high protein content, it’s a popular choice amongst bodybuilders, athletes, and amateur health enthusiasts.
Whey protein contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It also boasts specialized branched-chain amino acids, also known as BCAAs. These building blocks help form stronger muscles, speed up tissue recovery, and even aid in weight loss.
Many people wonder about the differences between whey protein vs. animal protein. Whey protein is a form of animal protein since it comes from bovine byproducts. However, whey comes from milk instead of isolating protein from meat or muscle tissue.
How Is Whey Protein Made?
Whey protein comes from milk byproducts isolated during the cheese-making process.
Cheese is made by curdling milk, which separates solid curds from liquid whey. While the curds will go on to become cheese, whey often gets used these days to make protein supplements.
Manufacturers must remove unwanted components such as carbs, fat, and some lactose to make whey. The leftover liquid then gets removed to form a powder, often through a spray-drying process.
How Much Protein Is in Whey Powder?
The average whey protein powder boasts around 20 to 30 grams of complete protein per serving.
If you don’t get enough protein naturally in your diet, adding whey protein to a meal or drink can help supplement your intake.
Those looking to build muscle mass may need to eat more protein than a sedentary individual. However, most experts recommend eating around one gram of protein per pound of body weight to improve muscle growth.
A daily 20 to 30-gram serving of whey protein powder can make it much easier to hit your daily nutrient goals, especially for those looking to build strong, lean muscles.
Is Whey Protein Powder Safe for Everyone?
Whey protein powder is a safe and effective choice for most people, but it may not be the best option for everybody.
Since whey protein powder comes from milk byproducts, it may not be suitable for strict vegan diets. However, whey should be fine for vegetarians, as it contains no meat or meat byproducts.
Lactose-intolerant individuals may want to avoid whey protein powder, as milk byproducts contain limited amounts of lactose.
Whey protein isolate products undergo heavier processing than whey protein concentrates. However, they contain lower levels of lactose that may be more acceptable for sensitive individuals.
To err on the safe side, though, it may be better for lactose-intolerant people to opt for lactose-free plant proteins.
What Is Plant Protein?
Some protein supplements come from plants instead of animal byproducts, making them more suitable for vegans and those with dairy sensitivities. There are several plants products commonly found in supplements, including:
- Brown rice
- Fava Beans
- Nuts and legumes
Plants typically contain fewer amino acids and BCAAs than animal-based proteins. Only soy and quinoa are complete proteins containing all nine essential amino acids.
Many vegan supplements contain multiple plant byproducts to round out the protein content. Doing so ensures that plant-based supplements have the same amino acids and BCAAs in whey protein powder.
How Is Plant Protein Made?
To make plant protein powders, manufacturers extract unwanted compounds such as fats and carbohydrates to make plant protein powders. Plants are processed into pure protein and then dried to an easy-to-use powder form.
While some supplements contain just one type of plant, often soy, many offer a blend of different plants for a healthier protein distribution.
Like whey protein supplements, you can easily add plant-based powders to meals and drinks to increase your daily intake.
How Much Protein Is in Plant-Based Powder?
Plant-based supplements can be much more variable in protein content than whey powders. However, the amount and type of protein per serving depend heavily on the plants used during manufacturing.
It’s best to look for plant-based supplements offering a similar protein profile to whey supplements. Those containing soy, quinoa, or a blend of fruits and vegetables are more likely to have all of the amino acids and BCAAs you need for healthy muscle growth.
As a general rule, look for plant-based supplements that offer 20 to 30 grams of complete protein per serving. You can use the same amount in meals and beverages as a whey supplement.
Is Plant Protein Powder Safe for Everyone?
Plant protein powder makes a good choice for vegans and those trying to avoid animal byproducts.
Plant-based supplements are also best for those who are lactose-intolerant. Unlike milk-based whey protein, plant protein doesn’t contain any lactose that could trigger a digestive reaction.
However, plant-based supplements may not be safe for people with other common digestive sensitivities. For example, many products contain soy compounds, which may trigger an adverse reaction in people with soy allergies.
Some plant-based powders may contain ingredients with gluten. People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities may be safer sticking to whey protein supplements.
Whey Protein Vs. Plant Protein
When shopping for supplements, many wonder if whey or plant proteins are more effective. In many cases, both types offer similar health benefits, including muscle growth and weight loss.
Many health enthusiasts supplement their protein intake in the hopes of improving muscle strength and stamina.
Certain amino acids found in protein are a key component of healthy muscle growth and repair. By supplying your body with more essential amino acids, you offer up the material your body needs to get in shape.
There are nine essential amino acids that our body can’t produce. They should all be present in protein supplements, including:
The best protein supplements for weight loss also include BCAAs. These help to build larger muscles and strengthen intramuscular connections.
Whey protein powders naturally contain the essential amino acids and BCAAs needed to encourage muscle growth.
Plant protein powders may not contain the amino acids your muscles need. Therefore, it’s essential to read the label and look for complete proteins.
Plant-based supplements containing all nine essential amino acids and fortified with BCAAs perform just as well as whey-based powders regarding muscle growth.
Both when and plant protein can be just as effective at building muscle. Taking either supplement will help you get more out of your regular workout routine.
While it may seem counterintuitive, protein supplements can help you lose weight more quickly and effectively.
Many people try to bulk up by adding more protein-rich foods to their diet. However, these foods may also be dense in fats, calories, or sugar. Overeating may result in weight gain instead of muscle.
Both plant-based and animal-based supplements allow you to add more protein to your diet without increasing your caloric intake.
What’s more, protein powders can make your body feel fuller. Therefore, supplementing your protein intake reduces the risk of midday cravings between meals.
Be wary of buying protein supplements with sweeteners and additives. While they might taste better than unflavored powders, they can add unwanted calories to your meal.
Instead, it’s best to stick to protein-only supplements. Doing so can help you build lean muscle without packing any additional pounds.
Using Plant-Based Protein Powder Vs. Whey Powder
No matter which powder supplement you choose, you can use them in the same manner to increase protein intake.
It’s best to look for supplements that offer around 20 to 30 grams per serving, whether they contain plant-based or whey protein.
As a dry powder, protein supplements are easy to add to just about any meal. Simply stir in a spoonful after preparing your food for an extra dose of healthy protein.
You can also stir protein powder into your drink or smoothie for a quick protein blast before or after your workout.
If you’re on the go, it’s easy to bring powdered protein supplements with you to work, school, or simply out on the town.
Ingredients to Avoid
Some protein supplements contain ingredients designed to improve taste or texture. It’s best to opt for a pure protein powder to avoid any unwanted side effects.
Natural and Artificial Sweeteners
Sweeteners can make protein supplements more palatable, but adding more sugar to your diet is never a good idea. Both natural and artificial sugars can cause issues ranging from blood sugar spikes to tooth decay.
Thickeners and Fillers
Some manufacturers use inert, nonreactive compounds to bulk up their products. While some fillers do nothing more than waste your money, others may lead to digestive discomfort.
Dextrin is a common filler also used to increase fiber content, but it often leads to intestinal issues with regular use. Corn, rice, and potato starch are other fillers you may see in protein powders.
Here, we’ll answer the most common questions people ask about vegan protein vs. whey protein.
Is whey protein plant-based?
Unlike vegan protein powders that use soy, pea, hemp, and other plants as a base, whey protein uses milk protein from cows. It is not considered a plant protein and is unsuitable for strict vegan diets.
Is whey protein animal protein?
While whey protein doesn’t come from meat or muscle tissue, it is considered an animal protein. Manufacturers use milk byproducts from dairy cows to make whey protein powders.
Is plant protein safer than whey protein?
The safety of a given protein supplement depends primarily on your digestive sensitivities. Plant protein is safer for people with lactose intolerance, but it may not be suitable for those allergic to compounds such as soy and gluten.
When it comes to whey protein vs. plant protein, neither choice is necessarily better than the other. Both offer similar benefits regarding muscle growth, tissue repair, and weight loss.
The best protein supplement for your lifestyle comes down to personal preferences, including your diet and your digestive sensitivities.
Whether you choose whey or plant-based powder, supplementing your protein intake can help make your workout sessions more effective and your weight loss strategies more efficient.