Plant Protein or Whey Protein - Which is better for you?
This is a raging debate across the circuits of the fitness community across the world for the past few years. This discussion about Plant Proteins as a possible alternative to Whey Protein Powder is a very recent phenomenon. For 4-5 decades earlier there was no such discussion at all. Whey was the undisputed King of Protein Supplements and you wanted to build muscle you had only one choice: Whey Protein. Of course you had choice between Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Hydrolysate and Whey-based BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) etc. But when it came to protein supplements it was pretty much Whey all the way.
Now that Plant proteins are getting wider acceptance in the fitness industry, it brings us to the question: are plant-based protein powders better than whey? Let's take a look at what both supplements offer and whey (you see what we did there?) the pros and cons.
What's the Difference?
Before we put these two protein powders head-to-head, let's briefly discuss exactly what they are.
Plant-Based Protein Powder
This type of protein powder is just what it sounds like -- protein derived from plants. Just like other protein powders, not all plant-based versions are the same. But most have similar ingredients like seeds, rice, hemp, and peas.
Whey Protein Powder
The whey found in protein powder actually comes from milk. If you've ever heard of cheese curds, you know that the liquid in milk separates to make curds. The watery portion that's left is used to make whey protein powder.
Pros and Cons
Now that you understand the difference between plant-based and whey protein powders, let's examine the pros and cons of both. While it ultimately comes down to personal preference, here are a few factors to consider.
This is the biggest difference between plant-based and whey protein powders. Especially for those with digestive issues.
Because whey protein is derived from milk, it can cause complications for people with a dairy sensitivity or intolerance. A shocking number of people are lactose-intolerant. And most don't even know it.
If you experience bloating, gas, or discomfort after consuming whey protein powder, lactose may be to blame. But if lactose is your friend, whey protein powder is the way to go.
It's quickly digested and put to work repairing and building muscles. If your stomach can handle dairy, whey protein powder means speedy muscle recovery.
If you're looking for something easy to digest, plant-based protein powder may be the answer. Not only is plant-based powder free of allergens but it's also gluten-free and absorbed quickly by the body.
Most people can easily digest the ingredients found in plant-based powders including hemp, pea, rice, seeds, and quinoa. You may recognize these as some of the main sources of protein for vegans and vegetarians.
When deciding between whey vs. plant protein powder, look passed the grams of protein and go straight to the ingredient list.
One of the main reasons people turn to protein powders is to gain vital nutrients. These are the building blocks of any good workout program.
If you're looking for a protein powder void of artificial sweeteners and additives, look no further than a plant-based product. It's no surprise that this type of protein powder is the more natural choice.
Many of the ingredients used to make plant-based powders contain essential vitamins, nutrients, omega3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. These ingredients also have a naturally pleasant taste, eliminating the need for flavor additives.
Plant-based products require less processing, as well. One thing to be aware of is that plant-based ingredients are sometimes high in carbohydrate content. If you're looking to shed pounds, additional carbs could hinder your results.
Let's not disregard whey protein completely in terms of nutritional value. Whey protein is nutrient dense. It contains high levels of protein and few calories.
If you're looking for straight protein, whey delivers. Just remember that whey protein products contain more sugar and have high levels of saturated fat than their plant-based counterpart.
This is an important fact for those counting their macronutrients.
Muscle Building and Recovery
Most people turn to protein powder to support their current workout regime. This may include both weight loss and muscle gain. But how do whey and plant-based protein powders stack up in terms of muscle support and recovery?
Whey protein powder prides itself in offering all nine amino acids needed for muscle growth. Products that contain these nine acids are considered "complete proteins". Plant-based products don't offer this same benefit.
Another important component of whey protein are BCAAs - branched chain amino acids. These are leucine, isoleucine, and valine and known for promoting muscle growth. They're also vital in muscle protein synthesis.
The downside? These ingredients don't taste the greatest. Manufacturers add unknown ingredients to improve flavor and increase shelf life.
And the presence of all nine amino acids in whey protein combined with the fact that it's a dairy product creates acidity in the body.
Where does plant-based protein stack up in terms of muscle recovery? Pea (the main ingredient in most plant-based proteins) is credited with increasing muscle thickness. And doing so as effectively as whey.
Combined with other ingredients like quinoa and hemp, plant-based protein offers beneficial amino acid profiles as well.
Whether or not you're a "go green" supporter, you should know what affects your protein of choice has on the environment. And what exactly you're ingesting.
Plant-based protein (when made from organic plants) helps protect the environment through organic farming. Studies show that this method helps counteract global warming.
It's also said to help add minerals into depleted soil and promote both sustainable water and food supplies. Plant-based protein lets you nourish your body and the earth at the same time.
Whey protein, on the other hand, is a way for manufacturers to capitalize on unwanted waste. When factories produce yogurt and cheese, they discard the whey. Instead of wasting it, they turn it into protein powder and other products.
Animal farming is a controversial topic. Depending on your stance, you may be shocked by how much milk it takes to create whey protein powder.
And don't forget that some cows are fed hormones and other antibiotics to increase milk production. When it comes to purity and protein powder, plant-based sources are the better option.
How to Choose the Right Protein Powder
Understanding the differences between whey and plant-based protein powder helps you make a more informed decision. But what other factors should you consider before purchasing?
Check the Label
This goes without saying. When you're buying protein powder (whether it's whey or plant-based), check the ingredients.
Make sure to choose one that's low in sugar and carbohydrates. This is especially important if you're on a weight loss journey.
What your protein powder doesn't have is almost as important as what it does. Avoid any products that contain probiotics.
Whenever possible, find a powder endorsed by the NSF International (National Sanitation Foundation). These products are approved for sports use and are guaranteed to contain only what the label lists.
Consider Your Goals
Not all protein powders are created equal. And your goals are specific to your journey and your body type.
Certain protein powders promote weight loss and building lean muscle. Others are designed for weight gain and bulking. These are favored by bodybuilders.
If you're looking to lose weight, opt for powders low in carbs and sugars. Bulking protein powders contain BCAAs and other amino acids like those found in whey powders.
Do you suffer from diabetes or high-sugar? Are you lactose intolerant?
Your current state of health plays a big role in choosing the right protein powder for your body. If you already have high sugar levels, find a powder that has low sugar and low carbs.
You already know that whey is made from milk, which is a dairy product. Steer clear if you have pre-existing digestive issues.
Powders with lower levels of protein are best for anyone with kidney issues. The kidneys help break down protein in the body. Too much may cause complications. Powders containing less than 15 grams per serving is recommended.
Plant-based protein powder is the best choice for vegetarians and vegans who avoid dairy products for personal reasons.
Is Plant-Based Protein Powder Better For You?
The question remains: is plant-based protein powder better for you? It all depends on your goals, current health, and personal choice.
Plant-based protein offers essential vitamins and nutrients and is easier to digest. It's also kind to the environment. But some fitness enthusiasts swear by whey protein and can't be swayed.
Whichever protein source you choose, do your research and continue a healthy, balanced diet.