Protein powder is a pantry staple in many households, as many people are seeking convenient foods to support busy and active lifestyles. With the increased interest in protein powders, you may have noticed an expansion in the types of products available.
The two main types of protein powders are those made from animal-derived protein, like whey, and those made from plant-based protein, like soy or pea. Both are rich in protein and can be used in versatile ways.
But when it comes to whey vs vegan protein, which is best? Here are the major differences between vegan protein vs. whey when considering which one is a better fit for you.
Should You Choose Whey Protein vs Vegan Protein?
It’s important to choose a protein powder that aligns with your goals, preferences, and lifestyle. Below are a few things to consider when evaluating vegan protein powder vs. whey options.
The first big difference between vegan protein vs. whey powder is how they’re made and what main ingredients they contain. Whey is one of the main proteins in dairy (along with casein); and is the liquid separated from the curds in dairy processing. To make whey protein powder, the liquid whey is then dried and processed into powder.
Vegan protein powder is often made from soy, pea, hemp, pumpkin, chia, or brown rice, or a combination. To make these, for example, soy protein is isolated from soybean meal that has been defatted and processed into powder.
When it comes to protein content, vegan protein powder vs. whey will give you similar amounts. Per serving, you can expect to find between 20-30 grams of protein. Both types of protein powders will contain all nine essential amino acids, which are the building blocks your body needs to make protein.
Vegan protein powders are often combined in order to make sure all of the essential amino acids are present in similar and ample amounts, as certain plant proteins may be limited in certain amino acids on their own.
Whey protein powders also contain leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that are important for building muscle. Not all vegan protein powders will contain these, but rice, peas, and soy do, so just check the label.
Because whey protein comes from dairy, it contains some amount of lactose, a natural sugar that some adults have some degree of trouble digesting due to a lack of the digestive enzyme lactase. While many whey proteins can contain less lactose than whole milk, there is always a trace amount that can be a concern for highly sensitive individuals.
Vegan protein does not contain lactose and is generally hypoallergenic and easily digestible. However, if you have allergies or intolerances to things like soy or gluten, it’s important to make sure the vegan protein powder you choose are free from these.
Both whey and vegan protein powders have been shown to be beneficial in promoting muscle growth when used alongside an exercise and strength routine.
Keep in mind that protein powders should not be used to replace dietary protein sources from solid foods, like legumes, fish, or meat products, but they can help complement them to support your fitness goals.
When considering which protein powder to purchase, sustainability is an important factor to weigh. Plant protein vs whey protein can both be sustainably made. To determine how much the specific brand prioritizes sustainability in its products, consider the following questions.
- How is the product packaged? Are the materials recyclable?
- Does it contain sustainable ingredients?
- Is the protein a concentrate or an isolate?
- How much does the company focus on being local?
For example, our entirely non-GMO line of Well Wisdom whey protein is made and distributed using 100% recyclable jars, lids, scoops, and cardboard shipping cases. We avoid using single-serving sample packs and pouches due to the increased waste that would result. Furthermore, Well Wisdom whey protein concentrates are less processed than an isolate would be, which reduces both the energy necessary to process them as well as waste byproducts.
For sweetening purposes, we use monk fruit because it’s made using significantly more sustainable farming practices than other sugar alternatives. We also emphasize practices that minimize our carbon footprint, such as being located conveniently to our employees, as well as product packaging, labeling, and storage all occurring very close to one another.
Overall, when choosing the best protein powder for you, whether it’s vegan protein vs. whey or something else, it all comes down to your personal needs and preferences. Consider what’s most important to you in a protein powder and compare the options to see which one aligns the best.
- Gorissen SHM, Crombag JJR, Senden JMG, et al. Protein content and amino acid composition of commercially available plant-based protein isolates. Amino Acids. 2018;50(12):1685-1695. doi:10.1007/s00726-018-2640-5
- Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:20. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
- Malik TF, Panuganti KK. Lactose Intolerance. [Updated 2021 Jul 29]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532285/