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Plant-Based Protein vs Whey Protein Powders: Which is Better?
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Plant-Based Protein vs Whey Protein Powders: Which is Better?

Estimated time to read 9 minutes

When embarking on a new diet or looking to spice up your current meal routine, you might be seeking ways to get protein into your daily regimen.

This could be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you have a new weight lifting schedule and need more protein to support muscle growth. Or perhaps your current meals are leaving you hungrier than you’d like, and you’re needing something extra to fill you up.

Whatever the reason for incorporating more protein into your diet is, plant-based and whey protein powders are both popular ways to do so. But it can be confusing to know the difference between the two and overwhelming to consider which one is best for you.

In this blog post, we break down what plant-based and whey protein powders are and the pros and cons of both to help you choose.

What is Plant-Based Protein Powder?

When browsing the grocery aisles, you may be bamboozled by the many MANY protein powder options.

To give a little more background, proteins are made up of amino acids. During the food digestion process, proteins are broken down into those amino acids, which are the foundation for healthy muscle and bone growth, hormone support, and neurotransmitter function.

There are 22 amino acids that exist in total, but our bodies are only capable of making 13 of them. The 9 amino acids our body isn't able to make are called essential amino acids, and it’s necessary for our bodies to gain those amino acids elsewhere.

Typically, meat and dairy are popular sources of amino acids, but in recent years, people have turned to plant-based sources to provide them.

But for those times when you’re in the mood for a plant-based meal, but not craving protein powder, Proper Good is here to help! Our plant-based build your own pack includes 6 meals with only the finest, most delicious ingredients. Made with delicious vegan-friendly items like organic coconut milk, plant-based meats, and rich vegetable stocks, these tasty meals take only 90-seconds to make!

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Plant-Based Protein: Benefits, Negatives, and Other Information You Need to Know!

Now that you have a basic understanding of what plant-based protein powder is, it’s important to learn what the benefits and drawbacks are! 

Production

Plant-based protein powder is typically made by grinding up common plant-based protein sources. Grains, legumes, and seeds are popular sources of plant protein powders, which are made by removing most of the fat and carbs while isolating the protein components.

Nutrients, Protein Content, and Quality

It’s common for people who rely on plant-based protein to combine different types of protein powder together. The reason for this is because that’s often necessary to consume the needed levels of amino acids in a single meal.

For instance, pea protein, which contains lysine, can be combined with rice protein, which is rich in methionine.

Muscle Building and Recovery

A high-protein, exclusively plant-based diet supports muscle strength and gains in response to resistance training. You may be surprised to learn that plant-based protein powder supports muscle growth just as well as a diet that includes animal foods, according to a study published in Sports Medicine.

Digestion and Overall Health Impact

As shared by Food Navigator, scientists have found that plant-based meats are digested differently from animal-based meats. These findings have helped inform the creation of new plant-based protein sources with improved quality and nutritional attributes.

Calorie Count

A quarter-cup (28-gram) serving of soy protein isolate powder has about 95 calories and 22 grams of protein, depending on the brand. Additionally, soy protein contains beneficial plant compounds, including some that may lower cholesterol.

Environmental Factors

Believe it or not, plant-based meat uses 72%–99% less water than conventional meat! A lower environment footprint is a big reason why many people make the switch to a plant-based diet.

In addition, plant-based meat causes 51%–91% less aquatic nutrient pollution than conventional meat.

What is Whey Protein Powder?

While plant-based protein powder is a popular choice for many, another common protein powder is derived from whey. But what exactly is whey, “any-whey?” (see what we did there?! ;) )

Whey protein is a mixture of the proteins found in whey, which is a byproduct of cheese production. It’s usually sold as a flavored powder, which is then added to shakes, meal replacements, protein bars, and more yummy products and recipes!

Whey Protein: Benefits, Negatives, and Other Information You Need to Know!

Production

Whey is derived from the cheesemaking process. Once the milk passes quality tests, enzymes are added to separate the curd from the liquid whey. The liquid whey is then pasteurized and the protein is concentrated and isolated.

Nutrients, Protein Content and Quality

Fortunately, the proteins in whey are usually high in quality. They’re packed with essential amino acids, including leucine and cysteine.

Muscle Building and Recovery

Whey protein is effective at supporting muscle growth. In fact, human breast milk is 60% whey, compared to 20% in animal-based milk.

Whey protein is popular among athletes, bodybuilders, fitness models, and people looking to improve their performance in the gym. Whey protein promotes muscle and strength improvement by providing amino acids, leucine, and hormones. Whey is also absorbed by the body faster than comparable types of protein.

Digestion and Overall Health Impact

Consuming whey protein is an awesome way to increase protein intake, which sometimes results in weight loss as well. Studies have shown that replacing other sources of calories with whey protein, combined with weight lifting, can cause weight loss while increasing muscle mass.

If you’re trying to lose weight, a whey protein supplement can help you lose weight while not sacrificing your muscle growth goals.

Calorie Count

A commonly recommended dose of whey protein is 1–2 scoops (25–50 grams) per day. Be sure to follow the serving instructions on the packaging, however, as recommended serving sizes may differ from brand to brand!

Environmental Factors

Dumping whey into the environment, like sewers or bodies of water, has been banned in both the US and Europe, which are the world’s two largest cheesemakers. This legislation resulted in this approach: filtering, concentrating and drying leftover whey to turn it into new products, including the ‘whey protein’ powders and supplements we know today.

Plant-Based Protein vs Whey Protein: What are the Similarities?

While plant-based and whey protein powders have many key differences (more to come on that later!), there are several similarities to consider when choosing between the two.

You can see similarities and differences at a quick glance using this chart (which we found on Healthline). More thorough explanations are below!

Support Muscle Growth and Recovery

If you’re looking for a protein powder to support muscle growth, you’re in luck! Both plant-based protein and whey protein help build muscle and support overall muscle growth.

Many plant-based and whey protein powders provide a whopping 20-30 grams of protein per scoop.

Support Weight Loss

In addition, plant-based and whey protein powders are both known to support weight loss. Each promotes feelings of fullness and helps preserve lean muscle mass, which is the fat-free part of the body.

Plant-Based Protein vs Whey Protein: What are the Differences?

While the similarities between plant-based and whey protein are abundant, there are several differences to keep in mind! 

Complete vs Incomplete Proteins + Amino Acids

When it comes to complete protein, whey protein powder is considered to be a complete protein since it contains all nine essential amino acids.

Plant-based protein powder is a little trickier to nail down when it comes to determining complete protein. The protein content of plant-based protein powder is dependent on the plant it is derived from. The only plant-based protein powder that’s considered “complete” is soy protein. However, some manufacturers combine multiple plant proteins into one product in order to make sure they contain all essential amino acids.

Always read the nutrition label to see which brands contain complete proteins!

Animal Products

For those looking to steer clear of lactose and non-vegan protein powders, whey protein powder is not for you. Typically, whey protein contains both lactose and non-vegan ingredients.

If non-lactose and vegan ingredients are a deal-breaker for you, plant-based protein powder is a better choice.

Cost

The cost of plant-based versus whey protein powder varies by brand. Protein powders that are advertised as organic, keto, or paleo tend to be higher in cost than generic brands who don’t cater to a specific diet.

It’s important to note that different serving sizes can affect the overall cost of each protein powder. For instance, if a serving size is larger, you may need to replenish your protein powder stock more frequently than those with smaller serving sizes.

Plant-Based Protein vs Whey: Which protein powder should I choose? 

Overall, we found that both protein powders are effective for muscle mass gain and supporting weight loss. 

However, the choice is highly individual and depends on several factors. Only you can decide what feels right to you based on your unique goals and dietary needs! 

Understand Your Body and Health

It’s important to think through dietary restrictions and food allergies when choosing a protein powder. Those with lactose intolerance will want to stay away from whey, since it is made from milk and contains lactose.

In addition, sometimes whey protein is found to cause digestion issues due to the lactose. Opting for whey protein isolate can help avoid this, but those who are extremely sensitive to lactose will still want to steer clear.

Consider Your Personal Goals

Personal goals and aspirations vary greatly from person to person! For someone who is looking to bulk up in the gym, plant-based protein powders may not best support those goals. But for someone who is looking for a lactose-free, vegan protein option, plant-based is the way to go.

To recap, whey protein powder is a source of complete protein while plant-based is not, but both support muscle growth and weight loss.

When it comes to environmental impact, it’s widely believed that plant-based proteins are more earth-friendly than whey proteins. However, a study by Arizona State University indicates that while true that plant proteins have a lower impact on the environment when compared with meat products, whey protein has less of a negative impact on global warming potential than all commonly used plant proteins, including pea protein, soy protein, tofu and more than two dozen other protein sources.

Consider Costs

As mentioned, costs vary greatly depending on the brand and place in which you purchase the product! Consider serving sizes when thinking through the costs and what price point feels most comfortable for your budget.

All in all, there are considerable pros and cons when choosing between plant-based and whey protein powders. We hope this guide has been helpful in decoding which feels right for you and your unique dietary needs and goals.

Learn more about plant-based products here:

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