So, you’ve decided to add a protein powder to your diet, but with so many different options, how do you know which one to choose? To start, let’s simplify things by comparing the two most popular and rapidly growing types of protein: whey and plant-based. By the end of this article, you’ll know which is the right choice for you!
What is whey protein?
Whey protein is protein that’s derived from cow’s milk. Different forms of whey protein supplements are available, the most common of which are whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate. Whey isolate undergoes more processing, resulting in higher protein content with less carbs, lactose, and fat.
What is plant protein?
As the name suggests, plant protein is protein that is sourced from plants, including soy, brown rice, pea, mung bean, pumpkin, hemp, chia, peanuts, and many other plants. Many times, a protein powder will have a blend of a few different types of plant protein.
What are the differences between whey and plant-based protein?
Studies show that plant protein and whey protein are equally effective when it comes to building muscle, gaining strength, and aiding in recovery. So, what’s the difference? Here are the main ones.
Amino acid levels
Animal proteins, like whey protein, are complete proteins, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids. Additionally, whey is particularly high in vital branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) like leucine and cysteine. Plant proteins or blends, on the other hand, may be incomplete, meaning they typically don’t contain all nine essential amino acids.
It’s important to realize, however, that every protein source you consume doesn’t need to be complete. As long as you eat a varied healthy diet with enough calories, you should get plenty of all nine essential amino acids.
Ease of digestion
Because whey protein contains lactose which is a common allergen, some people experience digestive issues when consuming whey protein (think bloating and other embarrassing side effects). Plant-based protein, on the other hand, is dairy-free and a lot easier to digest. In fact, many vegan protein powders contain ingredients that are anti-inflammatory, which could actually improve your digestion.
Taste and texture
Whey protein often has a creamier, more palatable taste, while plant protein powders are known to be more earthy and gritty. That’s not always the case though. BEAM has created a vegan protein that actually tastes good—like a creamy, delicious milkshake!
While whey protein is a great source of protein and BCAAs, it doesn’t contain all of the micronutrients that plant-based proteins do. Plant proteins are brimming with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that play an important role in vitality and overall health. Plus, a plant-based diet has been shown to reduce inflammation and increase energy, muscle efficiency, and blood flow, all of which can improve athletic performance and recovery.
The bottom line
So, which is better: whey or plant protein? The truth is, they are both healthy, good choices. If you’re looking for a sustainable protein that digests easily and provides lots of nutrition, choose a plant-based protein. If you want a fast-absorbing complete protein to help you build and repair muscle quickly, whey is your best bet. We don’t need to label one as better than the other. You could even use both if you want to! The decision really comes down to your unique preferences and needs.