Vegan vs Whey Protein: Which Is Better?

Protein powder is a helpful, safe way to assist you in building muscle during strength training.

Whilst whey protein might be the most common go-to protein powder, there are now many plant-based options on the market, so it can be difficult to know which is the best choice.

At Discount Supplements, we want you to be confident in choosing the protein powder perfect for improving your intake and training, so we're delving deeper into plant-based protein to see how it compares with whey. 

From the protein amounts in each to how they can help you in training, weight loss and muscle growth, read on to find out more before you invest.

Table of contents:

What is the difference between plant-based and whey protein?

Is whey protein okay for vegans?

Is whey or vegan protein better?

What are the main differences between vegan protein powders and whey protein powders?

What is the difference between plant-based protein and whey protein? 

Protein is the building block that helps feed your muscles and repair them for growth. Protein powder is a good supplement to natural animal-derived and plant-based protein in your diet, helping you to ensure that you're hitting your recommended daily allowance.

Protein doesn't need to be animal-derived to help you make training gains. Some of the best protein powders are plant-based. 

Is whey protein okay for vegans?

Whey is a milk-like substance that's a by-product of cheese-making. During the cheese-making process, the whey is collected, and carbohydrates, fat and water are removed from it, leaving the protein behind. The protein is spray-dried into protein powder. 

As whey protein is derived from cow's milk, it isn't vegan-friendly. Whey protein also contains lactose, with whey protein concentrate containing more lactose than whey protein isolate. This is an especially important consideration for lactose intolerant people who may prefer vegan protein powder as an alternative to whey or casein, also derived from milk. 

Vegan protein powders use protein derived from various plant sources, including rice, hemp, algae and pea. These powders may be made up of one plant protein or a variety of sources and don't contain lactose.

Is whey protein or vegan protein powder better?

scoops of whey and vegan protein side by side on a wooden table

Vegan and whey protein powder might be derived from different protein sources, but each is just as effective in its own way. To understand which type is better for you, we're outlining some of the similarities and differences between the two types below:

Vegan protein powder 

If you're on a plant-based diet, you need to be mindful that you're getting your daily intake of protein from your diet before you hit the gym. Foods like tofu and tempeh are all great sources of protein that you can add to a vegan diet to increase that all-important protein intake which, in turn, helps you naturally build muscle. 

A flat lay of lots of greens and natural foods that are a good source of protein

If you're using a vegan protein powder to supplement your workout, here are some notes about the different types of plant protein:

1. Hemp Protein 

Hemp protein is a really good choice for those that may be following a food or diet plan that's rich in whole foods. It's especially good at providing you with those essential amino acids, containing 20 different types. Hemp protein is also full of good, healthy Omega fatty acids and fibre and can help to improve heart health, strengthen the immune system and cure sugar cravings.

2. Pea Protein 

Pea protein is generally made from field peas which contain nearly four times as much protein as sweet peas! Usually packing around 80% protein content, pea protein powder is also allergen free, perfect for vegans with food allergies. 

3. Soy Protein

Derived from defatted soy flour, soy protein powder usually contains up to 90% protein after processing. Soy protein has a neutral flavour making it a great ingredient to add to smoothies and shakes. 

Most plant-based proteins use a combination of plant sources in their protein makeup, so check the label or product description to understand better what's in yours before you buy. 

Generally, vegan protein powder is easier to digest because it's kinder on your gut. Packed with foods such as peas, veg, nuts, seeds and legumes, these high-fibre foods are great for digestion and can help to cull bloating and gas. Plant-based proteins are also loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, perfect for optimum health. 

Plant-based protein can also be a great choice if you suffer from acne. Whey protein, in some cases, can cause a slight imbalance in blood sugar, increasing the production of insulin growth factor one, which can inflame the skin. However, plant-based protein is known to smooth the skin, leaving it fresh and healthy. 

The main differences between vegan protein powders and whey protein 

Although both types of protein powder effectively aid muscle growth and repair and are attributed to similar gains, there are some main differences between the two.

In this section, we're looking at the benefits of each, why they are similar, and some differences to expect between plant-based and whey to help you decide which type best suits your lifestyle and workout needs.

Plant-based and whey proteins help build muscles, support weight loss and cost similar amounts depending on your chosen brands. However, plant-based protein is lactose-free and vegan-friendly, whereas whey protein is neither. 

Here's a further breakdown of the differences and benefits of the two types:

Protein content 

Both whey and vegan protein powders usually contain 20-30 grams of protein per serving. Still, whey protein is a complete protein powder containing the nine essential amino acids, which are protein-building blocks. Whey protein also contains various branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs, which are also important for muscle growth. 

On the other hand, plant proteins generally contain fewer BCAAs than whey powders, with only soy protein considered a complete protein containing all nine vital amino acids. Mixed plant proteins are usually the solution to this, specifically created to ensure that all amino acids and BCAAs are part of the mix.

If in doubt, always check the nutritional information on your protein powder to be sure of its protein and amino acid content 

Food allergies, sensitivities and digestion

You must consider plant-based and whey protein powder ingredients if you suffer from allergies or sensitivities. 

If you're sensitive to lactose or suffer from lactose intolerance, whey protein should be avoided as, derived from milk, it contains lactose. In this case, vegan protein powders make a better choice, but there are also some sensitivities to consider here. 

Plant protein mixes often contain various ingredients such as gluten and soy, and pea protein is linked to IBS and stomach cramps. 

If you have food sensitivities, always check the nutritional content of any protein powder before using it, then track your body's behaviour with a food diary to keep track of any side effects. 

Can you build muscle with vegan protein powder?

man sitting lifting weights

Building muscle requires a combination of strength training and consuming complete protein that contains all amino acids and BCAAs. When it comes to muscle growth, whey protein isolate is the gold standard, but that doesn't mean there aren't plant-based proteins that can do the same job. 

A complete plant-based protein can be equally as effective as whey for promoting muscle growth and hypertrophy if it contains similar BCAAs and protein per serving. A good protein powder should consist of around 20-30 grams of protein and roughly 5-12 grams of BCAAs per serving and include leucine, whether you choose vegan protein or whey. 

Protein powders help to increase your protein intake, but they shouldn't be your main source. The amount of protein you get daily is the most important factor in muscle growth, so opt for natural, whole protein sources such as chicken, tofu, eggs and legumes to increase your daily amounts. 

Weight Loss

The key to weight loss is achieving a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than your body burns daily. However, did you know that whey and plant-based protein powders can aid weight loss?

Woman with brown pony tails is outside drinking a protein shake

Not only does protein promote the feeling of fullness, but it also preserves lean muscle mass. 

With protein powders or supplements, there are other things to consider when it comes to weight loss:

  • Choose protein-only supplements and powders if your main focus is weight-loss, as some contain ingredients with added sugar which may hinder your weight-loss goals.
  • Look for powders that are no more than 150 calories per serving. Higher numbers are likely to have additional ingredients. 
  • Limit the number of smoothies you have, which may contain other high-sugar ingredients. Instead, add protein powders to whole foods such as pancakes and oatmeal. 
  • Don't take protein as a meal replacement, as you won't take on enough vital nutrients, which could leave you hungry and cause you to snack throughout the day.

Vegan vs whey protein: The highlights 

Vegan protein is derived from plants, namely hemp, pea and soy, whereas whey and casein protein is derived from milk. As plant proteins aren't animal by-products, they're naturally vegan-friendly, so they are a perfect choice for those who wish to use protein powders but are restricted by their dietary requirements. 

Both whey and vegan protein powders are equally effective at aiding muscle growth and repair. Whey protein powders are known for being complete and containing all nine necessary acids and added BCAAs that promote muscle growth. Plant-based proteins aren't always complete, so choosing plant-protein mixes is important to reap the same benefits. 

Usually, both whey and good plant proteins contain the same amount of protein per serving. Check the nutritional information of your protein powder to ensure that yours contains all nine amino acids and BCAAs, namely leucine, for the best results from your workouts. 

If you're happy using whey protein powder, aren't vegan and aren't restricted by your dietary requirements, then there's no reason why you should change. 

However, a plant-based protein powder may be a perfect choice if you're vegan or lactose intolerant. Opt for one with more than one plant protein source to reap the same benefits as whey. 

The best protein powder for you is the one that best suits your dietary needs, as both whey and vegan protein powders build muscle and can help with weight loss. Whichever you choose, look for 20-30g of protein per serving.

Combining this with a diet packed with natural protein sources will enhance muscle growth and repair in your body, irrespective of the type of good protein powder you choose.

Shop vegan protein at Discount Supplements 

Fulfil your vegan protein needs by shopping the range at Discount Supplements. From vegan protein bars that are perfect for on-the-go to vegan amino acids to boost muscle growth, it's never been easier to find a vegan-friendly option to whey protein. Or, why not explore our full vegan collection?

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