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Plant-Based Protein vs Whey Protein: The Ultimate Supplement Guide

Posted by Adam Bloom on

Any committed athlete knows that replenishing the body after serious workouts and training is of central importance. Supplementing protein intake is a top priority. This helps counter protein break-down and is crucial to muscle development. Evaluating the benefits of plant-based protein vs whey protein has become a serious question. 

People are choosing plant-based protein supplements for health and ethical reasons even as whey protein remains something of a standard for protein supplements. As we consider the plant-based protein supplements vs whey protein supplements debate, we need to determine which protein supplement really does the job. 

NF Sports can provide both plant-based protein supplements and whey protein supplements. Keeping in mind that athletes come in many forms, the choice between plant-based protein supplements vs whey protein supplements remains an open question for many people, and the more options athletes have the better. 

There are several simple reasons to try an alternative to whey protein supplements. They do not taste all that good. Some of them can give people gas (we will get to this). And some whey protein supplements contain fillers that are just not that good for you. On the other hand, do plant-based protein supplements really provide all the amino acids needed to develop the lean muscle we are after? The question of plant-based protein supplements vs whey protein supplements ultimately needs to be about health, fitness, and results. 

Whey proteins are a by-product of dairy production, specifically cheese production. For those who are lactose intolerant, whey proteins can mean more than just inconvenient and uncomfortable gas. Whey protein can be disabling. 

What we need are the facts regarding plant-based protein supplements vs whey protein supplements. What are the real differences between plant-based protein supplements and whey protein supplements? What are they made from? What are the benefits and disadvantages of each?

This guide will give you those facts on plant-based protein supplements vs whey protein supplements. 

What is Plant-Based Protein?

Plant-based protein

The simple answer to the question is that any protein derived from a plant is a plant-based protein. The question has always been: are we able to get enough complete proteins from plant-based food sources?

There has long been a conventional belief that in order to get a complete protein form a vegetarian diet we need to eat combinations like beans and rice. Each provides a complement to the other and we can get all 9 essential amino acids which make for a complete protein. This turns out to be a myth. Simply consuming a varied diet of protein-rich foods will provide you with all the protein necessary for nutrition and good health.

There are some plants that offer complete proteins in themselves and others that will provide some of the essential amino acids and when taken over the course of a day, offer complete proteins. 

Some examples of plant-based protein sources include:

  • Soybeans and soy-based foods: Soy products are one of the best sources for plant-based protein. Soybeans contain all 9 essential amino acids. This means it is a complete protein. Foods like tofu, tempeh, and edamame are excellent sources of protein. 

Soy is one of the principal sources of protein for plant-based protein supplements. 

  • Legumes: This is a wide category of foods that generally contains all beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. Legumes also contain lysine which is an essential amino acid that is especially beneficial for its healing properties. A single ½ cup portion of any legume can contain 10 grams of protein. 

This category also includes peas which are another main source for plant-based protein supplements. 

  • Whole Grains: This is often an overlooked category of protein precisely because it is so common. Wheat, corn, rice, and oats are all excellent protein sources and are used in plant-based protein supplements. In recent years there has been an increase in the varieties of whole grains available. Wheatberries, farro, and spelt can now be found in just about any supermarket. One cup of whole-grain contains between 6 and 12 grams of protein. 
  • Brown rice is a crucial source for plant-based protein supplements. 
  • Nuts and seeds: Peanuts and almonds are excellent sources of protein. They contain 12 grams of protein per cup. 
  • Hemp: Recent years have seen the emergence of hemp as a nutritional supplement. Hemp protein is derived from the cannabis plant, but from a variety that produces only trace amounts of the chemical that gets you high. Hemp protein will not make you high. 

Hemp seeds contain 28 grams of protein in a single ¼ cup. This is why it is a major component of many plant-based protein supplements. 

The facts are that there are so many plant-based protein sources that the question is really which to choose. Ideally, plant-based protein powders will be made of the most protein-rich plants available. For this reason, pea protein, brown rice protein, and hemp are the most prominent sources for plant-based protein powders. 

How is Plant-Based Protein Made?

How we go from naturally occurring plant proteins to plant-based protein supplements becomes complicated. Plant-based protein powders are made from 3 primary macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. 

Each of the protein sources listed above can offer some, but not all of these macronutrients, and this why plant-based protein supplements generally contain a combination of protein sources. 

The proteins are first isolated from the plant source. In making a protein supplement, the goal is to make a pure protein isolate which is more than 95% pure. This requires some type of extraction method. 

One way to do this is through chemical extraction. This is complicated and also requires the use of a toxic solvent. The final protein isolate is safe, but you should know that protein supplements that include protein isolates extracted in this way have been exposed to this toxic chemical.

Another method by through ultrafiltration. There are many variations on how this is done, but it involves grinding the protein source to a fine flour and extracting the proteins with water. This is then precipitated with a centrifuge, to isolate the proteins into a pure powder. 

Another method is through what is called enzymatic hydrolysis. This is also a complex chemical process, but the enzymes used in enzymatic hydrolysis can come from natural sources like pineapples, figs, and papaya. 

The final protein products are mixed with other nutrients and natural flavors to produce protein powders. 

What is Whey Protein?

Whey Protein

Whey is a component of milk. The two principal sources of protein powders derived from dairy are casein and whey. Whey is one of the natural by-products of the cheesemaking process.

The advantage of whey is that it is a complete protein and contains all 9 essential amino acids. Since it is readily available, it is an obvious choice for making protein powder. 

Whey protein powder makes for an accessible protein powder that can be added to other foods like shakes and smoothies. This packs a fast protein punch for muscle growth.  

Plant-Based Protein vs Whey Protein Pros and Cons

Both plant-based protein and whey protein have specific pros and cons. Whey protein has been the standard for athletes who need to put on serious muscle. Yet, recent research shows that plant-based protein may be just as effective for bulking up.

Whey protein has also had the problem of causing intestinal discomfort, while plant-based protein is much easier to digest. We can break down the pros and cons of each and allow you to make a more informed decision as to which protein will work best for you. 

Plant-Based Protein vs Whey Protein

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Plant-Based Advantages and Disadvantages

Because plant-based protein powders use a variety of protein sources, it turns out they do provide the same amount of accessible protein and amino acids as whey protein powder. This may seem counterintuitive for those who relied exclusively on whey proteins. One study demonstrated that plant-based protein powder did, in fact, produce just as much muscle as whey protein.   

Plant-based protein is also easier to digest and absorb than whey protein which can be difficult for some people to digest. 

On the other hand, plant-based proteins often lack B-12 and iron. Some plant-based protein powders are fortified with these nutrients but not all of them.

Plant-based protein powders tend to taste better than whey counterparts. It is simply easier to make a plant-based protein powder taste like vanilla than it is for a whey protein.    

Plant-based protein powder is generally more expensive.

  • Digestion / Absorption: Much easier and more efficient than whey.
  • Nutrient Quality: High in nutrients but must be fortified. 
  • Muscle-Building Potential: Yes.
  • Taste: Good. 
  • Price: Expensive.
  • Additional Benefits: Better for the environment.

Whey Protein Advantages and Disadvantages

Plant-Based Protein vs Whey Protein

Whey protein powders do build lean muscle. They are loaded with complete proteins. One advantage of whey proteins is that they have years of evidence behind them to prove their effectiveness. 

Studies in sports medicine have verified the measurable benefits of whey protein for building muscle. Whey protein powders can be an ideal supplement for athletes. 

However, whey proteins can be difficult to digest and absorb, and this often leads to intestinal issues like uncomfortable gas. Whey, like many dairy products, can be hard to digest which causes intestinal complications. The gas is the result of incomplete digestion of the whey. Many of the whey protein powders also taste notoriously bad. 

Whey proteins are actually low in other nutrients. While they pack the amino acids, they tend to leave out most other nutrition. 

Because whey protein powders are such a well-established product, they are most often less expensive than plant-based options. 

  • Digestion / Absorption: Hard to digest and absorb.
  • Nutrient Quality: Low in nutrients. **
  • Muscle-Building Potential: Yes.
  • Taste: Not good.
  • Price: Affordable.
  • Additional Benefits: Simply the standard for putting on lean muscle. 

In the final analysis, the choice between plant-based protein and whey protein may come down to personal preference. 

While the results for plant-based protein powders look promising, many people will want to stick with the tried and true whey proteins when it comes to a competitive edge.  

Wrapping things up

 For serious athletes, those people who really need to put on lean muscle and replenish muscle form intense workouts, whey protein powder has always been the supplement that works. Whey protein powders are filled with all the essential amino acids you need. 

On the other hand, the emergence of plant-based protein powder has shown some real promise for providing the same benefits. As we see above, plant-based protein powders can pack on the muscle just as well as whey protein. The science of plant-based protein powders has kept pace with the whey proteins. 

Both whey protein powders and plant-based protein powders will give you what you need to build lean muscle and replenish muscles from serious workouts. The choice may come down to a matter of personal preference.

For those who have long experience with the benefits of whey proteins, NF Sports All-Natural Whey Protein Powder will provide everything you have come to rely on to excel. 

If you are looking to switch to plant-based protein powder, NF Sports Plant-Based Protein packs all the essential amino acids as the whey proteins, and it will build muscle.

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