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Vegan vs Whey Protein: Which One Should I Choose?

a scoop of protein powder with text that says "Vegan vs Whey Protein: Which One Should I Choose?"
“Vegan vs Whey Protein: Which One Should I Choose?” was written by Kate Hermiston BSc Hons. and reviewed/edited by Rivah Goldstein MScFN, RD and Jackie Silver MHSc, RD.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links with which I may earn a small commission but at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links help bloggers like me to provide you with free content. All opinions expressed here are genuine. 
Medical Disclaimer: The information in this article is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be personalized medical or nutrition advice. For a plan tailored to your needs, please consult with a Registered Dietitian or qualified healthcare professional.
Last updated: August 23, 2023

The discussion of protein powder has become increasingly popular. It can be tricky to decide whether consuming a protein powder is right for you and then trying to choose which one. In this post we will break down the discussion of protein powder as well as compare vegan vs whey protein powder.

A clear scoop with white protein powder - vegan vs whey protein

What is protein powder?

Protein powder is exactly as it sounds, it is the protein that comes from plants, eggs, or milk but in a powder form. Sources of plant protein include soybeans, peas, rice, potatoes, and hemp. Milk protein sources include casein or whey protein. 

Protein powder can be used as a beneficial supplement for various people. Individuals who may benefit from a protein powder include:

  • Individuals who are malnourished (don’t get enough nutrients from foods)
  • Vegans or vegetarians who struggle to meet their protein needs
  • Athletes who need additional protein to support their training needs
  • Individuals who want to build muscle 
  • Picky eaters who struggle to eat enough protein
  • Individuals who have delayed wound healing or who want to support their wound healing process 
  • People recovering from surgery 

Did you know that protein can also be beneficial for neurodivergent folks by supporting brain focus? Check out this blog post to learn more!

It is important to note that not everyone needs to consume protein powder to meet their protein needs. Most people can get enough protein from whole foods. Protein powder can serve as a way to provide extra protein to those who need or want it. 

If you believe consuming a protein powder is right for you, you may be wondering: “Which protein powder should I choose?”

In this blog post, we are going to compare vegan vs whey protein powder. Hopefully, by the end of this post your question will be answered! 

Aerial shot of vanilla and chocolate protein powder - vegan vs whey protein

Vegan vs Whey Protein: Whey Protein  

What is whey protein powder?

Dairy milk contains two main types of protein: 20% of milk is whey protein and 80% is casein.

Whey protein is one of the most common sources of protein powder that people consume today. Whey is contained in the watery part of milk. 

When manufacturers make cheese, they add enzymes to milk which curdle the milk. This process separates the liquid whey from milk’s solid curds (which contain fat from milk and are used to make cheese). 

A bowl of milk curds - vegan vs whey protein

Once the solid curds are filtered out from the watery whey protein, manufacturers pasteurize the whey to destroy bacteria and then dry it to form whey protein powder. 

Whey protein is known as a complete protein which means it contains all 9 of our essential amino acids

Amino acids are tiny molecules that form proteins when combined in our bodies.

This is important to note when discussing protein because our body needs 20 amino acids in order to function. 11 are called nonessential amino acids and our body produces these on its own. 

The other 9 are called essential amino acids because our body cannot make these themselves so we must consume them from food. Therefore, when you consume whey protein you consume all 9 essential amino acids in one go!

A graphic of amino acids - vegan vs whey protein

Individuals with lactose intolerance may be able to choose a whey protein isolate, depending on the severity of their intolerance. Whey protein isolate means that the whey protein has gone through additional processing where most of the lactose is removed.

If you are lactose intolerant, you may experience less discomfort with whey protein isolate. However, please note that whey protein isolate still contains some lactose, and depending on your level of intolerance, you may want to caution against it.

Vegan vs. Whey Protein: Advantages of Whey Protein:

  • It’s a complete protein
  • Aids in wound healing by helping to repair skin and tissue. Some physicians recommend whey protein for burn victims or surgery patients in order to reduce healing time. This is because protein is vital in the wound healing process and whey protein helps to provide high-quality protein (read our blog post on wound healing here)
  • Helps to build muscle, particularly when paired with resistance training. The specific amino acids within whey protein serve as building blocks for our bodies to use in order to increase their muscle growth
  • May support bone density in people with osteoporosis
  • May reduce age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia) in older adults 
  • Tends to taste better than vegan protein powders (although not everyone will agree with this statement)

Vegan vs. Whey Protein: Disadvantages of Whey Protein

A chart with pros and cons of whey protein - vegan vs whey protein

Vegan vs. Whey Protein: Vegan Protein

What is vegan protein powder?

When comparing vegan vs whey protein, vegan protein powder is any protein powder that comes from plants. There’s a wide variety of plant protein powders available on the market, however, this post will mainly focus on hemp, soy, and pea protein. 

Most plant proteins (except for soy protein) are generally classified as an incomplete protein, meaning it lacks one or more of the 9 essential amino acids. This doesn’t mean they are bad, it just means your body needs additional sources of protein to ensure you consume all of the essential amino acids. 

Vegan vs Whey Protein: Advantages of Vegan Protein Powder

  • Great option for vegans/vegetarians who struggle to meet their protein requirements 
  • Provides extra vitamins and minerals – Some vegan protein powders are fortified with vitamins and minerals, meaning extra nutrients are added to the powder to boost its nutrient content.
  • Helps to build muscle – vegan protein powders can support muscle growth, particularly if paired with resistance training. However, research shows that whey protein is more effective at building muscle (alongside strength training) than soy protein powders.
  • An appropriate choice for people who are lactose intolerant or have a milk protein allergy.

Vegan vs. Whey Protein: Disadvantages of Vegan Protein Powder 

  • Increased risk of an allergic reaction – Some vegan protein powders such as almond protein have an increased risk of an allergic reaction, as nuts are a common major allergen. Some vegan protein powders are made with soy which is also a common allergen.
  • Vegan protein powders tend to have a gritty texture and stronger taste compared to whey protein which may not appeal to many people.
  • Digestive symptoms: pea protein and added sugar alcohols in vegan protein powders may cause bloating and gas for those with IBS or who are sensitive to FODMAPs
  • Less satiety (relative to whey) – Whey protein has been shown to keep you full for longer periods of time compared to vegan protein powder.
  • Not as successful in building muscle: When compared to a whey protein powder, vegan protein powders are not as effective in increasing muscle mass
  • More likely to contain heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead, or mercury.
A chart with pros and cons of vegan protein - vegan vs whey protein

Dr. Stuart Phillips of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario is a leading researcher in the field of muscle, resistance training, and protein in aging. He has authored many fascinating studies comparing soy and whey protein quality and more which you can find here.  

Vegan vs Whey Protein comparison chart

Vegan vs Whey Protein Powder: Product Recommendations 

If you are unsure what protein powder to buy, here are great vegan vs whey protein powders that come highly recommended. 

Vegan vs. Whey Protein: Whey Protein Powders

  • Protein Co – Protein Co is a Canadian based protein company which produces both whey protein and whey protein isolate, in a wide variety of delicious flavors. The protein that they use is uniquely sourced all the way from New Zealand!
  • NAKED – NAKED is a whey protein powder sourced from grass-fed cows in California. It is free from artificial sweeteners, additives, or artificial colors. The only downside is that this whey protein is a bit pricey and might be hard to get your hands on since it’s so popular!
  • AGN Roots – AGN roots offers a great whey protein isolate which may be good for those who are lactose intolerant. It’s free from artificial sweeteners, non-GMO, gluten-free, and soy-free. Though it is unflavored, it mixes seamlessly with any drink of choice!
  • Now Sports – Now Sports provides a fantastic selection of whey protein powders. Whether you prefer unflavored, vanilla, or chocolate, they’ve got you covered. The best part? They come at a reasonable price!
  • Optimum Nutrition – This brand targets athletes and gym enthusiasts. Their “Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein” is excellent for post workout muscle building. With over 20 delicious flavor options, you’re sure to find one you love!
  • Designer Whey – This cow’s milk-based protein powder boasts 20 g of protein per serving and is free of artificial growth hormones and antibiotics. It also has probiotics for healthy digestion and B vitamins for energy and is sold at an affordable price! 

Vegan vs Whey Protein: Vegan Protein Powders 

  • Tropeaka – Tropeaka is a fantastic vegan protein brand offering a variety of delightful flavors, ensuring you never get bored. Their products deliver both great taste and quality, making them a popular vegan protein powder option.
  • NAKED – In addition to whey protein, NAKED nutrition also offers a range of delicious vegan protein powders. Their vegan protein sources include pea, rice, or almond. Each vegan powder has excellent reviews!
  • Protein Co – This brand uses a variety of plant-based protein to provide a complete profile of essential and non-essential amino acids. It is made from a protein medley of pea, sunflower seed, and pumpkin seed protein concentrates. The only downside is that this brand tends to sell out quickly!
  • Vega – Vega protein prides itself on its amazing plant-based protein as well as its commitment to environmental sustainability. They offer a daily vegan protein powder that’s ideal for meeting protein requirements and another one that is designed for athletic performance and muscle recovery. 
  • Orgain – Orgain’s plant-based powder is both yummy and delicious. It has a complete amino acid profile and has no added sugar or sweeteners. Orgain is one of most affordable vegan protein powder brands that I have found that still offers a great, nutritionally adequate product! 
  • Iron Vegan – Iron Vegan protein powder contains a balanced profile of 9 essential and non-essential amino acids. This vegan protein powder is available in three delightful flavors: chocolate, french vanilla, and plain, making it both nourishing and versatile! 
  • LeanFit – LeanFit protein powder offers the complete package: It’s vegan, soy free, gluten free, and dairy free. With each serving, you’ll enjoy 21 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and 6 mg of iron. It’s available in chocolate, vanilla, and plain flavors, promising great taste and nourishment for your body!

How do I use vegan vs. whey protein powder?

Protein powder can be used to boost the protein content in a variety of different recipes. Try adding it to smoothies, soups, oatmeal, pancakes, cheesecake, muffins, cookies, energy bites, and more. 

Read this blog post for a list of 29 recipes with protein powder

Use the information above to help you choose vegan vs whey protein powder based on your own individual needs and preferences.

The bottom line

Protein powder, whether vegan or whey-based, can be an excellent way to help individuals increase their protein intake. Increased protein can be crucial for individuals who struggle to meet their protein requirements through whole foods, for those who may need additional protein temporarily (such as for wound healing), for individuals who want to build extra muscle, and for older adults looking to reduce muscle loss as they age. 

It is important to note that a person’s complete daily protein requirements can be obtained by consuming a well-balanced diet. Protein powder is not always needed. 

Please seek professional guidance from a regulated health professional to help you make an informed decision if you are interested in incorporating protein powder into your daily routine.

All in all, when comparing vegan vs whey protein, both are great options! Ultimately, the choice between vegan vs whey protein powders depends on your individual values, goals and nutritional requirements.

What types of protein powders have you tried? What was your favorite? Let us know below.

Scoops of chocolate and vanilla protein powder - vegan vs when protein

Looking for some protein-filled recipes?

Check out:

References

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-hidden-dangers-of-protein-powders#:~:text=Protein%20powders%20are%20powdered%20forms,thickeners%2C%20vitamins%2C%20and%20minerals
  2. https://journals-scholarsportal-info.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/details/16617827/v18i0022/nfp_cowvaptcappp.xml
  3. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-whey-protein-good-for-you/ 
  4. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22243-amino-acids#:~:text=Your%20body%20needs%2020%20different,including%20beef%2C%20eggs%20and%20dairy 
  5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-scoop-on-protein-powder-2020030918986 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905294/ 
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8970868/#:~:text=Proteins%20significantly%20affect%20the%20entire,provide%20proteins%20for%20wound%20healing
  8. https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/whey-protein-health-benefits-at-a-glance#:~:text=Wound%20Healing%3A%20In%20order%20to,patients%20to%20reduce%20healing%20time
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31565912/#:~:text=Because%20of%20its%20rich%20branched,after%20exercise%20in%20sufficient%20amounts
  10. https://www.medicinenet.com/are_vegan_protein_powders_good_for_you/article.htm 

About Kate

Hello! My name is Kate Hermiston and I have recently graduated from Western University where I completed a Bachelor of Science with an Honours Specialization in Nutrition and Dietetics. This September, I’ll be taking the next step in my journey to becoming a registered dietitian by  starting my Professional Master’s Diploma (PMDip) at Toronto Metropolitan University in collaboration with North York General hospital. Outside of school, I enjoy baking, staying active at the gym, hanging out with my dogs, and spending time with friends and family.

About Jackie

Jackie is a Toronto-based Registered Dietitian whose mission is to empower and support the neurodivergent and physically disabled communities through nutrition. Jackie runs a virtual private practice and blog which has simple recipes and health information tailored to these communities. She loves cooking, exercising, traveling, journaling, and spending time with family and friends.

Check out her full bio here →

Rivah is wearing a striped shirt and a blazer, smiling

About Rivah

Hello! I’m Rivah, a registered dietitian passionate about helping teens and adults with neurodivergence and mental health conditions. Additionally, I support individuals with chronic disease management, plant-based diets, and mindful eating. My counseling approach is weight inclusive, client-centered, and evidence-based where we create realistic nutrition goals, prioritizing physical, mental, and emotional health.  In my free time, I enjoy reading, cooking, and outdoor activities.

Check out her full bio here →

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