Plant-Based Protein Vs. Whey Protein: Which is Right for You?
At Supplement Superstore, supplements are everything to us. While we recognize supplements work best when used to "supplement" a balanced diet consisting of mostly whole foods, we also know that supplements can change everything when used correctly.
For that reason, it’s essential we have the best quality supplements with a variety large enough to suit every dietary situation. As the plant-based, vegan, vegetarian, “flexitarian” diet expands and takes off, our vegan supplement selection has kept up.
For clarity’s sake, the differences between the veg- terms are:
- Vegans avoid all animal products, including eggs, dairy, and honey.
- Vegetarians avoid meat, but might still consume eggs, dairy, honey, and other animal products so long as it’s not meat. There are subcategories of vegetarians like Lacto-ovo vegetarians, Lacto vegetarians, Ovo vegetarians, and pescatarians.
- Flexitarian, also known as semi-vegetarian, are those who follow a vegetarian diet for the most part but occasionally consume meat.
For a long time, the vegan diet was fringe and strange, but today it's become more mainstream, and the Canadian population that identifies as a vegan is growing in numbers every year. With this growth, vegan food has grown as well, and become more available. Once, it was challenging to find tofu in your neighborhood grocery store. Now, the vegan selection in grocery stores is getting bigger, and there are even vegan products sporadically amongst the regular food.
Surprisingly to vegans, vegan foods are not only purchased and consumed by people who follow a vegan or even a vegetarian diet. Omnivores are learning to reach for vegan foods and vegan supplements as well. The word “vegan” has been used as a marketing ploy and become synonymous with words like “healthy,” something that’s not necessarily true. Regardless of how you feel about a 100% vegan diet, no one denies the health benefits of eating less meat, especially red meat, and more plants.
Besides meat, one of the first places people tend to reduce their animal product consumption is dairy. Many people struggle with a dairy sensitivity on some level, and vegan supplements and foods make it easy to be sure there’s no dairy in the product. If you’re not struggling with digestive issues from your dairy consumption, you could be facing skin troubles or worse. Many doctors suggest cutting out dairy to see if your condition improves. However, even if you’re not struggling with dairy, when you check in with Supplement Superstore, you might take note of the massive selection of plant-based supplements and vegan protein powders and wonder: am I making the best choice?
This guide is for you, the not-vegan, not lactose intolerant, trying to make the best and most informed decision, person.
Whey is King
There’s a lot of room for debate in the supplement industry, but one irrefutable thing is that whey protein is king. You know something is king in its industry when the name is synonymous with the category. So when you’re told by your trainer in the gym, “pick up a protein supplement to incorporate into your diet,” and you think “whey protein,” that’s how you know. Why is whey protein king of the protein supplement category?
Whey Protein Nutrients
Whey protein has something that vegan proteins don’t - it is a complete protein. To be a complete protein source, food has to contain all nine essential amino acids. You’d be hard-pressed to find a plant source that is a complete protein; however, don’t discount your body’s ability to combine essential amino acids from different sources within your body. So while this fact is less important than it appears at face value, whey protein is in and of itself a complete protein supplement.
Whey protein is a nutrient-dense food. As long as you can digest dairy, whey protein is easily digestible and absorbed, which means the amino acids are readily available for muscle growth and recovery.
Whey Protein for Building and Recovering Muscle
Whey protein digests quickly and easily, meaning all those amino acids can get right to work in helping your muscles recover from your workout and synthesize new muscle growth.
Leucine is an amino acid with the most anabolic, or growth-promoting effects, and whey protein is incredibly rich in leucine. This fact, combined with the rest of the nutritional profile, mainly that it’s low in calories, means that whey protein is an excellent protein supplement for building muscle and supporting fat loss.
The bioavailability of the essential amino acids means the inclusion of BCAAs. BCAAs, a whole other protein supplement category, are well known for supporting muscle growth and aiding in recovery.
It’s worth noting here that whey protein isolate, like Allmax’s Isoflex, is the superior choice compared to whey protein concentrate. Protein supplements labeled “concentrates” could be anywhere from 30-80% protein, whereas whey protein isolate is 90% protein, at least.
Other Health Benefits of Whey Protein
Research shows other health benefits for the king of protein supplements, as well.
These benefits include:
- Lower blood pressure
- Moderating blood sugar
- Reduce inflammation
- Benefits for those that suffer from IBS
- Boosted antioxidant defense
- High satiation which keeps you feeling fuller for longer, which can assist in weight loss efforts
For those counting macros and adding a protein supplement to raise their overall protein consumption, whey protein is an excellent choice. It delivers complete, high-quality protein that gets to work quickly. However, as in life, there are downsides to everything.
The Downside of Whey Protein
Whey protein contains higher sugar and saturated fat, two of the biggest threats to your healthy diet. These nutritional factors are to blame for weight gain, dangerously clogged arteries, high cholesterol, and various health conditions.
If you ran to your cupboard to check your beloved whey protein supplement’s label and confirmed that its label reads no fat, and no sugar, you might be feeling pretty confident. During the process of separating the whey protein from the other parts of milk, manufacturers can leave their products void of these nasty ingredients. However, whey protein is highly processed to do so, and in many cases, protein supplement brands include artificial sweeteners which have an array of other health concerns. Whey protein is a highly processed food; that’s the nature of this protein supplement.
Another thing to consider about whey protein supplements is that the complete amino acid profile, which is a good thing, has a downside. Combined with all dairy products’ nature, the amino acids lead to increased acidity in the blood.
There are also environmental factors to consider. In the nature of dairy products, raising the cows to produce the milk to create our protein supplement king leads to a massive amount of methane byproduct. Methane is a gas that is extremely harmful to the environment in large quantities.
What is the Best Alternative to Whey Protein?
Whey protein alternatives are plentiful. For the sake of our discussion, we will look closer at plant-based protein supplements. However, if you’re not vegan, consider there are whey protein alternatives like egg whites and goat’s milk protein supplements.
There are many sources of vegan protein and vegan supplements, and with the vegan supplement market expanding, those sources are growing in variety.
Some of the best vegan protein sources include:
These vegan protein sources are available in their pure form, but many popular plant-based protein supplements include a variety of vegan protein sources. There are benefits to choosing a vegan protein supplement that derives its protein from multiple vegan protein sources. One of the main benefits is that multiple vegan protein sources means your body could combine amino acids to form a complete protein source.
Mixed source vegan protein, like Vega Sport Protein, has overcome the main argument against vegan protein and vegan supplements in general - that they are not complete protein sources.
Mixed Source Vegan Protein Nutrients
Brands like Vega make mixed source vegan protein powders by drying various plants, including peas, soy, rice, and seeds, and then powdering them. They extract the nutrients and process and filter them, which removes the undesirable components like fats and carbohydrates, depending on the formula of the particular vegan protein they’re creating.
Vegan supplements and vegan protein powders are just as easily absorbed as whey protein powder and are potentially even lower in calories. While whey protein is a nutrient-dense food, it doesn’t match up to a vegan protein’s nutritional profile made with multiple plant sources.
Mixed Source Vegan Protein’s Other Benefits
The other benefits of choosing a vegan supplement as your protein supplement choice are plentiful. While whey protein supplements can be high in saturated fats, vegan protein tends to be higher in the good fats like omega-3s.
In fact, vegan supplement protein sources offer the opposite effect for many of the adverse effects of whey protein, such as balancing the body's pH rather than increasing the acidity.
As vegan supplements increase in demand, the formulas of these vegan protein supplements are becoming more advanced and discovering ways to rival whey protein fully. For example, Vega’s Sport Protein supplement contains all the essential amino acids, including BCAAs.
Some other benefits of using a multi-sourced vegan supplement as your protein powder are that these vegan proteins are equally filling compared to whey protein. The high satiation of vegan protein is thanks to the high fibre content, which whey protein lacks. Fibre also means that vegan protein takes longer for your body to break down, which supports your metabolism function.
Not only is vegan protein slower digesting, but it is also easier on your digestive tract, and thanks to the gut profile of the microbes, it helps to create a healthy gut microbiome.
Can You Build Muscle with Plant-Based Protein Supplements?
So the answer to the question about whether vegan protein supplements can grow your muscles as well as whey protein is this: studies show comparable results in lean muscle mass resulting from the use of whey protein and vegan protein.
So let’s consider the downside of vegan protein supplements.
The Downside of Vegan Protein Powders
Vegan supplements lack the immune-boosting properties that whey has thanks to lactoferrin, an anti-microbial and anti-cancer molecule. Whey protein is also superior in detoxifying the liver thanks to higher concentrations of the amino acid cysteine, though vegan supplement options do help detox the liver to some extent.
Lastly, something even vegan supplement lovers can’t deny is vegan protein powders’ taste and texture. While some can get very smooth, no plant-based protein powder will mix as smoothly as a whey protein powder. They are not as thin and don’t dissolve in liquid the same way whey does. Whey protein powders have also come a long way regarding taste, and some of them taste like a proper milkshake, and that same taste is hard to find in a plant-based protein source.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that health is subjective, and if you’re not vegan, and you don’t have a sensitivity to dairy, picking between whey and vegan supplements comes down to personal preference. Both will build muscles and aid in your recovery, and both have their limitations. No harm can come from trying different protein sources and seeing how your body responds.
If you’re like many and are becoming increasingly captivated by the growing vegan supplement industry, consider these vegan supplement options to replace your current stack:
- Omega-3 derived from marine algae (where fish get their fish oil) as a vegan supplement replacement for fish oil
- Vegan BCAAs from fermented plant sources as a vegan supplement replacement for BCAAs
- Vegan pre-workout for a vegan supplement replacement to your pre-workout
Whether you are vegan, the world’s biggest carnivore, or veggie-curious, at Supplement Superstore, we pride ourselves on our vast selection of trusted supplement brands suitable for all diets and lifestyles. We’re proud of our selection of vegan supplements, and everything else we carry. We know you’ll find the products you love at the right price. If you have any questions regarding vegan supplements, plant-based protein, or whey protein, know that you can always reach out to us.