Protein powders are one of the top supplements on the market. However, with so many options available, you might have difficulty choosing the best one for your specific needs and preferences.
If you want to increase your protein consumption but don't know which one is suitable for this, the article is for you. You will learn the differences and similarities between whey and plant-based protein so that at the end of the article, you can choose the one that is right for you.
What Is Whey Protein?
Milk contains two types of protein: casein and whey. The protein comes from the cheese process. During the processing, it separates the liquids from the solids. The remaining liquid doesn't have carbs or fats. It contains mainly protein.
There are different types of whey proteins. The difference is in how it is processed.
- Concentrate. It is around 70-80% protein. It contains some fat and lactose.
- Isolate. It contains less lactose and fat from the concentrate. It also has a higher protein content (>90%).
- Hydrolyzed. It is pre-digested, which means that it has a faster absorption compared to isolate and concentrated proteins.
What Are Plant-Based Proteins?
Plant-based proteins are the proteins you obtain from vegetable sources. There are several sources where you can get a plant-based protein:
- Brown Rice
- Chia seeds
While you can find a plant-based protein with only one source (rice protein powder), it is more common to find blends of proteins. This means having protein powder blends like rice, quinoa, and hemp all in one powder.
As we will see later in the article, this improves the nutritional quality of plant-based proteins.
Both are somewhat easy to digest. It all depends on any background allergies or intolerances that you have.
If we are talking about whey isolate protein, it has the lowest content of lactose which significantly reduces any gastrointestinal issues. However, it can still produce gastric distress for people susceptible to lactose.
On the other hand, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) could have difficulty digesting plant-based options, especially those coming from peas.
Whey and plant-based proteins have a similar protein content. They have around 20-30 grams of protein per scoop. This won't depend so much on the type of protein but more on the brand.
They are great options to increase your daily protein intake if you have difficulty reaching your protein requirements.
To give you a visual representation. One scoop of protein with 20 grams of protein has the same quantity of protein as three eggs or three oz of chicken. This can represent a significant protein intake for someone who finds it challenging to reach their protein goals.
For muscle growth, you need the adequate muscle stimulus, the proper protein intake, and a caloric surplus (eating more calories than your body needs).
Studies have shown that plant-based and whey proteins can promote the same muscle-building results.
In a 12-week study, people were supplemented with either a pea protein, a whey protein, or a placebo. Those in the whey group increased around 15% of their muscle mass compared to 13% in the pea group. A 2% difference between each group is not significant, meaning that both plant-based protein and whey have great results in muscle growth.
The costs are very similar whether they are plant-based or whey. It all depends on the brand and the quality of protein.
For example, isolated whey is more expensive than concentrate. The plant-based protein blends are usually more costly than single protein supplements.
Animal vs. Plant-Based
One of the most significant differences relies on the sources of protein.
For people who follow a plant-based approach (vegetarian or vegan), a plant-based option is more suitable to their beliefs. While people who don't have any specific preferences could go either way.
It's said that over 65% of the population has lactose intolerance. Being lactose intolerant means that we do not produce the enzyme lactase that helps break down lactose in dairy products. The lactose molecule goes to your intestines, and the bacteria ferment it, creating gas as a byproduct (resulting in bloating, stomach cramps, and diarrhea).
There are different grades of lactose intolerance. Some people can eat a small amount of lactose without any side effects, while the smallest molecule creates stomach issues for others.
For people with lactose intolerance, the best option is a plant-based option. This will decrease your gastrointestinal issues significantly.
Protein is made up of amino acids. Some we can produce in our body (non-essential) while other needs to come from our diet (essential).
Animal proteins are of high quality since they contain all the amino acids that the body needs. On the other hand, most plant proteins don't include all amino acids in one food. Soy and quinoa are the only plant-based options classified as high quality since they do contain all the essential amino acids your body needs.
Ultimately, when it comes to the quality of the protein, whey has a better amino acid profile than plant-based options (unless it's soy or quinoa).
Finally, one of the most significant differences comes from the BCAA content. BCAAs are branched-chain amino acids. It is a group of amino acids that benefits muscle gain.
Whey protein contains all BCAAs (valine, isoleucine, and leucine), while some plant-based options (except soy) don't have all of them.
It seems that BCAAs play an essential role in muscle synthesis. A study showed that people supplemented with 5 grams of BCAAs after a workout had a 22% increase in their protein synthesis, leading to more significant muscle growth.
However, it seems that with greater BCAA content, there is a higher insulin response. Hydrolyzed protein appears to have the same reaction due to its fast absorption.
Which Is Better?
Ultimately the choice relies on preferences, eating choices (plant-based or not), and any allergies you might have.
It also depends on the flavor and consistency since it should be a supplement that you enjoy drinking and not something you force yourself to have.
Although whey protein has a higher quality protein than blend, it has a similar amino acid profile with great results for muscle improvement.
Also Read: Whey Protein 101: The Best Beginners Guide
Tips For Buying The Best Protein
1. Analyze the quality of the protein.
To identify the quality of the protein, we need to find out how much filler is in the protein powder. Here is a simple formula to help you out: (grams of protein per serving/total grams of content per serving) x 100. This will give you the percentage of protein for the supplement. For example, if you have a serving size of 30 g and protein of 20 g, the percentage would be 67% (20/30x100). Look for those supplements with at least 80% or more protein per scoop.
2. BCAA ratio
BCAAs are essential for muscle growth. It has the following ratio of 2:1:1 leucine, isoleucine, and valine, respectively.
3. Be aware of the carbs
Since we want the protein powder to help us reach our protein requirements, make sure that it has the least carbs. Hopefully, have a protein powder with less than 5 g of carbs.
4. Look for digestive enzymes
If you have trouble digesting proteins, look for those protein supplements with digestive enzymes included in the mix. This will help you digest the protein better and avoid any gastrointestinal issues.