Is Vegan Protein Powder Better Than Whey?

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 7/21/2022

How much protein do you need?

Protein is an essential part of your diet. Whey protein is the gold standard for supplementation if you're building muscle.
Protein is an essential part of your diet. Whey protein is the gold standard for supplementation if you're building muscle.

Protein is an essential part of your diet. The body needs protein to make tissues, repair muscles, and create enzymes and hundreds of other proteins crucial to life. Athletes, bodybuilders, and people who exercise heavily consume protein supplements to gain muscle mass. Most such protein powders are whey protein derived. If you're vegan, you may want to avoid proteins of animal and dairy origin. Are vegan protein powders better than whey protein?

Protein is vital for everyone, not just bodybuilders and athletes. You need protein for the growth of your body, a healthy immune system, and for your brain, heart, and other organs to function well. The enzymes that digest your food and run various cellular functions are proteins, as is the hemoglobin in the blood that carries oxygen throughout your body. Everyone needs protein, but in different amounts, depending on age, health status, and activity level. 

People with a sedentary lifestyle should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If your weight is 60 kilograms, you need 48 grams of protein a day. An active lifestyle increases your protein requirement. Intense physical activity raises your requirement to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram body weight.

Proteins break down into their basic building blocks, amino acids, in the intestines. Amino acids are then absorbed and used by various tissues and organs to make needed proteins. Most of the 20 amino acids used by the human body to make proteins are from the amino acid pool in the body. The nine amino acids the body cannot make must be available in the diet and are called essential amino acids.

Proteins that contain all the nine essential amino acids are called complete proteins. Most animal proteins are complete proteins. Plant proteins often lack one or more essential amino acids. However, proteins from plants also supply all of the essential amino acids if proteins from different sources are consumed.

If you take protein powder to enhance muscle growth, you should consume 20 to 40 grams at a time after exercising. More than this is not helpful, as it gets converted to calories.

Who needs protein powders?

Most people can meet their protein requirements from their diet. Eggs, milk, chickpeas, nuts, meat, and fish provide protein, and you probably consume these regularly. Americans consume 65 to 90 grams of protein daily, which is enough for standard protein requirements. The following individuals may have additional protein needs:

  • Athletes. Athletes and others who exercise intensely should consume up to twice as much protein.
  • Older people. You lose muscle mass as you age, and eating extra protein can enhance strength and lean body mass.
  • Pregnant women. Your obstetrician will prescribe you a powder that doesn't have ingredients like papain or ginkgo, which aren't good for your baby.
  • People with liver or kidney disease. Some diseases may increase protein needs for the individual.

What is vegan protein powder?

As the name suggests, vegan protein powder is protein powder not derived from animal sources or dairy. The protein in these powders comes from plant sources. Most plant proteins do not contain all amino acids, but mixtures of different sources will provide all 20 amino acids. 

Among plant-origin proteins, quinoa, Quorn (a trademarked meat-free product), and soy protein are complete proteins. Though most plant source proteins lack one or more essential amino acids, combining complementary plant proteins will bridge the deficiency.

What is whey protein?

Whey is a liquid byproduct of making cheese from cow's milk. This liquid is rich in proteins. Purified by removing fats, carbohydrates, and other solids, the remaining liquid is then spray-dried to get a protein-rich powder.

Proteins of animal origin are better digested (about 95%) than proteins from plants (85% to 92%). Whey protein comes from milk. Although the processing removes almost all carbohydrates, small amounts of lactose may get into the product. If you're lactose intolerant, whey protein may cause you digestive trouble. Plant-based protein supplements are safe for you as they contain no lactose.


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

Sources of vegan protein

Several plants are rich in protein and can be used to formulate vegan protein powders. Good sources of protein in the plant kingdom are:

  • Soy
  • Alfalfa
  • Organic hemp
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Seeds
  • Whole grains

Benefits of whey protein

Whey protein has some nutritional advantages compared to plant protein. Supplementation with whey protein increases lean body mass more than soy protein. Whey protein also stimulates muscle increase more than soy protein, whether consumed while resting or after exercise. Vegetarian diets are associated with reduced muscle mass in older women compared to those on an omnivorous diet. 

Casein and whey protein are two protein supplements derived from cow's milk. Whey protein has higher amounts of arginine, leucine, lysine, methionine, and cysteine than casein. These amino acids are vital to building lean body mass and muscle. Whey protein consumption is better for muscle mass increase. 

The branched-chain amino acids, including leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are vital for building muscle. These amino acids are available in higher amounts in whey protein compared to plant-based protein. Whey protein rapidly digests. Amino acids appear in the bloodstream shortly after consuming whey protein.

Is vegan protein powder better?

Currently, commercially-available vegan protein powders have high biological value. They provide 20 to 35 grams of protein per scoop, which is easy to digest and absorb. 

Vegan protein powder has no saturated fats or lactose. If you need to avoid these, vegan protein powder is better. Vegan protein powders also contain some dietary fiber, which is beneficial for gut and heart health. Although many plant-origin proteins are not complete proteins, combining different plant proteins provides all the necessary amino acids. 

Plant origin foods are, in general, associated with good health. They're associated with lower risks of heart disease, cancers, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and all-cause mortality. Vegan protein, like other vegetarian food, is less resource-intensive to produce. Production of plant foods generates lesser amounts of greenhouse gases and is less environmentally destructive. 

Plant-based proteins studied in athletes show they neither increase nor decrease performance. Total power, peak power, and fatigue are not different from whey protein consumption. 

Whey protein is the gold standard for supplementation if you're building muscle. For people choosing a vegan lifestyle, powders with plant-derived proteins are acceptable substitutes. They have as much protein per scoop as the whey protein powders, and this protein is well-absorbed and helps build muscle mass and strength. Vegan proteins are better for you if you suffer from lactose intolerance.

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Medically Reviewed on 7/21/2022

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Food and Function: "Dietary protein intake and human health."

Harvard Medical School: "The scoop on protein powder."

Journal of Renal Nutrition: "Vegan Protein Powder Supplements of High Biological Value."

Nutrients: "Plant-Based Diets: Considerations for Environmental Impact, Protein Quality, and Exercise Performance."

The Permanente Journal: "Plant-Based Diets: A Physician's Guide."