Whey vs Plant Protein: Which Is Best for Muscle Growth and Weight Loss

Whey vs Plant Protein: Which Is Best for Muscle Growth and Weight Loss

Jan 26, 2024 · Angi Genes

Whey vs Plant Protein: Which Is Best for Muscle Growth and Weight Loss

Choosing the right protein for your dietary needs and fitness goals can feel overwhelming amid numerous options. Did you know that whey protein is derived from cow's milk and is a complete source of essential amino acids? This blog post will dive into the benefits and drawbacks of both whey and plant proteins, helping you make an informed decision on which to incorporate into your routine.

protein shake at the gym

Key Takeaways

  • Whey protein comes from cow's milk and is full of all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein that's great for muscle growth and quick recovery.
  • Plant - based proteins are good options for vegans or people with dairy allergies. They can be better for the environment but might not have every amino acid your body needs unless you mix different types.
  • Choosing between whey and plant proteins depends on personal diet needs, potential allergies, taste preference, costs, and fitness goals like gaining muscle or losing weight.

Understanding Protein Intake: Whey and Plant-Based

Essential Sports Nutrition

In the quest for optimal nutrition, it's essential to grasp the fundamentals of whey and plant-based proteins—two prevalent but distinct sources that fuel our bodies in unique ways.

Whey protein powder emerges from the liquid byproduct of cheese production, boasting a high-quality amino acid profile, while plant-based proteins are derived from various grains, legumes, and seeds, offering an alternative that aligns with different dietary preferences and restrictions.

Whey protein: What is it?

Whey protein is a high-quality protein powder made from cow's milk. It separates from the liquid during cheese production. After separation, whey goes through various processing steps to become what people generally recognize as whey protein—a powdered supplement.

This type of protein is known as a complete because it includes all nine essential amino acids necessary for the human body.

Athletes and fitness enthusiasts often choose whey protein for its excellent amino acid profile, which promotes muscle growth and repair. Two popular forms are whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate.

Concentrates contain some fats and carbs while isolates undergo extra filtering to remove most of these elements, making them almost pure protein. Whey powders can be added to smoothies or oatmeal or just mixed with water or milk, making it easy to add protein into your diet aimed at increasing dietary proteins for muscle mass or weight management goals

Plant-based protein: What is it?

Plant-based protein comes from  peas, hemp, rice, and soy. It's a great choice for vegans and vegetarians since it's free of animal products. This type of protein is kind to the earth because making it usually does less harm than creating whey protein from cows.

Not all plant proteins have every essential amino acid your body needs though.

You can find plant-based protein in powders that are perfect for shakes or adding to recipes. They let people who don't eat meat get enough protein in their diet. Some folks also choose these proteins if they're allergic to dairy or just want something different.

Comparison of Nutritional Profiles: Whey Vs Plant-based Protein Powder

scoops of protein powder

Examining the nutritional profiles of whey and plant-based proteins offers valuable insights for those choosing a supplement that aligns with their dietary needs and fitness goals.

Nutrient Whey Protein Plant-based Protein
Calories Approximately 120 per 25g Approximately 97 per 25g
Protein Content 20-30g per serving 20-30g per serving
Amino Acid Profile Complete (all 9 essential amino acids) Varies (may need to combine sources for completeness)
Digestibility High (quick absorption) Varies (fiber content may affect digestion rate)
Health Benefits Supports muscle repair and growth May provide additional nutrients like fiber and antioxidants
Environmental Impact Higher (animal agriculture) Lower (plant cultivation)


This table showcases key aspects of each protein type, helping consumers make informed decisions based on their personal health requirements and ethical considerations.


Similarities and Differences Between Whey and Plant-based Protein Supplements

Whey and plant-based proteins both serve as excellent sources of protein. They come packed with 20 to 30 grams per serving, perfect for meeting daily protein needs. These powders go through a refining process that focuses on extracting high levels of protein.

That means you get the most protein out of every scoop, essential for building muscle and recovery.

Despite these similarities, whey and plant-based proteins come from very different places. Whey is made from cow's milk which makes it an animal-based product. Plant-based proteins can include pea protein, soy protein, hemp protein, or rice protein, all coming from plants.

This major difference impacts not only where they come from but also who can consume them comfortably; those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies often opt for plant-based options since they are dairy-free and easier on the stomach.

Pros and Cons of Whey Protein Supplements

two protein shakes

Exploring the advantages and disadvantages of whey protein reveals its impact on muscle recovery, potential allergens, and suitability for various dietary needs—key insights await those seeking optimal nutrition strategies.

Benefits of Whey Protein 

Whey protein is popular among athletes and fitness enthusiasts. It supports our bodies in many ways, especially after workouts.

  • Boosts muscle strength: Whey protein contains branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are vital for building strength. These include leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
  • Helps with muscle recovery: After resistance training or any strenuous exercise, whey helps repair and grow muscles.
  • Aids in losing fat: Studies show that consuming whey can help reduce body fat when combined with weight loss exercises.
  • Supports muscle protein synthesis: Whey has a higher content of essential amino acids needed for muscle growth. It's more effective than plant proteins in this area.
  • Faster digestion: Whey protein digests more quickly than plant-based options. This means it gets to work faster in your body post-exercise.
  • Higher biological value: With a high biological value, whey is easily used by the body for tissue repair and growth.
  • Complete protein source: It has all nine essential amino acids necessary for good health, making it a complete protein.
  • Benefits stamina: Athletes often use whey to increase endurance during long periods of resistance exercise or strength training.

Drawbacks of Whey Protein

Whey protein is popular but it's not perfect for everyone. It comes from cow's milk, which can cause issues for some people.

  • Lactose content: Whey protein often has lactose, the sugar in milk. This can upset people who are lactose intolerant.
  • Allergic reactions: Some individuals are allergic to cow’s milk and cannot consume whey without risking their health.
  • Digestive discomfort: Even those not lactose intolerant may experience bloating or stomach pain from whey protein.
  • Non-Vegan: Whey does not fit into a vegan diet since it is an animal-based product.
  • Taste and flavoring: Some find the taste of whey protein unpleasant. Others dislike the artificial sweeteners often used to improve its flavor.
  • Expense: High-quality whey isolates can be pricey compared to other proteins.
  • Possible digestive issues despite digestibility claims: While generally considered easily digested, certain people might still face issues like gas or diarrhea.

Pros and Cons of Plant-based Protein

protein shake

Discover the diverse advantages and potential limitations of plant-based protein sources as we explore their role in nutrition, health, and dietary choices suitable for a variety of lifestyles.

Benefits of Plant-based Protein

Plant-based protein offers unique advantages for your health and the environment. It's an excellent choice for those with dietary restrictions or who prefer vegan protein sources.

  • Rich in nutrients: Plant proteins often come packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. These nutrients support overall health and can reduce the risk of certain diseases.
  • Good for digestion: The high fiber content in plant-based proteins helps keep your digestive system running smoothly. Fiber can also make you feel full longer.
  • Heart healthy: Choosing plant proteins may lower cholesterol levels and promote a healthy heart. Many plant-based options are low in saturated fats.
  • Better for the planet: Producing plant protein typically uses less water and land compared to animal proteins. It also generates fewer greenhouse gases.
  • Allergy-friendly: For people with a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, plant proteins offer a safe alternative to whey protein.
  • Weight loss friendly: Plant-based proteins can be lower in calories compared to some animal-based options, helping you manage your caloric intake.
  • Promotes muscle growth: High-quality plant proteins like soy can aid in muscle building and repair, much like animal-based proteins.
  • Variety of choices: There are many vegan protein sources available, such as pea protein, brown rice protein, and hemp protein. This variety prevents boredom and provides numerous health benefits.
  • Supports special diets: People with food sensitivities or on gluten-free diets can find suitable plant-based protein options easily.

Drawbacks of Plant-based Protein

Plant-based proteins can be great for some people. However, they also have their downsides.

  • High in Carbs: Many plant-based protein sources contain more carbohydrates. This may not fit well with a low-carb diet.
  • Incomplete Amino Acid Profile: Some plant proteins lack certain essential amino acids. You might not get everything your body needs.
  • Less Muscle Growth: Compared to whey, plant proteins might be less effective for muscle hypertrophy. Whey often leads in this area due to its amino acid leucine.
  • Digestive Issues: People sensitive to FODMAPs may find certain plant proteins hard to digest. Ingredients like soy can cause discomfort.
  • Lower Protein Bioavailability: Your body may not use plant protein as efficiently as animal protein. This means you might need more to get the same benefits.
  • Need for Variety: To get a complete set of amino acids, you must eat different types of plants. It takes effort to plan this kind of diet.
  • Taste and Texture Issues: Some find the taste and texture of plant-based powders less appealing compared to whey products.
  • Potential Allergens: Though rare, some individuals may be allergic or sensitive to specific plant proteins like soy or wheat.
  • Cost and Accessibility: Plant-based protein supplements can be more expensive and harder to find than whey options.

Whey Vs Plant Protein Sources: Which is Better for Muscle Growth?

Essential Sports Nutrition

Whey protein packs a punch for muscle growth. It has more essential amino acids than plant proteins do. These are the building blocks your muscles need to get bigger and stronger. One key amino acid is leucine, and whey's got lots of it.

Leucine helps your body make new muscle proteins faster after you work out.

Plant protein comes from different sources like peas or hemp, but they don't always have enough of all the amino acids your muscles crave. Even though plant proteins are good for you in many ways, they might not be as powerful as whey when it comes to bulking up your muscles quickly.

However, if you mix different plant proteins together, they can give you a full range of amino acids needed for muscle growth over time.

Whey Vs Plant Protein Sources: Which is Better for Weight Loss?

Essential Sports Nutrition

Whey protein can help you lose weight by making you feel full longer. It also keeps your muscles strong while you shed fat. Many people pick whey protein to meet their weight loss goals.

It has all the amino acids your body needs and it’s easy for your body to use.

Plant proteins come from things like peas, rice, and hemp. They are great for vegans and offer a range of nutrients. If you mix different plant proteins, you can get all the amino acids found in whey.

Some find plant protein easier on their stomach than milk-based whey. Your choice between whey or plant protein should match your diet needs and personal taste.


Essential Sports Nutrition

Whey protein comes from dairy while plant protein comes from plants. Whey protein contains all 9 essential amino acids that your body needs while plant proteins are often missing some. Whey protein is absorbed by your body quicker than plant protein. However, plant proteins have fiber which supports gut health. People with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies can't have whey but can have plant proteins.

The choice between whey or plant protein depends on your dietary needs, allergies, and preferences. Think about what your body needs, your diet, and if you have any allergies. Remember, both types support muscle growth and weight loss.


Whey Protein vs Plant Protein FAQs

Q: What is the difference between whey and plant-based protein?

A: Whey protein, which comes from milk, often includes whey concentrate or isolate that's rich in all essential amino acids. Plant proteins come from sources like peas, rice, hemp or soy and might be less complete but are great for those avoiding dairy.

Q: Which is better for muscle growth, whey protein or plant-based protein?

A: Both whey and plant-based proteins are effective for muscle growth. However, some studies suggest that whey protein may have a slight edge in promoting muscle mass gain.

Q: Are there any cons of using whey protein?

A: Some individuals may experience digestive issues or allergic reactions to whey protein. It is also a by-product of cheese production, which may not align with certain dietary preferences.

Q: How does pea protein compare to whey protein?

A: Pea protein is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. While whey protein is also a complete protein, pea protein is a suitable alternative for those with dairy allergies or dietary restrictions.

Q: Which type of protein powder is best for me?

A: The best protein powder for you depends on your dietary preferences, allergies, and fitness goals. Whey protein is a good option for those seeking muscle growth, while plant-based protein powders are suitable for vegans and individuals with lactose intolerance.

Q: How much protein should I intake daily?

A: The recommended daily protein intake varies based on factors such as age, gender, and physical activity level. In general, adults should aim for approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Q: Can I supplement my diet with both whey and pea protein?

A: Yes, you can combine whey and pea protein to create a complete amino acid profile. This is particularly beneficial for individuals with specific protein needs or preferences.

Q: Is plant-based protein as effective as whey protein for supporting muscle growth?

A: Yes, plant-based protein can be just as effective as whey protein in supporting muscle growth, especially when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet and combined with resistance training.

Q: How does protein intake contribute to muscle protein synthesis?

A: Consuming an adequate amount of protein, whether from whey or plant-based sources, supports muscle protein synthesis, which is essential for muscle repair, recovery, and growth.

Q: Can I get enough protein from plant-based sources alone?

A: Yes, it is possible to obtain sufficient protein from plant-based sources such as beans, lentils, quinoa, and tofu. Additionally, plant-based protein powders can be used to supplement protein intake.

Q: Can plant protein support athletic performance as well as whey protein?

A: Both types of proteins can support force production and body composition, crucial for athletic performance. Yet, whey has more branched chain amino acids which might edge out some plant proteins in recovery.

Q: Are there any dietary concerns with choosing whey or plant-based proteins?

A: Yes, if you have a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance, steer clear of whey since it contains milk sugar. For vegetarians or vegans, plant-based options like soy protein isolate are better suited to their diet.

Q: What should I ask a registered dietitian about adding protein powder to my diet?

A: Ask about the specific benefits of each type based on your health needs - whether you need more methionine and tryptophan from animal sources like whey or looking at lysine-rich foods among plants for balance.

Q: Do I have to use supplements if I want extra protein in my diet?

A: No! While supplements help increase your intake easily, lots of food items naturally offer high levels of necessary nutrients – think peanut butter for plants and dairy products for animal-sourced elements.

Profile Image Angi Genes

Angi Genes

Angi Genes is a dedicated nutritionist and fitness enthusiast with a remarkable track record in bikini competitions. Her journey into health and wellness began as a personal quest to balance her busy life as a mother with her passion for fitness. Her success in bikini competitions is a testament to her dedication and knowledge in the field of nutrition and fitness.