The Difference between Plant vs. Whey Protein

Your coach told you that you need to get stronger. He suggested you take protein powder to help increase your muscle mass. When you get home from training, you type “protein powder” into google. Thousands and thousands of various types and brands show up. Every “top 10 protein powders” list is different and you are so overwhelmed – you have no idea where to start.

The first main question seems to be : Do you want a plant-based protein or a whey-based protein?

What’s the difference between plant vs. whey protein? Is one healthier than the other?

Why is Protein Important?

Before we dive into the difference between whey and plant-based protein, let’s start with the basics. What does protein even do? Well, protein is one of the essential nutrients that provide energy (calories) for the body. It is composed of small building blocks called amino acids. These amino acids are broken down by your body and are used for the building, maintenance, and repair of tissues. This includes your lean muscle mass!

different types of plant and whey proteins

It is extremely important in an athlete’s diet to have adequate protein throughout the day. During training, your muscle mass is broken down to allow for adaption. This adaption helps your muscle to grow back stronger. By providing protein after training (and throughout the day), you can optimize this process to become a stronger and more powerful player.

How Much Protein Do I Need?

You want to aim for about 1.8-2.0g per kg per day of protein to make sure you are maximizing your performance and building lean muscle mass. Here is an easy example!

Weight: 140 lbs

140 lbs/2.2 k/lg = 64.4 kg

1.8 – 2.0 g/kg = 115 – 127 g protein per day

Protein consumption should be spread out throughout the day. I recommend an athlete with this weight to consume 3 meals with 30 g of protein and 2 snacks with 10 – 20 g of protein. 

Ideas for how to use protein powder

Do I Need Protein Powder?

Protein powders are an easy way to ensure that you are meeting your daily protein needs. They are especially helpful for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet and for athletes with increased protein needs! That being said, they shouldn’t be your only source of protein. Our body always responds best to food in its whole form so making sure to have a variety of protein sources from food is super important.

Here are some great examples of protein-rich foods

  • Chicken breast
  • Lean ground beef/turkey
  • Greek yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Turkey breast
  • Hummus
  • Lentils

While a food first approach is always recommended to reach fueling goals there are times when supplementing with a protein powder can be very helpful! I recommend utilizing protein powder 1-2 times a day. Protein powder should be used as a supplement – just like its name!

How to Use Protein Powder

Protein and carbohydrates are key components of post-workout snacks. You should aim for a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein.

Since it’s sometimes challenging to eat after training, protein powder is an easy convenient way to ensure your body has what it needs to properly recover. A post-workout recovery smoothie is a great option when you don’t plan on having a meal within 1-2 hours, you don’t have an appetite after training, or simply want something quick and easy! These smoothies are super easy to make – protein powder, frozen or fresh fruit, your liquid of choice, and any fun add-ins like yogurt, chia or hemp seeds, or even coconut shavings. It’s something you can get creative with! Now let’s get into plant vs. whey protein.

Whey Protein

Whey protein, or animal protein, is a complete protein, meaning it has all nine essential amino acids that the body uses to build proteins and function properly. All animal products (eggs, meat, poultry, fish, dairy) are going to be complete proteins. 

Facts about whey protein powders

Whey protein comes from the “watery” portion of milk during cheese and yogurt production. Do you know that murky liquid in a container of yogurt? That’s whey! Surprisingly, whey is usually low in lactose content, making it safe for those with lactose intolerance.

Whey protein also contains a high content of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAA’s are amino acids involved closely in muscle protein synthesis, meaning it should be a priority of athletes to consume them! Leucine is one of the most important BCAA and whey contains 2.5 g of this amino acid – the optimal amount of muscle protein synthesis!

If you are looking for a quality whey protein, check out BiPro. This is one of my favorite whey-based protein powders! If you are a college or professional athlete, make sure to choose the black bag. It is NSF certified

BiPro is a whey protein
Here is one of my favorite whey protein powder, BiPro.

Plant Protein

Plant protein powders use the protein from different plant sources like peas, legumes, seeds, hemp, chia, soy, and more. While plant proteins are typically incomplete proteins, meaning they do not include all the essential amino acids for protein synthesis, some plant-based proteins are complete! Soy is one of the plant-based proteins that is a complete protein.

Some plant-based protein powders will combine different plants to ensure a complete protein. 

Plant-based protein powders usually also have other constituents like carbohydrates, antioxidants, healthy fats, and omega 3’s. These are all good for recovery! These proteins can also be less ‘grainy’ and naturally flavored, blending easily into protein shakes or water. 

Facts about plant-based protein powders

It is important to note that you do not digest plant protein at the same efficiency as whey protein and many plant proteins do not have the same amount of BCAA’s compared to whey protein so it is important you are at least getting 30g of plant-based protein to maximize recovery

If you are looking for a quality plant-based protein, Momentous is one of my favorites.

Momentous is a plant-based protein
Here is one of my favorite plant-based protein powders, Momentous. It’s also gluten-free!

So, What Should I Choose – Plant Protein or Whey Protein Powder?

Whey protein is technically the way to go because it guarantees all the essential amino acids. Studies have shown significant muscle growth in both whey and plant-based proteins, however, whey protein tends to show more growth. Yet, some plant-based protein powders have innovated their powder into being a complete protein. This means you really can’t go wrong! Make sure you check the nutritional facts to ensure you are picking a relatively clean protein though. Aiming for about 20 grams of whey protein per serving or 30g of plant protein is a great place to start.

The bottom line between plant vs. whey protein? Both plant and whey protein will help your body recover after training AND help you build muscle. Use what fits best into YOUR diet.

Food for Thought

Just remember – NSF for sport and Informed Choice are two trusted 3rd party certifications that ensure products contain what they claim to! Many organizations such as the NCAA and various professional leagues rely on these certifications to identify products that are free of banned substances. I hope you find a protein powder that works for you, Happy Fueling!

Check out my protein powder and tons of other recommendations on my Amazon store.



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