It’s been estimated that the number of vegans in America increased by a whopping 600% in 2017.
And with more people taking to plant-based diets, there is a corresponding increase in the interest surrounding plant proteins. The world of fitness and muscle building no longer fixates on a single source of meat-based protein, or whey proteins that are generally sourced from dairy.
So is there any benefit to choosing whey protein vs plant protein? Let’s get into the differences.
What Are Plant-Based Proteins?
As the name suggests, plant-based proteins are sourced entirely from plants. These include legumes like green peas, chickpeas, chia seeds, and hemp.
They generally require very little processing, if any and are derived through very simple procedures like dehydration and rehydration of the peas and other substances. These can sometimes be a bit more expensive than their whey counter-parts and taste quite different as well.
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is sourced through a process called milk filtration. Milk is made from two proteins – one being whey and the other being casein. Once the whey is filtered out through the dairy, it then goes through multiple processes to finally be converted into whey protein powder.
Whey is essentially the “liquid” part of the milk. You can sometimes spot this liquid on top of yogurt tubs, or during a cheese manufacturing process. Earlier this liquid protein was simply thrown away after the cheese-making process.
However, after the expansion of the fitness and weight-loss industry, someone had the brainwave of transforming this into marketable protein powder. Most of these variants are keto-friendly as well, so if that’s something you’re trying out this might be a good option.
Now that we’ve got the processes figured out, let’s get into the main points of contention.
Whey Protein vs Plant Protein: The Battle of Nutrient Density
If you’re a newbie to the world of fitness or nutrition you might not be familiar with the concept of nutrient density. Nutrient density is simply the nutrition value offered by a particular food per calorie.
As someone looking towards a healthy lifestyle, you would ideally want foods that offer higher nutritional value. And here’s where plant protein might be a better option.
Whey powder is essentially just that – whey. Unless intentionally added, whey powder is made solely from whey protein and very little of any other nutrient. However, plant-based proteins often include a whole host of other valuable nutrients making them a more wholesome option for athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
However, that being said your body also needs “whole proteins”. Your body is unable to generate the 9 amino acids that form a complete protein and so you need to source these entirely through food intake or supplements.
This can be a little tricky (although not impossible) when it comes to plant-based proteins. Certain plant variants like pumpkin seeds do not have all nine of these amino acids. But, you can get past this little set-back by opting for plant proteins that are made through a blend of various sources, instead of a singular focus on one.
Whey protein, however, is a complete protein by itself. If you do opt for whey, you do not need to look for a specific type to meet your amino acid needs, because any whey powder will already have them all.
Associated Health Risks and Benefits
Here’s where plant-based proteins might have a clear win. Plant-based proteins are said to offer up additional health benefits that include reduced hypertension, clearer skin, and a stronger immune system.
One of the main reasons for these added advantages come from being the nutrient-dense option that they are.
However, this doesn’t mean that whey comes without advantages of its own. And the key one here is that it has the ability to keep you fuller for longer. Now for anyone who struggles with overeating or feeling far too hungry all the time, this one might be a good enough reason to switch to whey altogether.
As far as risks go, whey protein is a bit more difficult for some people to digest. Bloating, fatigue and stomach pains are not uncommon amongst people who have trouble absorbing the nutrition offered through whey. Additionally, if you are someone who’s lactose intolerant or trying to go gluten-free, whey is definitely not the ideal choice.
One more concern involves the possibility of added antibiotics, which is an occasional occurrence within the dairy industry. Given that whey is a dairy sourced protein, there is a definite possibility of unnecessary additives getting into your system.
What Should You Choose?
If you’re considering going vegan, plant-based protein is a no-brainer. Going vegan itself has plenty of evidence-based benefits to both, your health, the environment, and the animals around you. Although this has received its fair share of criticism, the choice is ultimately yours to make.
If embracing the vegan lifestyle is not in your cards, then you do have your options wide open. You could opt for plant-proteins simply because of the additional nutritional benefits, or the health benefits it provides. If all you want is pure protein, then whey is a fine option as well.
Ultimately the stand-off between whey protein vs plant protein is fairly well matched, so you’ll fulfill your protein needs no matter what your fitness goals are.
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