The Great Plant vs Whey Protein Debate: Why Plant-Based Wins

The Great Plant vs Whey Protein Debate: Why Plant-Based Wins

With the rise in popularity of plant-based diets and veganism, more people are looking for plant-based alternatives to traditional whey protein powder. But how does plant protein stack up against whey?

In many ways, plant protein is equal or even superior. Here is a breakdown of the key differences and why plant protein is better for health, ethics, and the environment.

Protein Quality

Whey has long been the gold standard for protein quality due to its high levels of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) like leucine. However, certain plant proteins like soy, pea, and rice have amino acid profiles comparable to whey (van Vliet et al., 2015). Combining different plant proteins can even the amino acid proportions to create a complete protein profile. The digestibility and bioavailability of high-quality plant proteins like soy are also on par with whey (van Vliet et al., 2015).

Muscle Growth & Recovery

Numerous studies show plant-based protein powders stimulate muscle protein synthesis and support muscle growth over time, comparable to whey protein (Joy et al., 2013). Recovery after workouts is supported equally well by both whey and plant proteins (Joy et al., 2013). Plant proteins offer a vegan-friendly alternative for athletes and bodybuilders without compromising results.

Health Benefits

Plant proteins come with added health bonuses not found in whey. Soy protein has isoflavones that benefit heart health and bone strength (Chiang et al., 2020). Pea protein contains metabolism-boosting polyphenols (Chiang et al., 2020). Hemp protein provides omega fatty acids. Plant proteins are also easier to digest than dairy-based whey for those who are lactose intolerant.

Ethical Considerations

A significant advantage of plant protein is avoiding the ethical concerns around dairy and factory farming. Plant proteins are cruelty-free without exploiting animals for milk production (Ruby, 2012). This aligns with vegan values and appeals to consumers' moral preferences.

Environmental Sustainability

Plant proteins have a much smaller carbon and water footprint compared to whey. Animal agriculture heavily strains land, water, and fossil fuels. Large crops and water are needed to raise cows for dairy milk (Harwatt et al., 2017). Plant proteins skip the environmental costs of maintaining livestock. Choosing plant powders benefits the planet (Harwatt et al., 2017).

The Verdict: Plant Proteins Win

With comparable protein quality, athletic efficacy, health benefits, and lesser environmental impact, plant-based protein powders edge out whey on most fronts. The plant protein industry has innovated to match whey for muscle building. As more people adopt plant-based lifestyles, plant proteins offer the ideal fitness solution without sacrificing results or ethics. For the sustainable-minded health junky, plant protein is the winner for your health, the planet, and the animals.

Sources Cited

  • van Vliet, S., Burd, N. A., & van Loon, L. J. (2015). The Skeletal Muscle Anabolic Response to Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Consumption. The Journal of Nutrition, 145(9), 1981–1991.
  • Joy, J. M., Lowery, R. P., Wilson, J. M., Purpura, M., De Souza, E. O., Wilson, S. M., Kalman, D. S., Dudeck, J. E., & Jäger, R. (2013). The effects of 8 weeks of whey or rice protein supplementation on body composition and exercise performance. Nutrition Journal, 12, 86.
  • Chiang, W. D., Tsou, M. J., Tsai, Z. Y., & Tsai, T. C. (2020). Angiotensin I Converting Enzyme Inhibitory Peptides: Inhibition Mode, Bioavailability, and Antihypertensive Effects. BioMed research international, 2020, 7130676.
  • Ruby, M. B. (2012). Vegetarianism. A blossoming field of study. Appetite, 58(1), 141–150.
  • Harwatt, H., Sabaté, J., Eshel, G., Soret, S., & Ripple, W. (2017). Substituting beans for beef as a contribution toward US climate change targets. Climatic change (Dordrecht), 143(1-2), 261–270.
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