Time for a Rematch: Plant-Based Protein VS Whey Protein Powder
Pitted against casein, egg, pumpkin and other types of protein supplements, whey has always been deemed the muscle-building king. But with the growing demand for vegan protein supplements, manufacturers are quick to change plant-based protein’s formulation to address its limitations.
Now, plant-based protein is back for a rematch. Join Strong Duck’s crew as we try to see if vegetable protein powder is here to take the crown.
Round 1: Complete Protein
Being an incomplete source of protein is the biggest criticism against plant-based protein supplements. For a protein source to be labelled ‘complete’ it must have all the essential amino acids the body needs. Many single-source protein powders don’t meet this criterion. Other vegetable sources such as ground chia seeds have complete protein, but they don’t contain much total protein.
Fortunately, many companies now combine different plant sources in their supplement to ensure that their product offers all the essential amino acids. The tricky part, however, is that you must know your plant proteins well and thoroughly check labels before buying a supplement.
With whey protein, on the other hand, you can choose any supplement from trusted brands and you’re sure that your body is getting the amino acids it needs to bulk up and help muscles recover from intense workouts.
New plant-based formulas may now be equal to whey protein when it comes to providing the essential amino acids, but for requiring less research and double-checking during purchasing, whey protein wins the first round.
Round 2: Total Protein Content
Supplements from different brands don’t have the same amount of protein per serving.
If you compare the total protein content of whey protein supplements in the market, you’ll find the grams per serving range from 20 – 30g. If you compare plant-based protein powders, some have only 12g of protein per serving. The common upper limit is 20g per serving.
This is one of the reasons why it’s important to always check the label. You might just discover that you are paying a lot for a product that gives you too many filler ingredients.
Although there are whey protein powders with only 20g of protein, since it has a higher upper limit, whey protein wins this round.
Round 3: Nutrient Density
Nutrient density is the measure of the number of nutrients a food has per calorie.
Derived from milk, baby mammals’ primary source of nutrition, whey protein is nutrient-dense. It has vitamins and minerals and numerous proteins that help the immune system. But when compared to plant-based proteins, whey protein is lacking.
Plant-based protein supplements carry many of the nutrients found from their plant source. Peas, for example, are a good source of fibre, vitamins A, C, K and minerals like manganese. When you add pea protein powder to your diet, you get all the benefits of peas without having to eat too many. In fact, you get more nutrients from a serving of pea protein powder than a cup of the fresh vegetables.
For whey protein powder to provide the same amount of nutrients plant-based protein powders provide, manufacturers must make a fortified formula. And so, plant-based protein takes the win for this round.
Round 3: Compatibility
Many people have allergies or digestive problems. Some people are allergic to soy or nuts while some people are lactose-intolerant.
If you must choose which protein source is more compatible with people’s bodies, plant-based proteins take the lead.
Containing fibre and digestive enzymes, plant-based proteins help ease digestion and absorption. Most plant proteins are also hypoallergenic, so you can expect to try many without having an allergic reaction. If you know you have allergies, however, make sure to check a supplement’s ingredients for those food allergens.
Whey protein, on the other hand, can cause digestive problems for some people. Since it is derived from milk, it contains lactose, the sugar lactose-intolerant people can’t digest.
Sometimes, even those who aren’t lactose-intolerant can have a bit of trouble digesting whey protein. As people age, our bodies make less lactase – the enzyme needed to break down lactose. When this happens, users can experience abdominal discomfort and gas.
If your body can’t break down lactose, it won’t be able to absorb all the protein you need to bulk up.
To judge this round, we researched the number of people who have difficulty digesting lactose and the number of people with plant food allergies. Around 65% of the human population find it hard to digest milk, especially those of East Asian descent. Allergy to soy is more prevalent in children but only .4% of children are allergic to soy and many of these children outgrow their allergy. Around 6-1% of people have a peanut allergy, but almost 20% of peanut allergies can be outgrown.
Since there are more people who have difficulties digesting lactose than people allergic to soy or nuts, plant-based proteins win this round.
Round 5: Price
Many factors dictate the price of a supplement. From the cost of the raw materials to competitor pricing, including public perception of a brand, there are numerous reasons why Brand X costs this and Brand Y costs that.
Plant-based protein powders generally cost more. Since they usually have numerous quality ingredients to provide the desired nutrients, manufacturers need to charge more. This is especially true for protein powders with organic ingredients.
Unlike plant-based protein, whey protein can be easily mass produced. But you can’t expect all whey protein powders to cost less than plant-based protein powders. There are quality whey proteins with decent prices, proteins from famous brands that are excessively priced, and supplements from unknown brands that are dubiously cheap.
If we were to look at price alone, whey protein takes this round. But if we were talking about value for money, sadly we have to say that the analysis for this round is inconclusive. There are many things we must compare like the total protein content, the ingredients that went in the supplement, how effective the product is and so forth. Either way, if you want quality protein, the saying you get what you pay for, applies.
You’re probably expecting us to say, ‘we’ll leave you to decide’, and we will.
Some of you may be disappointed with the outcome, but you couldn’t have read all those pros and cons and expect that there’s one winner, right?
Truth is if someone is touting that one is unequivocally better than the other, they’re either trying to sell you something or they got a bit too enthusiastic when they found the protein powder that suits them.
Both whey and plant-based protein have been proven effective to aid in recovery and muscle building. So the decision is really up to you and your body which protein powder is the best.
Need help choosing?
Here at Strong Duck, we’re all about honesty and transparency. Health and nutrition is our life and soul and we want to make an inclusive community where all sports and dietary choices are respected.
We offer BCAA whey powder and a Natural Vegan Range with plant-based protein powders. We can proudly and honestly say that both have helped our community members achieve their body goals. If you have any questions about our products, send us a message and we’d be glad to help you.