Protein is a vital part of any diet, especially when you exercise frequently and are trying to build muscle. Protein is key in muscle growth, wound healing, and proper nutrition. How you obtain your protein, though, is up to you.
In trying to get our protein, many of us strive to obtain the nutrient as efficiently as possible while hoping to obtain other benefits. iwi life is here to set whey and plant protein side by side so you understand the differences and can determine which is better for you.
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is a type of protein derived from milk. There are eight proteins found in milk that provide a range of essential amino acids and make up whey protein.
Whey protein is commonly used in protein powders and protein bars used as exercise supplements because of its high concentration of protein and amino acids. When looking at a product containing whey protein, you may see one of three forms: whey protein concentrate, isolate, or hydrolysate.
Whey protein concentrate is one of the most common forms used in protein drinks, bars, and nutritional supplements. Whey isolate is also common in these supplements, offering high amounts of protein and lower levels of fat and lactose. Hydrolyzed whey protein is the easiest type to digest and is the most popular type for sports recovery, infant formula, and medical supplements.
What Are Good Sources of Plant Protein?
When many people think of the word “protein,” they often automatically think of meat or other animal products, but plants can provide rich sources of protein as well.
Although plant protein sources are often less concentrated, there are still plenty of great options. Some plant protein sources can even go toe-to-toe with animal proteins in their content, like seitan, tofu, and tempeh.
Plant-based protein supplements are becoming increasingly popular as more people adopt plant-based lifestyles. Common plant-based protein supplements typically use one of four ingredients as the foundation:
- Pea protein
- Brown rice protein
- Soy protein
- Seed proteins, including pumpkin, hemp, and sunflower.
Some supplements use a combination of these ingredients as part of their formula. Plant protein powders may include a variety of amino acids, helping you to obtain a range of these important nutrients.
How Do Whey and Plant Protein Compare?
Although whey protein and plant proteins do not always differ in the amount of protein they offer, they may differ in how the body uses them. Each type of protein may provide different benefits depending on your lifestyle, diet, and individual preferences.
Why Should I Choose Whey Protein?
A key benefit of whey protein is that it is a complete protein, which means that it contains all nine amino acids that the body cannot synthesize.
However, this does not automatically make it a better option than plant protein. Several plant-based foods are complete proteins, including quinoa, soy, and spirulina. You can also combine plant-based foods to obtain complete proteins throughout the day, giving you the same amino acids and benefits.
If you are looking for a powerful and effective exercise supplement, many plant-based supplements also provide complete proteins, as many contain various amino acids. Soy protein contains all of the essential amino acids, while other supplements usually provide amino acids through a blend.
However, if you want to guarantee that your protein powder is a complete protein, then you may have to do some label inspection to be sure, unlike whey protein, which is always a guarantee. Whey protein is also thought to be highly bioavailable, meaning that it is absorbed efficiently by the body to support muscle protein synthesis.
Why Should I Choose Plant Protein?
On the other hand, plant proteins may be a better option depending on your dietary restrictions. Whey protein comes from milk, meaning that it is derived from animals and that it also contains lactose. If you are lactose intolerant, on a plant-based diet, or have a milk allergy, then you should steer clear of whey protein and turn your attention toward plant proteins.
Choosing plant protein also offers additional benefits. Plant proteins typically provide a range of additional phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals not found in pure whey protein. At the same time, plant proteins can be more beneficial for the environment, as animal agriculture requires a lot of water and resources to sustain.
Ultimately, both options have their benefits. If you are basing your decision based on pure protein and amino acid content, you will probably lean toward choosing whey protein. If you are focusing on the greater effects or have certain dietary restrictions, you may prefer plants.
How Can I Improve My Absorption of Plant Protein?
For some, whey protein is not an option due to milk allergies or a plant-based lifestyle. Since whey comes from cow milk and is high in lactose, many people have to look toward plants.
Plant protein is not at all a bad option, but because some blends do not offer the same amino acid profile and complete protein, you may want to consider some additional support. There are a few ways to get more out of your plant proteins.
Diversify Your Diet
Not all plant-based proteins are complete proteins, but many of these incomplete proteins are still rich sources of the nutrient. On the bright side, combining different complete proteins can provide a complete profile of the essential amino acids. Effective combinations include:
- Legumes + whole grains
- Nuts or seeds + whole grains
- Nuts or seeds + legumes
You do not need to eat these combinations at the same time to get a complete protein out of it — even eating these foods throughout the day can help your body synthesize proteins better.
Consume More Omega-3s
Omega-3s are healthy fats that have a key role in building muscle and making the most of your protein intake. These fats improve muscle protein synthesis and decrease muscle protein breakdown, providing a net gain in muscle. Omega-3s are helpful in muscle growth regardless of diet, but they can be a great supplement for those obtaining most of their protein from plants.
If you are avoiding whey protein because you are on a plant-based diet, you may also want to obtain your omega-3s from a plant-based source. Fortunately, algae-based omega-3 supplements are excellent for any lifestyle, offering a 100% plant-based source of omega-3s.
Get the Most Out of Your Protein
Whey protein and plant proteins both have their benefits, and ultimately, which one is best depends on your specific needs. Whey protein has a higher amino acid content and is more bioavailable, but it may not react well with everyone. Many plant proteins can offer additional health benefits with a still respectable protein content.
Whichever form of protein you choose, make the most of it with other important nutrients. Support your protein absorption with iwi life’s omega-3 supplement. Just two softgels a day can provide significant amounts of DHA and EPA omega-3s while supporting your health in many ways. Try our omega-3 supplement for yourself to experience the benefits.
Whey Protein: Health Benefits and Potential Side Effects | Cleveland Clinic
The Role of the Anabolic Properties of Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Sources in Supporting Muscle Mass Maintenance: A Critical Review | PMC
The Complete Protein Foods List And Facts | Piedmont Healthcare